Valkyria Revolution? More Like Valkyria Bloviation

If You're Out Of Ambien, Try Watching Valkyria Revolution's Cutscenes
4
  • Playstation 4
  • Playstation Vita
  • Xbox One
  • Action
  • RPG
2017-06-27
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Princess Ophelia of Valkyria Revolution. (c) Sega

Valkyria Revolution bears the name of a famous and beloved series of tactical JRPGs. Somehow, the Valkyria series has always eluded me, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a new game with minimal relation to the originals was in development. A series entry in a JRPG franchise where I didn’t have to invest hundreds of hours in its predecessors to understand what was going on? Sign me up.

I have regrets.

Valkyria Revolution has two major issues that make it incomprehensible as an RPG: it has (1) an inane plot driven by (2) asinine characters. You cannot enjoy a role-playing game when neither the characters nor the plot are worth the investment of your time and emotional energy.

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Look at this cast! That's not even all of them. Photo: (c) Sega

The plot revolves around a group of five notorious “Traitors” who led the country of Jutland into war. This war liberated Jutland from economic and political oppression, yet their names were blackened and they were put to death. A century later, a young man discusses the secrets of the Traitors and this war with his professor, who knows everything that went on behind the scenes because it was all passed down in her family. The young man and professor act as a framing device around the story of the five Traitors.

The effect produced is like wrapping a hornet in a wasp. I don’t like the final result any more than its individual pieces. Here’s why: the last thing this game needs is more cutscenes. We’ll be with the five Traitors for two cutscenes in a row, then we’ll switch to the young man and the professor sharing a cutscene, then we’ll return to the five Traitors for another two cutscenes and add a cutscene with the evil Empire for kicks.

These cutscenes are awful, and the sheer number of them is shocking. Valkyria Revolution stacks cutscenes like they’re Jenga blocks. All of them are fully voiced and unskippable, which is torture for people who read faster than spoken dialogue. The English voice cast does its best with their corny lines, but I literally, actually fell asleep during a set of these cutscenes.

They’re so boring, and you have to sit through every idiotic comment, every repetitive statement, every cliche-laden line, every lame joke. If a character makes a point, it is echoed by seven other useless, interchangeable characters. Every bit of combat is bookended by years of filler cutscenes. It’s impossible to tell who’s talking unless you recognize the different voices, and the creepy character models have the emotive capacity of a thumb. The specter of more cutscenes makes you dread progressing in the story.

As for the story, I was interested in that, at first. Industrial Revolution meets magic for an old-timey steampunk-flavored setting with a dash of geopolitics, framed by somebody mythbusting the accepted historical narrative? Sure! But despite intricate and distinct character design, the characters are dull, uninspired and forgettable. I don’t want to watch them do anything. I don’t want them to succeed or to fail. I just want to take a nap.

Take for example one of the Traitors, our playable main character: Amleth, pronounced “Hamlet.” He’s like Squall from Final Fantasy 8, if you were playing a corrupted save file in hell itself.

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Amleth. (sighs deeply) Photo: (c) Sega

Amleth is in charge of a squad of about 4000 characters, each of whom is defined by a single personality trait and/or physical characteristic. There’s Ophelia, the earnest princess; Sara, an airhead; Isaak, a foppish nobleman; and 3997 others. I can’t keep them straight.

Then there’s the other Traitors: Violette, who has heaving breasts that could nurse the entire hungry nation of Jutland, and three others who I cannot be forced to care about no matter how tragic their cliche backstory is. Business guy in fire suit? Boring politician guy? Boring newspaper guy? They’re talking and whoops, I’m asleep again.

Speaking of mammaries with their own zip code: listen.

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The Valkyria from Valkyria Revolution. Photo: (c) Sega

I’m far from a prude, but I absolutely lost it when I saw the titular Valkyria. Ah yes, the terrifying vision of Death personified, wearing a skull mask and a sinister robe… well, that skeleton certainly does seem to have a shelf on its chest, how interesting. I laughed a little (we know that breasts are made of fat, and not bone, right? So skeletons wouldn’t have breasts? We know that, yes?) but it was whatever. Then the Valkyria’s garb came off, and I howled.

