Valkyria Chronicles Remastered PS4 Review
It’s clear at this point that the PlayStation 4 has become a far more successful console than its predecessor, which is probably why we are seeing so many remastered re-releases of PS3 games (the lack of proper backwards compatibility with the PS4 likely played a factor as well). Though it could be argued that these remastered ports are just a way for publishers to quickly cash-in on the PS4 craze, the consumers still benefit in one of two ways: it allows newcomers to experience critically acclaimed games that they missed out on the first time, and it also allows fans to enjoy the “definitive” version of their favorite titles thanks to improved visuals and performance.
Valkyria Chronicles is one such game that appeals to both scenarios: it was originally one of the most celebrated Japanese-developed games on the PS3, but as a franchise it never moved beyond a couple of extra PSP sequels (one which to this day has not crossed over to the West) and quickly wallowed into obscurity, save for continuing merchandise of its most infamously-endowed character. In many ways, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is a re-release that serves also as a reintroduction of the franchise, a sentiment that is more apparent with the Japanese version coming packed in with a demo of the recently announced Valkyria Azure Revolution (though the shift in gameplay and setting makes that title closer to a spiritual successor than a direct sequel). Whatever the implications, PS4 owners now have a chance to take part in one of the best RPGs of the previous generation, be it their first time or otherwise.
Loosely inspired by World War II, the story of Valkyria Chronicles focuses on the ongoing war between the Empire and the Federation (guess which are the bad guys). Despite its neutral status, the principality of Rangriz faces invasion by the Empire in order to seize its heavy abundance of Ragnite, a key resource that could turn the tide of the war. It’s up to the citizens of Rangriz to band together in order to drive out the Empire from their homeland, with new recruits Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiott serving as the narrative focus of this bloody conflict.
The story doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed and tragedy that makes up war, but much of its backdrop is layered over a decidedly JRPG/Anime-influenced melodrama. This is not necessarily a negative, as the diverse cast of characters make up the heart of VC’s story thanks to their likable personalities and strong character growth. What especially shines is the gorgeous painterly art style, which is reminiscent of classic films by Studio Ghibli, not to mention a stellar soundtrack by renowned Final Fantasy Tactics/Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. Simply put, Valkryia Chronicles is a JRPG story through and through, but it’s a beautifully executed JRPG story that hangs with the very best of the genre.
As for what type of JRPG game this is, its combination of real-time strategy and action brings it closer to games like Fire Emblem, but in fact utilize a seldom-seen mechanic that separates it from its more traditional brethren. Players move their chosen squad members across a fully 3D map, where each member has various gauges to keep track of; first and foremost, a character’s movement is represented by a meter that drains with every step and cannot be reset regardless of where they move. Once that meter runs out, their feet are firmly planted in the ground, which is why it is paramount to have the characters safely behind cover or other advantageous positions. Players can also fire at enemies using the character’s selected weapon, though they must also be mindful of the number of shots they can fire per turn as well as their overall ammo. Risky decisions can backfire tremendously in Valkyria Chronicles, as every enemy engaged can counter with their own barrage, while moving targets from both sides are prone to automatic fire. Positioning has always been a key mechanic in strategy-based games, but VC can prove especially punishing to players who don’t watch their squad members’ backs.
Fortunately, the number of available tools can go a long way to ensure their survival. A well-aimed grenade can take out an enemy’s defensive position (such as sandbags), while a med kit can heal allies and self-sustained injuries. Squad members also fall into one of five classes, which all play a specific-yet-integral role during battle: Scouts can traverse the furthest and have long-ranged weaponry, Shocktroopers are machine gun-toting offensive units, Lancers posses anti-tank weaponry, Engineers can restock an ally’s ammunition, and Snipers…well, snipe. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses for each class is just as important and runs tantamount to how your squad is positioned: having a Scout in the firing range of a Shocktrooper can lead to certain death, while the destructive firepower of a Lancer makes them ill-suited for traditional shootouts. Much like Fire Emblem and Overwatch, squad members can also permanently die in battle, though players do have the opportunity to rescue them while they’re incapacitated if they can be reached before a certain number of turns.
Did I mention there are also tanks? Though his primary duty is to give orders, Welkin also plays a role in the battlefield by driving in his father’s tank, the Edelweiss. The tank takes two turns versus a squad member’s singular turn, but its destructive power is unmatched save or opposing tanks, and it can also decimate ground units and even break through certain structures. If all of these mechanics sound daunting, rest assured that the game does a good job of doling them out one at a time to help new players get the hang of warfare. The game also constantly adds to each mechanic, such as its simplistic upgrade system where players can spend experience points to level up classes (all squad members benefit from the level up, even if they didn’t take part in the battle) and money to upgrade equipment for both the soldiers and the tank. True to its JRPG roots, a certain mechanic involving the titular Valkyria also plays a role later on in the story…
There’s little fault to find in Valkyria Chronicles, but there are a few nitpicks worth mentioning: despite the overall solid balance between classes, the game still seems to favor Shocktroopers the most thanks to their devastating firepower (it could take several Scouts in several turns just to take out one enemy Shocktrooper, while also praying that they don’t get torn apart by their gunfire). Enemy turns cannot be skipped either, forcing players to watch the AI occasionally run around indecisively around the field. Likewise, the rag doll animations for fallen foes and friendlies can also veer on the comical side, though the PS4 version does enjoy the increase of 60 frames per second during battle. Like the PC version, however, cutscenes are stuck at 30 fps, though they also appear a bit sharper compared to the PC version’s compressed cutscenes. All of the DLC from the PS3 version is also included and can be accessed from the start, providing extra insight to both heroes and villains apart from the original story.
Valkyria Chronicles received a lot of acclaim during its PS3 debut, and its praises must be sung again in this remastered port. Whatever Sega decides to do with the franchise from here on remains unclear, but at least fans new and old can enjoy one of their finest efforts in the last generation, not to mention one of the single best RPGs period.