Valkyria Chronicles Remastered - Review  

World of Tanks. And Bread.
by Pascal Tekaia

20-40 Hours
+ Satisfying tactical combat
+ Music and visuals perfectly complement world
+ Pacing encourages story to be savored slowly
- Trial-and-error works as well as strategy
- Some units can feel like pulling dead weight
- Remastered version offers little new content
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   There's no question: Sega's Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is a great RPG. That cat's been out of the bag since it first released in 2008, relatively early in the PlayStation 3's life cycle. So news of a remastered edition hitting the PS4, just one console generation after the game's initial release, may be enough to make the faithful giddy in anticipation of more tactical combat goodness, more lavish story cinematics, and more good times to spend in the land of Gallia, defending it from the ruthless advances of the Empire. However, I'm not so sure it's really worth a second visit — there's little to nothing that has actually been changed; the game is essentially the same as it was. From the pretty visuals, to the amazing soundtrack, to the turn-based tactical combat, Valkyria Chronicles is still a great game. It just doesn't offer much incentive for those who have already experienced it to heed its call and reenlist for another tour of duty.

   Chronicles is the story of Squad 7 of the Gallian militia, ordinary citizens called on in desperate times of war to augment the nation's standing military, this time against invading forces from the neighboring Empire. More specifically, it is the story of Welkin Gunther, son of a famed war hero, now a tank commander in his own right. Welkin and a good half-dozen of the squad's most prominent figures make up the game's main cast, and it is their experiences the game focuses on. At times a story of romance, of atonement, of loyalty and discrimination, the themes running through Valkyria Chronicles are by no means simple, and the game takes its time to explore this multi-faceted plot using an abundance of rich and deep cinematics between battles. Getting to know and then growing to care about the game's central cast is a huge part of the game, made all the more poignant by the backdrop of a war-torn nation.

   Essentially an alternate version of World War II, Valkyria Chronicles relishes in the idyllic countrysides and clothing, machinery, and weapon designs that would seem at home in any history book about on that conflict. Though it's inspired by that historic period, the game still adds in plenty of unique lore, such as the mysterious Valkyrur, with their seeming supernatural abilities and alien technologies. But apart from these reminders of its fictional universe, the conflicts unfolding may as well be a retelling of the story of a nation that, trying to remain neutral in World War II, ended up being crushed under the approaching bootheels of the surrounding superpowers.

It's official; dino-robots are the current big thing. Squad 7 will stick by each other's side through thick and thin.

   Even though it's set in a time of war, Valkyria's message is one of peace. Squad 7 engages in battle only to free Gallia's cities, liberate its people, and protect itself against the foreign attackers. Its members dream of a life after the war, and some of them even dare to make plans for the future. Though tactical combat makes up the majority of gameplay, there is a vast wealth of story content that explores both sides' humanity, on and off the battlefield. Whether exploring the budding romance between comrades, the racial prejudices against Gallia's oppressed Darcsen minority, or simply spending some R & R with the squad, the game's story unfolds via hours and hours of cinematics, newspaper articles, personal accounts, and more. While there is no direct exploration, there is truly a wealth of content, enough to satisfy any player looking to get completely submerged in the game's lush and detailed world.

   When not advancing through the storyline, players will spend their time engaged in battle. Combat is the only area of the game where the player has full control of the characters, beyond the menus for upgrades or gear improvement. It is a good thing then that the tactical combat is as well crafted as it is. Each battle allows for a predetermined number of troops to be chosen and positioned at set locations on the battlefield. Turns then alternate between the player and the enemy AI, with each exhausting their available Command Points to make individual squad members move and act. Each unit can move until its Action Points run out, and perform one action, typically attack or heal. There are various unit types, like the Scout or Lancer, and each has its own abilities, armor type, movement radius, attack distance, etc. Most missions will even let players command Welkin aboard his tank Edelweiss, though this heavily-armored behemoth rumbles slowly and is costly to utilize.

