Short Version: Strategy games of any kind are not my genre of expertise. In fact, I would say that I actively dislike strategy games. With that said, I would like to say that Valkyria Chronicle is a really, really good game. I struggled a lot at the beginning, and even hated it, but before I knew it, I couldn’t stop playing. It was an incredible amount of fun and I highly recommend it for people like me who are not really into strategy games.
Long Version: I remember playing a demo for Valkyria Chronicles on PlayStation 3 a long time ago and enjoying it quite a bit. That fact is pretty surprising, considering how I’m usually not prone to enjoying most strategy games at all. In my experience, I felt that most of them involved simply pointing at places and then watch ant-sized groups of soldiers take care of all the action for me, when I felt like I wanted to be more directly involved in those battles. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered grants me that very wish by allowing me to play a game where I can directly control every single unit, each with a personality, odd quirks and fun to play with. That alone made me feel less hesitant about trying this game out, though it doesn’t come without its struggles.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is, as the title implies, a remastered version of the original PlayStation 3 strategy game. Anyone could’ve fooled me by saying that this is a brand new release, since the art style in this game holds up very well. The anime look, running at 60 fps, with an almost painterly tone to the world creates a unique, bright and colorful feel for this game. The addition of an always present soft border around the screen makes the whole game look like it is some sort of illustration or interpretation of historical events, which makes it more unique and stands out more within the crowd of realistic, hardcore strategy games out there.
Speaking of history, this game has a relatively simple story to follow, with a world set entirely in fiction, but has enough lore and information available that can make it very believable that these are all real countries fighting a war. There is a database where you can read up on everything there is to know about the game, including weapons, locations, and even individual soldier units, but none of it is necessary for you to know about in order to understand what’s going on in the current state of affairs.
Row, Row, Fight The Powah!
You begin the game as a young man named Welkin, who has arrived in the small village of Bruhl to help his family evacuate before an evil empire arrives to invade the territory. Before he can do that, he stumbles upon someone named Alicia, who is a scout for the Gallian army that is sworn to protect everyone from the empire. After having a few dialogue scenes, one thing leads to the other and you find yourself involved with them as you become the general of Squad 7 and make some new allies in order to push back the empire from their evil deeds.
Obviously, more characters get involved and it gets slightly more complex over time, but to explain it further would mean to spoil the story, which is not the purpose of this review. What I can say is that I found most, if not all characters, to be fairly charming in their own way, with many starting off as templates, but coming into their own later on. I found myself powering through missions just to be able to unlock more cutscenes where I could see these characters talk to each other about the current situation, along with their solid voice acting.
In this game, you have the option to change the audio language from English to Japanese. Though I spent most of my time playing it in Japanese out of personal preference, I can safely say that both language settings are competent and very well performed. I was having a difficult time trying to decide what language to stick with, but knowing how well the characters were casted, I thought it was a good problem to have.
Speaking of good problems to have, after finishing a couple of missions, you quickly get access to many features that will help you dominate the battlefield, such as a room that will allow you to recruit people into your squad. All of these people have names, voices and odd passive abilities of their own, making most of them fairly unique, even though they aren’t full-fledged story characters. For example, you can come across someone that has a Desert Allergy, but is also an expert at destroying tanks, or find someone that’s a great sniper, but hates feeling lonely. Knowing all of these character traits, you’ll have to strategize accordingly and see which people are fit for certain jobs inside certain environments, while also balancing out the advantages and disadvantages.
It sounds like a lot of work, but it turned out to be a really fun thing to come back to this room after a mission to see if there were any new people to take in that could help me. Outside of that, most other rooms contain very typical weapon and class upgrades obtained through experience points and money gotten from doing missions, which leads us to the true meat of the game.
Let’s Roll Out, Senpai!
After you have garnered a massive team, you can set out to either complete skirmishes, special side missions made for this remastered edition, or just continue on with the regular story campaign. All of these missions can vary from shooting down a particular unit or taking over territory. Different territories, along with tanks, weather changes and story-related events will add to the challenge of completing your goals; and believe me, it is challenging. I don’t know if my inexperience in strategy games adds to the difficulty, but I thought that this game was very, very hard, and it only got harder the further I progressed. There was never a single moment, save for a few lucky flukes, where I didn’t have to replay the same level at least two or even three times because of how much my missions went south very quickly. Though I really hated my time with it at the beginning, almost none of it was the game’s fault.
I say “almost” since there are a couple of things that really bother me about the gameplay. For example, I find it incredibly annoying that they do the whole Persona 3 & 4 thing in that if my tank-driving leader of the group gets killed, I guess everyone else in that same team spontaneously combusts and can’t fight anymore, therefore I lose immediately. This wouldn’t be so unfair if I could do the same for the enemy, but save for a couple missions, I can’t. Most of the time, I have to protect my one tank from two or more other tanks, all coming my direction with a very limited amount of units at my disposal.
In addition to that, the enemy seems to be calling for backup constantly, which adds to the frustration of killing an enemy, only to have it be immediately replaced by someone else with full health. I guess this is where the whole strategy part comes into play, but as I said, this is not my area of expertise, and this is probably very common, but I can’t deny my feelings and say that I wasn’t having an awful time trudging through all of these parts of the game. I was having such a hard time that I was almost tempted to just look up all of the cutscenes online, since that was one of the reasons why I was still trying to pull through.
No Pain, No Gain
Don’t get me wrong; though it sounds like I’m really down on it, I actually had an enormous amount of fun with the majority of it. It took me some time before the gameplay actually clicked with me, but when it did, it turned any ol’ mission into a nail-biting, intense battle where I found myself talking to my units by name and cheering out loud whenever they did something cool, like not missing a sniper shot after the 100th goddamn time (I’m looking at you, Cezary.) If the characters didn’t carry the game, the gameplay did, and vice versa, which created a good balance between fun enjoyment and Incredible Hulk-style rage for me.
The simple fact that I can only have 9 units on the battlefield at a time, and being able to control all of them individually like a 3rd person action game, allows me to connect to the characters a lot more and makes me want to both care for them and feel bad whenever they get taken down. It reminds me a lot of Fire Emblem in that there is a significant amount of characters available, but it is manageable enough to get to know most of them and care for them to the point that it’ll affect your gameplay experience by wanting to strategize in a way that will keep them out of harm’s way, which is something that I find fascinating.
Anything else I say beyond this point would mean getting into some very minute details and spoiler territory, so I’d rather just leave it at that and ask that you people go out and buy this game. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered changes what I dislike about strategy games just enough to be intriguing and them some. Its unique visuals, along with good control feel, charming characters and incredibly satisfying gameplay after a fairly steep learning curve makes this a solid challenge in an interesting world. I think it is a really good starting point for people like me, who are not crazy about strategy games at all and would rather get a more direct, hands-on experience with the units they are sending off to battle. I went into it wanting to hate it, but I ended up loving it. I highly recommend it.