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Review: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered

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Squad 7, move out! (But in 60 FPS this time)

Year after year, war as a subject is frequently mined for pop culture. These tragedies have been torn up, examined, embalmed, and made presentable so that we can better understand the atrocities humans are capable of committing. Though books and movies have successfully achieved this for years, most games typically only present the parts of combat that look cooler in slow motion.

Almost a decade ago, Sega released Valkyria Chronicles, a pencil-sketched glance at a World War II analogue. Beneath the beautiful, unassuming aesthetic was a story unafraid to look at prejudice, death, and other horrors of war with a clarity. It wasn't always the most in-depth look at these subjects, and it lost its way beneath a rising tide of anime tropes as it progressed, but hey, high marks for trying. Next week, this hybrid of strategy and action will be out with a shinier coat of paint than its original release. Eight years is enough time to justify a full review, so here we go.

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (PS4)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Released: May 17, 2016
MSRP: $29.99

Valkyria Chronicles is viewed through the lens of a war journalist's book, "On the Gallian Front." This book details the endeavors of the Gallian militia's Squad 7, caught in the conflict between the relatively peaceful Atlantic Federation and the resource-hungry East Europan Imperial Alliance. The resource in question is a mineral called Ragnite that acts as both a fuel source and a healing reagent, two commodities that a warmongering nation has need of. Gallia just so happens to have a large supply of the stuff.

Though you're in command of the full squad, the story's main focus is on Welkin Gunther, a college student and son of a war hero, and Alicia Melchiott, a former baker who's become the town watch captain due to the looming threat of spies. They're torn from their peaceful professions when their hometown is destroyed, and the two of them are swallowed by a war that should have nothing to do with them. The first hour or so has Welkin using a tank to defend his town while a woman gives birth inside of it. Not usual game fare for certain.

Valkyria Chronicles could have just been an anime and conveyed this story, but its implementation of tactical combat has the potential to be incredibly satisfying. Each turn, the player is given a certain amount of command points. One point is consumed to move a character and have them take an action (shooting, healing, etc.), two points are used to move tanks, and there are also buffs for your soldiers that require the same points. An overhead map of the conflict denotes where each character is stationed as well as any enemies within your line of sight.

If a character is selected, the map zooms in and the perspective shifts to a third-person camera behind the player. At this point, the game functions similarly to a shooter, but you only have a limited range of movement and can only fire once, so it isn't twitch-based in the least. Spending multiple points on the same character in one turn diminishes the amount they can move, so you need to use multiple soldiers to play effectively. There are five different classes: Scouts for reconnaissance and covering distance, Shocktroopers for heavy mid-range damage, Lancers for anti-tank and -turret situations, Engineers to remove mines and repair tanks, and Snipers for long-range kills.

Just like you, the enemy then has the chance to attack all at once, which can (and probably will) easily lead to your immediate defeat. Valkyria Chronicles is punishingly difficult, but not in a way that encourages skillful play. Each battle is ranked, and the better you do, the more experience and money you get. The problem here is that the only metric for a high rank is by finishing the mission in as few turns as possible. This severely limits viable tactics and leads to a sort of gaming the system with saves after every turn just in case your accuracy screws you over for an all-important shot. The worse you do, the less you can upgrade your characters, making you less effective in the long run.

This is especially frustrating because the battle system is thrilling when it allows you a little more leeway. Lining up the perfect shot, taking out a tank, or capturing an enemy base has a tactility to it that strategy games often lose. Mission maps and their objectives are also constantly shifting; early encounters are generally simple affairs such as reaching one side of the map, but later on Squad 7 has to avoid mortar fire and use lifts to navigate multi-leveled stages and even try to take out a small armored car to save a hostage. Valkyria Chronicles manages to be consistently entertaining but hurts itself by limiting player options.

There's still an addictive loop here with fighting, progressing the story, and upgrading your squad, though a few small issues keep it from reaching full potential. Small additions like pop-ups notifying you when new upgrades are available (instead of checking manually between every battle) would have altered the game's flow for the better. A fast-forward button during enemies' turns would have helped mitigate the strange, scant few times when the AI chooses the same soldier over and over and has them run around in circles. 

As far as the remaster itself goes, the moment-to-moment gameplay and in-game cutscenes look wonderful at a smooth 60 FPS, just like the PC port. The pre-rendered cutscenes are still at 30, and look like they're thirsty for a big dollop of anti-aliasing. Valkyria Chronicle's timeless art style is still breathtaking when running around the battlefield, but it's easy to remember this was made in 2008 as soon as you see the jaggy cinematics. Thankfully, you'll be spending more time playing than watching. Hitoshi Sakimoto's unique sound accompanied by war bugles still makes for an amazing score that perfectly complements the visuals.

Also included are the DLC packs that were released after the original game, including a small side story from the perspective of some of your less-important squad members, a few missions that allow you to play as one of the main villains, and a hard mode (of all games to add a hard mode...). The second one is the only one worth playing, but it's nice that they're all included in one package now.

I love the kooky folks in Squad 7, even though most of them run the range of anime stereotypes like "cool guy with a headband" or "pop star with a gun." Particularly poignant is the in-fighting between one main character and another for being a Darcsen -- that is, a dark-haired group of humans that are discriminated against -- and their eventual understanding of one another. When Valkyria Chronicles broaches these subjects, it can be engaging. As the game goes on, however, it becomes less successful as specific anime tropes start to rear their heads. When a flying pig named Hans joins your squad as a mascot character, I rolled my eyes a little bit. When the titular Valkyrias are introduced into the stories as supersoldier women who nonchalantly do flips over bullets, my eyes fell out of my face.

These story beats probably work for a majority of the players interested in this game. And hey, I'm not knocking fantastical elements or anime as a whole. But for me, Squad 7's journey works best as a grounded allegory for World War II. Beach trips where the love interest comes out in a bikini and meekly asks how she looks just don't work here. By the time it comes to an end, seeing Welkin and Alicia grow as people and soldiers is still a fun tale, but the dalliances with tropes always feel ill-fitting.

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is just as great of a game as it was eight years ago. Having it perform better and run smoother is a gift. A few things hold it back from perfection, but I'd rather have a war game strive for something new and risky like this than go with safe boilerplate action sequences. I'm happy Sega took a chance on this one. And maybe if enough people pick this up, the next game in the series will come this way.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. This review was originally published on May 10.]

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Valkyria Chronicles Remastered reviewed by Zack Furniss

8

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Zack Furniss
Zack Furniss   gamer profile

Liev Schrieber's little brother. Lover of horror and RPGs. Let's be best friends. more + disclosures


 


 


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