   There are a total of five character classes to use in battle, each with its own unique tradeoffs. While this could quickly lead to repetitive, by-the-numbers skirmishes, the designers have done an admirable job introducing new caveats into most battles that keep them feeling new and fresh. Still, some ennui sets in when it becomes apparent that most battles have a clear Achilles' Heel: if things don't go according to plan, the entire battle can simply be replayed without direct consequence, other than the time investment it requires. Eventually, a perfect outcome can be achieved for each and every battle. For those unwilling to accept the permadeath that awaits friendly units who've been defeated, there are options: scout the lay of the land, then restart with a better-suited squad; figure out a boss's weak spot, then specifically exploit it after dying and restarting; or take note of surprise twists and turns in a battle, then anticipate them while replaying. All are strategies used in any number of video games, but ultimately they take away any sense of urgency and danger the game would have otherwise imposed.

Airships are sensibly based on the idea that flying through the air is exactly like floating on water. With wit, skill, and the right arsenal, even behemoths like this will fall to your assault.

   It's not all roses, though. Valkyria Chronicles' story, while it must be praised for being deliberate and taking its time to delve into the characters' little "nooks and crannies," can occasionally feel banal, even weirdly preachy. Case in point is an optional side mission that focuses on Largo Potter, Squad 7's star lancer, and his insatiable love for vegetables. Throughout the entire jaunt, Largo loudly pontificates at length on the qualities of vegetables and gardening, a humorous if out-of-place subject to get on a soapbox on in the middle of a battlefield. This and a few similar trips down principle lane, like repeated reminders of Alicia's marvelous penchant for baking bread, feel like a tacked-on segment of an '80s cartoon, reminding kids of the moral of today's story. Or perhaps the developers were in tight with the Bread Baker's and Vegetable Farmer's Associations...?

   The soldiers on the squad — and there are dozens to choose from — sadly don't figure into the main storyline in any way. This makes it hard to really care about units when they fall in battle, as they can simply be replaced from the ranks of reserves. To their credit, the devs have gone to the trouble of giving each soldier a brief personal history and likes and dislikes that affect their battle prowess. However, some just boil down to needlessly awkward sexual innuendos that trigger whenever they're near units they're romantically interested in. Exclamations of adulation seem more like creepy fixations when a female engineer begins to swoon — in mid-firefight, no less — everytime she gets near a specific female shocktrooper. One character's entire dialog, featured heavily in a DLC mission, is delivered in such a lisping falsetto as to be downright offensive and caricaturish. Then there's the scene where the squad heads to the beach for a day off, and players discover that the battle-hardened commander with nerves of steel can't put together a coherent sentence without blushing and stammering over the sight of a girl in a bathing suit. Moments like these, as light-hearted as they are meant to be, certainly have a place in some games. But this serious World War II-inspired drama doesn't feel like the right fit for them.

   So, what does the remastered PS4 edition feature beyond the outstanding content found in the original game? The new edition's visuals run at 1080p and 60 frames per second. Though the English voice cast is mostly stellar, an option to switch to the original Japanese audio is also available. The only thing that expands on the in-game content found in the original game is the inclusion of two DLC missions, Enter the Edy Detachment and Behind Her Blue Flame. Both of these missions fit into the existing narrative of the main game, but do not add anything to the game's plot whatsoever, and are disappointingly irrelevant. After the excellent narrative presented in the game proper, these tacked-on missions featuring characters only ancillary to the main game seem like a poor palate cleanser, and may as well be avoided altogether without missing out on much.

   Though its new content is disappointingly shallow, the rerelease of Valkyria Chronicles is well worth a purchase for any who missed out on its first time around. However, the core game alone is still an outstanding specimen in the RPG landscape. The narrative is poignant and satisfying in its willingness to let players revel in a lavishly-paced story full of character development. Combat is varied due to the constantly-changing demands of the battlefield. Though veterans who've already completed a full tour of duty won't find a whole lot of new content here, what is on offer is poised to create a whole new generation of devoted fans who can't wait to enlist for more.

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