Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty

I was originally going to merge this with Tools of Destruction's post, but because I didn't quite feel ready to write about this one yet, I decided to wait and give it its own post, so as not to delay ToD.

Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty is the immediate sequel to the first R&C game on Ps3.  I won't spoil the ending of Tools of Destruction, but the Quest for Booty picks up almost right where it ends.

First and foremost, Quest for Booty is a PSN title.  That means you're not gonna get the epic length quest you normally would from a disc-based game.  This one you'll finish in about 4 hours tops, and unfortunately there's almost nothing to keep you coming back to this game once you complete it.  Personally I think it would have been cool if they had supplemented the campaign with multiplayer.

Besides being significantly shorter, the game also plays a little differently.  Though you'll still have weapons (they start at Lv3 and go up to Lv5), you have only a limited portion of the arsenal granted to you in Tools of Destruction.  No devices, either.  However, the focus this time around isn't on over the top weaponry and enemies to shoot up.  Rather, QfB's pacing slows down a bit to focus more on pure platforming, with some puzzles here and there.  Ratchet's greatest tool is once again his wrench, but it's put to much more use here than in other games.  Now you can use its kinetic grapple (I think that's what it's called?) to push and pull platforms and other objects, and pick up small green animals that illuminate dark areas.  You'll certainly need to fight often, but your wrench is at the center of the game this time.

Which isn't a bad thing.  Being a downloadable title, it supports the often considered idea of downloadable games putting a new spin on a genre.  It gives the game a fresh feeling.

The graphics remain almost the same on a technical level as Tools of Destruction, with a bit of sprucing up here and there.  The game's theme is, as hinted by the title, pirates.  You'll traverse dark caves and gloomy lagoons, duel robot pirates on their ships (and ghost pirates), and explore a decidedly more tropical setting.  This is comes out in the music too, even when you hover over the game in the XMB.

Quest for Booty is tough to recommend to most people.  It lacks much replay value, and is pretty short in the first place.  But it continues the surprisingly compelling story that started in Tools of Destruction, and offers a new spin on the series.  And it also confirms that a new game (just now revealed to be titled A Crack in Time) will be out this fall.  It sells for under $20 (about $15, if memory serves) on the PS Store.  You decide if that's worth it.  A 7/10.

Note: No, the pic is not a shop.  Though its a PSN exclusive in America, its sold as a retail item in Europe.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Resident Evil 5

I wasn't excited about this game until I actually played it. To me, it was just another Resident Evil game. Besides, horror's never been my thing. And then I played the demo. Wow. That was one of the most adrenaline pumping, exciting gaming experiences I have had in recent memory.

Resident Evil 5 stars major character Chris Redfield (he was in the first RE wasn't he?), fighting alongside new partner Sheva Alomar. In this game, Chris has joined the BSAA, an organization committed to combating bioterrorism. He's feeling been feeling kind of down since the supposed death of his partner Jill, so he is a little skeptical when he meets his new partner. These worries are pushed to the back of his mind soon, however, when the two are ambushed by a horde of zombies soon after being given their equipment. They even witness the execution of the very same man who first greeted them at the hands of a gruesome foe known as the Executioner. As they continue their travels, unraveling the situation at hand, things become increasingly more dire, as more and more of their comrades fall to an enemy they know little about.

RE5's story is sort of a mixed bag. It's not a masterpiece, to be sure, and the largest plot hook and spoiler is extremely obvious. Abandoning its horror roots for a decidedly more action packed style, RE5 is full of explosions, impossible maneuvers, and of course there's a car chase present. The story wants to be the focus, but recognizing it as such only detracts from the overall experience, so let's throw it to the side for now.

RE5 is a game you will either like or hate. So I'll discuss it in a different format then usual.

The game's graphics are beautiful. The environments are incredibly detailed, there's a multitude of effects in use, such as dust kick up, light reflection, and motion blur. After playing this game, its tough not take these things for granted. Explosions are satisfying and look awesome, and while your typical grunt zombies do get old after awhile, other forms are rather creative, and most certainly gruesome. If there's one thing to be said about this game, its gruesome at times. People die in a large variety of ways.

