Review: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (PlayStation 4)
- Release Date (NA): May 17, 2016
- Release Date (EU): May 17, 2016
- Release Date (JP): February 10, 2016
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: SEGA
- Genres: Turn-Based Strategy
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Story? Alternate History.
The story of Valkyria Chronicles takes you to the Principality of Gallia, a small country stuck between two superpowers fighting for supremacy over the fictional continent of Europa - the East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation. It is the year 1935 and although pressured from both sides, Gallia somehow managed to remain neutral in the conflict between the two warring factions, but the days of said neutrality were soon to be over. Gallian soil was particularily rich in Ragnite - the primary power source and alloy ingredient in Europa. The supply of this mineral was critical to the war effort, and rapidly becoming scarce across the continent. Needless to say, the eyes of both the Empire and the Alliance quickly locked on to Gallia - the days of peace in the region were numbered.
The game puts you in the shoes of Welkin Gunther - the son of a deceased general and war hero, and starts in his home town - the small border village of Bruhl. Despite his heritage, Welkin has nothing in common with a soldier - he is much more interested in scholastic pursuits. He was in the middle of doing what he loved most, observing nature in all of its forms, when he was rudely interrupted by a barrel of a rifle aimed right at him. The ever-vigilant Town Guard captain Alicia Melchiott was doing her round today, scouting the border for any intruders who might endanger her beloved motherland, and Welkin seemed just suspicious enough to arrest. Little did the duo know that they were about to get entangled in the inevitable - the Second European War was already under way, but never so close - never right before their very eyes, never in Gallia. That was about to change - they were about to embark on an adventure of their lifetime and defend the place they come home against impossible odds.
It doesn't take a history major to realize that Valkyria Chronicles draws many parallels to the second World War, from the relative time frame to more specific things like the equipment used. In many ways it was specifically touching for me, I too felt "Gallian" while playing the game, for obvious reasons that I will not get into. The writers of the script managed to perfectly weave in social commentary on the early period of the war without being too overbearing, which is both surprising and much appreciated. The world surrounding you seems happy and orderly before the demons of war break loose, but underneath this joyful facade hides prejudice against the Darcsen, racism, cutthroat politics, pompous generals and puppeteering world leaders, all of which are gradually exposed as the curtains fall. The game takes you on an emotional rollercoaster from a happy country town that's about to be leveled with the ground through a lavish palace where the world leaders decide the fate of the little people to labour camps where said little people's lives are extinguished as they are being worked to death by the privileged, and it does so unapologetically. The only way the creators could possibly be more blunt about what they were depicting would be to just outright say it, but the game never breaks the fourth wall in this way and keeps a straight face all the way through - the only thing the game has to do is make the player know what's cooking, and it accomplishes that splendidly.
The story of the game is memorable and well-executed - it doesn't just deal with the overarching war plot, it delves deeper into the personal lives of the protagonists as well. You get to see each of the characters at their highest and lowest points, they all grow and mature as the plot develops. Everything in the script happens for a reason and even the villains, however cartoony they may seem at first, have a motivation. With its fair share of plot twists and personal moments of loss and triumph alike, Valkyria Chronicles warmed the cockles of my heart, even if some of the characterization was stereotypical. If you enjoy Japanese storytelling, war themes and drama that plays on your heartstrings, you're going to enjoy this one.
Gameplay: A Breath of Fresh Air that Still Feels Fresh After 8 Years
Personally, I am a big fan of Turn-based Strategy. I have played these kinds of games ever since I was little and I derive a lot of enjoyment from strategically placing my units around the map and carefully baiting my enemy into a killzone to fill them with a rain of blazing lead. That being said, I also understand that games like this can be quite a drag. Unless you're the one playing, watching someone play Turn-based Strategy is like watching paint dry, and sometimes it's boring even to the person playing the game. When I think "Turn-based Strategy", in my mind's eye I can see a grid, either square or hexagonal littered with nondescript units with little numbers or bars above their heads that take forever to actually get anywhere on the map. Valkyria Chronicles distanced itself from that stereotype and to this day I'm surprised that there isn't more games like it on the market. Valkyria Chronicles takes the Turn-based Strategy template, strips it of everything that makes it annoying so that it barely resembles it. How? By removing the grid altogether, introducing RPG elements, customizable equipment and a recognizable, fleshed-out cast.
Instead of confining you to a chess-like grid system, Valkyria Chronicles uses what the developers call the "BLiTZ" battle system - yet another WWII reference, but an apt one - BLiTZ is substantially faster than any other Turn-based Strategy engine I've seen in a long time. SEGA took an otherwise dated concept and gave it a new lease of life. The gameplay feels fresh, innovative and involving enough to be entirely satisfactory even to someone who doesn't particularly enjoy turn-based games. I'm surprised that we don't see more games mimicking "BLiTZ" as it definitely succeeds at what it aims to do - making Turn-based Strategy games faster without sacrificing any depth of strategy required for success.
To fully understand how Valkyria Chronicles redefines the genre, one has to take a closer look at BLiTZ itself. The battle is divided into several stages. Before each mission you get a briefing which supplies you with all the recon information available, including expected enemy positions, the objectives, the map and the mission area boundaries. Once you are familiarized with the mission overview, you may begin the planning stage during which you can designate your troops to the available camps. Other than mission-critical units you have full freehand when it comes to what kind of units you will deploy and how many you want to enter combat with. With the planing stage complete you can finally jump right into the fray - to arms, comarades!
