It would be easy to call Valkyria Revolution a bad game when compared to Valkyria Chronicles and hedge my bets to allow any criticism to appear as simple bitterness over the two games’ many differences, but the simple fact is that Revolution is an abysmal game even when taken entirely on its own. It begins with an interesting premise, but squanders it almost immediately in order to instead waste your time with a slog through painfully contrived drama and overlong cutscenes featuring an inexplicably magical princess whose generic saccharine goodness inspires everyone despite her actual words being groan-inducingly trite. This is a game where the Valkyria that the series is named after is a token character whose back story is hinted at, but never actually delved into beyond awkward parallels with outside mythology that don’t really work. This is a game where the mechanics are so comically random and unreliable that even something as basic as attacks hitting the enemy can’t be taken for granted. This is a game where a solid 90% of the stuff that happens is meaningless filler designed to waste your time. Valkyria Revolution is a game lacking any semblance of entertainment value, an abject failure that should have never been allowed to happen. This isn’t just a bad game when compared to the rest of the series, but a game so wholly inept and loathsome that the other games would have simply never been made if it had come out first.
A tale of two stories
There are really two plots to this game: the initial one with promise that gave me hope, and the one that quickly took over and shattered that hope. The good plot is a cynical story about a group of five people—of which protagonist (and special character hoarder) Amleth Grønkjær is a member—who conspire from positions of influence to start a war in order to get revenge on a foreign emperor. Politics and the press are used to their benefit in a way that often evokes the run-up to the Iraq war. The true villains of this plot aren’t so much the foreign figures as the weak-willed general public and their capricious tendencies. I love how thoroughly dark this is. Sadly, this story really only exists at the very beginning and very end of the game.
Sure, the characters are the same for the second plot, but it’s entirely different. This awful second story is instead focused around the fate of the country and the efforts of its princess to give motivational speeches and magically fix things where appropriate. This includes instilling doubt in Amleth (which comes and goes like a light switch in order to create as much pointless drama with as many different characters as possible) while convenient events happen to weaken the resolve of other members of the five. Then more butterfly-rainbow-sparkles stupidity happens and everything works out through the power of belief and friendship. This is the story that ends with a deus ex machina and is generally devoid of interesting plot developments or general artistic merit. This is the plot for the majority of the game.
The characters are awful
The princess has no depth as a character. Amleth and several other conspirators are bipolar for the vast majority of the game. Amleth’s squad of less important characters is similarly bad, too; Isaak doesn’t like Amleth, Helena has a thing for Blum, Blum’s family owns a business, Daryl drinks, Sara worships the princess, etcetera. They all have a single personality trait that the game hammers into your skull over and over, and that’s equally true of enemies. There’s no depth to any of it, and when the game tries, it trips all over its own feet. No one embodies this quite as well as Maxim. See, Maxim is a prince who serves the emperor who murdered his family, and then he complains when you conquer that same area. His quotes are full of double standards—“you’re conquerors and not liberators, but the emperor is totally into it when he conquers stuff, so he should be the ruthless figure in charge of my homeland instead of you even though that makes no sense whatsoever!”
The pacing is awful
The group of five have a hit list and everything, and when the first name on that list gets killed in the very first mission, I expected that same kind of brisk pacing out of the rest of the game. More characters on that hit list die in the last two chapters than in the entire rest of the game, though. There are 11 chapters. That’s way too many levels of enemies being defeated, only to get away while swearing revenge like a Scooby-Doo villain. Sometimes they even beat you in a cutscene right after you finish them off, or in the case of worst-character-ever Maxim, randomly turn their back on you because you’re totally not worthy of being killed so long as you aren’t believing in your conquest wholeheartedly like his BFF emperor. I hate this game.
Combat is awful
I went into Valkyria Revolution with an open mind, ready to accept the totally different combat for what it is. Unfortunately, what it is can’t be adequately described without profanity. Basically, this is an action RPG mixed with a game of Red Light/Green Light; you can freely run around and block, but are constantly being stopped in your tracks by a pseudo-round-based timer that limits how often you can attack. Did you use an item? Now you have to wait for the bar to fill up before you can do anything but run and block. Missed an attack because of the game’s awkward tendency to attack the wrong enemy? Try again, but you need to first wait for the bar to fill back up. Used magic? I hope you like waiting for things! If you have the advantage in combat (obtained by beating enemies, and lost for reasons so poorly communicated that I couldn’t begin to speculate), these rounds are fast enough that you can attack freely in real time. If the enemies have the advantage, however, expect to shuffle awkwardly around for several seconds between attacks.
