Valkyria Chronicles Remastered Review
It's funny to think that 2008 is long enough ago that some of you reading this may not have been playing video games yet, certainly not seriously enough to go online and read reviews for them, but eight years is eight years. Whether you were as absorbed in gaming then as you are now, you probably missed a little Sega PS3 SRPG called Valkyria Chronicles. Don't feel bad; a lot of people let this one fly under the radar. I myself didn't actually play it until the end of 2010, after reviewing the sequel for Sony's PSP handheld. The fact that so many missed out on the PS3 game is nothing short of criminal; it was not only one of the best RPGs ever to appear on Sony's PS3, it was also Sega's very best RPG ever, no small praise when it comes to the company behind legendary franchises like Phantasy Star and Shining Force. Apparently, Sony and Sega agree, because they are releasing the original game again, this time on the PS4, in the form of Valkyria Chronicles Remastered. Make no mistake - no matter what gems you may have in your PS4 library, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered will be one of, if not the best game you own. Period.
Author's Note: Since I didn't review the original Valkyria Chronicles all those years ago (I did review the sequel, and you can read that review here), I'll start from scratch and cover everything, rather than just what is new like I usually do when I review remastered or HD re-releases.
The story in Valkyria Chronicles, along with its characters and their interactions, is second only to the amazing, refreshing tactical gameplay, so we'll go ahead and start there. The game is set in a fictionalized 1930's-era Europe on the brink of war. Two main factions wage war across the continent in a struggle over ragnite, an element that is as rare as it is powerful and desired. The small nation of Gallia is caught between the two warring powers, and the conflict and proximity all but force the country's soldiers to enter the fray. The story here focuses specifically on the Gallian Military Academy and Squad 7, a small group of soldiers-in-training that end up turning the tide of battle. Following not just main antagonists Welkin and Alicia, but all the colorful characters that come and go during the game, is instantly captivating. We've all heard the Mighty Ducks/Major Payne "ragtag group pulls it together" business dozens of times, but the characters' individual storylines' quality demands the player see them through. Watching these characters mature and realize their places in a bigger conflict is as important and entertaining as watching their levels and ranks follow suit, and the main story is never less than amazing. Valkyria Chronicles has a story and personalities that you won't soon forget.
Discussing the presentation of this remaster is important, and Valkyria Chronicles looks amazing, like unbelievably amazing, on the PS4. Employing a kind of watercolor and/or colored pencil palette, Valkyria Chronicles looks more like a storybook than a game in both cutscenes and actual play. Fitting, as the story is told through a scrapbook filled with photos and clippings that tell Squad 7's tale. Anyway, having played the game on the PS3 already, I had a good idea of how everything is supposed to look and feel. And at first, I couldn't really tell you for sure the graphics were all that much better. They were perfect before; can perfection be improved upon? A spin of the PS3 Valkyria Chronicles disc showed that yes, the game's PS4 remaster does look significantly better and smoother than the PS3 original. So yeah, Valkyria Chronicles' unique style and impressive visuals prove that perfection, apparently, can be improved upon. Huh. Who'da thunk it?
I also have to give special mention to the game's soundtrack and voice acting. First, the soundtrack is fantastic, ranking right up there with my favorite game soundtracks of all time. The musical pieces can and will stick in your head, and they fit the mood of the action perfectly. The voice acting, though, is just phenomenal. Ever played an RPG with great voice actors and that one stand-out awful one? The Jar-Jar to the game's Phantom Menace? We all have. Multiple times. Valkyria Chronicles again impresses with amazing performances, and not a single one of them grating or annoying. Read that again; not a single terrible voice actor or obnoxious performance in the bunch. I can't believe it either. Now eight years since Valkyria Chronicles' original release and we see precious too few games that manage to deliver cohesive voice casts as great as this one.
Set aside the beautiful art style, the rousing music, the believable voice acting and the amazing characters and story and Valkyria Chronicles would still be an amazing choice. The SRPG gameplay, employing a mix of tactical shooting and traditional turn-based unit movement in 3D, is as refreshing now as it was back in the day. Starting a map or skirmish plays out in true SRPG style, with you choosing squadmates, outfitting them with weapons and placing them on a map for the coming fight. The fighting itself falls to the shooter side of things; you view the character you currently control over their shoulder, and the camera zooms in for accurate shooting, much like Resident Evil 4. Unlike that action masterpiece, there are lots of SRPG rules and systems that affect everything you do, from turn order to range of movement per turn to damage dealt. You know, all the stats and systems SRPG fans adore? Yeah, those ... they are all here and intricate as ever, but the 3D movement and shooting gives what is a pretty traditional SRPG at its core a combat system that is still unmatched in the genre.
Diving headlong into battle without traditional SRPG preparation is a sure way to get killed, but exploring the different systems can be as bewitching as the shooter/strategy when boots are on the ground. Each squadmate has a certain class, like scout, heavy weapons, long-range, etc., and by winning battles and gaining experience you can upgrade their abilities and stats. The further into the game you go, the more important the choice of classes of soldiers becomes in deploying to the battlefield. Eventually vehicles become available for warfare, and it actually adds more to the strategy side of things than a lumbering tank would suggest. Outside of battle, tweaking the members of Squad 7's powers and equipment becomes a between-mission obsession, and maxing out characters' stats with optional - never 100 percent necessary - level grinding doesn't get tedious.
Before we wrap up, you need to know that the subtle, fantastic graphical improvements aren't the only perk to playing this version. All the DLC missions from the PS3 original are included, making this the complete Valkyria Chronicles experience. There is less new content than we are getting accustomed to with other remasters and re-releases, but what is there is fantastic.
All things considered, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is about as close to perfect as it gets, and deserves all the attention (hopefully) garnered by this release. It was a godly SRPG eight years ago, and the improvements, though limited, for this remaster make the already achieved perfection even better. Valkyria Chronicles hits every high point you can think of - story, characters, gameplay, graphics - and it knocks each and every one out of the park. If you didn't get the chance to play it on PS3 or you just want to do it all over again (I did), you owe it to yourself to give this one a download. Few games, and even fewer RPGs, manage to hit that perfect high note, that feeling when everything about a game fits perfectly with everything else and you know you are playing something truly special. Valkyria Chronicles hits that note, and every PS4 owner should give a listen.
Final Rating: 99% - Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is about as close to perfect as it gets.