The co-op delivers. You're not doing this game justice playing it solo. Grab a friend, either online or offline, and play it in co-op. You'll have a blast, I promise. Everything about this game promotes teamwork. The inventory system, most of the bosses, the HUD, and there frequent times when you can vault a partner up to check out another area. One of my favorite team oriented parts is right before you first face the chainsaw wielder, where you vault Sheva across to another roof. You could let your buddy try to fend for herself in the next building, but I always have a sniper rifle handy, so I descended one floor and covered her from the balcony. It was a blast. Before each level you're able to buy new weapons and items, and re-arrange your inventory, as well as upgrade your weapons. Its important to strategize with your friend and make sure each person's weapon arsenal complements the other's.

This game can be seriously adrenaline pumping and exciting at times, which goes hand in hand with the co-op. Like during the public assembly level, when we had to hold out for a few minutes against a seemingly never ending hoard of zombies, accompanied by the Executioner. When you or your partner takes too hits, they'll go into DYING status, where they can do nothing but slowly stumble around, and have only seconds until they die. You have to get over there and quickly either slap an adrenaline booster into them or, if you have one, use an herb. This is sorta like the revival system in Gears of War 2. There is almost no let up in action. The few moments of downtime always feel like they are building up towards another burst of excitement. The suspense can make the fainthearted nervous. Even the cutscenes can and likely will kill you.

The game is filled to bursting with replay value. Trophies/Achievements and the cooperative multiplayer aside, there's a lot of weapons in the game, each of which can be individually upgraded. When you fully upgrade a weapon, you can choose to buy the option to have infinite ammo for that weapon. There's also costumes, figurines, and other stuff to unlock with special points that are earned basically by playing the game, and also by seeking out and destroying BSAA emblems, of which there are 30, scattered all around the campaign. Chris and Sheva also have their own secret special weapons to be unlocked and bought, and once you beat the game for the first time, you unlock the Mercenaries mode, which challenges you to off as many enemies as you can. There are also leaderboards, and I'm pretty sure versus multiplayer is on its way too.

For most of these, whether or not these are negatives depend on what kind of games you like. For example, if you are expecting a game akin to Gears 2 or some other 3rd person shooter, the fact that you cannot run and gun at the same time will likely be a sticking point. Cover is context sensitive (its nonexistent for the first half of the game, then becomes more common, and everytime you want to take a shot, you need to stop. Ammo, while not as scarce as in RE4, is still a valued commodity, as it cannot be bought. So each weapon is equipped with a laser sight for more accurate aiming (You've gotta make each shot count). You'll find yourself cursing under your breath when you miss more than twice in a row, and waiting for just the right time to reload.

Again, I personally did not find this to be much of a big deal, but some will. A LOT of actions are context sensitve. Cover is, melee attacks are, a lot of the finishing moves for bosses and special enemies are as well. For one enemy (I'm looking at you, Lickers), you better hope you better have some real twitchy reflexes, or you'll find yourself pinned to the floor, death looking you in the eyes. There are also a lot of Quick Time Events. Unless you are coming from RE4, you will likely fail every single one of them on your first try. Don't ever take your hands off the controller during a cutscene.

This is purely a matter of taste. Being a Resident Evil game, one would expect this game to be, well, scary. Or at least creepy. Well, it's not. The creatures are nasty looking, but I never actually felt scared of them. Nervous, sure (death is always just around the corner if you're not careful), but never scary. This has pissed off some Resident Evil veterans, but it didn't bother me.

Personally I don't think this deserves all the criticism it gets, but the AI is worth mentioning. A word of warning. Don't expect any amount of flexibility from the partner AI. Give it a weapon and it will fend for itself to a realistic extent (Sheva does get grabbed, but her aim is generally dead on). To put it bluntly, the AI is very straightforward, I suppose. It will always stick by you, and its main intent is always to provide cover fire. Don't expect it to do much on its own, it will usually just follow up on what you're doing. HOWEVER, be careful what you trust Sheva with, as the AI burns through herbs like Kirby through a stack of food. The AI will come running with a full health spray if you so much as get a paper cut, and is not intelligent enough to combine herbs, so it will constantly waste lone green herbs. The AI is helpful, as long as you don't grant it too many liberties. It will burn through ammo very quickly, but I tended to as well so I generally let that complaint slide. Another problem is that the AI will almost never switch weapons. It lacks the ability to adapt to varying situations. Whatever weapon Sheva chooses to equip in the beginning, she will stick to for the entirety of the level, regardless of how much peril it may get her into. Keep this in mind as you set up her inventory. To her credit, as I said before, Sheva's aim is topnotch, and at times better than mine. The car chase (and even the final boss battles) is arguably easier with the AI than with a human. She's quick to save you if you're grabbed, and usually intelligent enough to run in for a melee hit if I can get an enemy to stumble. She also gives excellent cover fire.

