Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
The intensive turn-based strategy/RPG game, Valkyria Chronicles has now made the jump to the PlayStation 4 with a remastered version. As a long time strategy fan who (somehow) missed out on this when it initially released on the PS3, I had to check it out. Does the remastered Valkyria Chronicles deserve your time and attention? Check out my review to find out!
Despite my deep and long-term love affair with the strategy genre (in all forms), somehow I completely missed out on Valkyria Chronicles when it first release on the PS3 in 2008. I mean totally, and utterly missed out on this title. Sadly, I wasn't even fully aware of what it was, until I started getting press releases for this remastered version of the game.
When I started playing the PS4 version of Valkyria Chronicles last month, my first emotion was anger. Anger that NO ONE had told me to play this amazing game when it first released, and I went eight years without it. It's a strange thing, but as such, I'm approaching this review from a newcomers perspective, but returning fans will find plenty to be happy about as well.
Depth of Strategy
If you, like me, somehow missed out on this PlayStation 3 gem when it first released the game is a JRPG turn-based strategy/real time combat hybrid. That's a lot of differing parts to cram into one game, but the end result is a unique and engaging gameplay experience.
Each battle plays out in similar fashion. You start off in an over the top view of a map, with your units represented by little icons (representative of their specific unit type). You're given a set amount of "command points" which allows you to take control of your units one at a time. In this, strategy is a big element as well. You don't HAVE to use any of your command points in a turn. Instead you can save them and build up for a bigger attack later on. Doing so has its risks however, as you're unable to move your units to a more favorable position against the enemy. Even at this basic level, Valkyria Chronicles forces you to make battle decisions.
Once you pick a unit and use a Command Point the perspective shifts and you take direct control of the character and can freely run them around the map and engage in combat. Each unit has their own abilities that make them effective against various enemies, and you're limited by an action gauge that depletes as you move and do things. Some units have a large gauge, allowing you to scout the map and still get to safety, while your heavy hitters have a smaller range of motion.
Once a unit's turn is over, you are put back into the commanding Map Mode and can use up whatever points you have left to move another character, or even the same one. In this way, each battle presents you with a multitude of crucial decisions you have to make; especially since non-story characters who fall in battle suffer from perma-death. Each move has risk, and since your characters have set mobility limits, ensuring their safety during an enemy's turn is just as crucial as pushing forward.
Unlike many other turn-based strategy titles, units on the battlefield (both you and enemy alike) are not stationary creatures. If you move close to them, or within their field of vision, they will attack. This caught me by surprise initially, as with most games like this (even XCOM doesn't do it unless units have a certain ability) the enemy doesn't do anything until their turn, giving you plenty of freedom to roam at will. Even as you maneuver around the map with a character, enemies can do enough damage to kill you. This means, not only do you have to worry about ending your turn in a safe place, but you have to worry about line of sight/cover even as you move.
This makes the combat feel infinitely more realistic (impressive for an animated-style of game), and adds yet another layer of depth. Hell, this knowledge comes in handy on the backside of things as well. There were plenty of times I knew I couldn't reach an enemy position to attack, but I was able to place my fighters along the path I suspected they'd take. As such, when an enemy moved down a path, I had them flanked on each side and able to kill them during their own turn.
The attention to strategy doesn't stop on the battlefield either, and spills over into the RPG aspects as well. Once past the prologue, you're in charge of Squad-7, and have to deal with overseeing its progress. You must fill up your ranks with other soldiers and even doing this took me more time than I imagined. Each character has their own quirks, abilities, and type. Some work well together, while others are loners with prejudice against the Darcsens...As such, pairing certain characters together in battle has real consequences (aim is off, lack of focus, shortened agility, etc). Assembling your team then, isn't so simple as balancing out the unit types to your advantage.
You also control the path of upgrades to characters, skill sets, and outfitting your tank. Each decision in this regard will affect battles and can be customized to your specific style of gameplay. If you're more into swift attacks and shock tactics, you can outfit your team in such a way. If you're a slower, more defensive player, there are options for that as well. The level of choices is impressive, and each must be taken into account for strategic purposes.
Valkyria Chronicles may be one of the most strategy focused games I've played and I couldn't be happier. If this sounds like TOO much to dive into, don't fear. Many of the other processes (squad building) can be more automated so you can keep your focus purely on the battle elements. I may be gushing about the level of depth, but if that's not for you, don't be put off either. This game has plenty for everyone to enjoy.
Story and Characters
Valkyria Chronicles presents itself as an alternate reality/history of World War II. The names and locations are all very different, but it’s pretty easy to get where it’s going. The story plays out as a literal BOOK, with chapters, tabs and everything else you can thumb through to advance the story. Chapters take the form of lengthy cutscenes and battles (of course), and working your way through them tells a pretty complete history of this war and the people involved.
This approach may seem odd at first, but I loved the presentation coming in the form of a history type book. It helped the story (which comes in about 30-40 hours total) flow much better, keeping you moving along through the most significant moments of the war.
Despite its anime style approach to the story, don’t let it fool you into thinking it’s all fun and games. Chronicles does a great job of highlighting the worst aspects of war, and paints a solid picture of how horrible it can truly be. The Darcsens are a persecuted sect of people (think Jews during WWII), and there are missions which see you come right up against their dilemma. One such missions puts you in charge of liberating a concentration camp, and the artistic style doesn’t detract from the awfulness inherent in there.
It’s still very much a JRPG, which means the characters and acting can be a little over the top and overly dramatic at times. That’s just sort of par for the course, but it doesn’t detract from the story being told. Speaking of characters, Valkyria Chronicles features some great ones each with their own backstory, gripes, and interests.
Even though you pick them out (seemingly from a random pool) at the beginning, each character has a great deal of depth to them. They act and respond like real people would, and their backstories come out during battles. Throughout the game, I was continually surprised at how each character reacted to one another, grew closer together (or further apart in some cases), and acted like a real team. Hell, I even dismissed one unit because his attitude was bringing down the rest of the squad!
It shows a great deal of thought and careful attention to details that the developers put into this game. It makes the characters more than simple units on the screen, but a team you care about and want to take care of. With perma-death in effect, this could have an impact on your playstyle. This is another area where the two different battle views make for a unique experience.
When I see my guys hurt on the field from running them around, I get anxious for their safety. These are characters I know and have grown attached to, so my instinct is to rescue them. When I shift to the map mode, however, the bigger picture becomes clear and I realize that rescuing my downed soldier could put everyone else in jeopardy. This balance between personal connections and having to make tough decisions “for the greater good” is what keeps every battle so intense (especially as you near the end game).
If you’re coming into this review having played the original, a lot of this so far is all information you know. You were already aware of it’s awesomeness, and I’m kind of jealous for it. That said, let’s talk briefly about the remaster itself.
Since I don’t really have a comparison to base it off of, I will say that Valkyria Chronicles looks great. Seriously, if I hadn’t know it was a remaster, I would have easily said it was a general PS4 game. The graphics are crisp, and the sound is pretty damn wonderful. The controls feel smooth without any hiccups or wonkiness that I observed in my long playthrough. If you’re worried about it being a slapdash remaster, you’re in good hands here, and newcomers won’t even notice they’re playing an eight year old game.
This is an easy recommendation, and will certainly help fill the gap during the Summer gaming lull.