Valkyria Chronicles, or, “Truth in Truffaut”

28 October, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Valkyria Chronicles” (PS3, SEGA, 2008) is an interesting game for what it does very right and very wrong.

The artwork is gorgeous, a mix of anime and watercolors that works seemlessly. It’s hard for me to believe, as a light strategy RPGer, that a game I loved like “Final Fantasy Tactics” came out less than a decade ago when comparing the art quality (to be fair, “FFT” was also two game console generations ago).

The storyline is based in an alternate reality Europe in 1935 as war breaks out between the two major powers of the East Europan (no typo, it’s actually just Europan) Imperial Alliance, analagous to modern Russia and eastern Europe, and the Atlantic Federation, analogous to western Europe. Caught in between the two forces is the small, resource rich nation of Gallia (based on France, if the name didn’t tell you, but located roughly in the Baltic).

The battles are fun and a little daunting (again, I’m not a big strategy RPG person) but easy to catch up on after a few run throughs. Did I mention it’s pretty as hell? There were some points in battle where I couldn’t help but just look around. In a game where missions should be completed as quickly as possible, this wasn’t the best idea, but daaaaayum! I’m pretty sure my dreams were rendered in this game’s style for a week or so. Those were nice dreams, yo.

“Valkyria Chronicles” is about World War II, so it’s not surprising that racism is a major issue the game deals with. The subplots and scenes dealing with racism towards Darcsens (analogous to Jews) are surprisingly well done, and provide many of the game’s emotional moments. Many of your party distrust or outright hate Darcsens. Consequentially, they will perform worse when deployed alongside them in battle. It’s a subtle touch that could really be misused, but helps drive home the game’s anti-racism message.

“Valkyria” does make some pretty egregious mistakes, however. It’s an intriguing basis for a story that, unfortunately, makes for an odd gaming experience (at times).

For starters, the gorgeous artwork seems to contrast with the “war is hell” message the game pushes. There are moral issues of war raised, but not necessarily addressed. We’re told the war is terrible but the battles are so, well, fun (and PRETTY!)! And besides, all your soldiers are rather attractive and stylish for a rabble of volunteers and dispossessed (one character’s backstory is that she was a model before the war took her job. What’s surprising about that is it’s only one of your characters.)

How can war be bad if all soldiers are this adorable?

Filmmaker Francois Truffaut once said (somewhere, I can’t find the source, TAKE MY WORD FOR IT) that any artistic depiction of war will inevitably glorify it in some way. I can argue a few exceptions to this rule (I MEAN “GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES” COME ON) but “Valkyria Chronicles” proves Truffaut’s theory effortlessly. It’s a problem every game I’ve played runs into when tackling action scenes that are supposed to be harrowing or difficult. By nature of being a game, we learn from our mistakes, keep playing through the frustration, and eventually triumph! War isn’t such a big deal when you have unlimited lives (and ammo)!

The story is every JRPG you’ve ever played, but with a serious World War II fetish. Really. The big baddie is a pompous, effeminate aristocrat. Other baddies include Reluctant Baddie and Hot Baddie Chick. All the plot details are fairly predictable and some of the more JRPGy comic relief scenes don’t mesh well with the seriousness of the story.

[EDIT 31/10:] While credit deserves to be given to the game for being gender and preference inclusive, I feel the game’s treatment of its gay characters to be lacking. Jann, a gay male of the lancer class, while undoubtedly one of the most powerful lancers, is decidedly of the campy John Waters gay variety (he’s also voiced by Bender from “Futurama,” WHAAA?). While his potential offensiveness will probably vary from person to person, I found the gay engineer Dallas to be decidedly offensive. She not only “fancies women” but hates men. It’s stupidly juvenile logic: she hates men, so she must be a lesbian, RIGHT? Also, her crush on the main character’s love interest, Alicia, is a little bit obsessive (although the brief video of her “Alicia Lover” potential being unlocked is strangely adorable).

It’s just unfortunate that two homosexual game characters are relegated to being stereotyped instead of interesting and realistic. And I thought the whole point of the Darcsens-are-Jews analogy was to show the stupidity in stereotyping? For shame, y’all. [/EDIT]

“Valkyria Chronicles” is a good game overall though. The art is gorgeous, the battles very fast-paced and enjoyable, and the soundtrack is by the guy who did “Final Fantasy Tactics,” so it’s obviously incredible. As interesting as the concept is, I’m not too keen on JRPGs taking on, say, big serious earth-shattering events like World War II. Leave it to the FPSes I guess.

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