Every once in a while a game comes along that feels special, even though you can’t quite explain why. These games tend to be few and far apart. Sometimes they even fall under the radar, which tends to be a shame. Valkyria Chronicles is one of those games.
When Valkyria Chronicles first released on the PlayStation 3 in 2008, it was received with a very positive response from critics yet this did not translate into sales. It was quite a surprise then when it was announced by SEGA that Valkyria Chronicles Remastered would be releasing on the PlayStation 4.
The game is set against the backdrop of the second Europan War, an alternate version of World War II. Ragnite, the precious mineral that is used in every application ranging from medicines to fuelling war machines, has become more and more scarce. This has forced the Imperial army to invade countries such as Galia that have rich deposits of the mineral.
Our story follows a reluctant hero Welkin Gunther, son of one of the great generals of the first Europan War, as he gets unwittingly pulled into the conflict. Welkin is not the only one who is forced to take up arms as Alicia Melchiott, an apprentice baker also joins him on his journey. Together they are drafted into the Militia and are placed in command of Squad 7. They are tasked with beating back the Imperials and protecting the citizens of Galia.
What makes this tale so interesting is that the game finds equilibrium in how it handles its narrative, being able to balance more serious moments with more light-hearted ones. Seeing the war unfold through the eyes of Welkin gives this war story a unique twist, as Welkin, an animal sociology major, continuously doubts his abilities to command a military unit. Experiencing the war through a civilian’s eyes as he is forced to learn his military skills on the go is a really interesting twist to the usual war hero story.
There is no question that the narrative is very important in Valkyria Chronicles and you will be spending a lot of time looking at cut-scenes. These can be skipped, but you will be doing yourself a great disfavor if you do. Through these cut-scenes, we learn not only more about Welkin and Alicia but also the rest of the Squad 7 unit.
Gameplay takes place in-between the narrative cut-scenes as you take control of Squad 7 in diverse battle scenarios. From capturing certain points to protecting an area each feels different enough to the previous.
Valkyria Chronicles is a strategy turn based game at heart, albeit with a twist. Each battle consists of two sections, the overview map, that gives you a map like view of the battlefield, and a third-person view from where you will be commanding you forces and attacking the enemy. It is quite similar to the new XCOM games, except that you control each unit in third-person.
At the beginning of these battles, after deciding where to place your units, you are given a set amount of command points. These points are used to control your units. Each time you want to move a unit a Command point is used, or in the case of a tank two points are used. Using theses points gives you control of a unit in third-person. Units you control can move a certain distance depending on how full their movement gauge is. As the unit moves their movement gauge decreases, if it runs out your unit can’t move anymore. Each unit can also fire once when taking control of them. When you’re Command points run out your turn ends and the enemy’s begin. Planning ahead becomes very important as you wouldn’t want a unit to be caught out in the open on the enemy’s turn. I did find that the aiming wasn’t as accurate as I would’ve liked it, as there were a few times I missed when I was sure my bullets would hit its designated target.
Units are divided into classes such as Scouts, Shock troopers, Lancers, but to name a few. Each class has a strength and weakness, and deciding which troops to take into battle can mean the difference between winning or losing a battle. Not only do you need to keep in mind that each class has their own weaknesses and strengths, but each unique soldier also has their own likes and dislikes, these can affect their performance on the battlefield.
In-between battles you can return to your headquarters, here you are able to upgrade weapons and armor, train units and recruit new ones. Units that are recruited each has different personalities likes and dislikes. These can affect how they perform in battle. For instance, some characters may have a pollen allergy which means that when they are in wooded areas their health slowly drains. Some soldiers do extra damage when fighting on their own away from the rest of the squad. It’s this uniqueness of the different soldiers that make deciding who to take into battle critical. By having these distinctive personalities and characteristics I found myself becoming attached to my squad, and when one finally died because of a foolish mistake I made, I felt a tear running down my face.
If you want your precious soldiers to stay alive you will need to upgrade their armor and weapons as well as the squad’s tank. Not only is upgrading your weapons important but using the experienced gained in battle to level up your unit classes is essential. As unit classes level up they gain special abilities that help them on the battlefield.
Valkyria Chronicles is an easy game to play, but a hard one to master. Learning the intricacies of the soldier’s different characteristics can sometimes be enough to help you beat a difficult battle. Missions start off quite easy, but I did find that the difficulty ramps up significantly quite quickly. I never felt that there wasn’t a battle I couldn’t beat, although the game does punish you a bit for making foolish mistakes. There were a few missions where I mistakenly let my Scout run ahead too far finding them stuck in the open, or where I left my Lancers to far behind which meant that I had no offensive capabilities against the enemy’s tanks. The game does give you the ability to play (and reply) skirmish missions that help you gain more XP and money. This comes in handy especially if your squad feels a bit underpowered. It also took a while to get used to having no auto-saving feature. You are only able to save between battles and there were a few times when I had quit the game without saving which meant I had to replay some battles. I really wish that they included an auto-save feature in the remaster.
One of the aspects that I loved about the original game was the beautiful watercolor art direction that the game had. This aesthetic is one of my favorite features of the game, and experiencing it in 1080p resolution just made me remember how much I loved the look of the game. It really feels like playing inside an artist’s sketchbook.
Valkyria Chronicles is a special game, not because it is perfect or even because of its beautiful and inspiring art direction, it just has something that I can’t quite put my finger on. The way it successfully blends together turn based strategy, third-person action, and RPG elements are inspiring and the fact that eight years later these mechanics still hold up so well is a testament to the game’s great design. Sure, it has a slower pace than what gamers’ are used to nowadays but if you take the time to slow down and give the game a try you might just find how rewarding it can be. The Remaster looks gorgeous and even though it doesn’t add anything new it is an example of remastering done right.
Valkyria Chronicles is a game that never quite got the recognition or attention it deserved. If you are looking for a deep strategic game then you will be hard pressed to find one that as fun and involving as Valkyria Chronicles.