When Valkyria Chronicles launched on the PlayStation 3 in 2008, it was a breath of fresh air. A solid strategy title bolstered by a lovingly crafted watercolour art style, it was hit with critics, and quickly amassed a reasonably niche, but enthusiastic following. Fans of the original will be quick to recommend Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, then: running in 1080p at 60 frames-per-second and boasting extra DLC scenarios, this current-gen port is easily the best way to experience the story of unlikely hero Welkin Gunther and his ragtag squad of freedom fighters.
Aside from having what is arguably one of the greatest video game names ever conceived, Welkin Gunther, like most of the cast, is a well rounded and likeable character who has no choice but to fight for the future of his nation. Essentially a re-imagining of World War II, the scenario sees allied nations take on a seemingly unstoppable empire that's rampaging across the continent. The plot relies on a few clichés to set things up – like the existence of a fictional all-purpose energy source – but once proceedings get going, Valkyria Chronicles tells an engaging tale that can be surprisingly mature, dealing with topics such as patriotism and racism.
It's also a story that's filled with lighter moments, too, many of which involve the various members of Welkin's squad. The game does a genuinely good job of placing the overarching, serious plot on top of these more personal narratives, and the result is a neat and balanced experience. This may be a linear journey told throughout the pages of a history book, but it's thoughtfully executed, as you gradually unlock cutscenes, playable squad members, and new missions.
The missions themselves are where the game carves out its identity, fusing real-time troop movement with turn-based strategy. Simply put, each turn, you spend a limited number of command points to move your allies around a fully 3D map – your objective being to either wipe out the enemy forces or capture their main base. Meanwhile, combat occurs whenever you tap R1, which allows you to take aim at your foes, much like in your usual third-person shooter. The difference here, though, is that enemies won't fire back until after you're done trying to put holes in them.
As a whole, the system takes time to get used to, especially when you start exploring the tactical depth of things like character-specific skills and class-specific traits, but generally speaking, the game does an admirable job of explaining each newly introduced mechanic. As far as strategy titles go, Valkyria Chronicles finds a brilliant compromise between accessibility and depth, and its series of missions still stand tall as a superb selection of tactical trails.
That said, several difficulty spikes scattered throughout the story do put a slight dampener on things. While certainly not unconquerable, there are a few scenarios that are particularly punishing, and for many players, some relatively tedious bouts of trial and error will be all but necessary in order to overcome the odds.
However, if you really do find yourself unable to advance, you can always take part in skirmishes. These smaller battles take place on maps that you've already cleared during the story, and give you the opportunity to grind for experience. They're not the most exciting way to play the game, but skirmishes at least let you hone your skills as a commander; there's fun to be had in beating scenarios in as few turns as possible, and they provide the perfect excuse to try out different squad combinations.
It must be said, though, that grinding for extended periods of time can quickly turn previously tough battles on their head. Because characters level up as a group depending on their class, you can bolster the strength of your troops quite rapidly, potentially allowing you to force your way through the story with minimal strategic thought. It's not a criticism that you can really level at the game itself, but it's worth mentioning all the same, especially since there are no difficulty settings to tinker with.
The bottom line, then, is that Valkyria Chronicles is still a very enjoyable strategy title at its core – but parts of it haven't aged all that gracefully. For starters, the actual act of moving your units across the environment feels clunky by today's standards, particularly when you're trying to angle them just right. Sadly, the same can also be said of your aiming reticule, which judders from point to point every time that you move the left analogue stick. Still, at the end of the day, neither of these control issues are more than mere annoyances, since, by its very nature, this is a release that's meant to be played at a slow and methodical pace.
Talking of taking things slow, you'll often find yourself standing still in the heat of battle just to admire the title's wonderful art style, which has more than stood the test of time. Sure, graphically speaking, it's not quite as impressive as it once was, but the game pops better than ever thanks to the remaster's heightened resolution.
Eight years after its initial release, and Valkyria Chronicles remains a thoroughly enjoyable strategy game. Its mix of real-time movement and tactical, turn-based decision making still feels unique, and proceedings are carried by a story that blends the harsh realities of war with more intimate, personal narratives. Parts of the remastered package do feel a little worn by today's standards, but those who missed out on joining Welkin Gunther and the gang the first time around should certainly consider enlisting for this return to the battlefield.