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Submission: Senjou no Valkyria (2008, PS3) review

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Submission: Senjou no Valkyria (2008, PS3) review

Unread postby leccosta » 17 Dec 2019 15:42

Disclaimer: This is a heavily edited version of a review I posted elsewhere. In the original I gave this game a 8/10, but after some thought I'm bumping the score up a little.

Senjou no Valkyria is an interesting game. It is a well beloved and critically acclaimed game, but I think it deserves more attention. Especially because of the masterful way that it blends turn-based tactics and real-time action.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, let's start with the basics: Senjou no Valkyria is a tactics game where you play as a squad commander in a fictitious WWII setting. The story is nothing to write home about and you've seen all of this before. Your city is being attacked by the evil Empire. You enlist and you are assigned as a squad leader after doing some heroic deed. You and your band fight in a series of battles against the Empire. And so on.

The battles are the real meat of this game. The battles are turn-based, divided in player and enemy turns, a la Fire Emblem. At the beginning of each mission, you are given your objective and you choose a number of squad members to deploy in your corner of the map in a top-down view map. You get a set number of action points each turn, spend one of them to select a character to move and make an action with them. So far, pretty basic turn-based tactics stuff, right?

So you start your turn, spend an action point and select a character. That's when the magic happens. After choosing your character the games perspective changes from the top-down view and becomes a full-blown third-person shooter. You are the character. You're there in the middle of the battlefield, at street level with buildings looming over you. No grids on the floor. You're actually walking around aiming and shooting at things. Like in a traditional tactics game you can move up to a certain distance (depending on the class, scouts can move farther, etc.) and do only one action (shooting, throwing a grenade, etc.), then the turn ends. But within these confines you're completely free.

And it's not like you can walk around freely and the enemy will do nothing just because it's not their turn. The enemies shoot automatically at you when you get in their line of sight, and the damage in this game is high, so you have to be careful, going from cover to cover while people are shooting at you, like you would in a third-person shooter. This also works for your units, so it is important to position and face them in a direction where they can see and shoot at incoming threats when they appear. This makes the battlefields feel alive, and not just a case of "my turn, your turn". That's where this game shines, this masterful blend of turn-based tactics and real time action.

Real-time tactics games is a hard genre to do right. It is comprised of two halves that often fight with each other: if the game is too fast, you don't have much time to devise your tactics, and if the game is too slow, the action will not be very exciting. So, making a good real-time tactics game is a tough balancing act that not many developers can achieve. Senjou no Valkyria bypasses this problem in a way that it gets the best of both worlds: the tactics are turn-based, but the action is real-time. I've never seen this concept so elegantly done in a game before, or since for that matter. It is so good that sometimes I start thinking how other tactics games would be using this system.

In Divinity: Original Sin when you tell your sorceress to cast a fireball you watch a cutscene of her walking to the specified point and casting the spell. Now imagine that you were the one doing this instead, or you were the one aiming that bow, or climbing down the stairs and slashing that orc. Now, instead of the generally small environments where D:OS's battles take place, imagine a huge battlefield, swarming with enemies, with bases to capture, snipers shooting at you, tanks rolling around, and mortar fire raining at you. Welcome to Senjou no Valkyria.

Ok, the battle system is great, but how about the maps and missions? Having a good battle system without having good maps is the same as having a platformer with great movement options but all the stages are flat. Well, the mission design is uneven, most of them are very good missions and but there are a few tedious ones. But there is a great amount of variety here: escaping in a forest at night with mortars raining from the sky, running from a huge tank inside a canyon while slowing him down with falling rocks (a highlight of the game) and even good old JRPG boss fights against an invulnerable superboss.

Unfortunately some of the missions have a problem that plagues many tactics games: reinforcements that come out of nowhere and move the SAME turn. Most of the times I've died it was because of these guys spawning and destroying my tank before I could do nothing. Reinforcements are a cool way to spice up missions, I understand, but at least warn me where they are coming from or don't let them move the turn they arrive so I can prepare! Fuck that shit.

Speaking of dying, the game has a permadeath system. If the body of one of your fallen squad members is touched by an enemy, he's dead for good. But you can still save them if you rescue him with one of your other squad members. It won't happen much: I won many maps by just using the tank to, well... tank hits and still got A rank.

To finish: the game is also gorgeous, with a pleasant art style, well directed cutscenes and the CANVAS engine - which is only a fancy filter the developers made - gives everything a beautiful pencil drawing look. Unfortunately, the character designs tend more to the side of generic, especially the less important squad members. The story and music are just there, not bad, nothing impressive. But the setting is cool.

All in all. An amazing battle system. The way that they blended the different halves of the battle system is new and the elegance in which they did it nothing short of genius. I heard Code Name: S.T.E.A.M uses a similar system, but has grids. All I know is that I want more of these kind of games in the future.

