Inside Pulse 12

Review: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (Sony Playstation 4)

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
Genre: Strategy RPG
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 05/17/16

It’s hard to believe Valkyria Chronicles came out a decade ago, as in many respects, the game feels as fresh and exciting now as it ever has. That’s in no way meant to be hyperbole, though I’d forgive you for thinking of it as such; playing the original as a comparison piece, it’s clearly apparent that the game has that special something that makes it feel like a timeless experience any time you pop it in. There are a lot of reasons for why this is, obviously, but the most apparent one is that the concept hasn’t been done to death; Sega has only made four games in the series, all told, and only two of them ever made it stateside in the first place, so the concept hasn’t been beaten to death like so many other franchises have over the years. To put it another way, because the series hasn’t seen extensive mining of the same ground, it’s the sort of experience that always feels fairly fresh and unique each time you go back to it. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Sega would make the effort to try and rerelease a remastered version of the game on modern consoles, in hopes of seeing if there’s a broader market for the game (since the series clearly wasn’t a cash cow in any sense). The end result of that remastering, dubbed Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, is indeed a masterwork, and is arguably the best possible version of an already amazing game, one that’s easy to recommend to anyone with a PS4 and a love of strategy games, albeit with some very, very minor caveats along the way.

On tanks and nature

In case you’re coming into the game brand new, the general gist of the plot is as such: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered takes place on the continent of Europa, which is something of a parallel worlds 1940’s Europe with a very mild steampunk bent, during a time period that’s rife with massive internal conflict. The world revolves around an energy source known as Ragnite, which acts as a material that does everything from powering tanks to powering healing tools, making it extremely valuable and somewhat harder to obtain than people would prefer. As the game begins, the Empire (yup) has declared war on the Federation (yup) because the latter has a whole bunch of sweet, sweet Ragnite that the former wants, and sometimes that’s really the only reason you need. As the Second Europan War (hence the WWII parallels) kicks off, the Empire invades the town of Gallia, home to protagonist Welkin Gunther, who (as the plot begins) is in town to help his sister Isara move away due to the expected incoming attack. Welkin ends up being front-and-center for said attack, and after some daring-do involving saving the town guard with a tank, Welkin, along with Isara and town guard/baker Alicia Melchiott are recruited into Squad Seven, which starts them down the road toward (essentially) saving the world. At its core, the plot of Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is more or less what you’d expect, but it’s the details of the storyline that make it really stand out, as there’s so much to see here that the core conflict is mostly a setup for the more complex storylines surrounding it. There are a lot of interesting storylines and concepts to see here, from perspectives on racism and historical interpretation to the more obvious stories surrounding the cast of Squad Seven, and everything you’ll see here really works very, very well, enough that the plot stands out on its own merits, rather than simply driving the game forward.

Surprisingly, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered actually manages to fit in, visually, with other games on the PS4, which almost certainly comes down to its unique visual style. The game uses Sega’s in-house developed CANVAS engine to create a visual style that, as you’d expect, makes characters look like they’re paintings brought to life from the canvas, and it’s an amazing effect even now, one that gives the game a real sense of artistic flair. The game runs smoothly and features effects that still look amazing nearly a decade later, and you’d be hard pressed to find a game that’s held up as well in translation to the PS4 as this one from an aesthetic perspective. Aurally, the game is as amazing as it ever was, featuring some absolutely outstanding voice work, not just for the core cast, but for virtually everyone you meet during your journey, even simple soldiers in your squad. Each character you can recruit has their own unique voice to introduce their induction to your squad and lend them personality on the battlefield, and those voices do a lot to give them more depth than the game can spare on them, making every character in the team more than just a grunt to send off into battle. The core cast also features some stellar voice work, of course, and the plot is improved through their performances, but it’s worth highlighting that everyone in the game has a personality to them, not just the most important characters. The music fits the theme of the game nicely, featuring swelling orchestral scores that compliment the feeling of the experience well alongside combat effect that work well to establish the big war feel of the experience, and everything comes together in a way that’s artistically and functionally impressive.

