Valkyria Chronicles 3 review
There’s a sense of familiarity to Valkyria Chronicles 3. That’s not just because it’s a sequel, although if you’ve played either of the first two games (and if not, why not?) you’ll instantly recognise the game’s picture-book art style, its unique mix of action and strategy, and the preponderance of story to game.
And if you’ve ever seen any sort of corny war movie, you’ll instantly recognise that story: a textbook band of ragtag misfits and criminals (they’re called the Nameless Squad here) sent in to do the missions that nobody else wants, led by a tactical genius framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
Once it gets going though, that pat premise branches off into altogether more interesting and ambiguous territory. Exposing the darker side of the hitherto good-guy Gallian army, Valkyria Chronicles 3 blurs the lines between good and evil with a sophistication that might surprise you given that the cut-scenes are essentially cartoons.
But these cartoons are as brilliant and memorable they’ve always been throughout the series, and they help set the game apart from so many other similar titles. (There’s no English translation, so non-Japanese speakers who want to understand what’s going on are advised to wait for the UK release.)
The other half of the game – the mix of turn-based strategy and live-action movement – is just as smart and clever as before. There have been a few tweaks: the balance of character classes, different levelling up, a mission select screen dressed up as a war room map featuring forking mission paths, and certain characters now aquire special abilities during the game. But the underlying experience is just as majestically thought-provoking and fiendishly tactical as ever.
It’s also just as full of difficulty spikes, resurrecting one of the biggest flaws from the previous games. Some of the most difficult missions here might take you a stressful hour to complete, knowing that at any minute a single lapse in concentration – just a simple mistake or bad bit of luck – could send you right back to the beginning.
But as with previous games, these spikes are double-edged: for all that they can be irritating or annoying, they also make for some dramatic ‘I’d be biting my nails if I wasn’t holding a PSP’ moments.
Normally, when a game feels this familiar, it’s tempting to mark it down for lack of originality. But, three games in, Valkyria Chronicles simply isn’t tired at all. The combination of turn-based strategy and action, the beautiful visuals, and a story that carefully skirts the border of typical anime rubbish to deliver something occasionally profound, is just not on offer anywhere else.
For that reason, if you have somehow criminally overlooked this series, Valkyria Chronicles 3 is a perfect place to start.