After playing through XCOM a few times (including one epic failure) I thought I'd go back and play an older turn-based strategy (TBS) game. I bought Valkyria Chronicles ages ago for a knockdown price and really enjoyed it. Two sequels have since been released, but sadly they're both for the PSP (there's an off-chance there'll be a PS3 release in the future).
This is a bit of an unfair fight, but Valkyria Chronicles has hours of story-telling scenes and a cast of defined characters, whereas XCOM has three 'characters' (all at the base, though) and the soldiers are all randomised. There is an XCOM story, but it's deliberately minimalist (aliens have invaded, kill them).
My gravest worry about buying VC was that it would be too cute (due to the art style), and whilst there are moments of cheesiness it doesn't detract from the game significantly.
So, Valkyria Chronicles wins this easily.
Valkyria Chronicles has one gameplay strand and that's the battles. It does have some headquarters' facilities (R&D, training, etc) but these are pretty basic. Battles take place in a combination of first person shooting and direct control of units, and looking at an overall tactical map of the battlefield to see where your units, and those of the enemy, are. There are five classes that are fairly well-balanced, with differing units more useful on differing maps. Aside from two unit types reaching a certain level there is no real change to weapons beyond gradual improvement and no (useful) new ones added.
It's quite enjoyable to take direct control of units and launch sneak attacks, or co-operate with nearby allies. The battles usually involve very good knowledge of enemy whereabouts and the map generally. Maps are not randomised, so if you're replaying then you'll already know how to win a certain battle. Battle difficulty is generally pretty low, although one or two can be more challenging.
XCOM gameplay involves battles and strategic management of the base. Battles are fought with a squad of 4-6 randomised and customisable soldiers of four different, but well-balanced, classes. There's a fog of war, meaning that battlefield layout and enemies are unknown until you go exploring. Because aiming is not direct, unlike VC, there seems to be a greater element of chance involved.
Battles are more challenging than in Valkyria Chronicles by a distance, but it's the enjoyable sort of challenge you get when tussling with a worthy opponent (such as trying to pull a rope out of the jaws of a Staffordshire bull terrier). It's correspondingly far easier to lose squad members, and none of them are immune to this. On the downside, if you’re A-team gets wiped out then recovering can be almost impossible. Or perhaps that's an upside.
The base in XCOM requires some careful thought, as resources including power, money and alien tech need to be considered when buying new facilities, commissioning research or building new toys to obliterate alien scum. There's the added pressure of needing to keep paymaster nations happy (or at least not wetting themselves). It's very nicely balanced and fun.
Although I enjoy the battles in Valkyria Chronicles the XCOM offering is better, and the strategic aspect of the base is another plus. XCOM offers the superior gameplay.
Valkyria Chronicles' graphics are in the style of a well-drawn cartoon, which is not necessarily what one might go for when making a game about war. However, the art style works very well. Certain characters (particularly the Imperials) look especially good.
XCOM's graphics are of a more conventional brand. They're nice and clear-cut. There are some issues with textures taking a while to load, and whilst the graphics work well they're not outstanding.
Personally, I'd go for Valkyria Chronicles.
As with storyline, this is a bit of an uneven match. Valkyria Chronicles has a decent-sized cast who have quite a lot of scenes. XCOM has three base-bound cast members, and there are few cut scenes.
VC wins, essentially by default.
Music and Sound Effects
The music of Valkyria Chronicles is generally good, and one or two pieces are very good indeed. I've listened to one or two themes (including the one from the final battle) on Youtube. The sound effects, from the hum of tank radiators to exploding mines, are reasonably good.
XCOM's music isn't bad, but it does seem to be forgettable. I can't really remember it, good or ill. The sound effects, though, are very nice, and I really enjoyed the sound of sizzling lasers cooking an alien's face.
Split decision on this: VC for the music, and XCOM for the sound effects.
Longevity and replayability
There's quite a lot to Valkyria Chronicles. It is an essentially linear game, with story scenes and battles unfolding in a strict order. However, there are optional skirmish battles (basically to grind for experience) and some nice extra options offering information on the world generally, personnel and weapons.
An exception to the linearity is the purchase of optional extra mini-chapters which provide more personal or storyline information and often lead to a new perk for one or more main characters.
I couldn't say precisely how long a single playthrough of the game is, but twice as long (or more) than XCOM is a reasonable guess. Replayability, however, is severely diminished because the maps and battles are identical, and when you start the New Game Plus your soldiers all keep their experience and souped-up weapons.
XCOM is significantly shorter than Valkyria Chronicles, but does have a sharper edge from the greater challenge. Randomised maps and soldiers also means that whilst the game lacks character and storyline focus it gains unpredictability and significant replay value.
Longevity goes to Valkyria Chronicles, and XCOM takes the replayability honours.
Bugs and other issues
There are no bugs or any related issues with Valkyria Chronicles that I've detected. I replayed it recently and have played it all the way through 2-3 times before.
XCOM has a few issues. Textures can take a while to load, the game sometimes freezes for no apparent reason, and sometimes SHIVs can be broken (leading to freezes). None of these problems are game-breaking, but they're obviously detrimental to the experience.
Valkyria Chronicles wins this category by virtue of having no technical problems (that I've found).
This is about as tight as I'd expect it to be. Both are highly enjoyable TBS games. If the storyline weighs heavily with you, go for Valkyria Chronicles. If you want a challenge and greater replayability, go for XCOM.
I'd say that XCOM is the better game overall. Although it lags in a few areas, its gameplay makes up for other relative shortcomings.