Everybody has games from a previous generation that they never played for whatever reason, but really wanted to. Maybe you didn’t have the money at the time to pick up a new game. Maybe you didn’t actually own the system it was on. It could be any number of things. One of those games for me was Valkyria Chronicles, which was originally released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2008. I remember seeing the trailers for that game and being very interested in playing it, but disappointed because it was only coming to PS3, a system that I didn’t own.
Fast forward to 2016 and the game has been remastered for a new generation. The PS4 remaster is done brilliantly and beautifully. If you didn’t play the original game now may be the perfect time to try it out. If you did play it on the PS3 there’s no reason not to relive the experience, because it’s a game that’s going to stay with me for a long time.
Valkyria Chronicles tells the story of the nation of Gallia. It’s part of a continent (loosely based on our own real world Europe) that is controlled by two main super powers; in the east you have theEast Europan Imperial Alliance and in the west the Atlantic Federation. The countries rely on a material known as ragnite to power almost everything and the Empire is very quickly running out of this resource so they invade the small nation of Gallia, which just happens to be rich in this resource. The game opens up as Welkin Gunther is heading home. It just so happens the Empire begins their attack at that same moment and he gets swept up in the conflict along with a local town watch captain named Alicia. The two join the militia and lead the fight against the invading Empire.
The game is told through a series of interlinked cut scenes, chosen from a menu style to look like a story book. Each scene is told in a truly gorgeous hand-drawn, almost watercolor brought to life style visual setting. You can see individual brush or pencil strokes as characters move across the screen. Each scene bleeds to the edge of the screen where it fades to what could be a canvas bordering the action going on. It lends a truly artistic aesthetic that really makes you feel like you’re looking at a series of paintings that are brought together to tell the story. There are a lot of these cut scenes. Some of them almost cinematic in nature, others more traditional video game style where you have to button through the dialogue to advance the story. I found myself getting wrapped up in these moments where the characters were interacting and at times wished I could almost skip the game play to continue the story. It didn’t take long for me to feel invested in these people’s lives as they defended their homeland or even gave birth to a child inside a tank during a battle.
I’m glad the game took me out of those moments though to actually fight the battles because that’s where Valkyria Chronicles truly shines. Each battle is played out in a turn based tactical style, similar to any turn based strategy game you’ve played before. If you’ve played games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem or Advance Wars before you know what to expect here. You have a roster of characters, a bank of action points and a battlefield to move around in. You move each character around, attack the enemy and use skills until you run out of action points or end your turn.
Where this game is different and, most definitely at the time of the original release, stands out is that it’s not just a straight tactical game. Alongside that more traditional turn based action you have elements of first or third person shooters mixed in. While you’re moving around the battlefield enemy characters are taking attacks of opportunity, shooting at you while you’re making you moves. When you’re in position you can bring up a targeting screen where all the action around you stops and you have complete control of where your character is aiming. You can line up shots toward the center of your opponents body to ensure more hits, but deal less damage. If you’re feeling lucky, or know your characters are more accurate you can line up head shots that have the potential to deal out larger amounts of damage.
The members of your team, known as Squad 7, have different roles. Scouts can move very quickly around the battlefield and cover large areas of land giving you the opportunity to see where your enemy is on the map. While they’re nimble characters they’re very vulnerable and don’t like the engage the enemy in straight up fights. Their job is to find the enemy, not engage them. Engineers can build defenses, repair tanks and heal squad members. Snipers are equipped with very long range rifles that can take out the enemy from across the battlefield. Get them in advantageous positions and you can control when and where the enemy moves. Shock Troopers can take massive amounts of damage, but are ideal in dishing it right back out to the enemy. They’re the bulk of your fighting force. As your commander will tell you, “They’re your least finicky troops.”
These battles are a wonderful mix of tactical elements and the best parts of shooters. You can take your time, plan out your moves and then go into action. Be careful, when you do this though. You can stretch yourself too thin and if you take the gamble and it doesn’t pay off your sniper is left out in the middle of a killing field with no way to defend themselves. These moments are tense, but they never happen so often that you feel you’re always at a disadvantage. You’re in control and while no plan survives contact with the enemy you’ll never really feel like you’re being cheated or at a complete disadvantage.
Another thing that makes this game so good is how unique each character feels. They all have traits that make them different from your squad mates. You’ll have to balance these traits, much like a real army commander, to make your team the best it can be. Some characters like to show off for members of the opposite sex so keeping them close to those characters will give them a stat boost. Some characters are scared of battle and contact with the enemy could cause them to panic and be less accurate. Some people are allergic to elements of the environment and could suffer stat losses as well. Figuring out the best way to use these strengths and weaknesses of your squad members could very well be the difference between winning and losing. Aside from the stat changes each character has a deep back story that you can uncover to learn what makes them happy or sad. Each character in your unit feels like a real person and by the end of the game you’re going to know a lot about each and every one of them. This fuels the desire to keep them alive on the battlefield and make sound tactical choices.
In between battles you have the chance to train your units. Each troop type levels up at the same rate. That means all of your scouts, no matter if they go into battle or not, are at the same level. You don’t have to worry about taking unskilled units into the fight when you need the best troops. You can spend money on R&D to increase your weaponry and make it better. You can visit the graves of fallen team members and remember those heroes of the past.
All of these outside of the battle elements feels important. Every spot in the menu does something that makes your squad a better fighting unit. There is nothing in the game that feels extraneous or unnecessary. It all feels important and like it’s aiding the cause of your fight. That’s hard to do in a game, but Valkyria Chronicles does a very, very good job of making every single thing you do have weight.
It’s very rare that I can recommend a game to just about everyone, but this is one of those times. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
Review copy of the game provided by Sega.
Total Play Time: 36 hours
Played nearly through the end. Was not able to finish the last mission due to technical issues with a controller.