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Valkyria Chronicles is a turn based strategy game set in a fantasy World War 2. If youíve ever seen Axis Powers Hetalia it feels a bit like that; obsessed with pretty people in immaculate military uniforms, whilst making a peculiarly soft presentation of one of history`s most brutal periods. I haven`t finished the game yet, I`m taking a break after being ass fucked by one of the gameís ludicrous difficulty spikes. Whilst I recover from that I have decided to put my thoughts together.
In game, you take control of a squad of specialists to complete specific missions. You also have a tank, which specialises in getting snagged on bits of scenery. I actually enjoy the gameplay a lot. It is simple yet varied enough to allow some imagination, which you'll need to deal with a variety of challenges. The turn based design means the game moves at a slow pace, but it always feels frantic as the firefights play out in real time.
The game does have the difficulty spikes however. I`m stuck fighting a ginormous enemy tank. It has taken one failed playthrough to learn the proper way to kill it. It has taken a second, longer failed playthrough to discover that whatever your plan was to deal with the tank, it`ll get shredded when a second boss character appears out of nowhere and kills half your squad before you`re permitted to respond. I`m hoping the game won`t keep pulling these dick moves in later levels, because it`s frustrating and at odds with the strategy premise.
One thing this game does really well is humanise the squad. Normally strategy games put you in the role of a ruthless leader, feeding faceless soldiers into a meat grinder. In Valkyria, every single soldier you recruit has a unique face, personality and background. They also permanently die, so you actually try not to get them killed.
The story is a very typically anime sort of thing, full of arm waving, gasping, navel gazing, and pedestrian sociology. I don`t mind it, except for this one rather odd subplot involving one of the squaddies, whom everyone keeps being racist to. Iím sure they`ll eventually put aside their differences through teamwork, but what makes it weird (weirder than suddenly finding your squad is full of racists), is how race is depicted; everyone is generic anime white, including the girl getting bullied. They only know she is different because of her black hair. I know there is a lot more to race than skin colour, but it is tonally odd to make an issue of racism with this setting whilst depicting everyone as the exact same race. I would say it`s a consequence of Japanís mono-cultural perspective, but then again Poland fell into the exact same trap with The Witcher III. It`s not a deal breaker but it is uncanny to be affronted with that lack of self-awareness on the part of the game designers.
For what itís worth I am dying to get back into the game and kill that tank. Give it a try and I imagine youíll be doing the same.
"Racist" might be the wrong word, or at least rather misleading. I'd say it's close to prejudice against a specific ethnic group, which is rather different.
(I should also note that there are a few squadmates that you can recruit who appear to have noticeably darker skin, so there's that.)
I'd also argue that having to deal with unforeseen challenges isn't counter to the strategy game premise at all. After all, surely there have been circumstances where military leaders have had to think quickly under pressure.
Yes military leaders have to think quickly under pressure, but the game doesn\'t always fairly create those situations where thinking fast and smart will let you adapt in time. The second boss in my example will mop the floor with half your army before you can even move, and there isn\'t a smart way to deal with her except hide as far away as possible, abandoning half your men to die and most likely losing the mission as a consequence. The only way to not be caught out by her is via either a complete fluke, or by already knowing she is about to appear. Neither are particularly impressive strategies.
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