Friday, October 24, 2008

Demo impression: Valkyria Chronicles

While most of us expected nothing big over at the PlayStation Store this weekend, Sega has released the demo for its relatively low-profile PS3 exclusive Valkyria Chronicles which debuted in Japan earlier this year. Don't let the marketing crickets fool you: this game is looking to be one of its home platform's best releases of the holidays if the rest of the game is as good as the demo suggests.

If you haven't checked the demo section of the PlayStation Store in the past 24 hours, make a dash for your console now and download the demo because this one just might be the biggest sleeper hit of the season.

Tactical RPGs have never really been the biggest draw In the console market. For all the critical acclaim that IPs such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, and Fire Emblem have garnered, the genre is a niche at best and has thrived better on handhelds where they seem to have racked up more sales. Ergo, big props go to Sega for risking sales figures for the sake of quality with a TRPG on the PS3 and coming out with something that seeks to resucitate the genre in the big hardware field.

The first thing you'll notice with Valkyria Chronicles is how different its graphics look from everything else today. Sega's implementation of its proprietary CANVAS graphics technology has resulted in what could be considered a step forward from cel-shading. The cut scenes and the in-game graphics look like they're straight out of a well-drawn anime when they're still, but once they start to move you'll notice that the motion happens in true 3D fashion. You'll have to see it to really understand how cool this innovation by Sega is. For your convenience, here are some screenshots.

You can start the demo either by going through a brief tutorial that teaches you the basics of deploying, moving, and shooting. In the tutorial, you'll be controlling a single unit assigned to take out three enemy troopers. It's pretty simple stuff and you'll be guided through the whole ordeal.

Initially, the interface looks similar to other tactical RPGs where you move your units across a map and take on enemies positioned there. The difference becomes apparent once combat starts as you'll discover that this is not a typical menu-driven TRPG where you give commands and wait for the animations to start. Instead of just selecting basic attack, heal, and move orders, you'll take on a more active role in the movement and shooting itself.

After giving your unit a position to move into, the view descends right into the battlefield and gives you a third-person shooter perspectve. Like any shooter, you'll move your unit with the analog stick. Once enemies are spotted, you can use the shoulder buttons to get into a firing position. A targeting cursor appears and you can give orders to fire anytime you want. Just don't take too long because enemies will fire back at you even when it isn't theur turn.

When your turn is done, the enemy will move and act like you did on the first turn. As they do, your unit will automatically fire at them. It would really help to be in safe spots behind trees or sandbags while you're on the defensive.

When you're done with the tutorial, you can jump in to the bulk of the demo. Here, you'll take control of a squad that includes a tank. Yes, this game will not be limited to infantry combat as Sega seems to have included various rides to play around with. There will be more enemies to deal with, and they'll be sheltered in defensive positions this time, but it shouldn't be too hard an affair with your panzer blasting everything that moves.

As fresh as the graphical design of Valkyria Chronicles is, what's most striking about it is how it blends two separates genres in one cohesive package. We've seen a lot of action games refer to themselves as "tactical shooters" this generation but none of them took the "tactical" aspect this far. Matter of fact, it's really a tough call on how to categorize this game. In my opininon, it's still a TRPG but my view is as good as anyone else's.

Overall, Valkyria Chronicles is a great prospect for PS3 owners who are onthe lookout for omething new. It's a great statement from Sega that says they still have a lot left in them other than weird Sonic spin-offs. Get it now and see what I mean.

Also see: Mastery Academy


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