Take even the briefest glance at any image from Valkyria Chronicles and you'll find yourself looking again. The unique visual aesthetic is a sort of anime realism, with pencil-drawn lines and shading, and a color scheme that is reminiscent of a watercolor painting. This style pervades every element of the game and looks even better in motion than it does in a still image. We were delighted with the visual appeal of Valkyria Chronicles when we saw it in action at Sega Gamers' Day, but that wasn't all that caught our eye. An engaging battle system that blends turn-based tactics with third-person action added a good deal of substance to a game already heaping with style.
Valkyria Chronicles tells the story of the small republic of Gallia, which is caught between two warring superpowers on the continent of Europa (a fictional version of Europe in the 1930s). The Atlantic Federation is clashing with the Eastern European Imperial Alliance over a precious resource called ragnite that is used for everything from fuel to food to construction to weaponry. Gallia tries to remain neutral in the conflict, but their large reserves of ragnite ensure that the conflict comes to them whether they like it or not. You'll follow a handful of main characters through a long story arc as they desperately try to defend their homeland against the invading forces. This story unfolds through an in-game storybook, and each page includes expository cutscenes and one or two battles.
Sega has dubbed the combat system in Valkyria Chronicles the blitz battle system. The traditional grid- or hex-based battlefields of many turn-based role-playing games are nowhere to be found. Instead, when one of your units comes up in the rotation, you'll switch to a third-person view and be able to run wherever you like in the battlefield. How far you can run will be limited by your action meter, a bar on the bottom of the screen that drains with your every step. In the early countryside battle we saw, the battleground was not very big and a character could easily cover most of it in one or two turns. However, just because it is your turn to move doesn't mean that the enemies aren't paying attention. If you run through their line of sight and within their range, they'll fire off a few shots of opportunity. These didn't seem to be terribly damaging, but they serve as good incentive to move quickly from cover to cover and end your turn in a (relatively) safe location. Your units return the favor to exposed enemies, and it seems as if this will lend a more urgent tone to battlefield encounters.
Attacking your enemies requires you to use a command point. These are represented as copper medallions lined up at the top of the screen, and you're afforded one to two per unit per round, depending on that unit's importance. Attack with a gun-toting unit and the camera will zoom in to an over-the-shoulder scope mode so you can gauge your aim and fire when ready. Command points can also be used to heal, throw a grenade, or use an item. By pooling these command points rather than attaching an action quota to each unit individually, you'll have some flexibility to use more powerful or strategically positioned allies more than once per round. However, be warned that their action meter won't fill up to 100% the second time around, so you'll have to be more frugal with your motion.
There are 50 characters in Valkyria Chronicles, each one belonging to a particular class. There are soldiers, heavy machine gunners, snipers, artillery (tanks!), and engineers. We saw all but the last class in action, and were told only that engineers can help resupply units with ammunition. Characters level up along with their classes, but you can tweak them individually to specialize their skills. They'll also have little quirks, such as being allergic to grass or really liking urban environments, that will affect their performance in battle. If one of your characters falls in battle, you'll have three turns to reach the downed character before he or she dies. When a character dies in Valkyria Chronicles, that death is final. If that character is critical to the storyline, your game will be over and you'll be sent back to your previously saved state.
Your goal in battle is to eliminate the enemy, but there are a few indirect things you can do to help your squad along the way. Larger battlefields have flag points that, once captured, can be used to maneuver troops more efficiently and call for reinforcements if you lose any units. You can also use grenades or, better yet, tanks to destroy walls to expose the enemy or open up a flanking route. In urban battlefields, your units will be able to climb towers or buildings to get a better shot at your foes.
The blitz battle system aims to present a healthy diversity of tactical challenges across a number of varied locations. Though the artistic style may seem whimsical at first, this seems only to underscore the prewar innocence of Gallia, which is swept away all too soon by the ravages of war. Valkyria Chronicles, released last month in Japan, will be coming to North America in November, so keep your eyes on GameSpot for more coverage.