E3 2008: Valkyria Chronicles Hands-On

We play through the upcoming PlayStation 3 exclusive and find ourselves thoroughly impressed.

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Role-playing game fans who own a PlayStation 3 have been desperately waiting for some big RPG titles to hit the console. Valkyria Chronicles may be the answer. It is a visual treat with gorgeous watercolor graphics, and it is backed by some compelling gameplay, using a new turn-based battle system called blitz. The game uses a new "CANVAS" engine, developed internally by Sega Game Studios in Japan. During E3 Sega was able to show off their masterpiece to the American audience, since the game has already come out in Japan.

We got a chance to see some great cutscenes, and when we began the actual gameplay, the graphics virtually didn't change. The story setting is similar to a 1935 Europe, although everything is fictional. The story revolves around the republic of Gallia, a nation rich in ragnite, which is a vital resource that warring superpowers are after. We started our tutorial session with Welkin and Alicia, two of the main characters in Valkyria Chronicles. Like in tactical RPGs of the past, the battles are turn based, but movement is slightly different from your usual chessboard style. Rather than being limited to square spaces, you have a gas gauge that lets you roam the area until you run out. Strategically placed sandbags and other areas are available to use as cover, because when it's the enemy's turn, you'll need to find cover to avoid taking a lot of damage.

The visuals are unique and beautiful.
The visuals are unique and beautiful.

In our tutorial we ran up behind an unsuspecting enemy and took cover behind some sandbags. Using our weapon we were able to use a target reticle to aim at the enemy from behind. This part of the game is paused so you can take your time and try to aim for the head. If the enemy is not defeated after your turn, it will immediately shoot you and continue to do so until you end the turn. Each battle has objectives. Usually they involve taking out all the enemies or taking over a certain area, or sometimes you'll have to escape. You are generally given 20 turns, and within each turn you have a limited number of command points to spend on your units. If you do not use up all of them in one turn, they will carry over to the next. Losing a main character that is vital to the story in battle will end the game, but when side characters in your party die, you have three turns to save them before they are removed from the game permanently. Throughout the game you will also come across 50 characters, some of whom are part of the main storyline and many of whom are not. Depending on battles, you can have anywhere from five to 20 people in your group.

We are told that even though these battles can be very challenging, it is possible to finish each level in one or two turns. The trick is finding out how. To finish the entire game the first time around will take about 50 to 60 hours, but you can begin a new game with your endgame character stats and work toward gaining S rank. Certain characters also have personality traits to keep in mind, because if they are placed in a more favorable situation they will perform better. Apparently one of the characters will be much more useful if he is surrounded by women, and another is allergic to grass and will not do well if sent to crawl through a bush.

Tanks blow things up real good.
Tanks blow things up real good.

One of the battles we got to see involved tanks and multiple enemy units across the city. You have six units that can be part of the mission--tanks, scouts, snipers, stormtroopers, lancers, and engineers--and each has its own special abilities. With snipers, if they can get to a rooftop, they can survey a larger area and give you vital information regarding enemy location. Otherwise, you're not sure what is going on when you check the map. Engineers will help repair tanks and rebuild sandbags and can take out land mines. They can also restock their ammo, so they come in very handy. Snipers and lancers are more powerful and will have limited ammo. Tanks will have two areas to target. You can take out the treads to keep them from advancing or aim for the body to take them out completely. As you level, you gain experience points, and you can upgrade an entire class. You can customize each class individually with weapons that you buy or find.

Not only is the visual presentation exquisite, but so far the voice acting and music are top-notch as well. The voice director for Valkyria Chronicles is Jack Fletcher, who has worked on anime films and video games, including Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Final Fantasy X. The music is done by Hitoshi Sakimoto, the composer for Final Fantasy XII, so a lot of talent has been recruited to ensure the quality.

Fans of Skies of Arcadia will come across a familiar face, such as Aika. If you've been itching for an RPG, it won't be long before Valkyria Chronicles hits stores stateside. Be sure to look for this PS3-exclusive game when it hits stores this November.

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