This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Sega's PlayStation 3 strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles
, which reviews describe as "one of the best surprises of the year."
Developed by Sega's internal team Sega WOW (best known for its work on The House of the Dead
and its sequels), Valkyria Chronicles
debuted in Japan earlier this year to widespread critical acclaim and platform-topping sales. Valkyria Chronicles
premieres in North America this week, and current earns a Metacritic-averaged review score of 87 out of 100
David Wildgoose at IGN AU rates Valkyria Chronicles
at 9 out of 10
, describing the title as "the missing link between [Final Fantasy Tactics
] and -- please bear with me here -- Full Spectrum Warrior
; with the characters and aesthetics resembling the former, while the core combat mechanics borrow from the latter."
Wildgoose continues: "The end result is a beguiling and deep combination of story-driven, turn-based and real-time tactics."
"It was the real-time nature of the combat that initially left me bewildered," Wildgoose admits. "In a conventional SRPG, when it's your turn it means exactly that: you select your unit then move, attack, heal, cast spells, equip items or whatever you like without having to worry about the enemy intervening."
"Here, they can," he continues. "During a selected unit's turn, you move them in real-time from a third-person view a million miles away from the isometric grids common to the genre."
Wildgoose claims that this blend of real-time and turn-based strategy works well in the game's favor. "Valkyria Chronicles
is a truly magnificent outing for SEGA," he says. "It dares to be different, it scoffs at genre conventions and finds its own path, and in doing so succeeds brilliantly as both a deep strategy experience and a wonderfully story-driven RPG."
Over at 1UP.com, reviewer Eric Neigher gives Valkyria Chronicles a rating of A-
. "This is, without question, the best tactics game on the PS3," he praises, "and it's one of the best games on PS3, period."
Neigher gives special mention to Valkyria
's setting and storyline. "Taking place in an alternate Europe around the 1930s, Valkyria Chronicles
tracks the exploits of a group of youths as they fight to defend their homeland, Gallia," he writes. "Overall, the story does a good job at keeping you guessing about characters' motivations and the war's ultimate goal."
's gameplay also succeeds, according to Neigher. "While the core of Valkyria Chronicles
mirrors the rock-paper-scissors dynamic of games like Fire Emblem
, the manner in which you access that core is radically different," he explains. "Combat's freer and more visceral than any tactics game I've ever played."
Occasional AI problems sometimes detract from the fun, but otherwise, Neigher recommends Valkyria
highly. "As with most tactical games, Valkyria Chronicles
relies on numerical advantage and preexisting conditions to provide the challenge, as the enemy A.I.'s about as clever as a soup sandwich," he warns. "But, honestly, this is so innovative and so polished a game that if you pass it up, the real moron is you."
Game Informer's Joe Juba contributes a Valkyria Chronicles
review scored at 8.5 out of 10
. "Sometimes it looks like a third-person shooter. At other moments, it appears to be about tank combat," he begins. "You interact with and control your units in unconventional ways, but these mechanics are all just skins overlaying a classic and familiar strategy framework that puts players in the trenches like no other entry in the genre."
According to Juba, Valkyria
does away with many of the annoyances that plague other titles in its genre. "One of my pet peeves in strategy titles is when you need to micromanage your units’ experience," he says. "Valkyria Chronicles
has an excellent solution to this annoyance: Individual units don’t have experience."
"Instead, you level up entire classes by assigning XP from a communal pool," Juba explains. "In other words, when you advance the soldier class to level 2, all of your soldiers improve. This enhances the sensation that you’re commanding a small army, plus it allows you to control the balance of your force without having to resort to exploiting the mechanics."
Genre-standard combat mechanics see improvement as well. "The balance of power among the units is a twist on the common rock-paper-scissor mechanic, and I love how combat is about more than jockeying for these advantages," Juba praises. "Even though the 'paper beats rock' elements are there, they are augmented by a much deeper and more compelling array of options. Even your activities off the battlefield, like learning skills and upgrading weapons, are entertaining."
The experience isn't without its problems, however. "The tactical map doesn’t always do its job, and can lead to you wasting a command point (one unit’s turn) just to see what the real situation is on the ground," Juba cautions. "It would also have been nice to get a miss chance percentage before you attack; it’s clear that range affects your power and accuracy, but the details are vague."
Overall, though, Juba finds Valkyria Chronicles
to be a standout title in its genre. "The gorgeous presentation and versatile combat make Valkyria Chronicles
one of the best surprises of the year," he notes in conclusion. "It may not have been on your radar before, but you definitely shouldn’t let it pass you by."