Valkyria Chronicles Remastered proves unequivocally that after nearly a decade since its debut, SEGA’s SRPG masterpiece still reigns supreme
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a decade since Valkyria Chronicles first released on the PlayStation 3 way back in 2008. Despite being one of the finest games to grace the console, SEGA’s vibrant, Canvas Engine-powered tactical RPG has remained something of a cult classic over the years, never quite garnering the attention it deserved when it was originally released despite a glowing reception from fans and critics alike. However, with the upcoming Japanese release of Valkyria Chronicles: Azure Revolution poised to bring the series back to consoles after a pair of sequels on the PSP, the timing couldn’t be better for SEGA to introduce new players to this hidden gem from the previous console generation. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the studio has done by bringing Valkyria Chronicles Remastered to the PlayStation 4.
More than just a mere port of the original PS3 title, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered introduces a handful of enhancements over the PS3 release, including a gorgeous 1080p/60fps overhaul, full trophy support (the game originally launched before Sony implemented their trophy system), and all of the DLC that was previously released for the PS3 and Steam versions of the game. Simply put, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here – especially considering the game’s generous $29.99 price tag.
In case you missed Valkyria Chronicles when it first released, here’s the setup: The game’s story takes place in the year 1935 E.C. and is set against the backdrop of the continent of Europa, which is loosely based on World War II-era Europe. The Empire, also known as the East Europan Imperial Alliance – who come across as a bit of a mix between Nazi Germany and the Roman Empire – have invaded the Atlantic Federation in a push to conquer their land and capture their precious reserves of Ragnite, a resource that powers pretty much everything from tanks to medical equipment. This act of aggression by the Empire sends the land spiraling into the Second Europan War. Early in their campaign, Imperial forces storm the sovereign Principality of Gallia. This is where the game’s story begins, with the player assuming the role of the young Welkin Gunther, the nature-loving son of a legendary First Europan War hero, as he joins the Gallian Militia following an assault on the small town of Bruhl. During the skirmish, Welkin takes control of his father’s tank, the Edelweiss, and is chosen to lead Squad 7, a ragtag band of militia fighters tasked with beating back the empire and liberating their homeland.
One of the first things you’ll notice when firing up Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is the game’s vibrant, colorful visuals. Don’t let the game’s undeniable charm fool you, though – the story deals with some pretty heavy themes throughout its roughly 30-mission campaign. These hard-hitting moments explore the horrors of genocide and concentration camps, slave labor, and racism. While the topics the game delves into may sound heavy-handed, SEGA has done a masterful job with the writing, adding a poignant, human touch that offers players a perspective on the real toll of war that’s seldom seen in video games. That’s not to say Valkyria Chronicles is all doom and gloom, as the cast of characters that make up Squad 7 is varied and lively, and the sense of camaraderie that forms as the unit evolves from a team of scrappy rookies to a battalion of seasoned fighters is handled to great effect. Longtime fans of SEGA’s classics will also be happy to see a few cameos from the Dreamcast classic Skies of Arcadia as well, as Vyse and Aika join the ranks of your militia. Well played, SEGA.
While you’ll certainly be seeing a LOT of story unfold over the course of the game’s campaign, the heart of Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is found in its addicting combat system, which can best be described as a fusion of XCOM and a third-person shooter. When in battle, you can move your selected unit around freely, but each step comes at the cost of action points which, once depleted, you’ll be unable to move that character again for that turn. You can also aim your weapon at will, but shooting is still handled as a dice-roll, and enemies will occasionally dodge, or a shot will miss it’s mark. Additionally, most units will be able to passively fire on any enemy within range as you move, meaning you’ll have to carefully plot your advance in each battle to avoid return fire, which can easily cut down your troops.
At the start of a battle, players will choose from a variety of classes to deploy including Scouts, which are good for exploring a map but lack impressive firepower, Snipers who can pick off Imperial goons from a mile away with dead-eye precision but lack mobility or the ability to fire on enemies when on standby, and Shock Troopers, who can lay down steady volleys of machine gun fire and are pretty much the most well-rounded grunts of the bunch. Other, more specialized units include Lancers, who can destroy enemy mechanized units with a well-placed shot from their Javelin-like rocket launchers, and Engineers who can restock your team’s ammo, rebuild damaged cover and repair your most valuable asset – the Edelweiss.