Once again you are shown the map screen, except this time you can examine it in detail, including the positions of your units and whichever enemy units are within eyeshot. It is from this screen that you can give your units orders and control them. Selecting a unit will take you to its position on the map and allow you to control it. From that point onwards, the game plays a lot like a TPS - you move your unit freely, you aim freely and you use cover mechanics just like you would in a shooter. Units are all alotted a certain amount of stamina that they can use in that phase to move in any direction as well as one action per turn. Although only one unit can move at a time, that doesn't mean that said unit isn't in danger before the enemy turn begins - the map is obviously littered with landmines, anti-tank mines, turrets and enemy units. The enemy won't let you trespass during your turn - if you are spotted and within range, they will open fire, and often times that's how your units meet their demise. Running into a powerful detachment of enemy units that was perfectly concealed in an alley can quickly and prematurely end an otherwise strategically sound assault, forcing you to think on your feet and re-adjust.
Your choice of units can drastically affect the outcome on the battle as well. In the beginning you only command rifle-wielding Scouts, but soon enough further units are introduced, namely Shocktroopers equipped with submachine gun, Lancers equipped with Europa's ornate re-imagining of a recoilles rifle, Engineers with rifles and sets of tools allowing them to dismantle enemy defenses as well as fix your own and Snipers with their powerful sniper rifles capable of striking enemies at long distances. In addition to your infantry you also have an important family heirloom at your disposal - the Edelweiss, your father's tank, operated by Welkin and his sister Isara. Encounters with infantry can be handled by just the Scouts or the Shocktroopers, but as battles get tougher and the game starts throwing armored vehicles, heavy machine guns, mortars or Snipers at you, you'll have to learn how to diversify and strike a balance in your roster.
Taking the correct tactical decisions is paramount in Valkyria Chronicles as it includes a permadeath system. A fallen unit will lay on the ground defeated for several turns giving you a chance to save it. If you reach it in time, the unit is escorted to the infirmary by the squad medic and soon enough is ready to re-enter the battlefield unscathed... but if you don't or if the enemy gets to it first, that unit is gone forever. Some story-critical characters are unaffected by permadeath to keep the story going and are instead evacuated, but the great majority of your squad is vulnerable. The units aren't nameless and there's only so many of them, so you grow attached to them - if and when they die, the game actually makes you feel something by showing you a short cutscene of the character uttering their final words - sometimes encouraging, sometimes filled with regret and blame. It happened to me a few times and each time I immediately quit the game to prevent my favourites from dying, and that's quite a commitment to a bunch of "virtual people" since doing so essentially renders the last hour of your life pointless... but it's worth it - saving Vyse is worth any sacrifice, his insane laughter keeps me going.
All this and more makes Valkyria Chronicles feel like a fresh look at an otherwise stale genre. It's a bit of a shame that there aren't more strategies like it - perhaps such hybrid games should be a genre in and out of themselves. The title manages to do two things right - it's an great strategy game that engages your tactical wit, but at the same time it's not too complicated, allowing former non-strategists to enjoy it as well. It's not dry, either - the skirmishes and the story are blended together seamlessly, giving you a range of options and decisions to make, both on and off duty. It lets you be exactly who you want to be when you pick up a game like this - a commander.
Alright, alright, Valkyria Chronicles is great - I'm sure you all get it by this point... but should you buy it? In my opinion yes, regardless of whether you've played it before or not. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered looks great in HD, includes all the DLC content from the original and with a lengthy campaign, multiple skirmishes, unlockables, trophies and a New Game+ mode there's definitely plenty of things to do here. Games like this are rare and should be encouraged - who knows? Maybe if this HD re-release does well, we'll get to play Valkyria Chronicles 3 in the West yet - I'd definitely like to see more games in the series invade our shores, pun intended.
+ The game combines turn-based combat and TPS-like action, refreshing the strategy formula
+ The characters are fleshed-out and show a full range of emotions
+ Your skirmishes take place in interesting and diverse locations
+ The voice acting is well-executed and includes some of the greats, including Dave Wittenberg (kudos to my fiancee and her amazing sense of hearing)
+ The CANVAS engine makes the game look very unique and covers up some of the imperfections of the otherwise simple character models
- None of the new mechanics from VC2/VC3 seem to be included in this Remastered original, which is a shame as it's a perfect opportunity to expand upon the game
- Although I understand that Remasters are not remakes, I would appreciate more additional content that would validate the purchase of the game for users who already have it in their PS3 or PC collection. The inclusion of all previous DLC is welcome, but exclusive PS4 content would've been even better
- The in-game graphics are look dated and although CANVAS helps a lot in hiding many of the game's shortcomings, the models could use more retouching and an increased polycount
The game's CANVAS engine creates charming "pencil-drawn" visuals and although the models look understandably dated, the technical limitations of the original do not take much away from the experience. The presentation of the in-game world is very detailed and believable - it looks, sounds and feels great. Gallia, now in HD, looks better than ever before.
The Valkyria Chronicles series addresses almost every criticism of the Turn-based Strategy genre - it takes a concept that's usually associated with staring at a grid for hours on end and flips it upside down. The game approaches mechanics that tend to be slow and meticulous and makes them fast-paced and exciting without removing any of the strategy involved.
WIth 18 chapters, several special reports, skirmishes and a New Game+ mode Valkyria Chronicles Remastered will keep you in your seat for quite some time, especially if you're a completionist who just has to unlock every little upgrade and get every trophy.
out of 10
(not an average)
Valkyria Chronicles was a joy to play on the PlayStation 4. If you haven't played the game before, now would be the best time to pick it up. If you already have then I probably don't need to convince you anyways. Valkyria Chronicles is just one of those games - the "one in a million" that does something completely different and "sticks". It definitely stuck with me and I sincerely recommend it, especially if you're a fan of unique strategy games. There's a little bit for everyone here, especially those fond of Japanese productions. Now excuse me, I have a war to win!