Something like this could work if the enemies weren’t damage sponges, but they’re the most damage-sponge-y sponges I can remember seeing in a game. You have to slowly chip away at absurdly long health bars at several points (boss fights, mostly), and this is really the combat in a nutshell. All you do is run around an enemy, attacking until they finally get bored and decide to die to escape being in this game. For normal enemies, this can be a fairly quick process provided you’re using the right characters, but tanks can last between 5-30 minutes depending on how late in the game you are and how little grinding you’ve done up to that point.
Ragnite is magic
When you finish off some enemies, they drop ragnite (magic, basically). This is kind of weird, but ragnite is both equipped onto your “battle palette” to use as attacks and used as currency in character upgrade trees. These upgrade trees improve characters’ stats ever so slightly and allow them to equip higher-level ragnite to use, so you’re in a strange position where you’re spending your spells so that you can equip other spells while hoping that the new ones are better than the old ones. That’s not always a given, either—several times I’d equip new ragnite and it’d have fewer attacks (it never tells you how many times each one hits) or do less damage for reasons that were never entirely clear. A lot of times I held off on upgrading because the amount of ragnite points (in-mission MP slowly restored by attacking normally, basically) required for the new move was significantly more despite the new attack seeming to do less damage than the old one. This led to lengthy ragnite management sessions where I’d sit around flipping between spells, trying to figure out what was safe to spend and what I wanted to try out. The whole thing is a mess.
Just be sure to have some long-range magic equipped. A lot of it is melee-focused, and that works for most of the game, but you’ll eventually face down enemies who either fly or have weak points too high up to hit with normal attacks. Trust me—if you value your time or sanity, always have someone with powerful long-range magic.
Nothing makes sense here
You can buy and upgrade secondary weapons like sniper rifles and grenades to bring with you into missions, but these come with limited ammo that keep you from relying on them too heavily—it’s incredibly easy to run out of all of your missiles and grenades in the middle of a lengthy boss fight. I had one party member with a missile launcher, and eventually upgraded to a launcher that had 7 shots per mission and lowered enemies’ defense. Around that time, a new launcher showed up that promised to do heavy damage to tanks and the Valkyria, and the thought of getting through those damage sponge fights faster was an appealing one. Since it only had a single shot at first, I was expecting a truly stunning amount of damage. It did a little over 1,000 points of damage on the multiple occasions I used it, even shooting it directly into the glowing blue cores of large tanks. Compare that to my go-to special attack at the time (which I could spam 5-10 times before running out of ragnite points) that attacked three times and did around 2,500 points of damage per hit.
Even the missile launcher with 7 shots did comparable damage plus reducing enemy defenses, and having more shots meant that I could use it more often and ultimately inflict more damage. The game is filled with weird stuff like this where new ragnite and weapons are significantly less useful than the ones that came before them.
Clunkiness beyond reason
This is the part of the review where I bombard you with videos showcasing numerous awful things about the game that make it a chore to play. Things like the awkward physics more at home in an MMORPG. Things like gimmicky bosses who are invincible until you destroy all of their parts, and who heal if you take too long to do so. Things like headshots only registering sometimes, enemies blocking bullets while facing the other direction and not doing their blocking animation, and accidentally taking cover instead of reviving one of the game’s idiot computer-controlled allies because of the game’s context-sensitive actions.
And the mazes! Areas are often designed with ladders and multiple paths that show up on the minimap, but these are almost always blocked off by convenient roadblocks or crates, funneling you into a more linear area with multiple dead ends and landmarks that all look too alike to orient yourself. It’s possible to run around in circles for minutes at a time before stumbling on the last enemy in the level (which often proved to be a building-sized tank to rub it in even more). You know what makes that even worse? Invisible walls! I even encountered an open gate that looked like the way forward, only to discover that it was actually an invisible wall. It was a decorative open gate! This is too stupid to even be mad at.
