Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (PS4) Review

Valkyria Chronicles was an early PS3 game that is held in high regard.  It was so early it doesn't even have trophies!  While I do own the original game, I have not had not played it for more than a few hours, so I was looking forward to reviewing the Remastered edition of the game.

I remember the game looking good years ago, and that hasn't changed.  Honestly, I can't really tell if it looks better.  There's a sketch/artsy/watercolor look to the game, so I can't really tell how much the graphics have been upgraded.  I'm betting if I saw them side by side, or if I had played the PS3 release in the last few years, I would notice something.  It also supports dual audio and a few other nice things.

Since the game is a story about a ragtag group of people becoming heroes, it is fittingly shown in a book format.  The story scenes are arrayed on each page, along with each story battle.  It's a great and unique way to show it all, and it allows you to re-watch any cutscenes easily.  There are different chapters for the story, and different tabs for various extras and other functions, like the extra battles and to go to the camp menu.  While it looks pretty, it is admittedly a little cumbersome to get to certain things.

Battles have two different modes.  First you start in Command mode, which will show the position of all known units and give you a basic lay of the land.  Enemies are shown if one of your characters has a line of sight on them, or had one during your turn.  If you had seen one and it is the enemy's turn, their icon becomes a question mark.  While in a way it is funny, since maybe your character forgot that unit was a tank, it more is that they are aware the enemy is somewhere there, but don't have an exact location.

When you actually choose a unit to move, the view zooms down to that person.  There is no grid or move range displayed.  Instead, you have an AP meter that dictates how much you can move.  Unfortunately, it goes down as you move, not as you move away from your initial position.  Basically, if you run in circles you will waste it all.  You also can't cancel any movement or even selecting the character from Command view, so make sure you plan accordingly.

While a unit is moving, it can be shot at by any opposing forces that it is within range of.  This is great when it is the enemy (although they are great at skirting this system to sometimes minimize damage), and less fun when it is your guys.  You can duck behind some sandbag walls that help you dodge enemy fire.  If you press the R1 button, you will then aim your attack.  Thankfully, this stop the auto-fire from enemies, so you have time to line up your shots.  Attacks will hit somewhere within the aiming reticle, so you don't have a whole lot of control over the accuracy, other than to try and fill of much of the reticle with the enemy as possible.

Snipers can zoom in, which helps a lot, but they only get one shot per attack.  Rifles get about 5 and machine guns get about 20.  After an attack, some units can counter attack if they are within range.  When you are done with your turn, you have to manually cancel it.  Why?  So the enemy can get a few more cheap shots at you if you aren't quick enough.  Personally, I like to survey a bit to plan my next move, but that is a luxury I am not given in Valkyria Chronicles.

Damage can vary a lot depending on multiple factors.  Criticals, enemy troop types, cover, range and even the personality quirks of the units affect it.  Each solider is an individual, which is not only represented by their unique graphics, but their own quirks, called potential.  Potential skills will activate when the conditions are met, be they positive or negative.  Some are helpful, but some are not.  I mean, why be a soldier if you are allergic to metal?  Honestly, they seem more of a pain to deal with then the small bonuses they can provide, so I don't like them.

Troop types matter too.  Scouts can move really far, but have average attack power and armor.  They get shredded by the Shocktrooper's machine guns if they wander to close.  Shocktroopers are solid all around, with no real weakness...other than having a tank shoot them in the face.  Lancers can do chunks of damage to a tank, and survive explosions with the greatest of ease, but can be put down by other units without much of a struggle (they can't counter attack).  Engineers are not powerful, but can heal a tank and disarm mines, making them valuable.  Having one hide behind your tank is a great way to tip the scales back in your favor.  Snipers have no real armor or counter attack, but have good accuracy over long range.  I like snipers, but they aren't as good as I think they should be, unless in the enemy's hands.

Each turn you get some Command Points (CP) to pick and move a unit.  Special units (mostly named characters for your side) will give a CP if they are on the field, and their defeat will make you lose that CP for the rest of the battle.  Tanks require 2 CP instead of 1 because they are so good, and it wouldn't be balanced otherwise.  A unit can move more than once in a turn, but with reduced AP each time.  This makes sense, as they would tire out the more they are used.  It is actually still useful in some instances, so I'm glad its there.

Battlefields also have bases for you and your enemy.  If you eliminate every enemy in a base, you can take it over for yourself.  If you turn starts in the vicinity of a base, you will recover more HP and ammo.  Units can also retreat from a base, which can free up the slot for another unit to take.  Thankfully you can also call in reinforcement for any fallen units, but it takes a turn for them to show up.  As the game even tells you, it is a valid strategy to use the less mobile units near a base, then retreat and re-summon them at a further base.  Once I realized how easy it was to use (and that you could replace fallen units), I started using and enjoying this system in the game.

The Base page of the book will give access to equipping and upgrading various parts of your team.  Experience from a battle is gained at the end, and it is just for a shared pool that is used for training for a class type.  This works really well, so you aren't tied down by who gets the killing blow so long as it happens.  Leveling up a class is also advantageous so you can swap in different people (or replace those that died) with no repercussions.  Experience can also be used to buy command skills from the veteran if you want some different things you can do with CP in battle.  There are upgrades to weapons and armor you can buy, which again affect all appropriate units.  You can also upgrade the tank, and develop pieces of equipment that you can put on it.

Valkyria Chronicles' length is what you might expect from RPGs nowadays.  It takes around 30 hours to complete the game, more so if you like to grind the skirmishes, like I do.  Besides the main campaign, the DLC for the original PS3 version is included, although the harder ones have to be unlocked.  I was always interested in the DLC where you play as Selvaria, and now I can (it's pretty hard though).

The game does have its share of difficulty, even though I liked to do the skirmishes for extra experience and money.  Enemies seem to have great accuracy when it is least convenient, and they love to tear through your Scouts.  That made me ditch the whole character class early on in the game in favor of the much better Shocktroopers.  Being a strategy game, most maps are skewed against you, but maybe that is to reinforce the feeling of your group being the "little man" in the conflict.  If one of your units falls in battle, you can run over to them and a medic will be called to pick them up.  This prevents them from dying permanently.  The game says you have three turns to do this, but if the enemy comes into contact with a fallen ally, they are just gone.  That's some cold stuff, coyote.

Overall, Valkyria Chronicles is a good strategy game/SRPG.  It has a great presentation with the water-color looking graphics and the book motif for menu and story selections.  The battles are a bit harder and more lop-sided than I would have liked, but at least there is the ability to grind.  Having all the previous DLC included should be standard, but always appreciated.  However, while playing the game, I realized why I don't play many games like this and Fire Emblem.  No matter how strict or loose the perma-death is, its inclusion in the game makes me nervous.  I'm a worrywort by nature, so it just makes me feel uneasy playing a game that has it, to the point where I might avoid playing it altogether.  Even so, people less anxious than myself should try it out if they like strategy games or strategy RPGs, and it is worth picking up the remastered edition for fans of the game.

The Good:
A lengthy and pretty strategy game/SRPG that is finally available digitally in North America.  Plus it includes all the previous DLC.

The Bad:
Many battles feel skewed in favor of the enemies, and the perma-death, while not super strict, makes me edgy while playing

The SaHD:
I was happy to see Vyse and Aika still present as soldier in the army.  I'm still hoping for a Skies of Arcadia remaster in the near future.

(Review code for Valkyria Chronicles Remastered supplied by the publisher)

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