At a certain point in Valkyria Chronicles, I came to the realization of a problem that plagues a lot of strategy games. Up to this point, most missions in the game have not taken a large chunk of time to complete. Roughly speaking, the longest mission thus far only took about 25 minutes to finish. That quickly changed with the last mission I played, which ended up taking about an hour. There’s more; I had played and failed the mission three other times before completing it on attempt number four. The need for save-points or checkpoints in every kind of strategy game should be mandatory.
This particular mission was actually really enjoyable and challenging but the time sink required to complete it was what made it frustrating. The mission is played out in parts, primarily focused on the destruction of a very large tank. Once you get to a certain point where specific parts of the tank are destroyed, there is a cut-scene that would be a logical place to either a) offer the ability to save or b) allow you to restart from that point if you happen to die afterwards.
In my three failed attempts, one time I restarted because my first strategy was off and I had the incorrect squad in place. Rather than try to re-locate my forces so I could recall them in order to bring in correct units, I just decided to re-start. My second attempt had me reach the cut-scene I mentioned above but because I wasn’t prepared for what came next, my squad was decimated. The third time was just bad luck as Welkin, the lead character’s own tank was destroyed by the super tank, although I thought for sure that my strategy was sound. It was a bad call on my part as I left the most vulnerable spot of the tank, its power-supply, in easy range for the super-tank to destroy it in a single blast.
Although after the fourth attempt, I was successful in completing the mission, in all, I invested about 2.5 hours to complete a single mission. Had there been a checkpoint during that cut-scene, during my second attempt, I could have simply restarted from that point and perhaps fixed the mistakes that I initially had done.
More recent real-time strategy games include both a save anywhere feature during missions and include checkpoints. Considering how so many RTS games now have missions that are structured in phases, it just makes sense to give the user the ability to choose to restart from their most recent save or the most recent checkpoint.
I’ll admit, while I love games like Red Alert and StarCraft, I almost never saved mid-mission. If I screwed up, I simply restarted from the last checkpoint. This is probably a bad decision; I think I have the same mentality with Bethesda’s open-world games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, I just don’t bother saving multiple times. It’s probably the reason why I don’t think I have actually ever finished a game in either series.
While this lack of saving is a problem in Valkyria Chronicles, it’s a problem in a lot of tactical-rpgs. When this happened, I was still playing through Jeanne D’Arc and even that game suffered from the lack of mid-saves. Some tactial-rpgs, at least the portable ones that I am most familiar with, do include a quick save feature. But in most cases, that quick save feature is more for those who need to stop playing and would rather not lose their progress. You can’t use the feature and continue to play. It’s a weird system that could use some fine tuning.
One game that I felt took an interesting spin on this was Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, released in 2011 for the PlayStation Portable, a remake of the original Tactics Orge for the SNES. They had a rewind feature that allows you to go back a certain amount of turns to give you the opportunity to change a move you made and alter the course of the match. It was an interesting mechanic because you could not simply perform the same action again and hope for a different outcome, you actually had to attempt a different move to see a change in the course of the match.
If I wasn’t enjoying Valkyria Chronicles, my feelings regarding the save system would probably force me to stop. Chances are those who are not familiar with the genre will find this omission quite frustrating. I say that even with this negative aspect to the game, it still worth playing. Just remember to set aside a solid chunk of time to complete each mission.