Valkyria Chronicles shares the same frustrations as MGS4, with its gratuitous cut-scenes redeemed by glimpses of genius. The premise might be unspectacular - set in a world at war, you control a military unit in a quest to free your country from Imperial occupation - but gorgeous presentation and intriguing gameplay, make it a rare gem that stands out from the crowded shelves of RPG sequels and remakes.
VC's unique feel stems from its luscious, yet exquisitely detailed, use of cel-shaded animation. Powered by the slightly self-aggrandising Canvas Engine, the game itself seems a little obsessed with its beauty given the abundance of cut-scenes you'll have to trawl through before getting into the gameplay. After three hours' play, we'd only participated in three battles.
However, when you do get into the fighting, it's genius. Although a tactical RPG at heart, VC fuses this with real-time action by using the BliTZ system (Battle of Live Tactical Zones). This splits skirmishes into two modes. Command Mode displays a battle map, complete with unit markers. Select a unit to move and you're launched into Action Mode and placed in the shoes of the selected soldier. You're then free to move in real time - advancing on the enemy, sneaking to gather intel or getting in a good position for an attack.
When you're ready to strike, u triggers the Target Mode. Here you get crosshairs, complete with tactical information giving an idea of how successful an attack will be. Each different category of fighter has unique skills and weapons. It's a question of balance, and the game pushes you to employ every tactic you have: make one slip-up and things go downhill.
There's a whole regiment of soldiers to enlist - each with a back-story that'll influence their performance - countryside kids perform better in wooded terrains, but older soldiers move slower. Selecting the right man for each battle is crucial.
Terrains are incredibly crafted, with tall grass to crawl through, ruins to hide behind and tall buildings with handy vantage points. You'll need to use them all to your advantage to defeat the cunning AI.
If Fallout 3's action-heavy combat fails to engage your cerebral urges, VC's more refined, RPG-led, blend of tactics and real-time combat might be the ideal antidote.
Beautiful, a tad self-indulgent, but packed with tactical warfare.