I refuse to recognize this as a negative, but I've seen a lot of people who have a bone to pick with the inventory system. Due to multitude of items you'll likely be collecting throughout the level, and the limited space you have to carry them (each character has nine slots), it can be puzzle in itself figuring out how to make space for everything. Fortunately you have a stash you can deposit all your items into at the end of each level. Personally I think the limited space adds a level of strategy to the game, but maybe I'm just being optimistic.

I can see Resident Evil 5 being a tough game to rate, because this is a shining example of gaming likes and dislikes being purely a matter of taste. 9.0/10

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

I've had a bit of a soft spot for the Ratchet and Clank series. Its innovative take on the platforming and 3rd person shooter genres has earned it a place as one of the most coveted game series on Sony's side of the console war. I also like Insomniac, which right now is probably one of the most experienced Ps3 developers, having made several games for it already.

Ratchet and Clank Future gives the feeling of taking the series back to its early days (the first one and Going Commando), when the ridiculous weaponry was the focus of the game, despite the "Future" part of the game. In Tools of Destruction, weapons and gadgets again are at the fore point, both in the story and in the gameplay.

For the unitiated, Ratchet and Clank has always been known for two things. 1) Its wacky and exotic weaponry (from morph rays that turn enemies into barn animals to grenades that force enemies to stop and dance, to an almighty weapon of mass destruction that destroys everything on screen. I'm looking at you, RYNO and Zodiac). 2)Its tongue in cheek, laugh out loud humor. The two work together well to create a genuinely amusing game that will often have you chuckling, be it at a joke the battle arena announcer made, or to the quirkiness of your arsenal.

Returning to the earlier mentioned point of R&C Future being a reminder of the series' roots, the story explores Ratchet's heritage. You may or may not have wondered why main character Ratchet is the only Lombax ever encountered in the series thus far, but its the main plot hook here. This question is quickly brought to his and Clank's attention when he is attacked by the evil tyrant Percival (lol, Percival) Tachyon, who for some reason really has a bone to pick with Lombaxes. The game goes on to unravel a chunk of the Lombaxes' history, making for a surprisingly meaty plot that left me wanting more. However, its obvious a sequel is intended, as some major plot points are never truly expanded on (the Zoni, most notably), and one of the characters disappears at the end.

If you've played any of the other Ratchet and Clank games, you know what to expect. The game continues to build on the formula that has been at the core of every previous game in the series. You'd think that what is basically a largely enhanced version of the exact same type of gameplay found in the first game would have gotten stale by now, but it hasn't. Insomniac has recycled some weapons here and there (such as the Nano-Swarmers, a rehash of the mini-turret glove from Up Your Arsenal), but few of the weapons feel old or uninteresting, and all have their uses. The upgrade system returns in full force, as not only do your weapons level up with use (they can also be upgraded to lv10 in subsequent playthroughs like in Up Your Arsenal), but they can be upgraded even further through vendors. Using raritanium shards you pick up like bolts during play, you can buy various special effects for your weapons such as extra power and range, or better bolt/raritanium drops, culminating in a final, unique special effect that is available once all surrounding upgrades are purchased. In other words, this means your weapons will only get more powerful as you use them. Also making a return is the health level up system, that steadily levels you up as you progress through the game, giving you a larger repository of health each time. I like this system, as it means that no matter how tough enemies may be, you know you'll eventually be tough enough to take them on, and roll with the punches.

A new addition to your arsenal are Devices, side weapons that aren't upgradeable, but still useful in the right situation. The afore-mentioned Groovitron is a pretty little grenade that releases disco balls all around the immediate area. Of course, enemies can't help but stop and dance to the beat, leaving them vulnerable to your attacks. Then there's my favorite, Mr. Zurkon, a smack-talking bot that taunts your enemies while shooting them up. He serves as your temporary bodyguard, and I think he's one of the funniest parts of the game. These are just a couple among several other available Devices.

