Valkyria Chronicles Remastered - Brutal Backlog
As a big fan of anime and strategy games, one title which has always flown just under my radar is Valkyria Chronicles. Praised for its amazing hand-drawn anime graphics and innovative third-person strategy, it always looked to be right up my street, but as a late adopter of the Playstation 3 I just kind of missed it. So as to not make the same mistake again, when I finally got my PS4 a few years into the generation Valkyria Chronicles: Remastered was the first game I bought with it. Flash forward two years and the poor thing is still collecting dust on my shelf. Think it’s time we give this a go.
Twenty Minutes In
Valkyria Chronicles starts with an opening scene that lays down the situation; the Atlantic Federation (the good guys) are fighting with the Autocratic East Europan Imperial Alliance (the bad guys), also known as the Empire, over a special resource called Ragnite. Why are the Empire always the bad guys? According to our narrator, the Empire seems to be winning the resource war quite handily and has now turned its sights to just straight up taking over. The first step to world domination is a small independent country called the Principality of Gallia (Switzerland?) which is rich in Ragnite.
Looks like war is coming, and honestly, war has never looked this pretty. As we cut to Gallia I’m really able to appreciate just how good looking the game truly is. For a remastered PS3 game it has a fantastically realised manga art style; and that is an important note to make. Valkyria Chronicles isn’t your typical vibrant anime style game, it’s clearly inspired by more traditional manga, using strong lines to give a gritty feel somewhat similar to Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan manga.
At Gallia I meet the main cast; the lead character, the relaxed, nature-loving Welkins (Welks to his friends), his half-sister Isara and the baker-turned-soldier Alicia. Welkins is a rather unassuming character until it is explained that he just so happens to be the son of local hero General Gunther – well isn’t that a coincidence?
It’s shortly after this revelation that I am thrust into my first battle. Battle is a fairly standard affair for anyone with experience in turn-based strategy games like XCOM except for one big difference: you have full real-time control over character movement as well as having to manually aim. I’m not going to say that I am a turn-based strategy expert, in fact this game has served to remind me how bad at them I am, but I’ve played my fair share. I’ve played the XCOM series and entries in Final Fantasy Tactics, but I have to say that the real-time control is nothing short of a revolution; I’ll touch more on that in a bit.
Battles involve deploying troops, and then spending command points (CP) and action points (AP) to first control, then move them. Uniquely, as soon as you take control of a unit, perspective shifts to a third-person viewpoint, and your character has freedom to move, aim and fire as you see fit -- but keeping an eye on your unit's AP meter is vital, since it depletes as you move.
Shooting utilises a manually aimed reticule, giving you far more control and accuracy than other titles in this genre. Additionally, all units (troops and tanks) have a passive sentry mode which automatically shoots enemies crossing their path. The direction you leave your unit facing is therefore key to your overall strategy. Your opponent has the same ability, so mistakenly leaving a unit in sight of an enemy unit as you end your turn will result in him continually blasting you.
Contextual commands mitigate this by allowing you to prevent headshots while in cover or hide from the line of sight, but the sense of urgency in leaving and returning to cover so as to not take extra unnecessary damage adds a shot of adrenaline to battles. This is a close as you can get to having a fully fledged third-person shooter in the form of a turn-based strategy game, and so far I like it. Actually, I think I like it a lot!
Two Hours In
The mission select menu is presented in a comic book style, with you navigating through cutscenes and missions as if you were reading through a comic. The menu consists of about one main mission per page with the rest of the panels being taken up by cutscenes. As a long time JRPG fan I kind of expect this as they usually take a couple of hours to get going anyway, usually with a lot of cutscenes at the start.
Eight Hours In
Like a lot of Japanese games, JRPGs in particular, Valkyria Chronicles is a pretty slow burn. Most of the cutscenes just play out as two talking heads above a text box whereas the fully animated cutscenes seem few and far between. All of the scenes are relevant; if they aren’t explaining the situation, they are building meaningful character development. The real problem is that you have to watch these cutscenes to progress the story. Although not all of them are mandatory, the optional scenes are oddly some of the best ones, giving the player another perspective or greater detail on an element that was touched on earlier. Eight hours in and I’m still watching as many cutscenes now as I was at the start of the game, and I’m not too sure that is a good thing. It’s hard to complain about the story itself but in all honesty, I prefer to play my video games, not watch them.
At this point in the story, things are starting to get interesting. I’ve met what seems to be the big bad in the crown prince Maximillian and I’ve finally come across the titular Valkyrur. The Valkyrur wield powerful ancient weapons that hint at a more fantastical history to the world than has been presented so far, and being the anime fan that I am, I'm very onboard for some super-powered anime fights to spice things up. I’m starting to see characters evolve and relationships bloom, I’m even starting to pick my favourite units. Wendy, in particular, is a little badass in a beanie with military paint under her eyes; I knew the moment I saw her that she'd become a firm favourite, and my word, has she racked up a body count. When she died (yes permadeath is a thing in this game too) I instantly restarted the level.
No one kills my Wendy! I’m not too attached...I don't think.
By this point I have also obtained a second tank. It’s smaller and more mobile but is less heavily armed than the one Welkin commands. Initially I thought this would be a game changer but in practice it’s just a worse version of the tank you already own that is able to move slightly further, it does make for pretty good mobile cover though, so it’s not all bad.
Thirty Hours In
While the credits roll on Valkyria Chronicles I feel a little torn. Unlike other strategy titles like XCOM that use procedural generation to keep things fresh from mission to mission, Valkyria Chronicles offers a deeper focus on story and unique mission types and objectives. And that is something I personally liked a lot, I’m not a huge fan of too much RNG in my strategy games. The problem then becomes that you are relying heavily on the story and mission variety to carry you through; and in the end, these both fall flat.
I know I previously confessed to being a fan of super-powered anime and thought it might spice things up, but in this case I was wrong. The big bad Maxmillian getting an artificial power up to become the final boss was honestly pretty dull and didn’t feel anything close to the climactic, politically fuelled ending it seemed to be building to. The unique mechanics at work in the final mission are also far more frustrating than fun, forcing the player to use some (for lack of a better word) cheesy strategies.
For a game and story that has, for the most part, been really fun and engaging it’s such a shame to see it fall so flat at the end.
Overall, I really like Valkyria Chronicles: Remastered. The art holds up great and the story, though not a modern masterpiece, did pretty well at keeping me engaged even if the end was a bit of a low note. The cutscenes can get a little much when you just want to get into the action, but I think it’s a fair price to pay considering the voice work and writing. As a bigger enthusiast of action games than strategy games and a fan of both, this game hits a really nice sweet spot and I can say without a doubt that it has peaked my interest in the upcoming Valkyria Chronicles 4 as well. If you’re into anime/strategy style games then it could be time to put down Fire Emblem and give this a try.