Not since Smilebit's Japan-only Dreamcast real-time strategy game Hundred Swords has Sega put so much effort into the genre as it has with their upcoming PS3 shooter Valkyrie of the Battlefield: Gallian Chronicles. A significant portion of Sega's TGS presence this year is devoted to what at first glimpse looks like a collision between Studio Ghibli-quality visuals and pseudo-real-time tactical gameplay a la Medal of Honor, and eventually evolves into something much more compelling than that bizarre description suggests.
When we first lined up to give Valkyrie a shot, we were subjected to a verbal tutorial (what is with Tokyo Game Show and mandatory, live tutorials? See also: Metal Gear Online) by a lady dressed up in the style of the game's characters. We also got a taste of the backstory of the war-torn, otherwise peaceful nation of Gallia, which was invaded by Hellghast-style forces. Fiercely proud and independent, an uprising of Gallian nationals tries (via the player) to push back and repel the invasion, using classic 'rock, paper, scissors' tactical game mechanics, played out with a small, balanced squad of specialist freedom fighters.
Using a cel-shaded, sketch-style of 3D rendering, each character looks distinct, wrapped in soft brown and blue clothing, shaded by cross-hatched pen strokes that evokes Studio Ghibli's Nausicaa or Porco Rosso at the game's outset. What initially appeared to be -- courtesy of the video demonstration -- a SOCOM-style squad-based shooter, ended up being something altogether different. Each of the game's characters holds a unique role. The two girls in the game provide the short and medium range firepower, using an assault rifle and a machine gun, respectively; the rest of the group's members, who are men, fill out the sniper, heavy artillery, and tank commander roles.
In one section of the tutorial, a 'food chain' of character revelations clarified how specific job roles should compete against each other. The riflemen and machine gun specialists are best suited to taking out the heavy artillery, while the heavy artillery (with rocket launchers) are deadly and very mobile against the heavily-armored tanks. The tanks, of course, are dangerous to all targets, but have limited range and easily exploited weak points (for example: the power plants at the rear of the tanks). Each playable character has a range-of-motion gauge, showing how far they can run until they either have to stop or fire their weapon.
Just like in turn-based tactical RPGs -- as in Final Fantasy Tactics, where you have a limited number of squares to move to -- so too in Valkyrie are you limited by your profession, with the difference being, the movement is handled in real-time by the player. At any point, if you deem it necessary, you are free to press the targeting shoulder button, aim, and then press Circle to fire. Then, by pressing X and confirming you're ready to switch to another character on your team (chosen by cycling the D-pad through your teammate's icons on an overhead map), you can freely move and arrange your team like chess pieces on a chess board, tactically 'removing' enemy forces one by one on the playing field.
Once your turns are done (you can occasionally slip a couple of attacks in during a round, depending on the character, whose movement gauge may have recharged while you operated other characters), it's the 'Enemy Phase,' wherein basically you get to see how the enemy counters -- or at least tries to counter -- your moves. One thing that makes this type of combat interesting is the fact that Valkyrie is not played on a simple, flat playing field. In the demo we played, we were able to send snipers up to the rooftops and take out unsuspecting enemy forces with well-placed headshots (which are great for one-hit kills), while our heavy artillery and tank sandwiched the enemy tanks.
While a U.S. release date hasn't been announced yet, it's hard to imagine Sega not wanting to make their money back on this one. After all, the production values are stellar, and they sure didn't go through all this trouble to sell this game to the 14 PS3 owners in Japan only. So expect to hear some news out of Sega of America on this one soon, and check back for more impressions and info of the game as we get it, well before the game's anticipated 2008 release.
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