Valkyria Chronicles 4 Demo – Multiplatform (2018)

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It is the year 1935 EC.

The continent of Europa is engulfed in the flames of the Second Europan War between the Atlantic Federation and the Autocratic Eastern Imperial Alliance. Although the Federation struggles valiantly against the Empire’s forces, the relentless imperial military machine threatens to consume them. With victory slipping away, the Federation executes Operation Northern Cross: a last-ditch attempt to capture the imperial capital and end the war.

Commander Claude Wallace and his loyal childhood friends in Squad E are sent to fight for the desperate operation’s success, but they will have to endure harsh bone-chilling elements, waves of imperial soldiers, and the terrifying Valkyria… and unravel a grave truth that will shake them to the core.

One of the very first PS3 game I ever bought was Valkyria Chronicles, and I immediately fell in love with it. I absolutely adore tactical RPGs and it had been a while since I played one that tipped the “instant classic” box that games from Quest Corporation or Square Enix used to make. But here came Sega with something truly special – only to sit on the franchise basically for over a decade. Yeah, there were sequels, but they jumped to the PSP and were ignored totally in the west (VC was never released here!) since the games basically were being used to promote a TV anime in Japan. There was an ill-received spin-off recently, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the first true return to form for a Loooong time.

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To celebrate this, Sega has decided to drum up interest in the game by releasing a demo showcasing the beginning of the full game. I don’t normally review things like demos, but I was pretty excited about this and only just found out about it when I was checking on my pre-order for the full game. When it’s all said and done, think of this as the first part of my review for when I eventually do the full game, and it’ll all come together.

This demo isn’t a meager one level affair like so many others, it contains three full chapters of the game (a prologue plus 2 main chapters) plus the ability to transfer any progress from the demo to the actual game upon release. It also has two skirmish maps, a bonus map that is ONLY available in the demo, and some unlockable things that can be done, giving this demo a surprisingly large amount of replay time if you like grinding. Each chapter is divided into small segments arranged in a scrapbook-like grid with pages that are turned to access the next segment. usually, each page contains 5-6 story segments and a battle – for fans of the original Valkyria Chronicles, this is exactly the same set-up as the first PS3 game from ten years ago (which was released later on PS4).

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One of the things that I enjoy most about this series is that it has a humanity to it that most war media is completely devoid of. Instead of a “kill them all, America F Yeah! – Hoo-rah” vibe one gets from 99% of military shooters like your Call of Duties, or Battlefields, we have a story of regular people being thrown into a war to save their homeland from an encroaching enemy. An example of this is a powerful scene where Claude remarks that the field they are standing in is now completely empty of the beautiful flowers that were just there before Imperial shelling began in the area.

Keep in mind that one of the more lauded aspects of the first game in the series, was it actually had the cajones to actually address the Holocaust in an interesting way in that it introduced an ethnic minority of characters (Darksens) that were blamed for the misfortunes brought on by a previous war and were rounded up and put in camps and persecuted. One of the main protagonists HATES Darksens at the beginning of the game, so much that she comes across as fairly unlikable once her racism shows through. Yeah – that was in this game, heavy stuff for a fantasy game with water color art.

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In a lot of ways, this game is a step back from some of the stuff aadded into the series on the handheld games, it does not include the branching classes or “school simulator” aspects from Valkyria Chronicles 2, or the fantastical characters found in Valkyria Chronicles 3, but that isn’t to say there isn’t any innovation at all. In fact, this is perhaps the most well-balanced game of the three I’ve played – some character classes have been tweaked such as allowing more movement for snipers, or less CP usage for tanks. There is also an entirely new character class this time around known as the Grenadier, who can fire mortar rounds at enemies. They can sort of stay behind the scenes and lob mortars at far away enemies if any team member can see somebody on the map – it’s a cool character class so far despite the small amount of time I’ve been messing with this demo.

Another addition to the game is something called “The Brave system”. When an allied soldier is downed and is nearly dead, players can consume 1 CP and increase the stats of allied units with the “Entrust” skill or can restore 1 AP with the ability to move and attack while being invulnerable for one action with the “Stand Up” skill. Considering how many times I had to restart battles in the previous games due to my unwillingness to accept perma-death of characters, this sounds like a godsend. I have not messed around with this too much, because I have been playing on “Easy” in order to leisurely take in the demo, but when I do my main play-through I will definitely be excited for the opportunity to save my soldiers necks if need arises.

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For some reason, I have played this demo for like 10 hours, mostly because I decided to try to get all of my characters up the the rank of Corporal for no other reason than to be a total over-powered bad-ass once I start playing the full game, but it came be played in like an hour most-likely. All-in-all this is really fun and looks like I will have plenty of fun this fall returning to the country of Gallia. Here’s hoping this game finds success now that it’s out on multi-platform and we get things like a Valkyria Chronicles 5 and even a Valkyria Chronicles 2-3 HD remaster!