On war in all its many forms

If you haven’t played any of the Valkyria Chronicles games prior to this, explaining how the game works is somewhat complicated. Essentially, play is similar to a turn-based strategy game; each team can deploy a set volume of characters into battle, and teams move in order, so your team goes, then the enemy team goes, and so on. However, actually engaging in combat balances elements of third person shooting with strategy play; once you select a unit to move, you’re dropped down into a third-person perspective, allowing you to move the character of choice on the battlefield from a perspective that shows you all of the action first-hand. As you move your character, enemies in range will take shots at you up to the point where you drop into aiming mode, so you’re constantly at risk as you move into position. Once you move into aiming mode, however, the game stops to allow you to line up the shot you want to take, and a targeting circle appears on-screen to give you an idea of the area your shots can potentially hit; basically, the closer you are, the more likely you are to hit an enemy, as you’d expect. Once you’ve committed to your shot, you push a button and the game automates your firing on the enemy as well as their response (if any) and (assuming the character is still alive) you’re given control of the character again, to finalize positioning and end the turn as needed. Once you’ve finalized your movements, you end your turn, and the enemy then runs through their movements as needed. This cycle continues until one side wins, and then the game either moves forward or you’re forced to try the battle over again. Honestly, once you’ve gotten the core of the base combat system down the rest falls into place nicely, and the game devotes several missions to easing you into new concepts as you progress, so you’ll find the game is quite easy to learn, but it’s worth noting, it’s definitely something you’ll have to adjust to if you’ve never played it before.

The complexity of the experience only increases once you have the controls down, though, as after the first few missions, you’re put in charge of a whole squad of troopers that fall into one of five (well, technically six) categories. Scouts can move and shoot long distances, Shocktroopers are heavily armored and hit hard at medium range, Engineers can reload explosives to tanks and units and repair tanks as well as shoot, Lancers can shoot rockets to damage tanks and enemies, and Snipers can hit enemies at extreme range for good damage. You’re also given access to a tank, piloted by Welkin and Isara, that’s excellent for punching holes in the enemy line and duking it out with other tanks. The caveat here is that, when you’re moving around units on the battlefield, the game doesn’t simply assign one movement to each character; instead, you’re given a set number of movement tokens per turn which can be used to move any unit you wish, such that you can move the same unit multiple times (at a movement penalty). Each unit is then given an action meter that dictates how far they can physically move during that round, as well as the ability to fire their weaponry once during that action phase, and for each subsequent move a unit takes in a round, they’re given another shot to take, though their movement range is reduced due to overexertion. Regular units take up one token each time they’re moved, but your tank takes two tokens per action, due to its size and sheer power in the battlefield, so you can’t abuse your tanks nearly as much as you’d think in battle. On the flip side, your action tokens can also wildly fluctuate; while you always have a minimum, you can field a massive amount per turn by bringing in units that add action tokens by existing or by not using all your actions in a round (which adds them to the next round) so you can quickly build up and burn a huge amount of actions if you’re so inclined.

It’s also worth noting that every unit on the field has more combat options and elements than just simply firing off their guns at targets. For one thing, each character has alternate gear on-hand, such as grenades and medkits, which they can use for alternate options when needed. Engineers can also reload your units by touching them and can repair your tank in the event it has taken damage, making them a vital part of any combat force despite their limited combat abilities. Further, each character has their own unique set of positive and negative traits that can make them a better fit for some battles than others; some characters might do well in certain locales or when around others, while others might have negative penalties, in other words, so matching the person to the environment can make a difference. It’s also worth noting that each character can be friendly with up to three other characters, which can improve their chances of teaming up with friendly units to attack targets for added damage during your turn. Finally, it’s worth noting that the leveling system plays a part in how units perform, as individual units don’t gain experience in battle no matter how well they perform. Instead, you gain experience at the end of battles that can be paid into unit types, which levels up every unit in that type simultaneously. This not only improves their overall performance, but can also unlock specialty skills for each unit in your squad which vary from person to person, so paying attention to what’s unlocked for each unit can make a big difference in how you set up squads during missions.

Your tank, on the other hand, has its own unique set of options for how it operates in battle, so you’ll need to handle it somewhat differently. In battle, it can swap between mortars (good for breaking cover and hitting wide areas), shells (good for damaging tanks and obstacles) and machine guns (good for shooting infantry), as well as roll over some obstacles and provide gunfire cover to foot units. It’s not invincible, of course; mines and explosives hurt your tank with a quickness, and tanks have visible engines that can be shot for damage if left exposed. Upgrading your tank isn’t a matter of burning experience, though, as you’ll instead need to dump cash into upgrading its abilities. Now, you can spend cash to upgrade every part of your team, as there are gun, armor and grenade upgrades that can be purchased for everyone to improve their damage and survival rates, so your tank isn’t the only thing that can have cash poured into it. However, your tank has far more options that need to be considered when doing so, as its upgrades come in two different forms. The first are simple standard upgrades, similar to those for your team members, which can be purchased when available and are applied permanently. The second are modular upgrades that can be applied into a grid, like Tetris pieces, and can confer as many bonuses as you can fit pieces, with larger pieces conferring larger bonuses. You won’t have to shuffle pieces much until the middle of the game or so, but it’s an interesting mechanic for tank management that can customize your tank to your playstyle as needed.

