As mentioned, I received Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 as a Christmas present this year. So far I’ve put 4-5 hours into it, and my initial reaction is very favorable indeed.
This game is probably classified as a Strategy-RPG but I’m going to coin a new genre here: Storybook Strategy. A Storybook Strategy game is a strongly narrative-driven game that uses strategy battles to move a story forward. In the case of Valkyria Chronicles, the term applies literally since rather than a world map or other device, you literally move through the game via a book.
The book tells the story of the small country of Gallia, caught between two super-powers in an alternate-world World War II (called the Second Europa War here). The Empire in East are the ‘bad guys’ while the Federation to the West are…well, less bad anyway. The Empire were the initial aggressors. Gallia sits on the coast of the North Sea roughly where Estonia and Latvia are in our world (geography isn’t exactly the same as the real world) but the little country feels more western than that. At the start of the story, the Empire is invading Gallia to get at the Ragnite that lies unmined under Gallian soil. (Ragnite, in this world, is the chief energy source; kind of oil and coal and dynamite — even medicine — wrapped into one resource.) The story revolves around Squad 7, a rag-tag militia squad doing their best to contribute to the defense of their country.
Anyway, back to the book, which looks like a richly illustrated history book, where each illustration or map triggers a cut-scene or battle (the actual text surrounding these panels isn’t readable). So you turn pages and work your way through chapters uncovering the story via cut-scene, and moving things along by winning battles. The ‘watercolor’ art style is very bright and peppy, but already there are some dark themes manifesting. The Empire has no qualms about killing civilians, even shooting them in the back as they flee. And among your squad there are issues of extreme racism and hate between members. Quite different from the usual “Good guys are GOOD” angle that most games take.
In Part 2 of my First Look, I’ll get into the RPG aspects of the game, which are fairly unique in a number of ways. I know that “linear” is a bad-word in the gaming nomenclature, but I really enjoy a linear game if it tells a compelling story, and so far Valkyria Chronicles’ story has me hooked.