The theme is a grand and mighty one: freedom and the fight against oppression from bigger nations. Placed in an alternative version of Europe in 1953, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered lets you play as a small nation squashed between two empires waging war against each other.
And the execution is equally great. In fact, few games from the previous console generation captured our attention as intensively as the original Valkyria Chronicles. It was the best PS3 game of 2008, and it showed everyone that turn-based, strategic RPGs were definitely possible even on consoles. For once Sega delivered something fascinating, complex and deep, with no sign of any blue hedgehogs.
The timing for this Remastered version is no coincidence. Later this year (at least that's the plan) the series makes its return with Valkyria: Azure Revolution, making this a nice warm-up as well as an entry ticket to the franchise for new players. It's a remarkable deal for a reasonable price, and it will provide you with well over 50 hours of quality entertainment.
So, what's the hallmarks of the Valkyria Chronicles series? It's not really one or two elements, but rather a combination of the visual artstyle, the turn-based strategy, the classic RPG elements, and the smooth mix of tactics and action.
The Valkyria series utilises the CANVAS graphics engine, which makes the game looks like a hand drawn animation movie. Its use of colour gives the series a unique feel, and stills of the game don't really do it justice. You'll have to see it in action yourself to truly appreciate it. The visuals are also the area where the Remaster treatment is most noticeable, as playing at 60 frames per second in 1080p really makes a difference. In addition to increased smoothness, the colours also appear sharper and crisper, enhancing Valkyria Chronicles' ability to withstand the test of time.
The art-style also reflects the aesthetic choices for things like weapons, buildings and characters. You live in a fictional country called Gallia, which has the look of hybrid between Switzerland and the Netherlands. Your homeland is rich in a mysterious element called "Ranite", and these reserves gives the mighty empire in the east their motivation to invade your borders. The developers realise the seriousness of using war to frame their story, and amidst the strategic action they manage to serve an engaging, deep and at times sad story. The game is about war, and war is never pretty.
The turn-based setup means you'll make your own movements on the battlefield before observing the enemy's counter. The RPG-elements come in through the bonds you form with the various squadron members in the Gallian military, as each and every one of them has their own personality and background. If you have experience with games like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, or the classic Final Fantasy Tactics, you'll know what you're getting into here.
In between the battles you can train troops to increase their levels. There are five classes in total, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning to read the terrain, and then choose the appropriate soldiers for the task at hand, is key to achieving success in this game.
The secret sauce that sets Valkyria Chronicles Remastered apart from similar games is the elegant combination of strategic planning and action. Every battle starts with a map overview that highlights your forces and their placement in relation to the enemy. Once you select one of your units you are transported away from the two dimensional map and into a three dimensional battlefield where you get to control said soldier. How far you can move is still dictated by the soldier's class though, which is why thorough reading of the map is so important. You should always make sure to keep as many soldiers as possible out of enemy range, so you don't loose troops before they have fired a single shot. Their lives are in your hands, so you'd better damn well plan ahead.
The game does its best to teach you its ways, but it's no secret that Valkyria Chronicles has a steep learning curve. After around 5-6 hours the challenge gets pretty tough, and we can't help but feel that an optional lower difficulty setting would make this game more accessible to a larger number of players.
On top of that there are some other omissions Sega has made that takes away some of Valkyria Chronicles Remastered's potential glory. For example, despite the increased frame-rate and better resolution, the game still has an annoying white frame. Why they want to waste parts of the screen like that is completely beyond us.
Returning fans will also notice that nothing new has been added here. It's the base game and the DLC, and nothing else. Lots of new content can't be expected from a Remaster, but a small token aimed towards returning fans would have been nice.
The largest omission, however, is the absence of the other two titles in the series. Valkyria Chronicles was successful enough to warrant two sequels for the PSP, and this remaster seemed like the perfect opportunity to include them in one all-encompassing package.
Nitpicking aside, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is an updated version of a seriously under-appreciated game. It's unique, engaging and beautiful. On the PlayStation 4 it runs silky smooth, making the experience even more exhilarating than before. On top of that the remaster proves that the original game still holds up very well, and retains a spot amongst the crème of the crop when considering strategy and tactics games for consoles.