Every Tokyo Game Show has that one title--it's usually a handheld title, don't ask me why--that, while not one of the obvious triple-A newsmakers, has the visiting foreign press bolting directly for it. Last year it was Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. This year, at least for me, it was Valkyria Chronicles 3: Unrecorded Chronicles. Sure, the hands-on was completely in Japanese, with no concession to gaijin press, as usual--and that was totally fine with us. After a few re-orienting minutes, we felt right at home.
[image1]The original Valkyria Chronicles came practically out of nowhere in 2008 and developed a fairly rabid following for its hybrid-strategy mechanics, beautiful cel-shaded visuals, gripping storyline, and fantasy-universe take on what seemed to be a sort of splinter-reality WWII. When the sequel emerged for the PSP, it admittedly threw some players for a loop... but it worked just fine. Now, Sega has announced and revealed the third game in the series... and thank the High Command, it looks precisely like 'More of the Same'. Sometimes, this is a good thing.
While the second game in the Valkyria series--also a handheld outing--offered a detectably more light-hearted approach than the original, Unrecorded Chronicles swings the battle-compass back around again, and resuming the war and the narrative with rougher, darker overtones, music, and visuals.
The name of the new installment strongly implies the presence of unsung heroes, and Unrecorded Chronicles adopts a somewhat dirtier, harder, more roughly-used look in terms of the characters, environs, and general art-style. Throughout, cool little presentational flourishes give the battlefield a little more sense of vitality.
Whether in conventional combat-view or on the strategic maps, comic-book-style speech bubbles, requests for help from downed team-members, and critical-health warnings pop up, giving the player a better sense of dynamic connection to the combat.
[image2]The first game was no visual slouch--indeed, it was one of the most visually-compelling new games that, somehow, nobody had every heard of--and Unrecorded Chronicles continues in brilliant lock-step. Players returning to the series will notice an even more striking visual presentation--the characters more visually personalized, the tanks and other vehicles that much more detailed, the alterna-European environments crisper and more alive--while recognizable visual cues remain from the earlier games. This includes line-of-sight indicators and various function/insignia icons (scout, mechanized, etc.) defining each unit's combat role on the strategic maps.
The TGS demo battle was, in truth, pretty short--a single engagement that nevertheless offered a good variety of unit-types, including tanks--but gave players a chance to employ special new Powers ,via the now-familiar Command Point Gauge. Special Powers can be employed by both individual combatant and vehicles: It's a big deal and definitely a situation-changer, to have one of your foot-soldiers suddenly be able to suddenly trigger a dramatic, cinematic transformation into one of the series' namesake Valkyria.
The in-game anime-style cinematics look better than ever, while the mechanics and hybrid action/turn-based battle mechanics really give returning veterans a sense of familiar country. VC3 will be available as a retail and downloadable title in January 2011. No word yet on the return of the franchise to its major-console roots, which we definitely still want to see--but make no mistake, Valkyria Chronicles' transition to the handheld screen continues to do the series proud.