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By ucblockhead (Mon May 04, 2009 at 11:40:20 AM EST) (all tags)
"Valkyria Chronicles".  "The Great Happiness Space".  "Caryatids".


Valkyria Chronicles

I've been playing a lot of Valkyria Chronicles.  This game is vastly under appreciated.  Upon release, it mostly flopped, but it is one of the best games I've played on the PS3.

It's a "Tactical RPG", which is a genre that is not much appreciated here in the states, which I suppose explains part of it.  I gather that the most famous in the genre is "Final Fantasy Tactics", which I have not played.  The excellent "Jeane D'Arc" is also in the genre.

But the gameplay reminds me more of the old XCom games, or perhaps Silent Storm.  You move your units around a map in a very tactical manner, which each unit being a single person.  Things are mostly turn-based, allowing for thought, but with some realtime elements.

What this game has over those, though, is far less micro-management and better developed characters.  Characters come in five classes, and you have little or no ability to control how they are equipped, but through the use of voice acting and animation, each is given enough uniqueness that you actually connect with who each one is.  (Even if the minor ones are a bit cardboard.)  It's not like some earlier games, where the minor characters are mostly random names and pictures.

The setting is very interesting.  The fantasy setting (though not all fantastical elements) have been discarded for an alternate earth and a WWII-like conflict.  In this case, the "Eastern Empire" is invading "Gallia", a small, peaceful country known for windmills and universal conscription, to get at its "Ragnite" stores as part of its overall conflict with the "Federation" for control of "Europa".

The look of the thing, I find stunning.  They've utterly discarded the world of grays and browns for an anime style, but they've then gone and colored the entire thing as if a charcoal drawing.

Though one of the ironies is that while the ubiquitous Western WWII shooter glorifies in the bloody headshot while ignoring some of the harsh realities of the conflict, "Valkyria Chronicles", with its cartoonish look and prime time TV violence levels, despite having the excuse of "alternate world", puts racial prejudice, labor camps and other ugliness at the center of its plot.  In fact one of the few faults I can find in this game is how it sometimes veers quickly from anime-cuteness to descriptions of harsh bigotry.

I am only half-way through, so I can say how the plot turns out, but it seems like they are interested in drawing something more complex than "good-guy/bad-guy".  Here, it is the "darcsen (epithat "dark-hairs") who are ghettoized for some alledged wrongs committed two thousand years prior.  Prejudiced attitudes appear on both sides of the conflict, including among some of the critical people in your own squad.  One thing I find interesting is that these "darcsen" look distinctly Japanese when compared to everyone else.

Though beware: complex story means lots of cutscenes, though they do allow you to completely skip some.

The combat is very interesting because it is based on the ability if the people in your squad.  People are divided into five classes, scouts, who are weak, but fast, shocktroopers who are powerful, but slow and short-ranged, lancers, who are required to take down tanks but otherwise fairly useless, snipes are are long-randed, powerful, but slow, and engineers which keep your tank repaired and units supplied.

But people aren't interchangeable by class.  Each character has a number of "potentials" which are either benefits or deficits.  One might have a "pollen allergy", and do poorly around plants.  Another might "fancy men" and have higher attack around men.  (And in "gays-in-the-military" propaganda, one of my favorites with this potential is a male lancer.  I about busted a gut when he started singing "It's raining muscles!" in a cabaret voice when I moved him near a couple other men.  Soldiers also like particular other soldiers and fight better near them, so a huge part of each battle is figuring out what the best mix for the particular situation is.

The missions themselves are extremely well designed.  I've played ten of the primary missions and another optional one, and have yet to encounter any sort of repetition.  Each map is unique, with its own tactical difficulties.  The difficulty level itself is about perfect.  Despite there being surprises on a number of them, you never feel like a map is completely impossible the first time around, yet without careful thought, you will almost certainly fail.  I think I've only managed to beat a third of the missions the first time out (ignoring the first two learning ones) yet each time, my failure was due to my own failure to think things through.  Those times I've beat the mission the first time, it was often by the skin of my teeth.

Anyway, that's probably enough...clearly I am enjoying it.

The Great Happiness Space

One of the few movies I've managed to get through is a documentary on Japanese "Host boys" called The Great Happiness Space.  It's one of those fascinating bits of Japanese culture that really has no Western analogue, at least that I know of.  These are young men who are essentially paid by women to party with them in a club made for the purpose.  Think of it like a strip club where instead of displaying bodies they are giving attention.  One of the most fascinating bits, which I suppose would be a spoiler if a documentary could be said to have spoilers is that their primary customers are female prostitutes.

