It hardly feels like it’s been eight years since the original release of Valkyria Chronicles on the Playstation 3, partly because the game felt like a transcendent game at the time of release, and partly because it still feels fresh and different even now. The combination of strategic play and active movement is one that few companies have tried to emulate, and the surprisingly deft steampunk-meets-World War II aesthetic really makes the game feel different, even now. With Sega planning to bring the franchise back into active duty with a spin-off title in Japan, Valkyria: Azure Revolution, the time’s definitely right to bring out the original game on modern consoles, and so Valkyria Chronicles is receiving another go, this time on the PS4 in Valkyria Chronicles Remastered. We’ve had a chance to put the game through its paces a bit to see how it holds up on the console, and honestly, it holds up quite well. While a review is still a ways away yet, let’s take a look at the game as we’ve experienced it up to this point, both for newcomers interested in the rerelease and diehard fans hoping to give it another go on a modern console.
1.) For those who are hearing the buzz about the game but missed it the first time around, Valkyria Chronicles takes place on the continent of Europa in a world that’s similar to ours, but not quite the same, during a period that would match up to about the 1940’s. In this world, technology has advanced dramatically due to the usage of a mineral dubbed Ragnite, which acts as an all-purpose fuel for everything from weapons of war to healing items. Due to a shortage of the material, the eastern Empire has declared war on the western Federation, in what is dubbed the Second Europan War, and it’s here that our story picks up, as the Empire invades the tiny town of Gallia. At the time of the invasion, protagonist Welkin Gunther has just returned to Gallia to help his sister Isara leave town before accidentally running afoul of town guard Alicia Melchiott, and the three are suddenly thrust head-first into the war. Fortunately, Welkin’s dad left him a tank (as you do), so the three escape unmolested and join the war effort for the Federation full-on, which leads to them becoming instrumental in the war effort and aiding the Federation in several key battles going forward. You’ve almost certainly seen this sort of story play out before, but the way Valkyria Chronicles handles it is exceptionally memorable, as the story tackles several sensitive subjects, including the horrors of war and racism, surprisingly well, such that even as someone who’s played the game before, I’m still enjoying my time with it on a third go-round.
2.) For those who have played the PS3 version of the game, the most noticeable change between versions is likely going to come from the presentation side of things, as there’s a more technologically robust feel to this release. You can tell, visually, that the game has been updated a bit, but only occasionally and only slightly, as the game was a visual marvel for its time and the technology behind it is still outstanding even today. The game has a very storybook aesthetic to it, using cel-shaded visuals in a way that makes them look like art brought to life from the page, and this tech translates very well to the PS4. Those who’ve played the PC version of the game will likely be at home with the visuals here, but for those who’ve only experienced it on the PS3 this will be a noticeable upgrade, and players who are coming into it brand new will find it to still present a top-shelf visual experience overall. Aurally, the game sounds as good as it ever has, between expertly cast voice work for every character and a fitting, engaging soundtrack that gives every event a great deal of gravitas and weight. The game also has a very distinct sound to its combat effects, utilizing a combination of high-tech effects for the Ragnite-infused weaponry and bolt-action gun effects for the WWII-era hand weaponry that’s surprisingly engaging.
3.) When the game first starts up, after the narrative has walked you through the basics of the story, you’re dropped straight into a ground level battle that’s meant to acclimate players to the core combat between troopers. The entire first few chapters act as an extended tutorial, actually, which is pretty smart; instead of attempting to teach the whole game to players at once, instead Valkyria Chronicles teaches you a little bit per mission, while also expecting you to remember the things from the prior missions, and it’s a more friendly learning curve for it. The first several missions each devote themselves to teaching new and useful pieces of information for how to utilize your units to great effect, in fact, and it’s quite helpful without feeling like the game is holding your hand or forcing you to do things a set way. It’s teaching you the game without forcing you through a tutorial, in other words, and it’s a nice change of pace from games that basically insist you do things a set way before turning you loose or, alternately, games that just throw up button prompts with no context.
4.) The first three missions are pretty basic, also, which helps a lot toward encouraging players on their way. Essentially, you’re given a small squad of scouts and put up against a small squad of enemy scouts who are far weaker than you, and asked to kick their brains into their feet to move on. The first mission asks you to beat a small group of enemies as a way of explaining movement and combat, while the second mission introduces fighting against a numerically superior force and fighting against tanks, and the third introduces grenades and using a tank in combat on your own side. Each builds on the lessons of the last, which is great for those who’ve never played, as you’ll find lessons stick a lot more quickly than they would otherwise, since you’re being pushed to use each thing you learn in subsequent battles, so you won’t feel like you’re missing anything as you go. Best of all, the missions are friendly both to newcomers and vets alike, as newcomers can read through the tutorial messages while vets can just push through them, as they’re spread out so as not to be one giant wall of text you have to spam through for five minutes.
5.) That said, you’ll probably want the tutorial either way, as the mechanics are quite different from other tactical RPGs on the market. You’ve given an overhead map view, then asked to select a unit to move, at which point the game drops you into a third-person view behind the chosen unit. This allows you to move the unit around in the environment in real-time, letting you to position them as you like from the ground level, meaning you can line them up to shoot enemies, set them behind cover and so on, on the battlefield proper. Each time you choose to move an infantry unit, it burns one action point (tanks burn two points), but the game doesn’t lock that unit down once it’s moved; you can use multiple points to move a unit several times (though each time it has less energy to move), or conserve points to use on the next turn, since they carry over. Each unit type has different uses in battle that make them worthwhile, as 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 (poorly), Lancers can shoot rockets to damage tanks and enemies, and Snipers can hit enemies at extreme range for good damage. Your tank, meanwhile, 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. Still, you’ve got a strong mix of tools to work with, and you’ll quickly learn how to use them in battle.
6.) Once the core tutorial missions are complete, you’re given the ability to access your base at any point prior to starting a mission, which gives you the chance to do some housekeeping as needed. The base allows you access to improvements for your team, including recruiting new units, upgrading gear, and so on, as well as some added novelties that pop up as you get further into the game, including news bits on the cast and visiting the cemetery to learn new tactics. You’re also given access to skirmishes at this point, which allow you to take on prior missions without the plot elements attached as a way to grind for experience and cash to further upgrade your team before moving into new and potentially more dangerous missions. 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.
7.) One thing you’ll end up doing almost immediately is heading off to the recruitment center to fill out a squad, as you’ll need a full complement of characters before you can head out into battle. While some of your cast are set in stone, most of your team needs to be filled out from the randos who enlisted into the war effort, and you’ll be able to pick and choose who joins up as you see fit. Don’t think that these characters aren’t special in their own ways, though; everyone you can recruit has their own name, personality, voice and unique elements that make them special, and you’ll probably get almost as attached to them as you do your core squad. Hell, you can even recruit Vyse and Aika from Skies of Arcadia sooner or later, and that’s pretty cool for a Sega fan. Units can be swapped in and out at your leisure from here as well, so if someone pops up in a later in the game that you’d rather recruit and you’re full, you can just send the original person back to the pool and pick up the new character with no issues. There are a lot of units to recruit, as well, since it’s possible to lose non-story important characters if you can’t rescue them within three turns of their being taken out, so you might end up making use of more than a few recruits as you go.
8.) For those asking “wait, what about character levels?” well, Valkyria Chronicles doesn’t level people up individually; instead, you’re given a pool of experience points at the end of missions, and you can dump that into levelling up each class between missions as you see fit. Each time a class levels up, every member improves a bit, and you can occasionally unlock new skill slots that give each member the chance to learn combat skills (that depend on the person) to improve their performance on the battlefield. As such, the higher the class level, the more potential for new skills and combat perks, and the better each member can potentially perform as you go. You also earn cash during missions, which can be dumped into improving your gear and tank between missions. Gear is improved through upgrade trees for each class of item, so guns, armor and grenades can each improve multiple times over so long as you have the cash to do it, though trees only unlock up to a certain point so you can’t overlevel your gear too fast. Your tank improves much the same way, though you can also purchase parts that can be attached for added bonuses, so long as they fit into the space provided. It’s sort of like stacking Tetris blocks into a space, but it can make for some interesting setups if you do it right, so it’s a worthwhile idea overall.
9.) For those who’ve played the original game and are wondering what’s new in Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, there’s actually a pretty good amount of content included that wasn’t packed in with the original game. You get all of the original DLC that was released on-disc, including multiple sets of new missions and a Hard difficulty for those who love their strategy gaming with a real challenge. The game also features upgraded visuals for its PS4 release, which look to be on-par with the PC release; the game runs at a consistent framerate and looks like a PS4 title at this point, and that’s not nothing considering how some hi-def updates turn out. Finally, the game also offers Trophies for those who love to collect them, which the original did not support when it was released, so whether you loved the original or are coming into it fresh, you’ve got the chance to fill out your Trophies for playing through the PS4 version.
10.) At this point, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is shaping up to be an excellent, top-shelf remake on the PS4, as it retains everything that made the game great while updating the visuals and adding in all the possible content you could acquire for the game, all in one package. The original game was a classic, without a doubt, and if the PS4 remake holds up from start to finish, it’ll be an easy game to recommend, especially at the asking price ($29.99). There’s still a good bit more time to be spent with it, however, and we’ll definitely have more to say in the upcoming review, but at this point, things are looking bright for the game, and if that holds, it’ll be an easy game to recommend.