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a tactical role-playing game developed and published by Sega. It was released in Japan for the PlayStation 4 in March 2018, and is scheduled to be released worldwide in September 2018, in addition for the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows.

Jump onto everything but the PC, and grab that demo, and let me know what you think in the comments!

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

“I’m gonna be a pilot. Best in the galaxy.”

 

While I can’t say I’ve been one of the more loyal Star Wars fans over the years, (the prequels lost me for a bit) some of my fondest memories of my childhood include it. Then again, I can’t imagine too many “older millennials” not having some sort of deep cultural connection to it – whether loved or hated the ever-present looming of the franchise was always there. Cartoons (Muppet Babies), other films (Spaceballs), and even songs (Weird Al) constantly had references to a series of films that almost became bigger than film itself. In what was likely a very annoying event for my family, I once taped the trilogy off of a USA network cable marathon and watched it constantly – so much that I used to know the words to the Ewok song at the end of Jedi.

Seeing my fandom really blossoming, I remember at some point that my mother gave me a series of books called The Han Solo Adventures when I was young, I think she got them from a book club or something and passed them on to me, and I was hooked on the characters of Han and Chewie. I mean, I teared up at the end of Episode 7 due to a particular incident – er, the movie came out a million years ago, if you haven’t seen the spoiler I’m sorry. I nearly cried when Han Died. When a prequel film was announced I got really excited.

“It is a lawless time. Crime Syndicates compete for resources – food, medicine, and hyperfuel. On the shipbuilding planet of Corellia, the foul Lady Proxima forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection. On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars…”

That is the opening crawl for Solo: A Star Wars Story, a film that fills in some of the gaps of the titular characters backstory. Ultimately, one can think of any of Han Solo’s questionable boasts in the previous films and wonder “I wonder what the Kessel Run is?”, “Has Chewie ever really ripped someone’s arms off?” or “Did he really win The Millennium Falcon from Lando ‘fair and square’?”

The film answers all of this without seeming too gratuitous about it, thankfully. Yeah a lot of things that seem really important to the character’s later motivations and personality seem to have all taken place in the span of only a few weeks or less, but the writers resisted things like shoe-horning Boba Fett or Darth Vader into the film, a fact that I was really happy about. Yeah there was another BIG cameo in there, but it was refreshing rather than cringey.

Harrison Ford has some mighty big space boots to fill, and I was perhaps the most skeptical of the casting of Alden Ehrenreich as Han. Rather than attempting to do a prolonged impersonation of Ford, Ehrenreich nails the personality and wise-cracks of the character in such a way that you could imagine him being a 20-year-old version of the same man. To compare this to the series’ often fan-imagined competitor – Star Trek, I feel that casting of young versions of characters was done FAR better here.

Donald Glover was amazing as he always is in his role as Lando Calrissian – a portrayal that actually added a lot to the character that casual fans that don’t want to read a library of books may be unaware of. I know some folks, as tradition with any film nowadays, were mad at the insinuation that Lando was Pan-sexual now in various interviews – once seeing the movie, I love how this was handled, and while not going into specifics he was not going around and having sex with anything he saw. In fact, it was one of the more touching relationships in the franchise.

Rounding out the main cast was Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Paul Bettany as Dryden, and Woody Harrelson as Beckett. I was actually surprised at how much I like Harrelson’s character as I wasn’t a big fan of him being cast as he’s far too recognizable and Star Wars has always stayed away from huge stars for the most part. Granted, he basically played the same character he often plays in many films such as Zombieland and The Hunger Games  – older guy that has seem some crap and mentors the younger main character. I’ll just chalk that up to his version of how Ice Cube always plays police officers or how Liam Neeson is perpetually given roles in thrillers that involve him saving his family. Honorable mentions go to other characters like Enfys Nest who meet the “cool character that folks will become obsessed with” mold like Boba Fett.

Perhaps my only real quibble with the film was the addition of a sub-plot concerning a droid character in Lando’s employ named L3-37 that is basically a parody/homage of various modern-day social justice movements. The character is often seen advocating for droid rights, as she has “malfunctioned” to such a degree that she sees injustices involving droids all around her when few others seem to care. We even see that many of the shadier characters in the galaxy enjoy droid cage-fighting as a spectator sport, a fact that enrages her.

While I’m not mad about this inclusion, I feel that this and the war profiteering plot in Episode 8 are a bit too “on the nose” and lack the subtlety that Star Wars usually has. I mean, Star Wars isn’t Handmaid’s Tale, it’s usually not a scathing rebuke of modern-day politics unless you consider that the bad guys are space Nazis essentially.

