As I finally embarked on my journey into Valkyria Chronicles 3, having purchased the UMD of Valkyria Chronicles 3: Extra Edition several years ago, I held onto the hope that this iteration would mark a significant step forward from its predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 2.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Valkyria Chronicles 2 took a different tone, shifting from the solemn war-themed narrative of the original to a more cheerful high school setting amid a civil conflict.

Valkyria Chronicles 3 adeptly revitalizes the franchise’s initial grim and realistic tone, aligning itself metaphorically and literally with the original game. Set during the events of the first game, the storyline centers around Squad 422, also known as the Nameless. This covert black ops unit is comprised of deserters, criminals, and military offenders, each stripped of their names and referred to solely by numbers — a concept ingeniously conceived to explain their absence from the original Valkyria Chronicles.

Unlike its immediate predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 3 showcases a remarkable increase in creative effort from the development team. The previous game introduced a slew of anime-style character and story tropes, which often felt clichéd and uninspired.

Valkyria Chronicles 3 takes a refreshing approach despite using a similar gameplay mechanism as its predecessor - where the story is told in a visual novel-style screen that depicts the characters and their dialogue on screen.

The game manages to flesh out the larger core cast of 13-14 characters through multiple interactions leading up to battles. Special character events enhance this development, even extending to newcomers joining the Nameless.

It’s intriguing how Valkyria Chronicles 3 re-introduces characters from its predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 2, through separate chapters. Oddly enough, even though I wasn’t entirely captivated by some of these characters in their original context due to what felt like somewhat lackluster development, encountering them in this game has altered my perspective.

What’s particularly noteworthy is the attention to detail, as the development team seems to have chosen the right English voice actors. This careful selection shines through when comparing their original Japanese names to their English counterparts — Avan, Zeri, Cosette, Aliasse, Juliana, Leon, and Anisette - the only difference is that the characters are speaking different languages, but sound eerily the same.

The gameplay in Valkyria Chronicles 3 builds upon its predecessors’ successes while introducing special modes, including the ability to unleash a Valkyria’s full powers. The game maintains a delicate balance by restricting these features to single turns, activated using special points that are not replenished and are available in limited supply. This restraint keeps the gameplay engaging and strategic. The deployment system evolves as well, allowing up to 9 units per battle, though the maps typically allow only 5 units per engagement. Despite hardware limitations, the gameplay remains satisfying, offering a refined experience.

Given its relatively short development cycle — this game was released a year plus a few days after Valkyria Chronicles 2 — the team understandably had to recycle assets from the previous game. While noticeable, this limitation doesn’t mar the overall experience, as there are fresh maps present like Ghirlandaio Fortress which breathes new life into the game.

The storyline is a significant highlight, arguably surpassing even the original’s narrative depth. The plot takes a while to gain momentum, but it eventually hits its stride, captivating players with intrigue and an unexpected twist. As I near the end of my journey through Valkyria Chronicles 3, I am compelled to applaud the storytelling.

One area of contention, however, arises from the game's dual-heroine dynamic. While it remains uncertain if there's a canonical ending, the primary narrative appears to favour Riela over Imca, despite in-game choices that were made favour Imca. As far as I can tell, the branching mechanism is very straightforward, offering a couple of instances to choose between a Riela or Imca route during certain chapters.

In conclusion, Valkyria Chronicles 3 breathes new life into the franchise by revisiting its core essence, coupled with an elevated narrative and polished gameplay. Despite facing hardware limitations, the development team adeptly crafted an immersive encounter that resonates with fans. It is a travesty that Sega has never released this game with an official English translation.

As the game edges closer to its climax, the excitement for the impending finale grows, fueled by a narrative that has undeniably propelled the series forward. As I approach the conclusion of the primary storyline, I eagerly anticipate delving into the post-end game content, which promises to unlock characters from the previous installments and add further depth to this captivating universe.