This is Catherine O’Hara. She’s a sniper. She’s a key member of Squad 7—of my Squad 7, I should say—which is a militia unit fighting in a war in a game called Valkyria Chronicles. This game is exclusive to the PlayStation3, a games console with a singular lack of great exclusive games—until now.
The genius of Valkyria Chronicles is in the whole package, not just in the shooting. The turn-based/real-time battling is plenty good enough on its own. But the way the story and characters merge with the battles to create a unified whole is something I’ve rarely come across before.
I try to keep two snipers in my Squad 7 at all times. You can pick and choose your squad selection, mixing it up between various unit classes. (Scouts, Shocktroopers, Lancers, Snipers, Engineers.) Valkyria Chronicles shows its quality in the flexibility it permits you, the many routes you can take to achieve your goal. You could play the whole game without ever meeting Catherine O’Hara. You have to choose her from the list of available recruits.
Catherine takes her shot—with you aiming for her, and pulling the trigger—and if she hits her target she usually kills it. Then she hoists her rifle onto her shoulders and says, “I’m not done yet.” If you don’t grin and/or punch the air at least once when this happens, you may not be human. If she misses her shot, well, she misses. She does sometimes miss. It depends on various factors—the distance of the target, its type, the conditions, the terrain, how she’s feeling. This is the RPG side of the game.
I’ve managed to get Catherine killed quite a lot. I lost her at least once during every mission, in the early days, although I’m a lot better now. I know. I’m rubbish. It shouldn’t be happening at all. But it does, because I take foolish risks. I move her out into the open where enemy snipers can pick her off. Or I move her too close to the enemy shocktroopers. Because this is turn-based strategy RPG, you can do nothing during the enemy’s turn except watch it take advantage of your errors and missteps. I hate watching Catherine being machine-gunned to death.
If I don’t get to her within three turns or before an enemy reaches her body, that’s it, she’s gone. Dead for good. Gone from the whole game. I’ve already lost two valued squad members in this way. Aisha, a fine shocktrooper, died in one of the early missions. She begged piteously not to be allowed to die. I stared at the screen, helpless, as she died anyway. Then I lost one of my Engineers, just a few turns later (that mission was a disaster). I was still in actual shock from Aisha’s death and I’m almost ashamed to say I’ve forgotten the Engineer’s name. War doesn’t change.
But if you get to your fallen comrades before the enemy does, you can rescue them. When Catherine falls, all my mission goals are temporarily suspended. It’s all about rescuing Catherine. I have always done it so far. I don’t know what I would do if I failed. If Catherine died for good, I’d probably break one of my cardinal rules of gaming, and reload an old save to get a different outcome. I pray God it never comes to that…