While the soundtrack is most definitely better this time around than it has been in awhile (my favorite is the score that plays during the beginning of the game, when Kerwan is being invaded), the art style remains relatively the same. Really this game is the very definition of the saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately the game lacks any sort of multiplayer, but, maintaining the series tradition, there's a lot of stuff to still be done after you beat the game. There's still the almighty RHYNOIV to hunt down, Omega weapons to be had, various classic cheats (HUGE head mode, anyone?), artwork and stuff like that to be unlocked, and gold bolts to be found. Having been released way before the Trophy system was implemented, there are none, but like Insomniac's other game Resistance: Fall of Man, there is an internal achievement system in the way of skill points. Overall, its a game most Ps3 owners should at least try, and Ratchet and Clank fans simply must have. A 9.0/10.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hands On: Robot Souls 00-Gundam + O-Riser

I like Gundam 00.  And I like 00 Gundam.  But you know what?  I'm really not interested in modelmaking.  I simply don't have the time or money to invest in it.  Instead, I'm content to go for Bandai's MSIA (Mobile Suit in Action) line of action figures.  Sure they're not painted with incredible detail, but I like them, and they're of course made more for play than posing and standing around all day.  I like to be able pose my figures AND play with them.  This model has given that.

Anyway, it seems Bandai is dropping the MSIA line, in favor of a new one, called Robot Soul/Spirit (or Robot Tamashii, which to my understand, can mean soul or spirit).  Its a relatively new thing, the first one (I think it was Arios gundam) just came out late last November.  I wasn't able to find much information on this, so I figured when I got it, I might as well write something up, for any potential buyers who happen to stumble upon this.  Sorry in advance if the pictures are somewhat blurry.

First, a bit of background for the uninitiated.  00-Gundam is the mascot mech of the Japanese anime Gundam 00, following the franchise's trend of naming each show after its most important (and generally most powerful) Gundam.   00-Gundam has two GN drives, known as the Twin Drive system, which makes it leaps and bounds more powerful in terms of sheer output and potential than most other mechs in the show.  Its main armaments are two GN Sword II's mounted on each side of its hips.  The Sword II's not only serve as blades, but can transform into rifles.  They have the versatility of Exia's huge GN Sword, and the light and easy handling of Exia's two solid blades.  The best of both worlds.  00 also has two beam sabers mounted in roughly the same place as Exia's bottom hip sabers.  Its two swiveling GN drives and light arsenal grant it very high speed and mobility, and the drives can also have shields mounted on them for extra defense (similar to Dynames' rotating shields).  I THINK it can generate a GN field (spherical force field, simply put), but I'm not sure.  00-Gundam is piloted by Setsuna F. Seiei, a determined and calm young guy, who is the main protagonist of the show, and also piloted 00's predecessor, Exia.  Perhaps 00's greatest flaw is its overall instability.  The Twin Drive system has proven itself to be difficult to maintain, and has literally shorted out once or twice in the show, leaving the Gundam completely immobile.


Often accompanying 00 is the mobile armor (basically Gundam terms for a jet fighter) O-Riser, piloted by the ever emotional Saji Crossroad.  The O-Riser is armed with a pair of GN beam cannons on each wing, a submachine gun, and a stock of missiles.  Its greatest asset, however, is its ability to combine with 00 to form 00-Riser.  The two share a mutually beneficial relationship:  00 can run near indefinitely because its GN drives can self generate power, but O-Riser runs on stored energy.  Docking with the 00 not only recharges its energy reserves, but the Riser system stabilizes 00's Twin Drive system and pushes its power and output to incredible new heights.  The result?  00-Riser's speed is near unmatched, so much so that it has even seemingly teleported out of danger.  All of its beam weaponry is also greatly enhanced, With Trans-Am (Trans-Am is a temporary burst of energy that triples performance while it is active) Riser being capable of generating a gigantic beam saber, using the entire mobile suit as a hilt of sorts.

00, with one GN Sword II in rifle mode with the beam attachment.