★★★★★
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Unread postby icycalm » 18 Dec 2019 03:00

First off, I've read a bunch of Valkyria reviews, and this is easily the best and most convincing of the lot. So it's certainly going up in the review section, if you allow me to make some edits, as I will explain below. Where exactly did you post it originally?

Having said that, your main argument is weak. The review is good because of the complete picture it paints of the game, and especially the mechanical description which I have not seen explained so well elsewhere; but as to the value of these mechanics, you are way off. And I quote:

leccosta wrote:In Divinity: Original Sin when you tell your sorceress to cast a fireball you watch a cutscene of her walking to the specified point and casting the spell. Now imagine that you were the one doing this instead, or you were the one aiming that bow, or climbing down the stairs and slashing that orc. Now, instead of the generally small environments where D:OS's battles take place, imagine a huge battlefield, swarming with enemies, with bases to capture, snipers shooting at you, tanks rolling around, and mortar fire raining at you. Welcome to Senjou no Valkyria.


lol

This is so assbackwards I don't even know where to begin. Welcome to Senjou no Valkyria? You are the one who needs to be welcomed to modern gaming lol. You do realize I hope that in games like Rainbow Six Siege you have full-on real-time tactics that wipe the floor with the experience you describe? If you want a story at the same time, try Lost Planet 2 (and giant mechs that take two or more players to control, etc.) Mount & Blade strings an entire epic campaign with strategy in it, and the PlanetSides do this with hundreds if not thousands of players and tanks, planes and so on. Rust and Life is Feudal: MMO throw in true strategy with full base- and castle-building and wars between clans that last for days or even weeks or months. I know you prefer to pirate games because you obviously play many of them and it's a huge expense, but you should at the very least consider buying a couple of online games a year, because you've been missing out on much of the best that modern gaming has to offer, since many of these games are online-only and can't be pirated. It's not an accident that Valkyria's mechanics haven't been copied and you struggle to think of even a single game that has followed down that route (Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. lol): these mechanics are awkward and stupid as fuck and make bollock-all sense if you think about it for a moment. One player can move in real-time while everyone else is frozen and can only fire reaction shots because otherwise the action would seem even stupider? And you think this is "genius mechanics"?

Need to play more games dude. And above all modern games.

I am not saying Valkyria is not a fun game. And I can see why it would feel like a breath of fresh air after the umpteenth samey turn-based tactics game. But there's a huge difference between an interesting curiosity and a true genius game that will move the genre and the artform forward, and it's precisely the point of criticism to be able to tell which is which.

I think you do very well on the basic criticism skills of taking a game apart and evaluating its various aspects and stringing all that into a coherent and easy-to-follow narrative, but when it comes to pulling back from the game in question and seeing where it fits in the evolution of its entire genre... you're not doing so well there. I.e. it's the theory part that gives you trouble. Which is okay, since almost no one can do this properly. Hell, very few can even do criticism properly, so congrats for being one of them.

In conclusion, I want to post the review in the review archive, but I will need to edit out your attempts at theory. Let me know if you're okay with that. If not, it's not a big deal; the review can stay here, and people can still read it, as well my feedback on it.
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icycalm
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Unread postby leccosta » 18 Dec 2019 05:17

Thanks for the advice. You're welcome to edit and post the review on the frontage.

The original review was posted here: https://myvideogamelist.com/review/445/ ... Chronicles. I wrote it very fast and feels like a first draft. Also, I didn't explain the mechanics as well but there are some things there that I didn't include here, like a small paragraph about the classes. If you want to include them in the complete review, there's no problem. The attempts at theory are less pronounced there too.

I'm well aware of the games you told me about and I know I'm missing out on some great modern games and I will play them. I remember we talked about that a year ago. As you may remember, my graphics card fried a long time ago and I've been only playing less graphically intensive games. But I'm stable financially now, so I'm buying a new PC in a couple of months.

I can see that I fumbled the theory part. To be clear, when I praised the innovations of the battle system I was actually referring to single-player turn-based tactics. I even say so in the original review, it was probably lost in the editing. That's why I cited the battle systems of Divinity: Original Sin and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.. I can totally understand that the games you cited are the real evolution of the genre and I considered them as being a different kind of beast from a single-player turn-based game. Probably due to my lack of experience with them, as you said. The only multiplayer games I remember playing with friends in the last year or so are MOBAs, which bore me very fast. Sorry about that and I'll try to refrain from theory in the future.

