Friday, May 22, 2020

Valkyria Revolution

Valkyria Azure Revolution.png

De fem forrædere

Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles debuted on the Sony PlayStation 3 in 2008 to warm reception and sales that inspired them to turn it into a franchise, its two sequels, the third game not receiving an official release outside Japan, appearing on the PlayStation Portable. Similar to what they accomplished with the Phantasy Star series, which moved from turn-based to real-time gameplay, Sega would attempt a spinoff game with a greater emphasis on action-based roleplay entitled Valkyria Revolution, which released on the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and Xbox One. Does the shift in gameplay style work?

Revolution features an interesting storytelling method occurring around a century after the main events in the game, where a student in the Kingdom of Jutland is working on a paper about a group of individuals known as “The Five Traitors,” whose story his teacher Richelle, great-great-granddaughter of the teacher of Jutland’s Princess Ophelia, unfolds. The Five Traitors are the survivors of a fire at an orphanage led by Amleth Grønkjær, deciding to wage war against the Ruzi Empire for sake of avenging their caretaker Maria and thus forming the Anti-Valkyria squad specialized in defending against the Ruzi Emperor’s godlike battle maiden.

The story has some pretty good sociopolitical commentary on the nature of war and revenge, with the characters the player controls and their adversaries hardly being black and white, although the plot itself is incredibly derivative. The backstory of The Five Traitors somewhat parrots the backdrop of the characters in Final Fantasy VIII, and the concept of the “evil empire” has been done to death within and without the videogame medium. There’s also a great deal of resemblance to the storyline in the first Valkyria game, although the narrative is well-developed, if somewhat forced in the player’s face given that cutscene dialogue is almost entirely unskippable.

The translation isn’t half-bad, considering Sega’s inconsistent track record in this area, with the story and dialogue for the most part being legible and free of spelling and grammatical errors, along with uncensored language that moderately pushes the ESRB Teen content rating to its limit at times. The style of character names is also fairly consistent, oftentimes exotic, although there is a bit of a clash of dialects at times, ranging from Ophelia’s formal disposition to casual speech. There is also the rare redundant dialogue, not to mention the poor syncing of character lip movement with speech, but otherwise, the localization helps the spinoff more than hurts.

Revolution features mission-based gameplay, with the player able to purchase garbs for their characters, not to mention elemental Ragnite that doubles to provide them skills and improve their Final Fantasy X-esque status grids, where affinity with specific elements and other stats such as attack power consequentially increase. Higher elemental affinity means characters can equip higher-level Ragnite, with the increase of the points of each circle on their grids dictated by how powerful the shard the player uses is. Overall grids for specific characters, namely Amleth and Ophelia, become bigger at fixed points throughout the game’s narrative.

At Basil’s factory, players can also use money obtained from winning battles to purchase upgrades for all characters’ firearms and grenades, each of which have fixed uses throughout missions, accessible at HQ. There are many different types of missions involving objectives such as killing specific enemy soldiers on the battlefield, disabling bombs, and capturing adversaries’ bases, with side-battles providing ample opportunities to grind for experience and money, and story battles of course being necessary to advance the central narrative. Also at headquarters, the player can receive special rewards for fulfilling conditions such as killing a certain number of enemies with one of the four primary elements.

Before going into battle, the player can select a party of four characters of four different classes with their own strengths and weaknesses, including Shocktrooper, Scout, Shield, and Sapper, the last class for instance able to disarm landmines and specializing in long-range attacks and magic. Combat during missions is more action-based than in the mainline Valkyria games, with the player controlling one character and AI controlling his or her allies on the battlefield. Depending upon performance in combat, the player receives a number of “nodes” to use outside missions in the game menus to customize ally AI, dictating things such as conserving Ragnite abilities.