Now, onto the model itself.  I wanted 00-Riser, so I ordered both O-Riser and 00, which are sold separately, usually.  I'll start with 00.  Out of the box, the paint job and details were pretty good.  Personally, I don't actually like it when they show all the GN particle conduits and stuff running through the body.  Just makes it look messy.  This has a clean, fairly sharp look.  One of the gold antennae was a little bent out of shape, but other than that it came in great condition.  00 is about a head taller than my MSIA Exia, and its colers are much sharper and more defined.  I thought Exia looked pretty cool, until I saw 00's color scheme jump out at me.  Suddenly my Exia looked a little washed out.  Though it can hold Exia's weapons, since it's a little larger, it's a loose fit in 00's bigger hands.  The figure came with 00, two beam sabers and matching beam blades, the two GN swords, 7 different handles for them, depending on whether they are in rifle or sword mode, and two small shields, mountable either on its wrists or the GN drives.

                     I was pleasantly surprised to find the GN drives are removable.

If there's one thing that is outstanding about this model, it's the way its built.  This thing never ceases to surprise me with how many parts are in fact removable, and how many things can be dismantled.  The GN Drives, the backpack holding them, the shoulder plates, the head, and I'm pretty sure the feet are all removable.  The shields can be completely dismantled, though I don't see any use to doing so.  The shields, by the way, are rather remarkable.  If you've seen the show, you might have only seen them attached to the GN drives.  But they can also be attached to each wrist, and combined together and mounted on an arm to make a full shield.  The full shield is a little unwieldy in my opinion, but its nice that the option is there.  The GN Sword II's are also pretty cool, though I am a little disappointed that for the most part, they don't actually fully transform.  To change from sword to rifle mode and vice versa, you have to swap out the handle, which means wrenching it out of 00's hand.  The GN Swords can also be connected together to form a dual bladed staff, but I had to pry open 00's hands to make it hold it, and I don't like doing that.  However, the blade does swivel full 360 degrees, and thus can rotate the 90 degrees necessary to move into rifle mode, and back.  The GN Drives are also cool.  They can swivel a full 180 degrees, pointing to the sides, front, or back, and can also move up and down.

O-Riser in docking mode

The O-Riser is obviously meant to supplement 00 (specifically 00-Riser).  It comes with a transparent stand capable of holding either 00 or O-Riser, and also a set of new forked blades for the GN Sword II's, which are in turn made to hold the also included beam attachments.  Though I can only recall 00-Riser using its dual big beam sabers once (when it slices up the asteroid the Gadessa is camping on), its a cool option.  With the beam attachments, the GN Sword II's look ridiculously long though.


Because the O-Riser itself rarely gets more than a couple seconds of screen time to itself, it was nice to be to better explore its design with this figure.  As you can see in the topmost pic, it has two fins on each side that can fold out, and a blue "wing" attached to each fin that can fold out about 90-100 degrees, giving a sort of X-wing look.  For some reason, the end of the "tail" is removable, though I haven't found any purpose in it.  Just like in the anime, the O riser can transform into docking mode, where the back finds on each side swivel outwards, and the tail swings down to reveal the plug that connects to 00's backpack.  Its a snug fit, and the O-risers wings from the main body and must be connected to each GN drive.  They cleverly step around this part of the process in the anime.  The wings are a little heavy on the drives, and 00-Riser can't stand on its own (or on the stand) if they're positioned on the back (they have to be resting on the sides).  Unfortunately, the Raiser Sword (afore-mentioned HUGE beam attack) can't really be used due the GN drives' inability to properly position the wings forward.

00 in a badass pose.

Overall, I found this to be a really nice figure.  The poseability is mostly a step above Exia, and the amount of customizability offers a lot of possible scenarios.  It was a good purchase.  00 gets 4 stars out of 5, O-Riser gets 5 stars, and 00-Riser and all its accessories gets 4.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Valkyria Chronicles

This year, I've decided to play more RPGs. I'm certainly looking forward to White Knight Chronicles, and (when I get around to playing it), Persona 4, and of course, on the distant horizon, Final Fantasy 13 and Versus 13. But in the meantime I have Valkyria Chronicles and Final Fantasy 4 to keep me occupied, the former of which has so far proven to be an incredible game, which I consider to be a statement with merit considering the fact I tend to avoid games lacking multiplayer. Indeed, this game is beautiful, in more than one way. And in this industry stuffed with all sorts of concepts and ideas, it rises as a rather unique experience.

