Valkyria Chronicles was released a few months ago, and, although it is one of the finest games on the PS3, many people might have missed it due to the insane amount of games released in the run up to Christmas.
Sega's Valkyria Chronicles is an action strategy RPG, a piece of software that is not only visually stunning, but one that offers hours of fantastic though-provoking turn-based action.
Set in an alternative Europe, called Europa, in the mid-Thirties, war rages between the Atlantic Federation and the Imperial Alliance. The neutral country of Gallia is caught between these two military superpowers and eventually comes under attack from the Empire's Imperial Army.
As part of the Gallian Militia, you are thrown into the struggle to defend your homeland, and try and repel the constant attacks from the Empire's forces.
The game features the CANVAS graphics engine, which introduces a breathtaking art style. The game looks as if it has been created using a blend of illustration and splashes of watercolour and the end result is incredible.
The presentation throughout is equally good, with each chapter in the game laid out in picture book form. Each mission is sandwiched between wonderful cut-scenes and although there are many of these to watch, they are thoroughly entertaining.
When it comes time to experience the turn-based conflict, Valkyria Chronicles shines.
Before heading to the battlefield, you have to choose your squad from a list of dozens of characters and classes. And this is where the game begins to show its incredible depth.
Each character has their own unique traits, which affects their performance on the frontline.
For example, a character who is Country Bred gets an accuracy boost when standing on soil, while a Born Leader gets a defensive boost while standing near allies. On the flip side, some characters have weaknesses. Someone with a Pollen Allergy has their health drained when standing near too much foliage, for example. It's a brilliant addition and allows you to pick and choose different squads depending on what type of terrain the mission takes place on.
There's a decent selection of classes to take control of, from the nimble Scouts, to the heavy duty tank-busting Lancers. Who you choose to send out is completely up to you.
The battle phase is split into command mode and action mode. Command mode gives you a top-down map of the battlefield with icons showing your squad and enemy positions. Once you've chosen a unit to move, the camera zooms in on your team and Action Mode begins.
As you move your unit, an action bar depletes, curtailing your range of movement and as each unit can only fire once per turn, it's vital to plan your tactics.
If a squad member is seriously injured, you have thee turns to get to them and call a medic, otherwise they die. Like Fire Emblem, when a character dies, they are gone forever. This makes the player care about their team and can lead to frantic dashes across no man's land to rescue a downed squad mate.
Once you've used up all your turns, the enemy makes its moves, and so it goes until you complete the objective, or die trying.
As there are so many characters to choose from, Sega have decided to do away with character levelling. Instead, classes can be levelled which takes away the chore of grinding individual characters.
Between battles, there's plenty of things to occupy your time. You can return to base, where you can organise your squad, spend cash on beefing up your weapons and armour and make modifications to your tank. There's even a newspaper to read to find out the latest news from the front line.
There's also the welcome addition of taking part in skirmishes. These battlegrounds take place outside the main story and are the perfect place to hone your skills and tinker with formations.
Unfortunately there is no online option, which is a real pity. The chess-like structure of Valkyria Chronicles would be perfect for competitive online matches and its exclusion is disappointing - as is the lack of trophy support.
As someone who loves strategy RPGs, I was worried that Valkyria Chronicles would be all style and no substance. But after playing through the game, I can confirm that is definitely not the case.
An engaging story, great voice work, jaw-dropping visuals, a beautiful soundtrack and rock solid gameplay adds up to a must-buy for all PS3 owners.
This is a game that people will look back on with fondness in years to come. If you miss out now, you'll regret it, so if you see a copy, grab it.
images courtesy of Sega