Valkyria Revolution Review: War Crimes

Sega's Valkyria Chronicles revival is a disappointment.

Review by Kat Bailey, .

When I was in high school, I would spend hours and days writing primers for nations, races, and worlds that didn't exist. As a fantasy and sci-fi nut, I was less enthralled by characters than the world they inhabited. Valkyria Revolution, paralyzingly dull as it is, brings me back to those days—the days when I was more concerned with world-building than actual storytelling.

It reminds me of the Star Wars prequels, actually—in particular the bits where they're talking politics in the Imperial Senate chambers. Valkyria Revolution's characters mercifully avoid discussing taxation of trade routes, but their conversations about politics and strategy are no less interminable. Like the prequels, Valkyria Revolution brackets mindless battles with long, drawn out discussions about politics and strategy.

In many respects, it's the exact opposite of its predecessor—the much-loved Valkyria Chronicles. Where Valkyria Chronicles was about a squad of ordinary people banding together and fighting for their home (with some supernatural help), Valkyria Revolution is about kings and politicians deciding the fate of nations. Where Valkyria Chronicles was based around turn-based strategy, Valkyria Revolution is an action game. They share a name and a little bit of the lore, but otherwise the similarities between the two are mostly cosmetic.

Strap yourself in!

Valkyria Revolution's centers around the struggle of a small nation named Jutland's struggle to throw off the yoke of imperial oppression, which is masterminded by a handful of shadowy business leaders and politicians called "The Traitors." Their military arm is led by Amleth—your typical sullen anime protagonist with a dark past, and Ophelia, the princess of Jutland. His squad, which is your only real glimpse of the Jutland military, consists of the usual array of one-note anime archetypes, from the Klutzy But Cute Girl to The Grizzled Veteran. These characters are occasionally highlighted in optional conversations, but otherwise the spotlight is firmly on Amleth, Ophelia, and the rest of the Traitors.

In what might be Valkyria Revolution's most interesting touch, the story is framed as an academic discussion between a professor and her student. Between battles, the two question the motives of the Traitors with the benefit of hindsight. Like the rest of the game, these scenes come off as dry, academic, and frankly kind of boring, but they have the benefit of adding an extra layer to the storytelling. It suggests that the story isn't 100 percent onboard with the actions of the Traitors—an underlying story thread that gets teased whenever the scene shifts back to the professor.

As the story progresses chapter by chapter, the narrative shifts from the professor, to the various discussions between the Traitors, to the main hub—a bustling marketplace where you can upgrade your weapons, catch up on a limited amount of news, and craft new items. The actual battles exist as missions, which you can select at the local headquarters.

Much of Valkyria Revolution is spent watching the Traitors come up with their next plan; discuss their strategy at length, and then talk about how they're going to execute it. Occasionally the scene shifts over to the Ruz Empire, Jutland's main antagonist, where we see the Emperor Klaudiusz laying down plans of his own. There is very little in the way of actual characterization, save when Ophelia worries about how a royal should engage with their people, or when Amleth broods about his past and his desire for revenge. The very few moments of levity, such as the first scene where Amleth actually cracks a smile, are a rare breath of air.

From Tactics to Action

Valkyria Revolution's dry, academic tone is at odds with its depiction of the actual battlefield. Far from featuring actual tactics, Valkyria Revolution's battles are more akin to Dynasty Warriors: hack, slash, and hack some more.

Most of these missions are in the vein of "kill everything that moves." There is a very limited stealth mechanic—a holdover, I suspect, from the original Valkyria Chronicles—but it tends to take a backseat to running around and slashing your way through packs of enemy soldiers.

To that end, you and your three party members are furnished with a larger number of weapons, including powerful grenades, a rifle, and a melee weapon. But aside from your sword, your most reliable means of combat are your Ragnite abilities—powerful elemental spells that deal large amounts of area damage. Up to four Ragnite abilities can be equipped at any time, though there are restrictions on class and elemental level.

It's a fundamentally sound system, I suppose; but like the rest of the game, the actual combat tends to be repetitive and boring. You're rarely in danger when fighting actual enemies, as generous mana regeneration and revival mechanics allow you to heal off pretty much any damage you receive. Battles are less a matter of skill than a matter of patience as you grind your way through hordes of enemies in a series of non-descript bases and forests.

