There’s been a recent outcry at the lack of JRPGs on the Xbox One market, but those people who wanted more can now rejoice at the fact that a Valkyria Chronicles spin-off, developed by Media Vision, is here to help fill the void. Valkyria Revolution marks the first time an instalment of the Valkyria series has released on a Microsoft console and it looks to combine RPG elements with strategic action for a dramatic war-fuelled tale. Is this the beginning of a revolution for JRPGs?
Let me set the scene for you… a Professor is telling the story of ‘The Five Traitors’, during a revolution many years prior, to one of her inquisitive students. In short, since the discovery of weapon enhancing Ragnite mineral, the Kingdom of Jutland is feeling increasingly oppressed by the Ruzi Empire – a superpower within the continent of Europa. The Vanargand, an Anti-Valkyria squad of Jutland, takes matters into their own hands and launches an attack on the Empire, igniting a war between the two nations. Jutland may have a very capable elite squad, but the enemy has an ace up their sleeve; an all-powerful Valkyria, basically death itself, is by their side to swing the balance in their favour.
The story itself isn’t exactly the most exciting, but then that could be because of the sheer amount of cutscenes bombarding the player from the prologue onwards, forcing a ton of new characters and information upon the player. There are loads of cutscenes before, and after, battles and most of them just seem to drag on, offering nothing of note. My controller switched itself off in exhaustion (inactivity really) on occasion, giving you an idea of how long the scenes can last for. Loading screens are a real pain throughout too, with separate ones often present for when multiple short scenes are in a row, thus slowing things down further. The couple that do hit the mark though help to convey the personalities on both sides of the war; from the Vanargand leader Amleth and his ulterior motives, to the villainous Emperor Klaudiusz.
But how does it play?
Well, Valkyria Revolution tries something different to the main series when it comes down to the combat. Once in the midst of a battle, you can only perform melee attacks, fire weapons or use Ragnite powered attacks/support manoeuvres when the action gauge is ready. This adds a real strategic element as you’ll be unable to launch into another attack for a few seconds. It’d be good to see a character possessing more than one melee combo, alas that isn’t the case. The Ragnite attacks require a certain amount of mana to use and these are elemental based, with the bulk of them being fire, water, earth and wind based. There’s also a secondary weapon and a grenade type to use, but these are limited in usage. It brings up a palette when deciding which of the special moves to initiate and being in the palette pauses the action to ensure you’ve got all the time in the world to make up your mind.
The missions are split up into Story, Battle and Free type ones. As you can guess, the Story missions are focussed on the progression of the tale and these can often be quite lengthy; bringing forth the boss battles and multiple stages of breaching an enemy stronghold. There are ten chapters in total, as well as a prologue and a finale. Most of the time it involves the annihilation of any and all foot soldiers in order to capture bases or plant bombs, whilst also taking care of any Ragnite fuelled tanks which ideally need to be dismantled one part at a time. To be successful against the greatest foes is a matter of being aware of their moves and striking in between them. My initial confrontation with the Valkyria led to an interesting boss battle, where I had to keep an eye on the type of spells it was wielding, before countering it with the opposite element for more effective attacks.
Free and Battle missions offer a variety of optional and considerably shorter battles, ranging from stopping an enemy fleeing the scene with lots of his pals in your way, to defending the nations you’ve already liberated against enemy troops. I like that it’s entirely your choice as to which type of mission you go for and I personally preferred these battles as opposed to the story ones, mainly so I didn’t have to slog it out for ages and then have to watch a myriad of cutscenes. It all adds to the characters’ experience and there are rewards to be garnered, known as Spoils.
Each mission, whatever the type, allows for control of between one and four members of the eight-person strong Vanargand. Depending on your playstyle, you may select a squad filled with the best attack-minded of the bunch, or throw in a couple of support to ensure there are healing hands nearby. Having a team during battle helps, to a degree, lessen the monotony of the battles as you can switch between the characters easily and make the most of their skillset. Orders can be given to those not currently in your control and the majority of time they seem to listen; not always though for some reason. As of yet, I’ve not lost a single teammate to the clutches of the Reaper; however I am aware that there’s the chance of perma-death for some of them.
Being an RPG, you’d expect plenty of levelling up and customisation. The characters naturally level up by earning XP completing missions – even those who don’t take part get a share. There is a tree of stats to upgrade, but these come at a cost of unused Ragnite spells you’ve obtained via rewards. Trading these in will add to a character’s elemental power or other areas of their attack stats. Having so many characters makes this quite a chore to do though, even if you leave it to do after a few missions.
Outside of battle, there are a few important locations it lets you visit. Obviously, the HQ lends itself as the base to launch all operations and provides a place to turn in any completed side challenges too. The Promenade is basically the centre of town, where shopkeepers are trying to sell you better gear, spells and even materials to commission your own gear. It’s a shame the gear never looks any different, it just offers different boosts. The other key area is a weapons factory and it is there that weapon upgrades and research will occur.
If you’ve not grown tired of the barrage of cutscenes, there are additional scenarios to view via the Professor’s history book and notebook. These do provide further insights into various aspects of the team and for the full story; it’s worth checking them out for those that get fully engrossed within the world.
Moving on to the visuals and some of the landmarks look lovely, whilst it must be said, the costumes of the main characters are simply exquisite in terms of the designs. It’s all done using a watercolour type art style and the detail in parts is superb to be fair. In other areas though, it looks very dated. Sadly, the animation is terrible and the character models themselves are utterly wooden during the cutscenes; it’s the level of animation you’d expect to see ten years ago!
In the sound department, the score – composed by the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda – is generally solid and there are times where the music is absolutely stunning, with the presence of angelic tones soothing the ears during the deadly war. Many tracks do loop though and you’ll get a bit sick of them eventually. The voiceovers, in English at least, are nothing special, but the real disappointment comes from the many moments the sound just drops completely. I mean dead silence, no backing tracking or environmental sounds; it’s like someone forgets to change the track and then all of a sudden it’ll kick in again.
Valkyria Revolution only really exceeds in providing a ton of content to work through and a whole load of story to watch unfold. The gameplay is enjoyable only in short bursts, because it soon becomes a tad repetitive when taking down enemy armies. Having a varied selection of playable characters helps a little, but eventually you realise a lot of the spells are quite similar and become boring to use. I would much prefer better animation to be present than the terrible offering here, especially given how long I’ve had to sit here watching cutscenes.
Will Valkyria Revolution spark a revolution for the influx of JRPGs? That’s not very likely as it’s a game of mediocrity in truth.