Valkyria Chronicles never achieved the success it deserved when it first hit PlayStation 3 back in 2008. The superb mix of challenging gameplay, character-driven story and sketchbook art style went largely unnoticed outside the hardcore crowd. However, with a remaster now available on PS4, the game gets another chance to work its magic amongst a wider audience. A PC port released in 2014 gave us higher frame-rates and resolutions than the PS3 original, and the latest PS4 remaster doesn't disappoint either, with these improvements joined by some additional visual tweaks that see this version take point.
At its core, the remaster is a port of the PC version, with both releases sharing artwork and most of the visual effects from the PS3 original. Valkyria Chronicles' cel-shaded art style remains as striking as ever, with textures and thick black outlines that create detail around objects still holding up reasonably well when presented in resolutions beyond 720p. The argument here is that the original art doesn't need a radical upgrade due to its simplicity, though it definitely benefits from being displayed at higher pixel counts.
On PS4 we're looking at a native 1080p framebuffer backed up by post-process anti-aliasing, handing in a sharper image than the PC version operating at the same resolution. Textures and geometry appear blurrier on PC, with details like bricks and cobblestones looking less defined across more distant scenery. One of the main culprits here is the use of less refined anti-aliasing on PC, which is a touch too aggressive - although the image isn't particularly sharp on PS4 either. As such, neither version really offers up a crisp presentation that really looks like it's running at 1080p, but what we have here is still a massive improvement over the 720p PS3 game.
However, on PC we have options, and image quality can be massively improved via supersampling. Using Nvidia DSR mode, it's possible to render natively at 4K before downsampling to 1080p, giving us a much cleaner presentation. With this setup in play, Valkyria Chronicles still features a distinctive soft-focused look, but removes all remaining blemishes - such as visual noise - to achieve an almost paper-like effect.
This provides a noticeable boost over the PS4 game in terms of clarity, although it's not a catch-all fix to solving the texture blurring present across distant surfaces. For example, it's not possible to disable anti-aliasing at all via PC's display settings menu, and anisotropic filtering is also visibly lower than PS4. This means that the thick black lines across textures are resolved less fully on PC, whereas these paintbrush style elements are still clearly visible at long range on PS4. This leads to more detail appearing across each map's war-torn streets and rustic villages.
The PS4 version has other benefits too. Level of detail transitions are less aggressive compared to the other releases and as a result, distant trees appear fuller, while shadows and foliage are better fleshed-out at long range. In fact, greenery is slightly more generously deployed on PS4, with additional tufts of grass across the ground. By comparison, the PS3 version sits at the bottom rung where these elements are concerned, with PC holding the middle ground between all three platforms. Often the difference is pretty subtle, but it adds an extra layer of polish that helps to make use of the extra pixel count of the remaster.
Both PS4 and PC offer up a tangible upgrade over the original game, with the new remaster offering some extra refinements, but not all aspects of the conversion pass muster. The character-driven narrative is one of the main draws of Valkyria Chronicles, and lengthy cut-scenes are used to deliver the beats to its story. However, these sequences are presented as video encodes pulled straight from the PS3 original, rendered at 720p and capped at 30fps. It's disappointing considering most of these use in-engine assets, and could clearly be run in real-time without issue. The difference between these scenes and gameplay is obvious, and adds a rough edge to an otherwise polished package. We can only assume that the developers didn't have all the original assets for these scenes, and that's a shame.
On the flip-side, cut-scenes displayed during gameplay are rendered in real-time at 60fps on PS4 - and naturally PC can run faster - which allow these segments to segue perfectly into the action. Indeed, the jump in performance over the original game is clear to see. The PS3 version runs at 30fps and both PS4 and PC deliver vastly superior frame-rates that provide a noticeably smoother experience. On PS4, the game operates at 60fps and rarely falters from the desired refresh. An occasional dropped frame crops up in rare instances, but this has no impact on gameplay at all, and otherwise there's nothing else to disrupt from the solid level of stability on offer. The PC version also delivers the goods: running at 60fps is a breeze on our GTX 970, but it's also possible to push frame-rates even higher. So, the likes of 1440p and even 4K resolutions can be paired with a 120fps update if you have enough GPU power to hand.
The boost in fluidity is a welcome upgrade on both PC and PS4, with map navigation and transitions to gameplay lacking the judder found on PS3. The experience is clearly smoother and more polished overall. However, the improvement to gameplay is relatively minor considering the massive performance increase over the PS3 original. Valkyria Chronicles is a slow-paced strategy RPG, and as a result the game doesn't demand low-latency controls. In fact, aiming still feels a little heavy when playing at 60fps, which appears to be a clear design decision rather than a technical issue. Regardless, it's nice to see a developer provide an upgrade in performance even if it isn't absolutely essential to improve gameplay.
Valkyria Chronicles: The Digital Foundry Verdict
Overall, it's a good showing for this Valkyria Chronicles remaster. PS4 offers up additional refinements over the PC version in a few areas, even if it's not a dramatic upgrade. If you're after the best image quality then PC has you covered, and it's also possible to play at high frame-rates and resolutions beyond 60fps and 1080p - though obviously you're going to need the GPU power to get the job done. It's a great port of the PS3 original, and Sega has the main checkboxes ticked to introduce a cult classic to a new audience. Of course, PS4 has its own benefits in the form of slightly more foliage detail and solid performance at 60fps - all of which offer a satisfying upgrade over the 720p30 PS3 original.
Valkyria Chronicles' lovely sketchbook aesthetic is refined at higher resolutions, while the boost in frame-rate makes transitions between map and gameplay smoother. Perhaps the only disappointment rests with the primary cut-scenes, which are sadly limited to the original source material, and thus stick at 720p30 and upscaled to 1080p for this remaster. Beyond that, it's well worth fans picking Valkyria Chronicles up on either PS4 and PC, and even eight years on, the hook of its core gameplay and well-rounded cast hold up nicely.
It's great to see that Sega is giving the series more time in the spotlight with this new release, and we'd certainly like to see the same remaster treatment rolled out for the PSP sequels too. Valkyria Chronciles 3 sadly never left Japanese shores, but a port to PS4 could finally allow western audiences to finish the fight started in the much-loved original. We can only hope - but for now fans can show their support by taking up arms and defending Gallia once more with this remaster.