This format rarely varies even in major story missions. Sure, you might be split away from the rest of your party, or forced to use a group of characters outside of your normal rotation, but the basics are the same. It only changes when you fight the odd boss, in which case victory is a matter of pure attrition.

It's all pretty brainless and one-dimensional in any case; and while there's something relaxing about blowing up a dozen soldiers with one grenade, the repetition of it all gets pretty old after a while. I found it almost exhausting to play without a podcast playing in the background to distract me, but that wound up depriving me of Yasunori Mitsuda's excellent soundtrack—one of Revolution's few saving graces. Decisions, decisions.

In all honesty, it's actually kind of hard to sum up everything that Valkyria Revolution does wrong in a reasonable number of words. So I guess I'll try and hit a bunch of them here:

  • The weird skill tree. I had no idea what was going on with the skill tree until I figured out that I had to 'sell' surplus Ragnite to unlock stat boosts. It's an awkward and unwieldy system, and the fact that it takes multiple Ragnite spells to unlock one boost makes upgrading multiple party members slow going.
  • The system where you can set A.I. priorities is a mess. You have offensive, defensive, and support commands, but it's unclear how these settings affect your party in battle. Likewise, the mechanisms for prioritizing certain abilities are really murky. I mostly picked the abilities I wanted and hoped for the best. In the end, I wound up taking manual control quite a bit because I couldn't trust my party to support me when I needed it.
  • The multiple shops scattered around the main hub area makes crafting armor kind of a pain, as you have to run around buying the materials you need from different stalls. Moreover, the actual crafting is pretty limited. You can get new jackets, boots, and ammo pouches with various boosts, but the combat is so easy that it's rarely worth the hassle.
  • There are all kinds of mechanics that don't really seem to go anywhere. The aforementioned stealth mechanics, for instance, which are so flimsy that its hard to say why they exist at all. You can also select "side battles" in which you are ostensibly influencing the outcome of the war, but it's unclear how these are any different from the regular free missions.
  • There's a lot of obvious filler. Some of the story missions, for example, are pitched as extremely simple "weapons testing" levels where you complete a very simple objective. You also fight several of the same bosses more than once, and their encounters almost never change.
  • It's so poorly paced. Standard missions will take maybe 10 to 15 minutes to complete, then everything will grind to a halt as you're subjected to one conference room discussion after another.
  • It's pretty limited from a visual standpoint. The painterly graphical filter does little obscure how basic the actual textures and character models are. I'd go as far as to say that the original Valkyria Chronicles, which came out back in 2007, looks quite a bit better. That's a major disappointment for a series that was once known as one of the best-looking games on the PS3.

Outside of Mitsuda's aforementioned soundtrack, it's hard to peg one thing that Valkyria Revolution does really well. Probably the nicest thing I can say about it is that it's not offensively bad, and can even be sort of enjoyable in short bursts. Mindless as it is, carving my way through hordes of enemy soldiers has a certain element appeal to it.

But that's also damning it with faint praise. Valkyria Revolution's biggest problem is that it's really boring—a sin that manifests in almost every phase of the game. I'm sure someone will be able to engage with it; but even as an avowed history junkie, I found it dull in the extreme.

As always, even the smartest political drama can fail to land if it lacks strong characterization. In the end, Valkyria Revolution lacks both of those things.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: The UI is all over the place with this game. The menus are poorly organized, and there's no unified hub for the customization options, which makes them hard to track. It winds up badly hurting the RPG aspect as a whole.
  • Sound: Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger fame provides a robust soundtrack, which particularly stands out during the battles. The voice acting ranges from average to grating.
  • Visuals: Sharp, angular character models and bland textures undermine Valkyria Revolution's otherwise attractive cel-shading. It honestly looks and feels like a game that's straight out of the PS3 era, which I suspect is a compromise that allows it to run on the Vita.

Valkyria Revolution tries valiantly to weave a tale of political intrigue, but it's undermined by repetitive mission design, poor menus, and an anonymous cast. If you were hoping for a worthy successor to Valkyria Chronicles, you will be sadly disappointed.

