Finally we get to the core gameplay mechanic of Valkyria Chronicles: combat. As you flip through the panels of the Book mode, you’ll come to missions that must be undertaken. You’ll also unlock skirmishes as you move through the game: these can be played over and over in order to level up your army.
Combat takes place on two levels: there’s a strategic ‘map’ view of the combat area used for planning, and then a third person view for the actual combat. Each turn you get a set number of Command Points which are spent to give a particular fighter a turn, or to issue a command-level Order. These Orders are learned via the old man in the Cemetery back at HQ or get unlocked via leveling your army. Orders do things like heal a particular unit, increase evasion, call down sniper fire on a specific enemy, etc. You’ll tend to use these pretty lightly, with the bulk of your Command points going to giving your troops a chance to move.
Once you expend a Command Point to activate a unit, you zoom down into the 3D representation of the battlefield until you’re looking over that unit’s shoulder. A unit has a set number of Action Points it will spend in moving around the battlefield, and the ability to perform one activity per movement phase. That activity can be firing at an enemy, hurling a grenade, or healing an ally. As a unit moves it’ll be given the opportunity to crouch behind sandbags, crawl when in tall grass, etc. There are no time limits to this phase, but enemies will fire at you while you’re exposed and moving around, which can put a quick end to that unit’s military career.
In order to fire/throw/heal, you tap the R1 button which brings up a targeting reticule. At this point time is frozen. You move the reticule over your intended target and hit the X button to fire. Location on the target does count, so you can try for head shots or try to hit the radiator on the back of a tank (the mechanical version of a head shot). Grenades arc and do area-of-effect damage but their range is pretty short. To heal someone (or in the case of an engineer, repair the Edelweiss) you need to be adjacent to them. If you’re firing on an enemy who is unaware of you, you get a bonus to you chance to hit.
After firing, a unit can continue to move assuming it has Action Points left. There is a brief pause after firing which seems designed to let the bad guys get off a least a couple shots at you, but it is very possible to dart out into a street, shoot a bad guy in the back, then run back behind cover before he can return fire. In fact, that’s SOP for a Scout. Once you are done moving and firing a particular unit, hitting the Circle button brings you back to Command view to issue more orders. You can issue multiple orders to a single unit in one turn, but each time they get fewer and fewer action points (and in some cases ammunition is limited and replenishes only between turns). At any time you can end your turn, and unused Command Points will “roll-over” to the next turn.
While the enemy is moving, you’ll be looking at the Command map. You’ll see spotted enemy units moving (and your troops will auto-fire on them from time to time, but seemingly not as often as the enemy does to you) or “hear” units moving in the form of comic-book style sound-effect bubbles appearing on the map. These will give you a general indication of where the enemy is.
And those are the basics of combat in Valkyria Chronicles. I’m finding battles to be an awful lot of fun, hearkening back to classic PC games like Jagged Alliance or X-Com. “Opportunity Fire” is represented by units auto-firing when they see an enemy. Most battlefields have Camps to occupy, and you can Retreat units from these camps (move them off the battlefield) and bring in Reinforcements from your squad in their place. So (for example) if you run into a squad of tanks and are short on Lancers, you can Retreat a couple of Snipers and bring in Lancers to deal with the tanks. Some aspects of the battlefield are destructable, which adds to the fun. When the Edelweiss knocks over a wall that’s protecting a bunch of AI units leaving them exposed to withering fire from your Shocktroopers…that’s a good feeling. 🙂
The AI isn’t particularly challenging, at least early on in the game, but the odds are always stacked against you (and finishing a battle faster yields a better rating and rewards). This fits in with the overall theme of the game being a small group of militia kicking the butt of a much larger military force. But I have seen the AI do some really silly things, like attempt to auto-fire on one of my troops but instead shoot another AI unit standing next to the firing unit. On the plus side that shows that ammo is “live” with a real trajectory and collision detection, I guess.
I guess that ends my rather verbose “First Look” at Valkyria Chronicles. I didn’t know much about the game when I added it to my Christmas List, other than the fact that it was a strategy game that was getting good reviews but not doing well in sales. So far I’ve been absolutely delighted, and I hoped that by describing the game a bit, I could turn on a few PS3 owners to this (so far, at least) excellent game.