This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Valkryia Chronicles.
Well, we knew this was going to happen sooner or later. If I'm going to explore unfamiliar territory, I couldn't hang around the flight sims and RTSes forever, I was going to have to traverse the dreadlands of JRPG, a howling wasteland of dodgy English dubs and outfits that were created by crashing a riding lawnmower through the wall of a theatrical costume supplier. If you're new to this series, let my briefy summarize my feelings for Japanese RPGs: AAAAEEIIA RAAAEEAAAIA! And every single one of them is about androgynous teenagers killing Satan. Admittedly, Valkryia Chronicles is more turn-based strategy than traditional RPG, but it's definitely up to its knees in everything I despise about anime games. And again admittedly, it's less about androgynous teenagers killing Satan and more androgynous teenagers killing Adolf Hitler, like there's any fucking difference.
Sorry, did I say Adolf Hitler? I was, of course, referring to Gadolf Shmitler, Chancellor of Bermany. Valkyria Chronicles concerns the outbreak of war on the continent of Europa between the evil empire in the East (for there are no good empires) and the allied federation in the West. It's World War II in everything but names, and the disguise is cling-film thin. But I suppose demonizing the actual Germans would have been a little hypocritical for a Japanese game. Oh yes, we all know whose bratwurst you lot were snacking on back then! The focus is on a small, idyllic country caught in the middle of the conflict and which evokes a mashup of Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland as depicted by Winnie the Pooh.
The main characters are your standard JRPG pick-and-mix. There's the pretty-boy hero who comes across as wetter than a swimming pool in New Orleans; the angry, immature girl who secretly craves pretty-boy cock; the hero's ADOPTED sister, whose non-blood related status is made abundantly clear to a somewhat suspect degree. And they all link arms and merrily trot off to war to get killed. Or rather, to get everyone with less screentime killed.
So here's how this works. After joining the army, the hero becomes a squadron commander, apparently by virtue of the fact that he was the only new recruit with the presence of mind to bring his own tank. He - that is, you - then have to hand-pick twenty-odd recruits for your squad, with no more information to go on than their fondness for meadows or tendancy towards lesbianism. Work has been put into giving every soldier a distinct face, personality, and one-line backstory. Which is probably just intended to make us give a shit but was really useful in helping me remember the useless fatheads. There was this one guy, a sniper, looked like he was suffering from reverse aging and he just felt his testicles being absorbed into his body, seemed to hit maybe one out of every ten shots. And every time I brought him along, the enemy would always aim for him first. It was uncanny. It was like he was so dense that his gravitational pull sucked every passing bullet right into his face.
Battles are turn-based, of course, the gentlemanly way to fight. When you're moving someone, you zoom into their perspective and control them third-person shooter style until the movement points run out and you're left jogging on the spot like a 'tard. It's an interesting attempt to combine turn-based gameplay with shooter action, but some things just don't combine, like Republicans and compassion. The attempts to work in exciting shooter action only served to underline the oddities of a turn-based system. For e.g., while you're controlling a unit, nearby enemies will shoot at you and only you. Except when you're aiming, when they apparently realize that shit has gotten serious. And they keep shooting at you even if you're not moving, so if you're interested in all that overrated "staying alive" business you have to get used to ending your go as soon as you're done firing, whereupon your unit instantly vanishes from the enemies' mental radar. So make sure you're not playing this game in a belfry where you can be distracted at any moment by cheeky low-flying bats. Also, why can you only crouch behind sandbags? Behind perfectly functional cover like crates and chest-high walls, all you can do is gormlessly stand there like an androgynous teenaged wooden duck.
As shocking as this revelation may be, before you battle you actually have to get to the battle. There's a lot of micromanagement faffing around to be done at HQ in between missions, and a lot of it seems unnecessary. Guns can be upgraded, but only in one way, and it seems like the technicians could do that automatically without waiting to be asked, and just let me worry about who to point them at. And throughout all this, you have to navigate a menu system apparently designed by a man with his head stuck in a filing cabinet. You have to go into an entire separate menu just to change the tabs in the main menu. It's a bloated fractal spreedsheet nightmare! And it has the Microsoft Windows problem of always asking, "Are you sure?" "Are you sure you want to watch this cutscene?" Frankly, Valkyria Chronicles, no! I'm not sure I want to lose another five minutes of my life watching your androgynous teenage gobshites witter on about shit I don't care about, but it's the only way to proceed, so I'm a little perplexed as to why you asked. And while we're on the subject, yes, I'm sure I want to watch the next three cutscenes too, rather than having to come back to the chapter select screen to be asked if I'm sure between every single fucking one!
Valkyria Chronicles helped me come to two distressing realizations about myself. Firstly that I might technically be a Nazi sympathizer, and secondly that turn-based strategy is something I might be able to get into. Here and there in battle, I caught myself getting slightly entertained. But Valkyria Chronicles messes itself around too much. Aside from the action being outnumbered 5 to 1 by cutscenes and muddy menu-driven micromanagement motherfuckery, enemies should not be able to shoot you when it's not their fucking turn! It's like an opponent in chess flicking elastic bands at your pawns while you're trying to think.
There's a final point, though: where the fuck is autosave? This may sound petty, but I won't apologize for having gotten used to autosave. When the Schmazi Gormtroopers have extorminated my entire army in a protracted Bollockaust, I believe I have to right to ragequit without losing all my progress. Because that's generally the last thing I remember before I wake up with blood in my teeth and another missing housepet.
We will fight him on the beaches: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I guess the real second world war wouldn't have had enough opportunities to have female soldiers running around with their bums hanging out
Maybe I'll check out one o dem X-Com thingies