2 /5

Valkyria Revolution Review: War Crimes Kat Bailey Sega's Valkyria Chronicles revival is a disappointment. 2017-06-27T07:00:00-04:00 2 5

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Comments 23

  • Avatar for himuradrew #1 himuradrew 9 months ago
    I had been hoping that this game would follow in the footsteps of the excellent Valkyria Chronicles 1 and 3...

    ... but apparently not. Also sad to see that Vita owners get shafted again with a lousy port.

    Oh well, there's still Tokyo Xanadu to look forward to.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #2 VotesForCows 9 months ago
    What a shame - sounds like everything we feared, and more.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #3 riderkicker 9 months ago
    What a bummer. Sega should've put some resources to remastering 2 and 3 instead.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #4 Godots17thCup 9 months ago
    Man, this just makes me sad. The original Valkyria Chronicles was so dang good, and the 3rd game was apparently wonderful too, it seems a shame to see such an interesting franchise squander its own potential.
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #5 Wellman2nd 9 months ago
    When they announced this would be a 'action based' RPG, I knew right there this would be a let down. Add in the complaints they had before official release and Sega's usual failures when trying to 'reinvent' franchises (RIP the real Shining games Franchise I wish they didn't let those otaku pull Identity theft and corrupt your name ), it pretty much was a given we'd get a mediocre title.

    Here's hoping they still release VC 3 on Steam or Switch sometime down the line and don't try to blame the failures of this experiment on the franchise appeal.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #6 cldmstrsn 9 months ago
    well I pre ordered. Good thing its only 40 dollars and I had a 25 dollar gift card so 15 bucks isnt to bad. Well reading other reviews has shown that this is a true stinker. I think ill be cancelling and using the money towards something else.Edited June 2017 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #7 NateDizzy 9 months ago
    Can't say I'm surprised. All the footage I've seen points to devs who couldn't decide whether it wanted a musou or tactical game, and in the end, produced a watered down version of both. The really sad part about Revolution is that Sega probably thinks it's the Valkyria brand that's at fault for the poor reception and sales, not the garbage gameplay and writing.Edited June 2017 by NateDizzy
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #8 TheWildCard 9 months ago
    Yeah that's about what I expected. I was willing to give this game a chance regardless of questionable use of the brand, but the more I saw of it it just didn't look very good.

    @NateDizzy I wouldn't be that pessimistic about Sega's interpretation. Fact is a lot of the Japanese fanbase reacted badly to the original demo, which prompted the developers trying to graft some tactical elements onto the game, but that could only go so far (and may have just led to more troubled development)Edited June 2017 by TheWildCard
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #9 NateDizzy 9 months ago
    @TheWildCard That's certainly a silver lining. Perhaps Sega will actually take the criticisms to heart instead of ignoring it.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #10 Lonecow 9 months ago
    So glad I canceled my preorder.

    Add to the list another game where the success and popularity of the original completely perplexes the original creators as to why their own game was beloved.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #11 SuperShinobi 9 months ago
    I watched a video of the first half hour of the game and it seemed fine. The story premise, trying to uncover the truth about a past war, is really quite unusual and interesting. Art style and soundtrack are nice and similar to previous Valkyria games. The new realtime combat seems to have some tactical elements to it and doesn't look like a mere hack'n slasher, which is a good thing. Looks like a game I'll definitely be checking out.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #12 Ralek 9 months ago
    I'll probably still pick this up - at least in time, with a deep, deep discount.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #13 Ralek 9 months ago
    @Lonecow I don't think that is the problem at all. I think the previous games were not successful enough - certainly in terms of foreign markets. This in turn leads to developers trying to embrace concepts popular in those markets in which they previously performed poorly in, while at the same time trying to keep some elements (and the name of course) of the original game(s) intact, in order to draw in old fans as well.