If you want, you can change that part to specify that I'm talking specifically about single-player turn-based tactics. But if it still sounds ridiculous or not important enough even after that change (which I think it probably will), you can remove the theory part altogether. Thanks and it's a pleasure to be featured on the frontpage.
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Unread postby icycalm » 18 Dec 2019 06:07

Single-player or multiplayer makes no difference. Mount & Blade is single-player (as its upcoming sequel will also be). The old Xbox Kingdom Under Fire games were also single-player. 2018's Freeman: Guerrilla Warfare on Steam is a Mount & Blade-type game in a modern setting, also single-player: https://store.steampowered.com/app/7739 ... a_Warfare/

The PlanetSides and all the other games I mentioned could be easily made into single-player with AI bots, but Valkyria could not be turned into multiplayer because it would make no sense for the players to wait for each other to finish their turns if the goddamn action is real-time in the first place. The turns shoved in the middle of the real-time action defeat the whole purpose of the real-time action! I mean you could make a game that functions that way, but the players would be like "Why the fuck do I have to wait if the shooting happens in real-time anyway?" The mechanics are just silly. Which is okay for ONE game, just like another Japanese company called Sting that makes games with weird counterintuitive mechanics. Have you heard of Sting? Look into their Dept. Heaven series, Yggdra Union, Knights in the Nightmare etc. The latter is a turn-based tactical game with SHOOTING GAME ELEMENTS. Let that sink in for a bit. It sounds retarded as fuck, no? But I am sure it's a fun little game, just like everything they make. However, no one's ever copied it because it just doesn't make much sense. It's what in English they call a "curio", an interesting curiosity and nothing more.

Valkyria's design is the equivalent of someone running into a cul-de-sac and, instead of pausing, then stopping, and turning back, proceeds to smash his head right into the wall. Because tactics is the control of a group of characters. If you control a single character, it's not tactics, it's action. So when you try to include tactics in a single-player game, it must necessarily either be turn-based, so that you can issue orders to every character in turn, or, if you want it to be real-time, it must zoom out the camera and give you an RTT interface as in Commandos, Company of Heroes and so on. If, on the other hand, you demand BOTH tactics AND first- or third-person action in a SINGLE-PLAYER game... well this is impossible, because, being zoomed in to a single character, you are unable to control more than one. So the only "solution" is indeed to re-inject turns into the game so you can control each character in turn in real-time, but of course this isn't a solution because you've screwed up the real-time aspect now, and the game is a kind of time-travelling game, or at least a game where most characters simply sit around and do nothing, or do very little things, while one of them runs around doing stuff. It's just stupid. And that's why it's not been followed up.

Now games like the Kingdom Under Fire and Mount & Blade series solve this issue by giving you ONE character to control in first- or third-person, but also giving you a set of commands that you can issue from this perspective to squads of AIs that follow you around, exactly like in real-life. Because the Commandos or Company of Heroes viewpoint is unrealistic of course; the commander in real-life doesn't have a bird's-eye view of the action, he is on the ground next to his soldiers, issuing verbal orders to them; and that's exactly how KUF and M&B work, and why these are legendary games that have been amply followed up and have a bright future ahead of them. Of course, even brighter is the future of games that replace the AIs with people, because this way the battles and the tactics and ultimately the strategy become a whole lot more interesting and fun (at least until we get human-level AI, at which point quite a few things will change in the genre that I plan to analyze at some point).

So even in a strict single-player context, Valkyria is no innovator or trend-setter, and the games you should be looking at instead are KUF and M&B. And by the way, there was an Amiga game (its name escapes me) that split the screen into four windows, giving you control of four mercenaries I think it was in real-time. So, if I am not mistaken, you could switch between any of the four and you controlled all of them. This is what the Valkyria model would play like if we removed the unnatural turns. And of course no one followed that game up either because controlling four characters from a first-person perspective simultaneously is not human. Maybe a cyborg in the future will manage it, or aliens. But when a human player plays this game, you basically have three characters sitting around doing nothing while the player controls one character at a time. Which makes no sense at all.

I hope the above clears things up a bit. And by all means do not refrain from discussing theory here; I am sure that everyone reading this thread will have learned a lot about games, and I am sure they want to read more stuff like this in the future. As long as you take my criticisms in stride, as you have been doing, and don't react like all the people who banned me from every videogame forum on the internet by declaring war on me when I explained their mistakes, we'll be fine.
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Unread postby leccosta » 18 Dec 2019 06:45

Thanks for the very detailed explanation, it indeed clears up a lot and was very interesting to read.

I played some of the Dept. Heaven series games. I finished Riviera: The Promised Land and played a little of Yggdra Union and they are indeed interesting curiosities. It's easy to see Senjou no Valkyria falling in this category.

I won't take the criticism to heart, no worries. It's something I appreciate and learn from. Actually, I found this to be a fun experience and plan to submit more reviews in the future.
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