Det är speldags igen så här i mellandagarna och förutom att shoppa loss i den årliga vinter-rean på Steam har jag ägnat min tid åt att spela igenom en riktig pärla – Valkyria Chronicles, ett strategispel i anime-utförande som jag rescencerar här nedan. Passar även på att skriva några rader om ett spel som kanske inte sticker ut lika mycket, men som med sina indie-vibbar och lugna tempo kan ge många timmars skön speltid för den som gillar att bygga städer och hantera resurser: Banished.
Valkyria Chronicles är en skildring av en omfattande konflikt i en fiktiv värld som i mångt och mycket liknar Europa under andra världskriget. Vi följer en hemvärnspluton i landet Gallia, som trots sin neutrala hållning i konflikten mellan stormakterna dras in i kriget och tvingas kämpa för sin överlevnad. Till spelstilen är Valkyria Chronicles väldigt likt X-Com: Enemy Unknown men med ett mycket starkare fokus på story. Valkyria Chronicles är inget nytt spel – det kom redan 2008 på Playstation 3, men sedan ett drygt år tillbaka finns det på Steam, med uppfräschad grafik och allt tidigare släppt extrainnehåll med på köpet.
I put off playing this game for quite some time despite it being recommended to me over and over. Something about it being a console port and ‘Yet another game set during WW2’ put me off. I was deeply mistaken. This is one of the best strategy games I’ve played, as far as the style of play goes it is very similar to X-Com: EU but the story and characters resonated deeply with me and I played it more for the story than for the battles themselves (which are nonetheless great). Only a few minor things give away that this was originally a game for the PS3, the port is very well done although I know some people dislike the controls. The graphics have aged well; the watercolor style which permeates the game is beautiful and the higher resolutions that modern PCs are capable of do it great justice. The game also runs without stutter on my weaker non-gaming laptop.
Interestingly, while I would normally never consider watching anime in anything but its original language I found the English script of this game to be superior to the Japanese, the latter is quite dry at times and I feel the English voice actors are actually a better fit for their respective characters. And the story and characters are really what make this game stand out. Games that go out of their way to elicit strong emotional responses never make an impression on me, but this one did. As we follow the story along, the characters are occasionally thrust into situations where they must do battle for one reason or another, this using a delightful combination of strategic top-down and tactical first-person gameplay that few other games have tried. While not especially realistic, it works well and you feel very in control of your soldiers’ actions.
In the broader perspective however, Valkyria Chronicles’ depiction of a large 1900s military conflict from a squad’s point of view is very realistic and includes a number of scenarios that ring familiar to anyone used to games set during WW2 – the dramatic beach landing, an assault on an unassailable fortress, a liberation of a small town, a sneak through the forest to avoid detection, and so forth. The considerable variation in battles keeps the game interesting and it never felt like a grind to me. Eventually, supernatural elements (the titular Valkyria) are introduced and the story kicks it up a notch into epic territory. Few games these days become so noticeably better the more you play them.
As for negatives, I don’t think the game is very enjoyable if you focus on getting the highest possible ranking from every encounter, as this rewards speed over all else. A few battles are nearly impossible to win on the first try without prior knowledge about what challenges await you once the mission starts, meaning you may find yourself having to start over with a different strategy. The game lets you save both between and during battles, however, so this can usually be alleviated by simply backing up a few turns. There are fairly few achievements and they range from trivial to almost impossible; a few more in the middle range wouldn’t have hurt. I also dislike the fact that you have to play through the game twice to access some content.
Summing it up, this game is fantastic. It combines all the elements of a good anime and a good turn-based strategy game, with enough of its own flavor to be unique and spectacularly enjoyable. My main problem with it is that it only took me about 45 hours to complete and I fear the next game I play won’t be nearly as good.
Mitt betyg: 10/10
Banished är ett strategiskt stadsbyggarspel där du styr en grupp människor som blivit exilerade från sin by, någon gång under järnåldern. För att överleva måste de samla svampar, fiska, hugga ved och bruka jorden på sin nya boplats, vilket kan vara lättare sagt än gjort när man inte fått varken frön eller varma kläder med sig hemifrån och vintern nalkas med stormsteg. När de grundläggande behoven väl är tillfredsställda gäller det att bygga skolor åt barnen, gravplatser till de som lämnat jordelivet bakom sig och gruvor för att få upp malm ur jorden – allt för att skapa ett nytt samhälle. Spelet är stundvis utmanande men samtidigt avkopplande i sina vackra, skogklädda miljöer som förändras över säsongerna.
Banished is a city builder for the thinking gamer with a lot of time on his or her hands. Starting out with essentially nothing, you scramble to scavenge logs, stones and food from the forests and streams around your wagon, desperately trying to keep your families fed and warm during the coming winter (always coming, that winter is). Because most critical resources are finite until you find a way to replenish them (e.g., replanting forests), you must provide for your population’s critical needs while ensuring there is enough set aside for future investments. Depending on your starting conditions, this can be a formidable and very enjoyable challenge.
Once you get past this stage, however, the game’s pace slows considerably as you move from trying to stay alive to simply growing your settlement and securing the means to support that growth from renewable sources. Watching your increasing population go about its business, slowly but intently, is strangely addictive and everything you see matters. It is unfortunate that after spending some time in the growth phase, the game pretty much runs out of content and all you’re left with is a perpetual but not very challenging game of resource management.
It’s an iron-age Sim City, to put it simply. There’s no combat, no conflict at all, just growing your town while managing your workforce. If that’s your thing then you will find Banished enjoyable for hours upon hours, as I have. Considering it is available for less than €5 whenever there’s a Steam sale I see very little reason not to pick it up if you enjoy city builders. Somewhat compensating for the scarcity of late-game content is the huge amount of fan-made mods that have been created. For an indie title, the excellent sountrack and graphics deserve special mention.
Mitt betyg: 7,5/10