When you’re not in combat, you’ll be given access to the storybook that moves you through the game, which also gives you access to the storyline cutscenes (so you can watch them as you wish), as well as providing access to your base and skirmish missions. The base allows you access to improvements for your team, including the aforementioned member recruiting and upgrading, as well as learning team tactics and unlocking other bits of storyline for cash. Skirmishes, on the other hand, are missions that impart cash and experience benefits via repeatable missions you can take on to grind out levels if you wish. This is a fair way to allow for level grinding, and the game periodically opens up more advanced missions as you progress so even if you’ve outstripped the most current skirmish, a new one will be along sooner or later. You’re even offered multiple difficulties for these missions, so you can add to the challenge if you want to test your mettle against more powerful foes. You can also access the DLC missions from the original game from Skirmish mode, which focus on separate storylines for specific characters, which is fun content to have available for those who like a more robust package.

On new content in revamped games

You can probably beat Valkyria Chronicles Remastered in around thirty to forty hours, depending on how good your strategies are and how often you head back to get your skirmish on. You probably won’t need to spend a lot of time in Skirmishes unless you really like making sure you’re leveled up heavily, as the game is generally well balanced from mission to mission, but the grind is definitely useful if you do get hung up, if for no other reason to give you some minor edges in battle. There’s a lot to see when you go through the game the first time around, especially if you haven’t seen the game all the way through, but once the game’s complete, there’s still a good bit more content to play around with. You get all of the original DLC that was released for the game on the Remastered disc, including a set of six challenge Skirmishes from the Edy Detachment, two full sub-campaigns featuring the Edy Detachment and the Imperial forces, and Expert level difficulty for Skirmish play if you’ve found that you’re just too good for the game to handle. The game also supports a full complement of Trophies to unlock, which the original did not offer, so even if you’ve seen everything the original has to offer, there’s something here for you too.

Honestly, even with eight years between the game’s original release and this one, there’s really very little that can be said about Valkyria Chronicles from a negative perspective. If you own everything, including the DLC, it might be hard to justify paying another $30 to have it all again on one disc just for the updated visuals, and if you own the PC version, to be honest, you basically own this game in its present condition anyway. As a game, though, even on what is now my third time playing the only notable concerns that come to mind are that your tank can occasionally get hung up on corners and players can occasionally get stuck on defensive objects if you don’t force them to stand up before moving them. That’s… pretty much about it, honestly; even with the passage of time, the game is still astonishingly great on its own merits, and even as a remake it’s still easy to recommend, not only because it’s priced reasonably, but also because, frankly, it holds up. A lot of remakes often feel like remakes, either through a lack of visual improvement, a significant amount of improvement to the formula over time that shows the cracks in the original, or simply because the games don’t age well. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered has none of these problems; it’s a game that looks as amazing now as it did when released, was finely tuned mechanically for its time and simply feels fresh and exciting because there’s still nothing quite like it on the market. Whether you’ve never played the game before or you’ve played and beaten all of its content, the game is worth its asking price on the PS4 because, honestly, outside of the PSP sequel (and the Japan-only third game), there’s nothing quite like it, and it’s an experience that’s worth playing and replaying.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is almost certainly worth your $30, I don’t care who you are and I don’t care how many times you’ve paid for it already. That’s all there is to it really. What can truly be said ill of the game? The tank mechanics can get sticky on corners, units can occasionally get stuck attempting to maneuver around cover if they’re not standing upright when doing so, and the game is functionally identical to the PC version and only the visuals are improved over the PS3 version if you own all the DLC. Compare that to the positives: the game looks and sounds exceptional, even nearly a decade later, the plot is moving and well-crafted such that the tropes it’s built on are barely noticeable by the end of the game, the gameplay is unique and compelling even now, and there’s an exceptional amount of strong content on the disc for the price. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is one of the easiest remakes to recommend to anyone, as newcomers will find it an absolute joy and series fans will appreciate following the tale through again, as there’s virtually nothing like it and it’s a joy to play on top of that. If you have a PS4, you should probably pick Valkyria Chronicles Remastered up, plain and simple.