Just how unique? Consider this. Valkyria Chronicles is a turn based strategy game, an RPG, and a little bit of a 3rd person shooter. It reminds me heavily of chess, but with many more elements to keep in mind. Skirmishes begin with you positioning your available units around certain areas (usually your base camp), before heading into battle. Turns (known as Phases), are divided by Command Points, which, as the game puts it, are a measure of your commanding ability. You select a unit, and can spend a command point (or two, if its a tank) to take direct control of that unit. At this point, the game dives into the map you are looking at, revealing a vibrant colorful world in which you command your unit. This 3rd person view is known as Action Mode. In Action Mode, you can move the unit freely, until that unit runs out of AP, or Action Points (I think that's what it stands for?). Different units have varying amounts of AP, so its important to not dawdle, and know where you're headed to make efficient use of your AP. Once you've used up your AP, you can no longer move. At any time in Action Mode, you can attack enemy units with your weapon by pressing R1 to move into aiming.

All the units have different strengths and weaknesses, and altogether form a sort of rock-paper-scissors relationship. Scouts have minimal armor and are susceptible to everything, but have an enormous amount of AP, and decent range on their rifles. They aren't meant to engage any units besides other scouts and perhaps Lancers, but are still useful for, as their name implies, scouting ahead. Shocktroopers have a decent amount of AP and have incredibly high defense against bullets, but are fairly vulnerable to explosives, and carry machine guns, making them the bane of all footsoldiers. Lancers are anti-tank infantry, and are fairly susceptible to bullets but highly resilient to explosives. They carry huge rocket launchers for taking on armored vehicles, but nothing else. Snipers have even less defense than scouts, and very little AP, but have incredibly long range with their rifles, making it a good idea to place them at the back of the pack, and use them to pick off particularly troublesome foes. Though they have the same weapon arsenal, Engineers lack what little combat capability the Scouts have. They have the second largest amount of AP (right behind Scouts), and are far more useful supporting your other units than actually attacking. Engineers are the only way to repair your tank besides having it sit near a camp, and can also refill everyone's ammo (especially important for Lancers and Snipers), as well as disable mines. I always like to have an Engineer shadowing my tank, the two sharing a mutual relationship: the tank provides solid cover for the Engineer, and the Engineer relieves the tank of any damage it sustains from acting as cover for him/her.

Tanks are the bane of everyone. They have a decent amount of AP, are basically invulnerable to anything that's not an explosive projectile (i.e. tank shells, Lancer rockets), and come with plenty of anti-personnel weaponry to supplement its main cannon. However, they also have more drawbacks as well. Tanks use two CP to control, and have a large glowing panel on their back that is their weak point. Even standard bullets can do decent damage if you hit this critical spot, and explosives are of course devastating. Tanks have two health bars: the main health bar on the top, and the treads. If you manage to get your treads messed up, it basically screws up your AP, so you won't be able to move much at all. Tanks need AP just to turn around, unlike footsoldiers, so this makes it a simpler matter for them to circle around and batter the weak point. The final and largest drawback is that for a good portion of the game, Welkin, the primary protagonist, controls your only tank. Thus, if it is destroyed, he is killed along with it and you instantly fail the operation. Tanks have three main weapons: The mortar, the machine gun, and the tank cannon.

The tank cannon should be used almost exclusively against other tanks and armored units, as its way too inaccurate to be used on infantry, and the other two are far more effective anyway. The Mortar is terrible beast against everyone but Lancers and armored units, against which it's quite harmless. Launch this thing, and watch as everyone near it is terribly crippled. It not only disregards sandbag cover, but destroys it. Direct hits will almost surely kill off all units (besides the afore mentioned exceptions), and it does major splash damage to anyone nearby, including comrades. The machine gun is a no-frills vulcan cannon, most useful against those pesky Lancers.

Having finished the game, I can say the story is fairly well written. Its not an intricate web of deep discoveries and huge plot twists, but a relatively simple, yet satisfying tale of human emotion, war, and the people who are swept up by both. I came away from it feeling really good.

The story revolves around Lieutenant Welkin Gunther (in an alternate version of Europe, 1935), who arrives in his peaceful hometown of Bruhl, only to be promptly arrested by Alicia Melchiott, the leader of the town watch, who suspects he might be an imperial spy when she sees him crouching down to take notes on a couple of fish in a nearby pond. Welkin and co. reside in Gallia, a neutral country stuck in between two large powers who end up at war over a precious useful resource known as ragnite. Deciding that the Federation was putting up too much of a fight, the aggressive side, the Empire, decides to invade Gallia instead, having heard of the little country's rich store of ragnite.

