January 31, 2009

One of the Best Games You Haven't Played: Valkyria Chronicles

Well, my stuff finally arrived this week which is why my posting has been a bit sporadic lately, but I've finally gotten a good deal of my stuff unpacked (you know, the important things like my computer and my consoles). Today I also had the chance to finally finish Valkyria Chronicles, a task that had been long delayed by my Christmas break (where I had to avoid playing it so not to spoil the story for Rick) and my subsequent move. In fact, with the apartment hunting trip and then my stuff being in transit for almost two weeks it's been quite a while since I had the chance to just sit down and enjoy playing it game. It felt good, made this place actually start feeling at least a little like my new home.

As I said before, my chosen game was Valkyria Chronicles, and having just finished it I can say that that game is one of the best of 2008 at least as far as I'm concerned. It's fun to play, interesting, the story is good and told well, the characters are interesting and they have good (if somewhat predictable) arcs throughout the game. Overall, I think the game stands as a shining example of what made the Playstation and Playstation 2 great: variety. Instead of just being a home for first-person shooters and other action fare, Sony's consoles have always managed to have a whole host of niche titles appealing to a variety of different audiences, and I think that has been largely missing from this generation.

Unfortunately, to this date sales of Valkyria Chronicles have been abysmal (at least in the US), despite the game garnering relatively high praise from critics (86.6% on Game Rankings as of this post). There are a few reasons why I think it is possible that this game didn't sell well, though none of them are good in my opinion, and they make me worry for the future of the industry. The first and foremost reason is likely the complete lack of marketing for the title. I was semi-aware that the title was coming out, but had no idea what it was at the time and largely no interest. I only became aware of the game when Rick picked it up after it started getting high marks in its early reviews. Other reasons such as the game's very niche appeal (turn-based strategy) and exclusivity to the PS3 platform may also have contributed the game's low sales.

All in all, it just worries me that such a good game can do so poorly, while seemingly less deserving games can go on to sell millions of copies. In my opinion Valkyria Chronicles harkens back to the glory days of the original Playstation and games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vandal Hearts. I wasn't as aware of the industry at the time, but I am pretty sure those games did rather well (I am certain of it with the former, not as much with the latter). This sad truth leads me to believe that I am somewhat on the outside of the mainstream, and that the games and genres that I love are slowly being phased out in favor of the next high-poly, in-your-face, action game on the block.

I don't mean to demonize action games, as there are plenty out there that I have enjoyed a great deal, even in the last year. What worries me is that the more popular, more successful console (I'm not counting you, Wii...we can talk about why you aren't a real video game console later) seems to cater almost exclusively to that demographic with very little else going on, and is often rewarded for it. I may be overreacting, in fact I probably am, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles, and how much it tapped into a part of my video game psyche that I felt had been largely unused this generation. I just hope that Sony and the Playstation 3 are able to continue on this course and keep providing the interesting Eastern titles that they always have.

I suppose we will see before long...


  1. I am someone who is clearly a Sony fan boy, who doesn't play a lot of action titles, who has a love for Eastern titles, and who even owns this game. Yet even I haven't bother to put it in my PS3 yet.

    I agree with you that their marketing was abysmal. How does this game not have an online 2 player skirmish mode? I think that would have helped slightly. Slightly.

    I think the target audience for this game, if they are anything like me, just happens to have chosen a different console for this generation. The PS2.

    VC has not touched my PS3 because I am busy playing Persona 4 right now. I buy about 2 PS2 games a month. They are only $10-$40 and it is easy to find lots of titles for whatever you are looking for. My PS3 even has backwards compatibility because it understands what I really want.

    If I stopped buying games right now I would probably have enough PS2 games in my backlog to last me for the next 5 years.

  2. Bonus points for the Vandal Hearts reference.

    Another thing to note is that a lot of the more niche titles have moved to handhelds, the DS in particular. The World Ends With You is obviously the first title that spring to mind. Wild Arms XF (turn based strategy on hexes? YES PLEASE) is also another good example of a less-mainstream game that ended up on a handheld.

    In general, I think as long as the Japanese are around, there will be a way (re: Atlus) to get your hands on less-commonplace gaming fare, it just going to be more scarce than it may have been in the past.

    Also, I'd take this time to recommend Persona 4 or Arrrrrrr Tonelico 2 to you, but I know you'd just abandon them after 10 hours or so, so I won't bother. ;)

  3. I've played a bit of Persona 4, but it's true that finishing it is no doubt far beyond my attention span. Still the game seemed really fun and solid. The strange mix of old school dungeon crawling and high school simulation is as engaging as it was in its predecessor.

    Anyway, you both bring up some good points. Though I'd still like to see some niche titles using a full-blown console (at least as much as Valkyria Chronicles does), but I understand why that might never be cost effective.