The AI for both enemies and the player’s allies can be inconsistent at times, though in the latter case the player can simply take manual control of them if they aren’t helping. One major positive of combat, however, is that when boss units such as the frequently-encountered Valkyria, giant machines, and so forth are about to execute powerful area-affecting attacks, the game shows their regions of effect before their charge, providing ample opportunity to move to safety. In this regard, though, ally AI is largely unresponsive, and taking manual control to move them out of the way can be troublesome since the last controlled character may just go ahead and reenter the skill’s area of effect.

Fortunately, if one or more characters lose all HP in battle (with the Easy difficulty setting mercifully being incredibly generous in this regard), the player’s controlled character can approach the fallen ally and bring them back into battle with partial health restored, with a clock ticking down from one minute indicating how long they have to bring them back into the action. The demise of all participating combatants results in a failure of the mission, in which case the game returns the player back to headquarters with no experience or spoils of war retained from the lost battle.

Victory, on the other hand, nets all participating characters experience for level-ups and increased stats, in addition to money and Ragnite shards usable for either spells (if elemental affinity is high enough) or stat enhancement via the mentioned grid system. Aside from the issues with the AI, all-or-nothing reward mechanics present in most mission-based RPGs, and a jerky camera, the battle system generally works well, given its many positive aspects such as the anti-frustration feature of boss units having the areas of effects for their abilities indicated prior to execution, the ability to exploit enemies’ elemental weaknesses adding further strategy.

Given the straightforwardness of the game’s structure, becoming lost and unable to advance the main storyline is virtually impossible, and the interface is generally easy to work with, with an efficient menu system, easily-viewable playtime, and such, although there are issues regarding the sometimes-long loading times, the unskippable cutscene dialogue sure to alienate hearing-impaired gamers, the slight tediousness of upgrading character’s skill maps, and the inability to suspend-save in the middle of battle. Ultimately, the control aspect of the game isn’t game-breaking, although there are areas that could have certainly been better.

Inarguably the strongest aspect of Revolution is composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack, and fortunately, unlike in RPGs such as Xenosaga Episode I, his talents don’t go to waste with endless silent areas. The music is full of sweeping epic tracks such as the variations of what plays in the city of Elsinore, and tracks such as the factory theme bring to mind Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite. The voice acting is also superb, with few weak performances aside from the occasional unnatural battle dialogue, and overall, the game is a joy to the ears.

Lamentably, one cannot say the same of the visual presentation, which is easily the game’s nadir. Rather than use the graphical style of the original game, Revolution uses a style neither fully realistic nor cartoony, and looks worse. While the character models contain good anatomy and the colors are realistic, there is a heavy degree of blurry textures and pixilation in the environments, along with choppy stop-motion-esque animation of enemy models when seen from afar, pop-up of distant foes, an irritating camera, no CG or anime cutscenes, and so forth. In the end, the spinoff could very easily pass for a PlayStation 2 RPG rather than one for the Vita.

Finally, completion of the game can take from one to two days’ worth of playtime, with a New Game+ and Trophies enhancing lasting appeal, although the game is a bit long and there’s little in the way of storyline variation.

All in all, Valkyria Revolution is definitely a valiant effort at a spinoff from the main Valkyria series, since its gameplay helps more than hurts, the narrative contains excellent sociopolitical commentary, and the aurals are generally pleasing. However, it stumbles with regards to its lengthy load times, unskippable cutscene dialogue, derivative storyline, and especially the subpar visuals, and winds up an average offshoot game overall. Regardless, I definitely don’t regret experiencing it, although it’s far from a bucket-list game, and those in particular who think the original Valkyria Chronicles infallible would be the ones least likely to appreciate Revolution.

This review is based on a playthrough of a digital copy purchased and downloaded by the reviewer.

The Good:
+Gameplay gets the job done.
+Great sociopolitical commentary.
+Excellent soundtrack and voicework.

The Bad:
-Plentiful loading times.
-Derivative storyline.
-Could pass for a PlayStation 2 RPG.

The Bottom Line:
Not bad, but far from a masterpiece.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 6.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 4.0/10
Localization: 6.0/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 1.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 5.5/10

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