It isn't long before the war reaches Alicia and Welkin. Imperial soldiers invade Bruhl, leaving it in shambles. Welkin, his adoptive sister Isara, and Alicia manage to escape with the use of the Edelweiss, a tank that had been stored away, built for Welkin's father (a renown war hero) back in EWI (Europan War) by Isara's father. The trio join the Gallian militia, and Welkin is assigned to lead Squad 7 as the Edelweiss's Tank Commander, with Alicia serving as his second in command. They soon meet Rosie and Largo (a shocktrooper and lancer, respectively), among other central characters, and the game follows the squad's exploits as they fight to defend Gallia.

Though you have a handful of central characters, there are about 50 characters available to you for recruitment. You can have 20 characters in your squad at a time, and here's another place where Valkyria Chronicles truely shines. Each character has their own personality, their own voice, their own backstory. Characters like and dislike certain other characters, and have their own unique, innate abilities. One of my favorite characters to use is Jane, a shocktrooper with a genuine hatred for "Imps" (nickname for Imperial soldiers). A former florist, she promises revenge on the Empire for completely trashing her flower shop. She's actually a sadist, and takes joy in riddling enemies with bullets.

There's a bit of micromanaging to be done in Valkyria Chronicles. You'll do well to familiarize yourself with each person's potentials, and who they like and dislike. Allies nearby who like the character you are controlling will often join in when you attack to squeeze off some bullets of their own. In Jane's case, she'll yell "Quit hoggin 'em!" and help out with her machine gun if I'm playing as, say, Hannes or Oscar. Each character also has their own list of potentials (the afore mentioned innate abilities), that have a chance to activate during action mode when certain requirements are fulfilled. Again for example, Jane's Sadist potential has a chance to activate every time she attacks, which boosts her attack power. Rosie has a potential called "Strong Willed", that allows her to charge into heavy crossfire with raised defense, while Largo's craze for vegetables might show itself anytime he's standing on natural ground (grass, soil, etc), raising all his stats temporarily.

I eventually came to care for each and every person in my squad...even the Lancers and their god-awful accuracy. It was interesting, reading up on their backstories, and learning their personalities. So I felt good as the credits rolled and it showed everyone's status as "Living". Yes, you can lose people. Once a unit's health falls to zero, they fall unconcsious. At this point you have three turns to tag him/her with a another unit and get a medic to evacuate that person, or they will die and be gone from your ranks forever. OR if an enemy tags a fallen ally first, they could die immediately that way too. But this is unlikely, as in my experience I've never seen enemies actively seek fallen allies.

Unfortunately, no multiplayer is present, but I've heard DLC is on the way (might already be available in Japan) that might even add trophies. The AI doesn't always make the most creative decisions, however, and tends to be very predictable. In this way, its not always the enemies that pose the biggest challenge, but the combination of the environment and the enemy's set up. Though you can call in troops to replace any that fall on the battlefield, you can't have more than 9-10 units on the field at any time, while the enemy can (and will) call for reinforcements every turn. You are almost always outnumbered, and often outgunned. The game is genuinely difficult at times, but out of the 18+ story missions, only perhaps 2-3 of them feel stupidly frustrating. There's no shame in getting your butt handed to you in later missions, but I usually never felt like I simply couldn't do the mission (granted, I never tried the skirmish missions on Hard mode). A cool thing about this game is that very few missions feel linear. How you go about completing the objective is entirely up to you, and you have the freedom to think up any number of tactics and strategies, though the game will occasionally suggest some to you.

Valkyria Chronicles is presented beautifully. The entire game's graphic engine is designed to look like an animated watercolor painting, and it works to great effect. The touching soundtrack helps to further the emotional tone of the game, and it all wraps together to form an incredibly enticing package.

Valkyria Chronicles is one of those games that's hard to find fault with, unless its simply not your cup of tea. It easily entices you with its gripping tale of grittier aspects of war, while somehow keeping things relatively lighthearted with its colorful graphics and beautiful soundtrack. I don't claim to be much good at strategy games, but I do enjoy them, and I can safely say this one is most certainly a keeper. A 9.0/10