It's getting harder to remember that brief era wherein nearly every game console was backwards compatible with the previous generation's games. Thinking back on that hazy time is like glimpsing a unicorn as it darts through a thicket. Was it a dream? A trick of light and shadows? It doesn't matter. If it ever was with us, it's probably not coming back.
With fewer consoles offering up backwards compatibility, game developers have been happy to give us "remastered" versions of their games from previous generations. These re-releases usually feature touched-up graphics and other tweaks, though the core experience is largely the same as the original release's.
There's been some backlash over the practice. Critics say it essentially punishes fans who are nostalgic for old experiences, but can't easily play old releases because fewer game systems feature backwards compatibility. It's definitely a fair assessment, but it can also be argued that the hype for remasters refreshes games' memories. People who missed out on a title the first time around might be driven to say, "Oh, I think I'll give the remaster a try."
Case in point: Myself and Sega's Valkyria Chronicles Remastered for the PlayStation 4. Though I missed the original Valkyria Chronicles when came to the PlayStation 3 in 2008, the excitement behind the remastered version prodded me into finally trying the action / turn-based strategy game.
It was one of my better decisions. Most strategy game fans are still enormously fond of the first Valkyria Chronicles, and from your first mission, it's easy to understand why. Valkyria Chronicles -- and its Remastered brother -- features the charm, depth, and challenge of a top-tier Fire Emblem game, but it also features elements of a third-person shooter. It's a bold combination, and thankfully, it works.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered revolves around an alternate universe version of the Second World War. Countries are scuffling over an ore called Ragnite, a dwindling ore that's used as a major energy source. The Eastern Europan Empire is particularly aggressive about securing veins of the stuff, and it rolls over smaller countries to grab what it can.
One of the Empire's targets is Gallia, a small neutral country that's rich in Ragnite. Unfortunately for the Empire, Gallia is also rich in plucky anime heroes. One young Lieutenant named Welkin Gunther leads a resistance against the forces threatening his home -- though it doesn't take long before he learns there's far more behind the war than the struggle for territory and Ragnite.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is 75% turn-based strategy and 25% shooter. You and enemy forces take turns moving across maps and towards a specific goal, e.g. "Take over the enemy base camp" or "Prevent the enemy from reaching destination X." You have several troops at your disposal, each with its own specialty and weakness. Scouts can cover a lot of ground, but have low defense. Lancers are vital for taking down armored vehicles, but move slowly. Snipers are deadly at long-range, but are sitting ducks if an enemy gets close enough to say hello. And so on.
That's standard stuff as far as strategy games go, but things get really interesting when you select a unit from the overhead map. Doing so causes the camera to swoop in and give you an over-the-shoulder view of your soldier. Suddenly, things get a lot more hectic as enemies within range start firing on you.
Luckily, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is all about giving back as much as you take. You aim at your foes by pressing the "R" bumper and entering "Target Mode." When you're satisfied with your mark, you fire.
In an ideal situation, your target is wide open and a couple of headshots puts them down quickly. Unsurprisingly, enemy soldiers aren't stupid and often protect themselves by crouching behind sandbags or hiding behind armored vehicles. A clean victory requires you to understand each fighter's strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a grenade from a Scout or a Shocktrooper will knock down sandbags and leave targets exposed, but surviving enemies will potentially fill that Scout with holes when their turn comes around.
But the really nice thing about Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is that you can select the same soldier over and over again, as long as you have enough Command Points to do so. An over-used soldier doesn't have the same mobility as a fresh one, but if you're engaged in a firefight with a stubborn baddie, that one additional turn may be all you need to finish it off. If fighting's not an option, even the chance to move your soldier to nearby shelter can mean the difference between defeat and victory.
Most of the missions in Valkyria Chronicles Remastered also give you control of the Edelweiss, a customizable tank that brings the pain to flesh and metal targets alike. However, the Edelweiss's backside is weak to blasts (as is the case with nearly all the armored vehicles you go up against), and since the tank is vital to the game's story, its destruction means Game Over.
"Game Over" are two words I see a lot when playing strategy games, and Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is no exception. It's a tough fight, which is why this is a review in progress. Its challenge isn't exactly insurmountable, however: Even tough missions can eventually be cleared if you learn from your mistakes and try again. Whereas micromanaging your troops is usually the key to success in other strategy games, succeeding in Valkyria Chronicles Remastered requires you to move and act according to your surroundings. Yes, your enemies can dish out punishment -- but you can dish it right back. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered takes pains to ensure you and your rivals are on equal ground.
I'm a little over halfway through Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, and so far I'm pleased with my decision to finally give Valkyria Chronicles a try. I look forward to sharing my war stories after the fighting's done. Stay with me, Squad 7.