Review: Valkyria Revolution’s an unneeded uprising

Throughout the announcement and release of Sega’s localized edition of Valkyria Revolution, the company’s been clear — maybe clearer than the company was in Japan — that this isn’t Valkyria Chronicles. This isn’t a sequel. It’s billed as a spinoff, but even that may be generous.

That honesty is appreciated, certainly, but there’s more to unpack there.

Valkyria Revolution is set in an alternative Europe, in which a large-scale war brews, led (unsurprisingly) by your protagonist and a ragtag band of companions. Or, we suppose, we should say an alternative alternative Europe, a different one from the Chronicles games despite a different location and time. This Europa stands in stark contrast to the Europa of those games, with its godlike role of the Valkyria and all sorts of magic and swords rather than, you know, what you’d expect from Eastern Europe in the 1800s.

There are “tanks” in this game, but they’re Star Wars-style walkers, and fighting them is about taking out limbs rather than positioning and targeting engines. There are occasional nods to Valkyria past, with piles of sandbags and hand-drawn visual filters, but it’ll never be mistaken for that.

The reason why none of this works, outside of this abandonment of the subtle allegory of its sibling series, is a complete disregard of any sort of consistency. Characters talk in archaic language and Renaissance attire to other characters in J-pop jumpsuit pajamas spouting modern slang.

The reason why none of this works, outside of this abandonment of the subtle allegory of its sibling series, is a complete disregard of any sort of consistency.

That’s a hard thing to pull off when the utmost care is taken, but that’s certainly not the case here, as the writing and voice acting don’t feel committed to bridging this gap. This feels less like a localization error and more like a (potentially ill-advised) commitment to the weak, sporadic writing of the Japanese original, but it’s no less there.

Thankfully, with the low-quality narrative and mismatched character designs, it doesn’t spend that much time focusing on them.

Oh, wait, sorry. It totally does.

Valkyria Revolution is all about them, with twice as much time spent in story sequences between battles as it does in battles themselves, and it really wants you to love these characters. They’re all shiny? Visually. It’s… profoundly distracting. Using an visual scheme dubbed GOUACHE, it follows Chronicles‘ CANVAS sketch-like engine with models that are ludicrously reflective and a translucent fabric texture atop the screen at all times. It is, as is probably clear by that description, not as good.

You’re also supposed to love these characters, both the Vanargand military unit and the Five Traitors around which the game revolves. One of these is an “elite spy” who wears a low-cut, glittery garment at all times and has the special undercover ability of wearing her hair slightly differently. One is a princess who wears a puffy gown on the battlefield and no one questions it. The main character, the interminably-difficult-to-type Amleth Grønkjær, is maybe the least compelling protagonist in recent memory. It tries to build a hub town to walk around and overhear conversations, but the chat isn’t interesting and the world’s a series of tiny stores that would be way more usable as one or two menus.

The good news is, after you’ve pushed through the surrounding narrative, the combat itself is… hrm. The best thing we can say about it is that it’s like a Dynasty Warriors game that doesn’t wear out your controller as quickly. The multiple Japanese battle demos prior to release, and corresponding revisions to its systems, reinforce the idea you’ll get when you play: that there was no clear vision or direction for how combat should feel.

There are elements here that are reminiscent of Mass Effect or, perhaps more appropriately, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, another bizarre spinoff. It’s an action-based scheme with a bar that fills between attacks, and you can pause the action to choose magic or weaponry from an action wheel.

This is an idea that can work — again, Mass Effect is pretty okay — but the level and enemy designs just aren’t built around it. The rank-and-file foes are paper-thin and their AI is brain-dead, making using these systems to defeat them far from satisfying. Occasional specific bosses push the sliders all the way in the opposite direction, with resistances to almost all attacks and a ton of HP, but they’re not smarter, so taking them down is essentially an exercise in tedium.

That’s not to say that everything in this game is bad. Yeah, it sounds that way, and yeah, basically all design decisions here are poor. But there’s an underlying craft that shouldn’t be ignored. There’s a polish to it that isn’t in other recent budget JRPGs, and the music, while not reaching Chronicles‘ heights, builds a unified feel for a world otherwise devoid of cohesion.

Yeah, basically all design decisions here are poor. But there’s an underlying craft that shouldn’t be ignored.

So… why does this game exist? That’s not intended as a condemnation. We get how a spinoff lets developers explore a new genre while building upon the characters, world or gameplay elements of an existing game, but Revolution isn’t that. “Valkyria” exist in this game, but they work differently enough that they could easily be the super-powered magic warriors of an unrelated world. We get how a spinoff can take a compelling game and pair it with a property that makes it more marketable, but this isn’t that either. It’s clear that this was a top-down, IP-first design by how it was developed and shaped, and the resulting game is one that’s actually hampered by how much it frustrates and antagonizes fans of the property.

While it’s possibly never going to be clear why Valkyria Revolution is what it is, our hope is that it won’t hurt the future of its sibling franchise. As for players… maybe just play Valkyria Chronicles again? It’s considered by many to be one of the best games ever made, even in repeat playthroughs, than this, and it’s conveniently also available on modern platforms.

Score: 5/10
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Developer: Media.Vision
Platform(s): PS4, XB1, Vita
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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