Monday, April 5, 2010

Tabletop Gaming Done Right - Valkyria Chronicles

We pretty much love all kinds of games here at the Hopeless Gamer, but our favorites tend to focus on some combination of strategy and storytelling. For me, this extends to the type of video games and non-table top games that are out there. I'm a big fan of strategy RPG's like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. These games simulate what it's like to play a strategy game on a board with units. It's lot like playing a mini's game in a lot of ways, only the terrain looks way better and instead of rolling dice, you get some nice little battle videos to show how the action all goes down.

My video game interests, which seem peculiar since there aren't really that many games in this general genre of turn-based strategy RPG, have lead me to one of my favorite video games - Valkyria Chronicles (VC) (all the images used for this post are borrowed from the official site, so give it a click!).

VC could be considered to be right out of the "weird war genre." That being said, it's much more along the lines of an alternate WWI history with an alternate Europe and alternate... pigs with wings (for real, but they're pretty rare at least!). First things first though - it's a PS3 exclusive and its sequel, which isn't out in the U.S. yet will be a PSP exclusive. Ok, now that that's out of the way, why is VC a good tabletop game in the guise of a video game?

1. Turn Based Strategy! - First and foremost VC is a game of strategy. As you can see in this picture, movement and positioning can be seen at any time in the middle of a battle by pulling up the battle map. each of those little symbols are units. The symbol in their center represents what class they are. At the start of almost every mission (VC is scenario based) you get to place members from Squad 7 at different bases you start in control of. The classes are: Scout, Shocktrooper, Lancer, Engineer, and Sniper. All of the classes are powerful in their own way, but not all are needed in every scenario - you get to decide which ones to use.

2. Tactics! - Not only does VC offer broad strategic play, but there's a real emphasis on tactics in the game. In the picture to the right here, you can see a couple of tactics at play. All units have their main weapon (rifle, machine gun, rocket, or sniper rifle) as well as their grenade. In this picture, our man Homer has selected his grenade instead of his rifle because he's attacking an armored gun. It's also no coincidence that he's crouching down behind those sandbags - the player makes decision if you want the character to stand or kneel (or lay down if it's tall grass) according to the cover they're near.

3. Heroic Action! - Now that you've seen how VC brings the feeling of war and military play to delightful cell-shaded-anime reality, let's talk about the RPG aspect of the game. The biggest aspect of the game that you can't tell from the pictures is the fact that you gain experience and money at the end of every level in which you can choose to spend on XP for your classes (whole classes level up instead of individual characters) and cash to spend on upgrades you think are important. Each class has their special weapon that gets upgraded over time. eventually you're given options about what kinds of rifles you want to put more money into, for example. Apart from this, there are also "ace" enemies in several missions that allow you to get unique weapons to give to a specific character - this makes them awesome.

Apart from the gear and classes being upgradable, you'll notice that each character has their own name. You create a real bond very quickly with these characters as they all seem to have a personality of their own. They also have their own "potentials" which really just remind me of feats from D&D like "Lone Wolf" or "Country Bred." It really adds a lot of depth to the game.

4. No Dice! - Ok, this one breaks the mould of a tabletop game, but it's generally a good thing, because I don't really need to see HD dice rolled to resolve every action on screen. Instead of just assigning a character to shoot at another target, you get control of the reins and are put into the action in a combination of first-person and third-person-over-the-shoulder shooting. Every weapon has an accuracy rating that affects your likelihood of hitting, but more often than not it's your fault if you miss.

I think there are a lot of great alternatives out there to traditional tabletop gaming, especially for a Monday night where you can't pull a group together, but can turn the TV and PS3 on - VC's a perfect example of this. Did I mention the price yet? Oh yeah, it's 20 frickin' dollars. Hard to beat an entire game that's cheaper than one D&D hardcover. You can see the Amazon link below for the cheapness (and to help support The Hopeless Gamer!).

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