Let’s talk about reinforcements
I’ve already covered how your secondary weapons have limited ammo, so it makes sense to ration it by only using it on the hardest enemies in the level. Thing is, Valkyria Revolution calls in reinforcements out of thin air, so it’s impossible to ever be certain which enemies those are. Sometimes a squad of enemies shows up the second you finish off the last enemy in a group. Other times they appear out of nowhere when you cross an invisible line on the ground. More often than not, all of these reinforcements feel like padding rather than difficulty.
Bugs and other hated things
Sometimes enemies are invincible when they first show up, so you end up standing around in the middle of gunfire waiting for their health bars to pop up so that you can actually damage everyone in the area with a grenade. Sometimes it happens with bosses out of nowhere and your attacks will randomly miss despite attacks before and after landing without issue. Sometimes the game will tell you that you’ll connect with three enemies, only for one of them to get hit while the other two remain untouched for no obvious reason. Enemies will occasionally fall into walls and cause your attacks to miss. Sometimes the hit detection takes a vacation and you’ll set off mines despite being nowhere near them. The icon that shows where a fallen ally is will sometimes glitch out and not appear. Map icons take awhile to load, so you can hover over missions and have nothing show up for several seconds.
There are entire features that don’t seem to do anything in particular. “Priorities” are like little directions that you can have your allies follow, but they don’t seem to act all that different with them on as opposed to off. Even if priorities were wildly powerful, though, there’s no way to tell what most of them actually do. One priority tells computer-controlled characters to “focus on defeating many enemies.” Were they not doing that already? Is it some kind of “suck less” priority? What’s the difference between the priority that tells allies to focus on keeping everyone safe and the one that tells them to focus on protecting allies? I eventually threw some “attack enemies” and “try not to die” priorities onto my allies, but they failed at both and frequently forced me to waste my time running over to revive them.
“Circles” are little conversations between allies that pop up between missions and unlock new priorities to use, but the subjects repeat too much (I could swear I saw three of them solely about getting more business to Blum’s family’s tailoring business) and the characters don’t even act consistently. For example, in one circle it’s established that Tilda speedreads and subsequently knows a lot about books, while another one sees her completely clueless about a book.
This game doesn’t respect your time
Valkyria Revolution does everything it possibly can to waste your time. For example, cutscenes are full of dramatic staring that pad them out, and since you never know which cutscenes progress the plot and which have no actual purpose, you have to watch them all. There’s no option to skip forward a line or do anything like that which could potentially speed things up—you can only skip entire cutscenes, and that’s only one of many ways it wastes your time. Conversations are also laced with a truly stunning number of shocked gasps/grunts, even when characters are hearing things they already know or that aren’t shocking. Then there are the loading screens, which are not only lengthy, but required for pretty much every transition. That means that if the game has a 7-second line of dialogue explaining something you already know, you have to sit through at least two loading screens. And since there are often several cutscenes that occur in different areas, you’re constantly being forced to sit through chains of these between levels. Sometimes they don’t even show up as loading screens, instead forcing you to sit through a lengthy black screen.
Incoherent art style, decent music
I don’t even know where to begin with the art style. The princess is so weirdly-proportioned that I dubbed her “Princess Weirdface,” and she’s hardly the only character who looks weird. None of them look right together: some characters have normal-sized eyes, while others have giant anime eyes. Both the Valkyria and one of the conspirators look like they’re smuggling watermelons in their shirts. None of this is really a big deal, but it’s worth pointing out how little any of it meshes together. It looks like a number of completely different art styles crashed into each other on the freeway and this is the game that they peeled off of the pavement. The animation is definitely a bigger problem, with all kinds of annoyances like enemies who simply disappear when defeated (very amateurish), background characters who stand around like statues and come across as incredibly creepy as a result, and enemies whose death animations have only like 5 or 6 frames when they die to a sniper rifle.
As for the music, it’s by Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger fame. Does it reach those same heights of memorability? Of course not. That doesn’t mean it’s not functional and even intermittently enjoyable, though. That said, the sound in this game is an unmitigated disaster. The levels are all wrong. Some attacks are absurdly loud. The princess has attacks that start songs, and these play over the background music and create a cacophonous, disorienting mess of melodies.