If Sega decides against a Western localisation for Valkyria: Azure Revolution, which is set for a Japanese release later this year, then at least we have this little gem of a tactical RPG to dry our tears. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, a re-tuning of Sega’s 2009 cult PS3 exclusive is, put simply, brilliant. A cell-shaded, strategic experience with gigantic, lengthy battles, a poignant and effective narrative centered on the realities of war with a large cast of well-realised characters, it’s an excellent, deep experience that deserves a second chance for love on Sony’s current console.
Set in the small country of Gallia in a vision of Europe during WW2, you follow Welkin Gunther, a student and son of a war hero who returns to his hometown only to get swept up in an invasion led by the neighbouring Empire. Welkin immediately steps up to defend his home before being immediately conscripted to his country’s militia and promoted to Lieutenant of a rag-tag bunch known as Squad 7, whose sole task is to repel the oncoming Imperial onslaught.
The battles themselves are the meat of the experience, and they’re wonderful. A combination of top-down map and third person 3D action, you command your soldiers, scouts, lancers, engineers and snipers around big environments, be they towns, forestland or deserts often with the aim of occupying the enemy’s base. Each turn provides you with a set number of command points (or CP) with which you can move your squad, with a restricted amount of movement, ability to counter attack and your final position all needing to be taken into account before you end each turn. After all, your solider may be able to take out that scout nearby, but if you leave him or her out in the open or not crouched behind one of the game’s many handily-placed sandbanks, then you could be leaving them open to attack. Should they be downed by an enemy, and if you fail to direct one of your soldiers to their fallen comrade in time, then they’re lost forever. This gifts the game a great feeling of risk and reward, demanding that you balance your offensive needs without leaving yourself open to attacks when your opponent takes over, and that’s only exacerbated as the maps and enemies grow in size as the game goes on.
The turn-based system, known as Blitz, is simple to adjust to but the way in which Valkyria continues to add new elements into the mix, such as tanks, impenetrable turrets and trenches always means that there’s something new to adjust to. The maps themselves are sufficiently varied and offer plenty of grass or hidden alleyways for enemy soldiers to hide and pounce, if you aren’t careful. Your success is going to be based on getting to grips with the limitations and strengths of each class; for instance, scouts are great for covering ground but can’t absorb damage too well, whilst soldiers are strong against almost every opponent, but they’re not able to travel very far. You’re able to use the same squad member multiple times in each turn, but your movement allowance decreases and limited grenade, lancer and sniper ammunition adds another layer of pre-planning into the equation.
The game’s later battles are particularly challenging, and the map size and voracity of the enemies on offer means you could be spending well over thirty, forty minutes on individual operations, but the ability to save your progress during battle means any mistakes you might make needn’t be fatal. Crucially, these massive fights never feel impossible, and offer just the right level of challenge with a tangible feeling of success once victorious. The sheer amount of variables on offer means that there’s always more than one route to victory, too.
Away from all the gunfire, there’s plenty to do through the storybook-style main menu. Battles earn you money and EXP, which you’ll spend leveling up your classes, improving your weapons and outfitting your tank. You can also use that cash to purchase side missions and stories, fight in skirmishes for extra experience or take a trip to the cemetery to honour your dead whilst picking up a skill or two to use in battle from a handily placed, nameless and not-at-all conspicuous elderly retired soldier. The squad barracks also allow you to select which militia members you want in your team, which requires yet more planning as your squad members and reserves all have different likes and perks. For example, Rosie, one of the game’s core characters works well when fighting alongside a lancer named Largo, but her performance will suffer in sand-based operations due to a desert allergy. There are well over 40 characters each with their own preferences, drawbacks and unique personalities, making successes, failures and casualties feel more affecting.
There’s a high level of quality on offer in almost every aspect here, and the story that weaves the experience together is nicely restrained, for a Japanese RPG. Despite this being an intentionally honest portrayal of war, there’s no blood on show. It veers from an oppressive tone and keeps things elegant and bright, in part down to its anime-influenced art style. It helps that Valkyria steers well away from the melodrama that dots so many of its contemporaries and tells an adult tale that tackles racism, persecution and death head on.
If Sega’s willingness to bring Azure Revolution to PlayStation 4′s outside of Japan depends on the success of this remaster, then the publisher have at least given themselves a decent shot of success. Valkyria Chronicles is a brilliant game from top to bottom, with the lack of extra content to distinguish this from the game’s original release on PS3 offset by its more-than affordable asking price and the addition of trophy support. As such, there are plenty of good reasons to give Valkyria Chronicles a go, whether you’re a curious onlooker or returning for more.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 9/10 Format: PlayStation 4 Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Iwan Lehnert purchased a copy of Valkyria Chronicles Remastered for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.