All-in all, I really liked this film – it captured the fun and spectacle of the non-‘anthology” films well, and made me remember how awesome Han and Chewie are. I’m hoping this does well enough that they make more, but who knows as it seems the film was released at a bad time and is slightly under-performing. Considering this was a film in which the original directors got fired and Ron Howard ha to “swoop in” and save the day on, I’d say they did a solid job.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department – Mid-Season Thoughts

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Every year it seems like a billion anime TV shows get released, and with each season having upwards of 50 shows, one can safely assume most of those are mediocre at best. I work a LOT, so I can’t watch everything I would like to, and truthfully, it’s very easy to burn out of anime fandom if one tries to be a completionist of any sort. I have to be VERY selective of what I watch, and usually I go for off-the-wall stuff that strays from the mainstream shonen fighting shows and paranormal adventure shows that everyone seems to absolutely love.

This year I decided to re-subscribe to Crunchyroll in order to watch the relatively recent live action Great Teacher Onizuka show, and have found a few gems from the “simulcast” section of the app. I’m not sure of it was the eye-catching art style, or the fact that it may very well have been the first thing on the list, but I decided to give ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department a try, and I’m very glad that I did.

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Based on a popular Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, ACCA (as I will refer to it from now on) tells the story of Jean Otus, who acts as the second-in-command of the ACCA inspection agency. Jean’s job is to travel to the various major cities within the Kingdom of Dowa (which is, itself divided into 13 districts) and visit other ACCA offices to look for corruption, government waste, and other things that may destabilize the Kingdom. ACCA had been created over one hundred years in the past, during a lengthy period of unrest, in order to bring order to the masses. Many feel that ACCA is no longer relevant, but murmurs of revolution seem to be in the air. Small hints of possible revolution have been cropping up, such as scenes where various people start remarking on the increasing number of fires that have been occurring.

I jokingly told my wife (after viewing episode one) that this show could be summed up as “office politics – the anime” which was perhaps a bit flippant considering the way the show has progressed these past few episodes. To some, ACCA might seem slow – as it is free of the ridiculous exposition dumps and false world building that a lot of modern anime seems to be comprised of. Instead, the story is left to breathe while the viewer is allowed to see some sites, and understand the culture of the various districts within Dowa. This almost makes it a animated travel show ala Anthony Bourdain. Jean travels to places, buys gifts for his co-workers and sister, and samples the local cuisine. Food, in particular, takes such a large role in some episodes that one wants to sample the exotic sandwich breads and pastries that everyone seems to be obsessed with.

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I think the main reason this show has endeared itself to me so much, is that it reminds me a LOT of a few other shows from a number of years ago that had a similar traveling theme – Kino’s Journey, and Mushishi. Kino’s Journey was a philosophical show that saw the titular hero visiting various towns that all seemed to be examples of philosophical conundrums, and example being a town where everything was handled by majority vote to the conclusion of there being one person left alive in the entire city. Kino would go to these places and observe the issues these people have and rarely take action to alter the path that fate was going to take. Mushishi was a  bit different but involved a traveling apothecary / exorcist as he went from town to town saving people from paranormal creatures and other bad things.

ACCA is very similar in the way Jean interacts with the other districts, he’s there to inspect these towns, not to do anything to alter them in any way. in some cases, he is even witness to an attempted rebellion, and decides that preserving the status quo is better than reporting this to his superiors. One of my favorite “visits” is Jean’s trip to a city that is full of gigantic people that eat enormous food. It’s never made abundantly clear why this is the case, but I’ll pretend that the produce all has growth hormone in it or something, because nothing else makes much sense. it’s obviously a slight softened jab at America from an outsider’s perspective, but it still gave me quite a few chuckles. Seeing Jean and company try to eat strawberries the size of basketballs and sandwiches that would make that guy from Man Vs. Food blush.

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Jean soon finds himself to be the object of a persistent rumor, one that places himself at the forefront of a suspected Coup d’état that he has no knowledge of. It seems that many feel he is in some way an information broker for coup leaders, and that his travels are actually a cover for bad things that he may be doing. People think he is rich, and privileged due to his large house and his smoking habits (smoking seems to be very scarce and an extreme luxury) so him being some sort of spy makes sense to many. Sure, he has heard the same murmurs from around his office, ones of fires and killings, but has no clue why he is suspected, or why the rumor is so specific. Many see him as non-caring or naive about this situation, but Jean is pretty stoic and street smart. something like a baseless rumor isn’t going to rattle him.

I won’t actually spoil anything here, but episode seven delivers a huge bombshell in the plot department, one that will likely move the narrative to the season finale and hopefully beyond. I have not read the manga or kept up with ratings, so I have no idea how much story is left or how cost effective more would be, but I really hope the show continues for a while instead of stopping at episode twelve. assuming the ending is good, ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department could end up being a personal classic of mine – an anime that may not be the next Dragonball Z or Naruto, but I will end up remembering for a long time. Here’s hoping it stays this way as we move into the back half of the series!

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the entire show in a few months!


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