Was Valkyria Chronicles the last true Sega game? Once a company synonymous with games that consistently surprised and enthralled players, it’s safe to say that their legacy has faded over time. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered for PS4 returns us to time when SEGA were still willing to take genuine risks, with a turn-based tactical PS3 exclusive presented in a gorgeous painterly style, whose storyline evokes classical European themes of conflict, race, tolerance and family.
Drawing upon the Second World War, the game centres on a war between two superpowers, with you joining the conflict as the Pan European Empire invades the neutral Gallia. The central protagonists Alicia Melchiott and Welkin Gunther are gentle characters who’ve found themselves recruited into the defence of their country. Their struggle to liberate their homeland, to form a successful military unit, and even find time for a touch of romance, turns a huge conflict into a personal one, and in doing so makes their whole journey more relatable and involving than its embattled setting would suggest.
The tactical gameplay revolves around Command Points, which dictate the number of instructions you can give to your units in a single turn. You take control in the Command Phase, with a top-down view of the map showing both your location and that of the various enemies. You can use those Command Points in any way you see fit, spreading them across different units or moving one character multiple times.
Selecting a unit drops you down into the third-person Action Phase wherein you can then move about the landscape, with the limits of your abilities indicated by the Action Gauge which diminishes as you move. At any point, you can then enter into the Attack Phase and manually target an enemy, with a range circle indicating the possible firing line. It’s always very tempting to aim for a high-damage critical shot, but then there’s far more chance of missing a shot to the head than the body.
Of course, that’s not all there is to it. Once you start factoring in all the additional dynamics, from different unit types and character synergy, capturing camps, and issuing special orders, to auto-attacking from cover when enemies approach, there are layers upon layers of tactical depth. What sets Valkyria Chronicles apart is the freedom and dynamism you’re afforded when approaching each mission. There are a multitude of ways to be successful, and it’s empowering to your tactical mind.
Despite the many years since its release, Valkyria Chronicles retains a visual charm that is likely to be timeless. Its deft hand-drawn effect is fantastically realised, and the in-engine cutscenes draw you into the narrative in a manner that many modern Japanese RPGs fail to do. The entire game is played out via the pages of a book, with chapters opening as you progress. Again, it lends the whole experience a weight so often lacking from videogame narratives, and it isn’t afraid to tackle them in a mature manner.
Given that the visuals are so stylised, and presented at 60fps in 1080p, Valkyria Chronicles could easily be a modern release. It’s perhaps in the animation where its age is more evident, but even then there’s very little to distinguish it graphically from any number of recent JRPGs. The tactical gameplay remains as fresh as it did eight years ago, with the rock-paper-scissors-esque strengths and weaknesses between the unit types so purposefully poised that no one unit ever becomes the answer for everything.
With a development team tracing its lineage from the hey-day of SEGA development at CS2, Ryutaro Nonaka and director Shuntaro Tanaka’s previous work on Sakura Wars and Skies Of Arcadia fed into the mix of tactical, RPG-flavoured third person action with dizzying effect. Following the release of Valkyria Chronicles, SEGA’s own projects never truly rekindled any of the magic that had imbued their own consoles with such an incredible spirit.
The fact that Skies of Arcadia’s lead character Vyse appears here further epitomises that sense of SEGA’s legacy, of being the culmination of an incredible development lineage, running through from the release of the Master System onwards. Ever the risk-taker, it’s an immense shame that this spirit has more or less petered out.
Beyond the Yakuza franchise the company’s output is now largely unrecognisable, and the gaming world is forever diminished by that. With news however that Valkyria Chronicles will receive a PS4 sequel in the shape of Valkyria: Azure Revolution perhaps there is some slim chance that the magic can be rekindled one more time. Mind you, for those who’ve never experienced it, there’s already a Valkyria Chronicles game for Sony’s console, and it’s a classic in every sense of the word.