The Edelweiss is piloted by Welkin and acts as your team’s “Hero Unit”. If the tank is destroyed it’s game over, so you’ll have to ensure it’s protected from pesky enemy tanks and rocket launcher-wielding grunts. The tank itself is a force to be reckoned with, as it can fire shells that can lay waste to enemy armor, as well as mortars that can wipe out infantry and send hardened troops flying out of cover so that your grunts can finish them off with their rifles and machine guns. While it may sound overpowered, the Edelweiss has a very limited range per turn, costs two commands points to use, and can be taken out with a single tank or rocket round to its radiator, which serves as its Achilles heel. Each map is designed in such a way that both your tank and the rest of Squad 7 will have to work together to overcome the enemy units, and you’ll even get a second tank mid-way through the story which can lob smoke shells which cover your movements, adding yet another layer to the game’s combat system. Each tank and unit can also be upgraded with new gear, enhanced weaponry and fortified armor, offering a welcome degree of customization options to the player.
Permadeath is also a real risk you’ll have to keep in mind when battling the Empire. When an unit is gunned down, (which will happen pretty frequently, as the enemies can be quite aggressive) you’ll have three turns to reach them and call in a medic, who will carry your wounded comrades off the field. If you fail to reach your fallen teammate within three turns, they’re officially dead. Thankfully, major story characters aren’t at risk of being put on the chopping block, but as each unit has their own unique traits and potentials, it can definitely hurt to see a seasoned soldier who’s carried your team to victory in the past killed off for good.
Overall, the combat system feels great and strikes a fine balance between real-time and tactical styles to create an experience that’s both instantly engaging and cerebral at the same time. Hatching out the perfect strategy to topple a towering metal behemoth, or distracting a tank so that your Lancers can get a clear shot on its glowing weak point is immensely satisfying, and will keep you coming back for more. Hell, the system is so solid that I’d love to see SEGA re-purpose it to revive their venerated Shining Force series. It’s simply that good.
As mentioned before, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered features a wealth of story content crammed into its campaign. Largely handled in visual novel style (though you’ll find a handful of impressively animated ones in the game as well) some of these are on the lengthy side, but they do such a great job of fleshing out the characters and story that you’ll rarely mind them. This is due in no small part due to the game’s fantastic voice acting, which still manages to impress the same way it did back when the game was originally released eight long years ago. However, discerning weeaboos who prefer to play the game with its original Japanese language track will be happy to know that SEGA has included dual English and Japanese audio as well.
Considering it’s been nearly a decade since Valkyria Chronicles first released, it’s doesn’t come as a surprise that the game doesn’t look quite as stunning as it did when it made its PlayStation 3 debut. However, the game still manages to hold its own thanks to its wonderful art direction, which is brought to life by SEGA’s proprietary Canvas Engine. The 1080p facelift breathes fresh life into the game’s watercolor-esque visuals, making the war-torn villages and sprawling battlefields of Gallia shine despite some rather dated character models and boxy architecture. The game runs great as well, never dipping below 60fps, even when gunfire, towering enemy tanks and entire squads of troops fill the screen. Sure, this may not sound new to those who’ve played the game since it released on Steam back in 2014, there’s something to be said about taking all of this in from the comfort of your couch as you watch the action unfold on the big screen.
When all is said and done, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered proves that SEGA’s tactical epic still stands as one of the finest games of all time. The game’s potent mix of tactical gameplay and an engrossing story is just as irresistible as it ever was. While the game may not look quite as groundbreaking today when compared to the latest games to grace the PS4, the enhanced 1080p/60FPS overhaul is a welcome one, making the game look and play better than ever before. Add to that trophy support and a slew of DLC skirmishes that offer new insight into the story along with fresh challenges to test your mettle and you have one package no SRPG fan should be without. If you’re looking for the best experience the genre has to offer, look no further than Valkyria Chronicles Remastered.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: SEGA ; Developer: SEGA ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: May 17, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review code provided by the publisher.