Valkyria Chronicles First Look: Part 2

Today I want to talk about the somewhat unusual RPG aspects of Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3. Full disclosure: I’m now about 11 hours into the game and some aspects of it still haven’t “opened up” yet.

Individual characters in VC don’t gain experience or have inventories. Instead, characters (each of whom has a name and a background) are broken down into five classes: scouts have lots of mobility but not a lot of armor or firepower; shocktroopers carry machine guns for big short range damage; lancers are anti-tank foot soldiers with low mobility; engineers have low combat skills but can repair tanks and resupply everyone; snipers have high long-distance firepower but not a lot of mobility or armor. Finally your ‘main character’ is a tank commander, and he drives around in a custom tank named the Edelweiss – as far as I know this is the only tank you get in the game.

At the end of every mission you gain ducats and experience. Ducats are used to upgrade weapons, armor and parts for the Edelweiss. When a weapon is upgraded, every unit that carries that weapon immediately gets the upgraded model. So if you upgrade the sniper rifle, it means all your snipers get more powerful. Ducats can also be spent to finance the ongoing writings of an embedded reporter who travels with you. These unlock “side stories” to the main story, some of which come with extra missions, and some of which are just expository.

Experience is used to “level up” a class of soldier. You can spend experience points as you see fit, distributing it among the five classes, but I’d imagine most people are going to do what I’m doing and just distribute it more or less evenly so all classes stay about the same level. Frankly this takes a lot of the classic RPG decision making out of the game (which is part of why I’m calling this a Storybook Strategy game rather than a Strategy-RPG). There’s also a mysterious aged gentleman that you meet who can teach you new Commands in exchange for experience points. More about Commands in my next post.

So now you’ll be thinking that all your troops are more or less interchangeable, right? But no, each individual is in fact unique. First, their stats vary slightly, and with these, what you see is what you get. If you have a particular Shocktrooper with lower-than-usual HP, you just have to live with that. Also, each character has a set of other characters that he or she likes, and having characters who like each other fighting together gives some bonuses to combat.

More interesting though, are Potentials. Each character has a set of Potentials, which are either buffs or debuffs that trigger depending on the situation on the battlefield. Potentials can be environment related (some characters are country-bred and hate being in the city but get a bonus for being in the country, others might have allergies to pollen and are adversely affected by being in tall grass) and others are character-related. Lots of characters have Potentials such as “Likes Women” (potential for a bonus around females) or “Hates Men” (potential for a debuff around males) while others have Potentials related to how many people are around them. And it goes on and on… I’m still uncovering new Potentials all the time (as a class levels up they ‘unlock’ more Potentials for that class).

So this is where the real role-playing comes in: You’re about to go out on a mission. You check the terrain and the situation. First you decide what kinds of troops you’re going to need. Then you have to decide which individuals are going to work well in this environment, and further take into account their inter-personal Likes and Potentials in order maximize their chances for success. You can spend a lot of time building the perfect team for a particular mission.

A few last notes: when an individual’s health drops to zero hit points, he or she collapses. You now have three turns to get a friendly to the fallen unit in order to medivac them off the battlefield. Also, if an enemy gets to the fallen tropper first, the enemy will finish them off. Once an individual is dead, they’re gone for good. You have a good sized pool of soldiers to pick from, but remember that each has a different set of Potentials; you might really want that individual for a specific purpose later on. Plus you get to know all these people and it feels bad to let one die (assuming you’re any kind of role-player).

Lastly, if all this fiddling with Potentials and Likes and so forth sounds like too much of a pain, you can run “Skirmish” battles to earn ducats and experience and just level up your army, making them powerful enough that the edge given by careful team-building isn’t needed to win the day. I find choices in play-style like this to be a positive, but I know some people need to be forced into playing one way and will see this as a flaw. Do yourself a favor and don’t go crazy leveling up your army by grinding Skirmishes. The game is incredibly fun when the battles are challenging affairs.

Next time, I’ll finally get to Combat in Valkyria Chronicles.