Valkyria Revolution is a new game from SEGA and developer Media Vision, not tied to the previous Valkyria games in any narrative way. It features a new format and battle system to tell a unique story, but certain aspects of the production hold it back from greatness. The only thing that carries over from the Valkyria Chronicles is the time frame and general setting, the 1930s and “Europa.” Gone are the strategy elements, the planning and execution of turn-based battles, and even compelling characters that you want to succeed. What Valkyria Revolution gives players is some killer music, a dark story of revenge, and some ridiculous load screens.
Valkyria Revolution is the story of five orphans, all survivors of a fire that destroyed their orphanage and presumably led to one of their own being kidnapped by emissaries from the Ruz empire. As these orphans grow up, they are adopted into various families and each learns a trade. But now, 10 years later, the five have come together with a plan for revenge, by using their standing in society they push their home nation of Jutland into war with Ruz, all so they can kill the men responsible for destroying their lives and taking their friend. The five use the need for resources, here a material called Ragnite, to spur their home country into conflict. Thousands of people will die so these five friends, later labeled the Five Traitors by history, can get some revenge. It’s a heavy premise, and easily the strongest aspect of the game.
Valkyria Revolution is presented to the player as a student is learning the true history of the “Liberation War” from his professor at the gravesite of the Five Traitors. Players watch poorly executed cut scene after cut scene, with mind-numbing load times between each scene (at one point, a 15-20 second load screen popped up so a character could stare off into the distance and say one line of dialogue, which was then followed by another load screen). After a few cutscenes, the story gives way to a battle, which replaces the turn-based strategy combat of previous Valkyria games with real-time hack and slash swordplay, with occasional gun and magic usage. Everything that made Valkyria Chronicles such a beloved game has been washed away here, so SEGA could “try something new.” And sadly, it doesn’t really work.
For everything that is good in Valkyria Revolution, there are plenty of things that just fail to impress. The story’s 10 chapters (along with a prologue and epilogue) have one or two battles, and the rest is cutscenes, or a limited play stage where the player can shop for new items and gear, visit locations to talk to friends — which creates new cutscenes and load screens — and then its another battle, and end of chapter. Rinse; repeat. Even when something cool happens, such as battles with the Valkyria, here presented as the Grim Reaper, the personification of death itself, we get an insipid collection of cutscenes with a blond girl named Sara, who inexplicably wears Beats-like headphones around her neck in 1935 EC Europa, and calls the princess Ophelia, a major character, “Fifi.” I’m not sure I have hated a character more in any game this year than I hate Sara. In fact, all of the characters are disappointing on the whole. Ophelia and the Valkyria are the only true standouts, as the motivations and personalities of all of the others — and there are 12-15 or so main characters — are silly and trite, even for an action JRPG-lite game like Valkyria Revolution.
Another strong feature in Valkyria Revolution is the music. The score by veteran composer Yasunori Mitsuda is sweeping and epic, as it should be in a game like this, but singing and songs are a plot point, as the Valkyria has a song of death, and Ophelia has a counter song, a song that creates a powerful mana spell.
The combat mechanics in Valkyria Revolution allow for the player to create a squad of four characters and outfit them with various forms of armor and ragnite spells before a battle. Then the player can freely switch between the characters using the directional buttons. On-field commands can be issued by the commander, the ever moody Amleth Gronkaer, but I’ve yet to see the characters actually follow those commands as ordered. Essentially, battles devolve into me hacking nameless, generic enemies with my huge blue sword, and using magic spells when needed, over and over. Even bigger battles, with bipedal mech-like tanks, don’t bring that much of a challenge, but one “boss”-like character, a prince from a liberated country who becomes a Grand General, gives me fits. The battle system is very uneven, almost as if developer Media Vision had too many ideas and instead of editing them down to something cohesive, they tried them all.
The graphics and art design follow the Valkyria series’ lead in presenting the world in an artistic setting, as if each scene is hand painted on canvas. In Valkyria Revolution, the cell shading look is replaced with a more fluid 3D style, while retaining the paint strokes in the background from previous games. Whereas the art direction was once a driving point in the series, here it, like the combat, feels muddled with too much going on.
Valkyria Revolution should be applauded for trying something new, which is what gamers want more often than not. Unfortunately, the execution of that idea has left plenty to be desired. A strong story can’t save boring cutscenes, myriad load screens, and uninspired combat levels; and a equally strong music score can’t distract from silly characters that feel more at home in a weekly anime series than a game about a devastating war. The other Valkyria games understood that, and presented the war as a real thing, a beast in and of itself that had consequences. Here, these battles feel like a watered down Dynasty Warriors with little to no skill involved other than the constant pressing of the X/A button, with spells thrown in to break up that monotony.
I wanted to like Valkyria Revolution, I really did. But sadly, the game failed to live up to the expectations and the pedigree of the developers, and of the series that it takes its name from. SEGA may have been better served to name this something else entirely and let it go off on its own path, as to not sully the memories of one of the best strategy/RPGs in the last 15 years.
Valkyria Revolution is available now for the PlayStation 4, PS Vita — with cross-save capabilities, and Xbox One. This review is based off a PS4 code provided by SEGA.
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