In a long time writing reviews for all kinds of games, I have very rarely sought the opinion of other critics to validate my own. Where Valkyria Revolution is concerned though, I was so certain that my opinion must have been wrong that I sighed in relief when other reviews began to emerge. Simply put, the reason I was so worried that I was way off the mark is because in all honesty, I think Valkyria Revolution is hot garbage. Thankfully, everyone else seems to agree with me.
The realisation that Revolution is crap is both a shame and a surprise, although had I studied my history a little bit more closely, it shouldn’t have been. Revolution is a game that was developed with the intention of differentiating itself from the previous three entries (including PS3 classic and now remastered PS4 darling Valkyria Chronicles.) Unfortunately, following a demo that was bundled with the PS4 remaster of Chronicles, vitriolic fan feedback led to a number of changes to the battle system in particular, and as a result, Revolution feels like a game in distress, clinging desperately to a legacy that it hasn’t earned, and has no right to claim.
Let’s begin with what will probably be a bit of a kicking by discussing the art style in Revolution. As I was researching the development cycle of the game, I learned that the game was made using the Gouache Drawing Engine, which is a style that aims to emulate a particular kind of watercolour art. It was interesting to learn that the graphical nuance was intentional, because I had simply assumed that the reason Revolution looks so bad is to accommodate the PS Vita cross play. In reality, there are locations and vistas within the game that look spectacular – in the background – but almost every character, animation and foreground is badly animated, uninteresting and tired. The Gouache element manifests itself as an ugly kind of pixilation most of the time, and that’s not why I invested in a PS4 Pro and a 4K TV.
From a story perspective, things do improve slightly, especially in terms of how the early game generates some interest and frames what is likely to come. Set some one hundred years prior to the events of Chronicles, Revolution features an interesting tale that entwines an elite squad of five characters with that of a more traditional team of soldiers, which so happens to include the impetuous Princess of Jutland. A key element of this plot is learning about how each character is motivated, and in particular what secret the elite squad, let by a generic moody teenager called Amleth, might be hiding.
Characters can be killed as the result of events within the game, and the developers have clearly sought to bring touches of series’ like Fire Emblem into Revolution, but for whatever reason much of the feeling of engagement that those games rely on is lost here. This might be because whilst the frame of a decent story exists in Revolution, the character development and script does not. The game has cut scenes that can last more than fifteen minutes, often featuring bumbling, clumsy dialogue that is not relevant to progressing the story or anything else that you’ll care about. You’ll have seen these characters all before – the semi naked blonde wading into battle. The brooding teenager with spiky hair. The unctuous, irritating joker. No JRPG trope is excluded in Revolution.
The gameplay itself is OK, and effectively presents itself as a kind of third person action RPG, with the lightest hint of turn based strategy that means it plays out a lot like a lesser version of Xenoblade Chronicles. Players choose a team from the individuals available for each mission, kit them out and deploy. Basic (and pointless it seems, based on the AI) orders can be dished out to the AI team mates, and players can switch character at any time using the D-Pad. Mainly though, you’ll just run from one paper thin challenge to the next, waiting for your action gauge to fill and then executing one of several moves that are accessed through an unnecessarily cumbersome wheel. This meant I relied largely on the basic attack and the lock button; a combination which saw me dispatch most of the rank and file enemies in the game without much of a challenge.
Bosses and Sub-Bosses (for lack of a better term) often pose a stiffer challenge and usually turn up in what the game calls tanks. These tanks are always armoured and powered by Ragnite (the in game substance responsible for many amazing wonders) which makes them especially dangerous. That is, of course, assuming you don’t just stand behind them and hit them repeatedly. Or use an armour piercing or explosive attack, each of which will reduce them to piles of hot slag in relatively short order. Just like the team mates in Revolution, enemies have next to no AI guiding them – even if some do recognise whatever cheap tactic your using and put a stop to it with an area of effect attack.
Every character has a skill tree and there are a bewildering array of shops and other merchants to visit who will gladly sell you upgrading components. I’ll cover the skill trees first, because the long and short of it is that I still don’t understand them now, really. Basically, each character has an elemental alignment, and within their (variably shaped) skill tree, it’s possible to follow a particular branch of specialisation, or just to generalise. Because of the lack of a tutorial on this relatively complex area (no less than two tutorials are included for battle control, which is incredibly simple) I just randomly assigned points to things that sounded good, and it never did me any particular harm.
Where crafting is concerned, things are even more confusing. One of the first non-combat areas that Amleth visits is a high street in the capital of Jutland, the country that our heroes fight for. As he walks the street to “soak up public opinion” there are about five or six separate shops, each of which sells just one or two components, and none of them are explained in any useful detail whatsoever. Later, when we arrive at our mate Basil’s factory, he explains how his R&D team can upgrade our weapons, but that’s about it. There is a better explanation later in the game, but by this point, you’ve already been playing for a couple of hours, accessed the shops, bought some junk etc. I just don’t understand why Revolution is so badly structured.
And that’s probably it really. I should mention the music, which is arguably a high point, but in all fairness I’m not going to keep playing a game just because it sounds slightly above average. Valkyria Revolution is a huge disappointment to me because it seals the coffin on a series that I missed out on at first bite, and have worked hard to catch up on since. But more than that, Revolution is a huge disappointment because a bad game is a bad game, and it’s quite rare nowadays to see such a ham-fisted attempt at doing something like this, when the goodwill of so many people is behind you. I honestly can’t imagine how it came to this, but I have no choice but to recommend that you: