Man Down, Man Down!
Back in June I started playing Valkyria Chronicles, a turn-based, squad-level wargame for the PS3. I suspect many of its fans don’t actually know that’s what they’re playing: VC does a very clever job of not looking like a wargame. Characters are controlled from a third-person shooter perspective, and they behave mostly like shooter characters except for the way they have a limited number of movement points and a single action for each round. It also looks more like a good anime than a videogame. This distinguishes it from most other Japanese games, which largely take their aesthetic cues from trashy anime.
On the other hand, let’s not get carried away praising Valkyria Chronicles’ tasteful sensibilities: your second in command goes into combat wearing a miniskirt and blushing like the vaguely eroticized schoolgirl she is.
In fact, Alicia comes very close to ruining the game, especially if you play it in Japanese with English subtitles. The only thing worse about the way the typical Japanese game visually portrays women is the way it characterizes them: overwhelmingly shrill, perky, and prone to mood swings that make Naomi Campbell look like St. Francis. Or they’re painfully demure, barely able to speak or look someone in the eyes. Or they’re perpetually pissed off and speak in a freakishly deep voice. There’s hardly a convention that Valkyria Chronicles doesn’t drive into the ground.
Thank God there’s an inoffensive English voice track.
Anyway, I recently went back to my save game, which was on hold at a point where the difficult was rapidly increasing. This is mostly a good thing: the early part of VC is so easy that the only real challenge is how quickly you can walk all over the opposition. However, since the AI is fairly poor in VC, the missions get more difficult through construction and event triggers, which takes it into more trial-and-error territory. In a wargame, that’s really not where you want to be.
One thing works brilliantly in this game, however: rescuing incapacitated teammates.
You can’t tell in the early missions, because it’s a rare event. However, in the mid-game you start having teammates get shot down, and that’s when the rescue mechanic comes into play.
When a teammate goes down, you have 3 turns to get another squad member to his position and summon a medic. The medic instantly transports the wounded squaddie from the battlefield, and he can actually be brought back into play on the following turn. However, if you don’t get there within three turns, your squad member is dead.
There’s a dark brilliance to this system. Chances are, your squadmate is bleeding out on a dangerous patch of turf, which means you really have to think about whether you want to send more teammates out to rescue him. You can easily fritter away the entire team trying to get one wounded trooper off the field. But if you don’t do it, the soldier is dead. Gone forever. And as annoying as some of these characters can be, they’re my annoying characters.
I saw this scenario play out in tragicomic fashion during my last mission. The enemy commander was taking his super-tank (basically a land-dreadnaught) on a rampage through our bases, and we had to cripple and then destroy it while avoiding its powerful main guns. Midway through that little endeavor, he received massive reinforcements along with an honest-to-God valkyrie. I was completely caught out, and thanks to the Valkyrie’s enchanted spear of death, I lost three troopers almost instantly.
Two of them were in positions where they could be rescued. But one of them, my lead assault trooper Rosie, was lying in a trench that the tank had already overrun, and the valkyrie (who is unkillable) was basically corpse-camping her.
Rosie is extra valuable because she provides an extra command point each turn, which basically means I get an extra move when she’s on the field. Still, with two anti-tank trooper and an engineer nearby, I thought we could get her out.
The engineer made a last ammunition run through the squad, replenishing their stocks, then bolted for Rosie’s position. The valkyrie spotted him and hit him with the lance just as he made it to Rosie’s side and called in the medic. Then he went down. He was slightly closer to the edge of the trench. Trouble was, the engineer is one of the fastest guys on the team. My AT gunners are better armored, but also lumbering and slow. Predictably, the next one I sent on a rescue run got shot down. Worse, he never even made it to the engineer.
So with one anti-tank Lancer remaining, and two soldiers bleeding out in dead ground, I was starting to panic. Rosie was saved, and she was more valuable than the rest of them, but I really didn’t want to lose anyone to this stupid, unfair valkyrie attack.
My solution was inelegant. I took my CO’s tank, drove it between my last lancer and the valkyrie, and used it as a moving shield. Her weapons damaged it steadily, but not enough to destroy it before it reached their position. My other lancer moved up behind the tank, rescuing my soldiers. She barely made it out of the trench before the valkyrie killed her.
I was stunned at the rush of relief I felt as we backed away from the lighting-touched lady with the glowing lance. We’d gotten everyone out alive, and now I was free to concentrate on the super-tank. But in the melee to get Rosie out of harm’s way, I’d completely forgotten about the larger mission, and was now in danger of losing it.
But that’s the point of this mechanic: it dangles the hope of preventing casualties in front of you, luring you into destructive decisions in the name of leaving no man behind.