Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
10 - 10
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered a modern masterpiece
Let’s not tiptoe around it; Valkyria Chronicles was one of the best games for the Playstation 3, without question. It blended genres, looked gorgeous, played even better, and told the kind of gripping, sophisticated story that video games so often fruitlessly aim to tell. It was essentially a masterpiece of modern gaming.
It was also relatively ignored. This is a release that gamers simply missed, and there are good reasons for this. VC released in the early days of the Playstation 3’s lifecycle, a time when that system was struggling to find its way into homes. A lackluster marketing effort certainly didn’t help people see the stunning gameplay and storytelling beneath what could be superficially viewed as just another JRPG. And the game was further hamstrung by its releasing in an era in which JRPGs were largely overshadowed by blockbuster-styled, western games. Who’d want another old-fashioned JRPG when we could be playing Uncharted?
But for those who played it, Valkyria Chronicles became an instant classic. And now, eight years later, those who missed out are getting the chance to play the game that so many of us loved in 2008. With Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, SEGA is hoping to capitalize on digital distribution, the popularity of Playstation 4, and a gaming culture that’s more open to interesting, thoughtful games. And with the upcoming release of Valkyria: Azure Revolution looking to reinvigorate the franchise, it’s clear that SEGA has a lot riding on this remaster.
But is it too little, too late? Can VC Remastered capture the hearts and minds of gamers today? Eight years is a long time, after all.
Let’s find out.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is a strategy-RPG that tells the story of a fictionalized, historic Europe in the throes of war and chaos. Two massive empires are waging a devastating war over limited supply of a precious mineral known as Ragnite. As the eastern and western empires engage in industrial-scale warfare, a tiny, neutral principality known as Gallia is caught in the middle.
The story opens as citizens of Gallia prepare to evacuate towns near the front. A suspicious traveler passes absent-mindedly through town, runs into the local town watch, and is brought in for questioning. Before being pitched into a jail cell, however, the Empire attacks. In short order, the traveler is revealed to be the son of a former Gallian military hero, and he and the head of the watch are instantly forced into action to save the people of their homeland.
After this initial skirmish it’s clear things will never be the same, and if Gallia and its people are to survive, neutrality is no longer an option.
That’s what we already know from our time with the original. What’s new in Remastered? The short list is, well, kind of short. Not much is different here, but what is new is pretty important. Visuals get an instant upgrade, now running at 1080P/60FPS. This helps modernize the game’s timeless look. Further benefits include trophy support (something the original was lambasted for lacking), inclusion of all previously released DLC, and multi-language audio in both English and the original Japanese dub. One final improvement, and one that people may not notice but is certainly important given the original’s trouble in this area, is that load times across the board have been drastically improved. Good stuff.
When we fire up VC Remastered we’re immediately plunged into an uniquely engaging story. As mentioned, this game deals with some pretty serious issues. Honor, death, ethnic genocide, the struggle for freedom, the ways in which human beings can be so painfully destructive to one another- it’s all here in measured helpings. But where VC separates itself from the majority of “serious” JRPGs is in its thoughtful treatment of these themes.
While many JRPGs will unhappily descend to an over-affected level of melodrama, VC knows when to pull back on the reins. Just when we think things are about to get sickeningly overwrought, VC’s writing team injects some much-needed lightness into the plot, or breaks things up with an optimistic message. Sure, this game really examines such disturbing topics as ethnic cleansing, and war is undeniably terrible, but life isn’t. And that’s what VC does well to remind us. Even in the midst of the struggle we can still find reasons to smile.
Characters are impeccably developed. While it’s true that on the surface some characters can seem a bit stereotypical, but just a few hours into the game it becomes clear this isn’t the case. As in all aspects of VC, there’s a depth here that’s uncommon and refreshing. Even the most jaded gamer will find it difficult to not be moved by some of the many story arcs, and it would be hard not to connect with at least one of the many characters presented in VC.
Technically speaking, VC Remastered is as capable and effective as the original was eight years ago. When it was released, this game looked like nothing else out there. With a custom-built graphics engine, dubbed Canvas, SEGA created a living, breathing watercolor on screen. The effect was impressive then and the passing of time has done little to negate its impact. The improved resolution and frame-rate do wonders for the original engine, and while the original cutscenes see little improvement due to their being pre-rendered as opposed to in-engine, they’re still perfectly acceptable. Yes, even eight years later this game is still gorgeous.
VC favors an aesthetic that is classically Japanese. We’re not dealing with sickeningly cute chibi-characters or an art-style that’s so overzealously “anime” that it becomes distracting, but it’s obvious that we’re playing a Japanese game. For some, this will be perfect, and for others, not so much. But the character models, mechanical design, and overall look straddles the balance between realism and Ghibli quite nicely. For gamers who typically detest anime-style games, the art-style here should be conservative enough to be accepted while gamers who love anime and manga will feel right at home.
Sound design is on point. As the war rages on we’re treated to thunderous explosions, mechanical whirring, panic-inducing ricochets, and deep authenticity. Voice acting is found throughout the game and in the original Japanese dub it’s handled to a level that borders on perfection. When we switch the soundtrack to English we’re hearing occasional moments of clumsy scripting and lackluster delivery, but these aren’t egregious enough to be jarring. Resident Evil this is not.
