The latest entry in the Valkyria Chronicles saga, Valkyria: Azure Revolution, has taken a rather dramatic turn away from the original games. The PS3 debut gained critical approval but suffered from fairly weak sales, so it isn’t too surprising that there has been a shift in the way it plays. Whether these changes are for the better remains to be seen.
Rather than being a tactical, turn-based RPG, it has metamorphosed into a strategic character action game which may leave former evangelists cold.
The style remains; that’s undeniable. It looks as beautiful as ever, albeit in a different manner. It bears more resemblance to the textured watercolour look of the PSP games, rather than the softer style of the original. It looks spectacular, but at times the character models look a little jagged upon closer inspection. It has a visual charm, but this should perhaps be more striking given the shift in hardware generations since the last game.
The most significant change is battle flow. Rather than the tense, turn-based affair that it was before, it has become an amalgamation of strategy and action. Rather than being purely turn-based, the game instead runs on a cool down clock; movement isn’t restricted but characters have to wait until meters are recharged before they can perform actions. Rather than planning a shrewd manoeuvre, you have to time your attacks to match the cool down bar. It isn’t quite the game we were expecting. Perhaps the new approach will open it up to a a new and larger audience. Or maybe this new attempt to marry smooth combat to tactical nous will serve only to alienate those who loved the previous games.
The changes don’t just extend to the player actions. A new ‘Emotion’ system, relating to how foes react to your actions, is a potentially welcome addition. Shooting at enemies can cause them to panic, affecting their behaviour and reducing the effectiveness of their attacks. Killing an officer drastically reduces their abilities as they are taken over by a state of fear. Conversely, killing the soldiers can buff the stats of officers as they feel anger. It didn’t play a significant role in the demo, but such nuances do add a tactical aspect that would otherwise be missing.
Though Chronicles and the PSP sequels did dip into mysticism, Azure Revolution embraces it whole heartedly. The controllable characters, who you can cycle through at the press of a button, possess magical elemental attacks. It works well within the context of the new action-focussed gameplay, but again, it’s a departure from the more grounded characters in the previous games. There is more of a JRPG sense of destiny to these heroes, a departure from the Everyman thrust into a tragic, all consuming conflict that defined the original.
It’s too early to judge, but be forewarned that Valkyria: Azure Revolution may not be the game that you were expecting.