As I got deeper into Valkyria Chronicles Remastered (and deeper into my maiden voyage with Valkyria Chronicles in general), I found myself noting how it improves over the oldschool entries in the Fire Emblem series. That's not a slight against traditional Fire Emblem, which I adore. But it's hard not to notice the ways in which Valkyria Chronicles challenges you without punishing you.
In Valkyria Chronicles, for example, you won't wind up with one or two super-soldiers who clear the field while your low-level schlubs plink at bad guys in hopes of scoring a few precious experience points. Instead, you divvy up the experience points you earn at the end of fights however you see fit, and all the members of the boosted class level up together. The game even pokes fun at itself by explaining the mechanic in military terms: Everybody either succeeds together, or they fail together.
But at the same time, your units are far from flesh-bearing robots trained only to kill. Every character has a personality and a backstory that plays into their fighting style, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Fighters form bonds, some of which are just amazing. Vyse and Aika from Skies of Arcadia are both in your army (they're hungry for adventure, you see), and when they fight as a team, they grant one another extremely helpful status bonuses.
That's just a start. Soldiers can be detrimental to each other, too. A "womanizer," who can be male or female, might get distracted around nearby female fighters. A fighter with a pollen allergy will suffer lower stats in tall grass.
One particularly intriguing detriment is the "Darcsen hater" stat, which causes soldiers to be repulsed when fighting in the company of a member of the Darcsen race. Darcsens are Valkyria Chronicles' allegorical stand-in for European Jews, and are demonized in much the same way Jews were during the Second World War. It's troubling that your own soldiers, the "good guys," can be openly discriminatory towards their comrades, but it's also a welcome touch of realism. There was plenty of racism and anti-Semitism in the Allies' ranks during the actual War, too.
In my view, it's these small but significant touches of character that elevate Valkyria Chronicles to the upper pantheon of strategy games, moreso even than its unique battle system. I quickly latched onto a cadre of favorites (Jane, please be my sadistic Shocktrooper wife), though the game's high injury rate nudges you into trying new people. If you're having trouble with a certain aspect of a stage -- your Sniper keeps getting hamstrung by their desert allergy, for instance -- switching to a fresh trooper might do the trick.
Again, not to rag on the older Fire Emblem games, but I'm pretty relieved Valkyria Chronicles gives you a window of time to evacuate wounded soldiers before you lose them completely. If Alex died and I could no longer hear Roger Craig Smith (the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog) scream bloody murder as he mows down Imperials, I think I'd have a break down.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is close to strategy game perfection, but it doesn't quite touch it for a significant reason: You're sometimes forced to suffer long waits while your enemies take their turn. That means watching and twiddling your thumbs while your foes move into position, heft their weapon, fire, then settle back into position. Unseen Imperials also shuffle around the map during this time, adding to the wait.
It's not a big deal during small battles, but if you're in a big fight with multiple Imperials across a wide expanse, it can be agony. To make things worse, enemy soldiers who can cover a lot of ground, like Scouts, will sometimes go for a leisurely constitutional all over the battlefield, only to take no action at the end of their journey. I assume the watching and waiting was a problem with the original release of Valkyria Chronicles too, and it's disappointing the remaster doesn't offer a solution.
It's a small ding, though. A pebble against the iron hide of a tank. Valkyria Chronicles is a special experience, and I'm happy I gave it a go. If you've yet to join Squad 7, it's time to enlist. The remaster is a great starting point, though given the long-standing praise for the game, you can't really go wrong with any version.
Since this is my first time with Valkyria Chronicles, it's harder for me to say "Go ahead and buy Valkyria Chronicles Remastered" if you already own the game; I don't have a frame of reference. That said, there's a long to wring out of this war. If you've been feeling the urge to get conscripted again, you may as well fight in 1080p and at 60 frames per second.
The game's epic orchestrated battle tunes make you want to get out there and wage a one-person war on the injustices of the world. Excellent voice acting makes it that much easier to get close to the game's characters, though Steve Blum's performance now makes it impossible for me to disassociate Zaka and Heatwave from Transformers: Rescue Bots.
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered utilizes a unique sketchy look for its cutscenes that give the game a distinct air. The character models look great and move according to how they're equipped (I love how Engineers sway their loaded hips). That said, ragdoll physics cause injured soldiers to collapse in a distorted heap, and it looks far more painful than any bullet wound could ever be.
If you're a fan of turn-based strategy games and you haven't played Valkyria Chronicles, you need to remedy that. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered is a great starting point. Veterans should also consider starting up another fight to drink in Remastered's slick new visuals.