Caryatids

Caryatids is Bruce Sterling's latest, and in many ways a return to form I haven't seen since Holy Fire.  It follows a number of women, each a clone of a Balkan mad-woman, as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic world.  Sterling pulls off a neat trick of characterization here as each of these women is distinctly different, and yet each has, at her core, essentially the same personality.

It's also one of the most realistic seeming post-apocalyptic worlds I've read.  The world has suffered massive environmental disasters, and a huge population die-off, yet civilization hasn't collapsed.  The world is dominated by three powers, two trans-national.  The "Aquis" are hippy-tree hugger types, trying to fix the world through collective action at a local level.  The "Dispensation" are green-business minded types, trying to use money and manipulation to clean up the disasters.  Meanwhile, statist China is trying to bull through with technology and simple brute force.

It all makes for a very fascinating read.

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Media I have consumed | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Valkyria Chronicles by ks1178 (2.00 / 0) #1 Mon May 04, 2009 at 12:04:19 PM EST
That game is actually the reason I purchased my PS3. I saw a clip of it on a comercial for G4 TV when browsing through on Demand, and I was very happy with the purchase (despite not having purchased any othe PS3 games since).

Basically for all the same reasons you posted. The art style is amazing, and the game play is very well thought out and put together.

Games by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #2 Mon May 04, 2009 at 12:14:55 PM EST
It is what I played after Fallout 3, and while that game is good, it suffers from a lot of bugginess and dismal scenery, so this was a breath of fresh air.

Folklore was another Japanese game that I thought was underrated, though not quite as good as Valkyria Chronicles.  The demo is on PSN.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

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Get Bioshock next by theboz (2.00 / 0) #9 Tue May 05, 2009 at 08:03:21 AM EST
I've been playing it on the PC and it's great fun.

- - - - -
That's what I always say about you, boz, you have a good memory for random facts about pussy. -- joh3n
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Already played it. by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue May 05, 2009 at 02:33:39 PM EST
It was ok...but I didn't love it.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
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Holy Fire by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #3 Mon May 04, 2009 at 12:59:15 PM EST
is the only Sterling I've read that I've actually liked.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
Sterling by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon May 04, 2009 at 02:09:20 PM EST
Did you ever read "Islands in the Net"?
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
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I did think of you by iGrrrl (2.00 / 0) #13 Tue May 05, 2009 at 07:29:06 PM EST
It annoyed me. I wanted to like it, and it was a page-turner, but it annoyed me. Don't ask why--it's been 18 years since I read it, and I haven't read any Sterling since. 

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

[ Parent ]
Host boys. by ambrosen (4.00 / 2) #4 Mon May 04, 2009 at 01:44:11 PM EST
Congratulations, you've just convinced me that Japan is one big troll.

Sterling by Herring (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon May 04, 2009 at 01:55:14 PM EST
I've just finished re-reading The Difference Engine. There are several important factual and geographical errors concerning the location and layout of the racecourse - which ruined it for me.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
It had problems. by dark nowhere (2.00 / 0) #8 Tue May 05, 2009 at 01:07:57 AM EST
I liked the story but I found it lacked quite a lot of texture. Gibson's normally really good for that on his own. I haven't read much Sterling.

Weren't those errors deliberate? It's been a very long time since I've read it, but I seem to recall a sense that the inaccuracies were intentional.

Chill out, snowflake.

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No Shining Force love? by dark nowhere (2.00 / 0) #7 Tue May 05, 2009 at 01:00:54 AM EST
I've always liked that series. And I agree, VC looks beautiful. For all the attention paid to presentation these days, far fewer developers are applying any sort of creativity to it.

Chill out, snowflake.

Consoles by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #11 Tue May 05, 2009 at 02:36:57 PM EST
Keep in mind that the PS3 is the first console I ever owned.
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Oh my. by dark nowhere (2.00 / 0) #12 Tue May 05, 2009 at 04:00:28 PM EST
I totally didn't expect that.

Chill out, snowflake.

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Valkyria Chronicles by ObviousTroll (2.00 / 0) #14 Tue May 12, 2009 at 10:19:54 PM EST
Played it a few months back. I really liked the art style and I mostly liked the game play - although there were a couple of levels that drove me insane with the "play it over and over till you know where all the hidden bad guys are so you can correctly deploy your forces without getting wiped out" thing.

IIRC, I never finished it, though. I think I got side tracked with work - and now Troll, Jr. is banned from using the PS3 which means I don't use it either because, wtf, making him watch me play on his PS3 would be just a little too cruel.



An Angry and Flatulent Pig, Trying to Tie Balloon Animals
Media I have consumed | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback