Remakes, remasters, etcetera. These terms are thrown around a lot in the video game market nowadays. We don’t seem to go a day without hearing about one; either remakes that nobody wants or games that deserve to be re-released. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered falls into the latter category. Since its original release in 2008 and relaunch on PC in 2014, the Japanese strategy market has evolved, what with the revival of the Fire Emblem series, so Valkyria Chronicles has a lot to contend with. Fortunately, this remaster manages to keep the game looking gorgeous and feeling just as fresh as it did the last generation.
Set against the backdrop of the Second Europan War, the game follows Welkin Gunther, son of one of the great heroes of the First Europan War, and Alicia Melchiott, an apprentice baker. The two are brought together after their hometown of Bruhl is invaded by the Imperials, who are at war with the Federation over the precious resource known as ragnite. In order to push back the Imperials, Welkin and Alicia are enlisted into the militia, and they sign up to lead Squad 7 in order to reclaim their home country of Gallia and end the war.
Valkyria Chronicles’ premise is nothing wholly original, but this doesn’t make it uninteresting. What sets this standard tale apart is its diverse cast of characters. Welkin and Alicia are a wonderful pair of leads who carry the story through their gentle natures and approach to peace. The whole of Squad 7 become your family as your experience the struggle of war and the fight for freedom — Rosie, a former barmaid, has a particularly poignant development, and her relationship with Welkin’s little sister, Isara, really brings home the reality of war and the true meaning of family. That might sound a little corny, but it’s the characters who give the narrative heart and set it apart from its competitors.
The biggest difference between this version and the original are the graphical upgrades; it’s a remaster, not a remake after all. The game looks gorgeous and benefits from its unique canvas graphics. The colours are far more vibrant and bright in this PS4 release, and the detail is wonderful from the visual brushstrokes to the freckles on characters faces. Every landscape is lush and a treat to look at. The increased rate of 60 frames per second never dips and everything is silky smooth as you storm through barrages of bullets. It’s a visual delight that will pleasure all who experience it.
The highlight of Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is its gameplay. It plays like no other strategy game and streamlines a lot of the issues the genre suffers from. Menus are clear and layout everything you need to know in a simple and effective manner, and the fantastic book-style presentation makes micromanaging less of a chore. While in battle, combat consists of a combination of turn-based and real-time strategy. You place a number of your five units down on a map, and these units are divided up into five classes: Scouts, Shocktroopers, Lancers, Engineers and Snipers. Then, once you pick one of your squad members, you shift to a third-person perspective, allowing you total control of their movements. Storming through the battlefield is satisfying and each character controls excellently, with easy aiming and effective movement. The tanks are the only exception. I found it awkward just to get around a simple corner! They’re slow and clunky, but luckily there’s no need to rely on these beefy units and I could easily get through most chapters without using them extensively.
What else is truly excellent about the game is the amount of choice and the variety of missions on offer — I rarely stuck to the same strategy and learnt as I went along, never feeling as though I was guided through the game. With trophy support just like the PC version, there are extra little challenges for you to take on as you progress. If I ever lacked confidence in my ability, I had the option to save after every move. Thus, I could test out a number of strategies and rest in the knowledge that my previous progress was secure. This significantly helped with some of the difficult missions and allowed me to get used to the game’s mechanics. It’s easy to abuse your overpowered troops in the latter stages of the game, which is a bit of a shame, but there’s also a very fine margin of error in these later stages, so all the practice you put in until this point is crucial and victory will never feel sweeter.
One other way this game tests your ability is with the DLC. This is included with the PC release but also comes inclusive with the remastered PS4 version. The DLC missions are much harder than the main game and really test your skills to the max, but they don’t feel unfair. Some of the missions are class specific and require you to utilise a particular unit’s skills in order to achieve victory. For example, the Scout’s mission requires you to hunt down and kill all enemies in hiding. Any early frustrations were down to my lack of skill, so overcoming these hurdles and getting better at the game was the greatest reward. It’s the sense of achievement you gain that makes me love Valkyria Chronicles Remastered.
Hitoshi Sakimoto’s soundtrack remains unchanged but it doesn’t need to as it captures the essence of war perfectly. Its heavy focus on percussion and brass really emphasises the dread and glory of being in the heat of battle. The more memorable ones feature in the fights, and while most of these sound fairly similar, they work effectively with each situation. You’ll often find yourself humming along as you power to victory, and each theme will spur you on to defeat your foes.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is a must for anyone who’s looking for a new strategy game or someone who wants to try out the genre. It’s still a highly tactical game with thorough planning and trial-and-error required, but there’s plenty of action and involvement that encourages newcomers to give it a try. Even though there’s no exclusive content, this is the definitive version of the game. It’s sharper, smoother, more polished than previous versions, and includes all the DLC and extra difficulties. Now, about those Valkyria Chronicles sequels, Sega…