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The Valkyria. I mean.... come on. Photo: (c) Sega

How does the Grim Reaper have breasts that are each twice as big as her goddamn head? Games are art, Mom! I was near-crippled with secondhand embarrassment.

Egregious breasts aside, the worst part about the weak characters is how damned hard Valkyria Revolution tries to imbue them with depth and humor. There is a mechanic called “Circles” where your squad splits off into smaller friend groups and you can encounter them around town. Each “Circle” has four or five little conversational events meant to be a charming glimpse into their personalities. But nobody has anything to say, and they say their bit of nothing at great length. What could be appealing becomes just another tiresome exercise in bad dialogue.

Then these cardboard cutouts stumble through a plot propelled by their own asinine decisions, and the less said about that, the better.

I’ll devote a few words to the battle system. Each of your 4000 squad members has their own sphere grid, which you upgrade with alchemical abilities, which you receive randomly as loot during missions. There are a variety of missions which see you take back territory from the Empire, defend your bases or advance the story.

There are only a handful of maps, which are reused over and over; this is good, because the map in the upper righthand corner is really bad, and you’ll get lost at first. Getting lost is bad, because in some missions, the Valkyria will come if night falls, and her breasts may crush you in the descent. Failed missions mean the Empire pushes into your territory, which you can kind of undo by grinding more of the repetitive missions. There’s a lot of grinding, partially because you’re avoiding new chapters and the forty years of cutscenes you know you’ll have to go through.

At least the characters you don’t use level up with you, which is handy when you’re forced to use extra squad members. There’s also a rudimentary tactics system that is never properly explained, but which you can set to control the AI of party members you aren’t playing. The AI is not fantastic; you’ll often find yourself switching to other characters to take control of their behavior yourself rather than rely on AI or the clunky “Give Orders" mechanic. You can split your party in two or act solo, but I rarely used this because the AI didn’t seem to know what to do with itself, even after unlocking tactics that were supposed to help.

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A flashy display in Valkyria Revolution. Photo: (c) Sega

As for how combat feels: it’s okay, but not great. Anyone who tells you there’s a tactical element to this game is bold-faced lying: this is an action RPG through and through. Even on “stealth” and “scouting” missions, I ran straight into the enemy and hacked them to bits with no issues every time. The alchemical abilities are okay, even fun sometimes, but you fight the same enemy types over and over with little variation. An “Action Gauge” supposedly limits your ability to hack and slash, which seems to be a callback to Valkyria ’s tactical roots, but in effect just throws off your rhythm. A stealth system technically exists, but you’ll find yourself vaulting over cover you meant to crouch behind and crouching behind cover you meant to vault over constantly, and sneaking up on enemies is far less rewarding than simply murdering them right in their copypasta faces.

There are a few customization options available, namely weapon and gear crafting. Unfortunately, to craft gear you have to visit at least three separate shops to purchase materials, each of which has a different effect depending on what kind of gear you’re making. You also have to wait for your gear to be crafted, so you can’t pick up new gear until you complete a mission. Remember what I said about grinding? Yeah.

I can’t recommend Valkyria Revolution. When it wasn't putting me to sleep, characters said such pablum and made such silly choices that I laughed at the game, not with it. Valkyria Revolution does not feel like it was thrown together sloppily at the last minute; its intricate character designs, its reams of dialogue and the Sisyphean churning of its absurd plot wheels are too careful for that. So why does it feel so utterly unrewarding? I don’t know, but perhaps I’ll be dipping into the Valkyria well again to see what magic the first games captured that this one failed to bottle.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Valkyria Revolution
4
Valkyria Revolution? More Like Valkyria Bloviation
Valkyria Revolution has two major issues that make it incomprehensible as an RPG: an inane plot driven by asinine characters.
  • Intricate character designs
  • The characters you don’t use level up with you
  • Never-ending cutscenes
  • Slow, meandering story
  • Stealth / strategic gameplay is lacking
  • Repetitive enemy types
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