    This of course is a slippery slope which often leads to game that please neither, not the original fans nor the new target demographic that did not really embrace the original(s) in the past. I think Federation Force was a decent example of this - at least in terms of well the game fared with fans and prospective fans.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #14 Arvis-Jaggamar 9 months ago
    I can no longer hold back the tears......
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  • Avatar for yuberus #15 yuberus 9 months ago
    Reminds me of Sega and Shining Force. "Nice tactical RPG you've got here. But what if we just turned it into a lousy hack and slash instead?"
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  • Avatar for detten17 #16 detten17 9 months ago
    wow, i wonder if this puts the nail in the Valkyria Series, a shame we never got VC3 on the Vita.
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  • Avatar for AndreasStalin #17 AndreasStalin 9 months ago
    "A note on the Vita version...." This is just really, really lazy and you know it. It says nothing about how the game runs on the Vita except for the obvious fact that it looks better on the PS4 (well it would be really, really strange if it didn't, wouldn't it?). What Vita owners want to know is if it plays decent on the handheld and exactly how much they are missing out on the graphic fidelity. How is the framerate, is it looking acceptable, does it have the same content as the PS4 version, how are the controls and so on. If it's the same game, it looks and runs acceptable and controls well I might want to get it on the handheld because i really love to play my games that way, together with the VitaTv it's almost the perfect gaming set up (I haven't made the 'Switch' yet but I surly will), and being able to play these kinds of games anywhere is really nice I think.

    And just a little note on the other comments on here. A lot of you are reading this review as the gospel without having tried the game yourselves, who knows you might like it even though somebody else didn't ......Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2017 by AndreasStalin
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #18 Gamer-Law 9 months ago
    @yuberus - Great analogy. Each time I see a forum post asking "What happened to Shining Force?" I just shake my head and walk away.
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  • Avatar for Damman #19 Damman 9 months ago
    @AndreasStalin You could simply ask for more details about the Vita version's technical aspects, rather than declare the reviewer lazy for not intuiting what specifically you wanted to know about them. Just saying.

    I'm considering checking this out regardless. The academic framing sounds intriguing, and I could go for some mindless hack and slash to podcasts. I wonder if it has a demo, or would show up at Redbox.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #20 Gamer-Law 9 months ago
    Perhaps my expectations were sufficiently managed by reviews such as Kat's, but I started the game last night and did not find it to be the parade of horribles that most people have suggested. While no one would mistake it for GOTY material, I believe it has enough redeeming qualities to keep my interest.

    Kat is right--the battles are largely repetitive and the combat system required fine tuning. The hack and slash combat is somewhat similar to recent Star Ocean titles, but awkward pauses to facilitate certain character actions are thrown in for good measure. It is tough to describe, but suffice to say combat takes some getting used to.

    The story has held my interest thus far and the soundtrack really is outstanding. If you can get a first print copy of the game at the GCU or Prime price, it is worth paying that just to have the soundtrack cd.

    I went in fully appreciating that this was not a Valkyria Chronicles game and I think that kept my level of disappointment to a minimum. The game is absolutely worth trying. Negative reviews sometimes have a snowball effect where it becomes fashionable to pile on. I think Kat thoroughly and fairly addressed the game's shortfalls, but I also believe that a sufficient number of redeeming qualities make this game worth looking into.
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  • Avatar for KCC #21 KCC 9 months ago
    ...that being said, it is still Valkyria; bought!
    I don't expect much, but eh; this series excites me, so I'll sink with the ship here.

    Also, of the commentators; why is everyone picking on 2? It's easily the most eclectic Jpn-developed take on school settings, the character development is excellent, especially with its display of the more explosive temperament of the younger cast as it deals far more heavily with problems of race and reactionary misunderstanding/lack of historical education. It also has some of the best production values of the PSP; absolutely gorgeous, in every facet.
    As for 3--- feel like the people who praise it probably didn't get far with it. It's definitely inferior to VC2, largely just a copy of VC2 but with new char/story, the both of which are weaker. The fan translation shouldn't be judged as official, but you can buy the Artbook of VC3 which is translated and fully details the story from the designers' own words. It's not as strong; yes, the concept of the penal squad is more interesting than school, but that doesn't make it better, and it shows.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #22 Lonecow 9 months ago
    @Ralek Japanese game developers rarely if ever care about overseas markets, especially Sega.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #23 Ralek 9 months ago
    @Lonecow Well, Capcom decided to debut their biggest gun in LA during E3, so ... I think they do care, probably by necessity at this point. It's not like the AAA console market in Japan is growing by leaps and bounds, at the same time production costs are not exactly stagnant.
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