In both languages, the words are spoken with a heartfelt earnestness that goes a long way toward drawing emotion from even the most jaded gamers. And if the English actors bother you, try the Japanese.
Gameplay here is as perfect as it was on the PS3 release; that is, it’s perfect. For the uninitiated, VC gameplay is a distinct blend of RPG, action, strategy, and tactical games. Real-time movement is seamlessly married to traditionally turn-based tactics in a unique system dubbed “BLiTZ” (Battle of Live Tactical Zones). The player and CPU alternate in turn-based movement using an overhead map that displays all units on the battlefield. When a unit is selected to be moved, the game instantly zooms in toward the map in a sweeping, Google Maps-like motion. Once the camera has taken up position behind the selected unit, the player can control that unit as he or she runs in real-time along the battlefield.
Depending on what the player is looking to accomplish this is a crucial aspect of the battle. If a character is near death, for instance, the player might wish to run for cover, select a healing item, and replenish that character’s health. If an enemy base-camp is undefended a player may wish to crest a hill and capture the enemy’s base. Or the player may want to take advantage of unique environmental features by having a sniper climb a water tower for better line of sight. It’s entirely up to the player.
Movement is dictated by an AP gauge, which diminishes as the player walks or runs. When the gauge is depleted the character can no longer move. Actions are limited by a finite number of CP points allotted at the onset of each turn. When the player’s CP points are exhausted, it’s the CPU’s turn.
When attacking, the player is in direct control of the chosen character’s weapon selection, aiming, and firing. There’s a really interesting percentage indicator that lets the player know of the individual character’s accuracy, critical-strike potential, etc. These and many more factors let the player assess the situation, weigh the pros and cons of a particular action, and plan tactically.
But to say that that’s the full extent of VC‘s combat system is an incredible understatement. There’s a lot happening in this game. Infantry units carry certain strengths and weaknesses depending on their class; we have snipers, shock-troopers, scouts, lancers, and more. Additionally some classes can move further distances than others, can carry specific weaponry that may make them perfect for certain situations, and might suffer serious weaknesses against certain opposition.
In addition to general class characteristics, each individual character in the game has a set of important modifiers. These are known as Potentials, and they’re certainly not passive. In fact, these dynamic traits are triggered by environmental factors within the game or by psychological factors within the unfolding battle. If a character dies, for example, other characters who shared a close emotional bond with that character might suffer severely, leading to diminished attack power. Or it could be something as simple as a character having a bad pollen allergy, or another character hating the rain. This trait system is pretty unique and decidedly interesting.
The environments play a pivotal role in battles as well. Tall grass offers opportunities for stealth, sandbags offer opportunities for cover, ladders lead to sniping points, and tunnels offer protection from enemy line of sight. As things get more intense and tanks enter the fray, there’s even a number of environmental checks leveled against the iron behemoths.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the player is also able to issue “Orders” that heavily influence the course of battle. These can range from buffing individual characters, to calling in medics, or bringing about artillery strikes.
Victory in battle results in the awarding of Experience Points, materials for upgrading weaponry, and cash for upgrading characters. The depth of customization of the player’s tank and characters is exceptional, and there’s enough here to keep people tinkering for a while. Thankfully, this aspect of the game is reigned in before it becomes overwhelming. Again, the game strikes a good balance.
When not shooting it out on the battlefield, the player can interact with characters in scripted scenes throughout the militia’s base and Gallia at large. It’s through these scenes that we get in-depth examinations of side characters, learn about the history and culture of the world around us, and learn ways to improve our squad.
Which is another big aspect of the engaging gameplay. Players are able to customize their squad to a degree that’s rarely seen. This allows us to tailor the squad for particular missions, or for a particular play style. Like running and gunning? Make your squad Shocktrooper heavy. Prefer sneaking and sniping? Load up with Scouts and Snipers. And then there’s tank customization, which will keep players tinkering for hours.
Difficulty is user-selectable, but at all levels it’s perfectly balanced. If a player can’t seem to progress past a certain mission it’s likely that it’s on account of a refusal to adapt to the situation, rather than overt cheapness on the part of the CPU. The learning curve is forgiving, to a point, but there’s certainly a moment in the campaign when it becomes clear that we’re going to have to work really hard to win this war. But rather than being frustrating, this difficulty makes victory all the sweeter.
The game does a masterful job of pacing and carrying the player through an unyielding conflict. Throughout the game there’s a sense of duty in the face of unrelenting destruction, and a foreboding feeling of oncoming doom is ever present. As we progress through battles, and through the story, there’s an ominous dread of reaching the end. But as in life, reach the end we must, even if what’s waiting for us there isn’t pleasant.
Characters die. Cities are ruined. Heroes don’t always win. And villains aren’t caricatures. As in reality, VC Remastered does well to represent the truth of war and life and death. The fact that a game can tackle these heavy topics so completely, but do so in a way that never feels exhausting, is amazing. And the fact that this same game manages to pair this masterful storytelling with equally incredible gameplay is truly remarkable, and it’s this that makes us entirely confident in calling Valkyria Chronicles Remastered a modern masterpiece. Anyone with a Playstation 4 should own this game. We can’t say it any clearer than that.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered releases on May 17th via Playstation Network and retail release.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered was reviewed using a PSN code provided by SEGA.