Valkyria Chronicles: Remastered Review
XCOM-style games are one of the many genres I find myself repeatedly drawn to. The mixture of deep challenge, engaging mechanics and personal investment strike a strong chord in me. XCOM, however, was not my first exposure to this genre. That honour belongs to SEGA's Valkyria Chronicles, and with the remastered edition fresh off the press, now is as good a time as any to delve into this excellent tactical RPG franchise.
Set in the fictional Europa, a nation consumed by the Second Europan War, Valkyria Chronicles sees you take up the mantle of Welkin Gunther, drafted into the militia of his home nation Gallia, a small country beset by the might of the East Europan Imperial Alliance as it seeks to claim a fuel source Gallia possesses in great abundance. Drawing rather heavy-handed parallels with our own Second World War, the game's central narrative focuses on Welkin and his ragtag Squad 7 as they take to the field in a seemingly hopeless conflict.
From the off, the game sells itself with its strong narrative and beautiful aesthetics. Delivered in the frame of a book chronicling Gallia's involvement in the war, each chapter plays out in both detailed cutscenes - the only portion of the game to miss out on the push to 60 FPS - and short bursts of Visual Novel-esque story segments. The game's anime roots shine through with each distinct personality that graces the stage; Welkin is a biology nut whose devotion to the virtues of life and peace set him at odds with the violence and ruthlessness that war demands, whilst his lieutenant Alicia is a baker turned staunch Gallian defender. Though the exploration of these personalities at times cloud the game's core emotional impact - as side stories and sub-chapters throw standard anime antics into the mix of grim drama - they keep the game's story focused on the people involved in the conflict, encouraging emotional investment in your team, Squad 7.
The real meat of Valkyria Chronicles comes in the missions between these story segments. Like XCOM, you recruit members of your squad and deploy them in various missions to repulse the Imperial invasion. There are five relatively standard types - nimble Scouts, armoured Shocktroopers, anti-tank Lancers, supporting Engineers, and the long-range Snipers - but beyond the balancing of those classes, Valkyria Chronicle's focus on character makes the actual recruitment process largely a game of favourites. Each member has friends in the squad, likes and dislikes based on terrain, and additional potentials that can heavily influence how they behave on the battlefield. Even within the limited space for these minor characters, Valkyria Chronicles executes really well on their delivery by having two or three strong traits for each squad member, without (bar a few disappointing exceptions) stereotyping.
Once your team is deployed, Valkyria Chronicles takes a top-down view of the map, zooming in to a third person perspective whenever you select a unit to move. Players then move their squad according to the action point gauge, taking cover, scouting positions, finding sniper points, etc. The mechanics encourage offensive and defensive play, as once positioned, all units can fire on the one taking their turn, allowing for ambush opportunities in long grass or on the rooftops.
Valkyria Chronicles also eschews XCOM's limit of one unit making one move per round, instead giving players a pool of command points they can expend as they see fit. It's a degree of flexibility that makes the game more forgiving; sending a scout out to rescue a stranded, low-speed Lancer only becomes possible when you can move them more than once, rather than leaving them to the fate of the next round.
Controlling characters on the field functions well enough, although there are limitations with units occasionally not recognizing cover or taking a moment to get to full speed. Aiming is as tight as it needs to be, with distinct movement and action phases to a unit's turn that blend well with the strategic outlay of the game. It's here however that Valkyria Chronicles is perhaps at its weakest, as the mechanical heart that ties the whole experience together isn’t as great as it could be, and it’s quality pales in comparison to the excellent story driven elements of the game, it's unfortunate that it scars an otherwise incredible game.
Despite those flaws I have no problems recommending Valkyria Chronicles Remastered. The jump to 60 FPS has tightened up the performance of the controls marginally, and the HD coat of paint is visually stunning. Coupled with the extra DLC missions giving greater depth to the game's ancillary cast, and the new Hard EX mode for the tactically gifted or exceptionally masochistic, it serves as a strong strategy RPG on a console that can on occasion lack such diversity.
Daniel Darlington | @stodgyrelic