Valkyria Chronicles PC port analysis: Durante's verdict

Valkyria Chronicles - Alicia

Peter "Durante" Thoman is the creator of PC downsampling tool GeDoSaTo and the modder behind Dark Soul's DSfix and Deadly Premonition's DPfix. He's previously analyzed the PC port of Dark Souls II for PC Gamer. Now he's turning his expert gaze upon Valkyria Chronicles.

Valkyria Chronicles is somewhat of a sleeper hit. Released as a PS3 exclusive in 2008, and in a genre which is niche on consoles in the first place, it never achieved great commercial success despite good reviews and a cult following among those who did play it. Roughly two weeks ago, rumors of a PC port spread following a PEGI listing. Sega quickly confirmed the port and a release date: the 11th of November.

Many PC gamers were understandably skeptical, especially given the quality of another recent late PC port of a Japanese last-gen console game. Which brings us to this article. Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to test and evaluate the PC port. Note that this is a technical evaluation, which is what I’m good at—if you want to know my opinion on the game itself, I really like it.

And even though the PC port has some minor issues, it’s a highly competent job which not only brings the game to a new audience, but also finally allows its wonderful art style to fully shine. Meanwhile, returning fans should be happy to hear that they will be able to spend a lot more time playing, and less staring at loading screens.

I felt like Alicia when I first heard about the port.

I felt like Alicia when I first heard about the port.

The bad news

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. There are two problems with the port, though only the first of them really felt significant after half an hour or so of play.

  1. All pre-rendered in-engine cutscenes are limited to the original PS3 quality.
  2. Controls in menus are mapped directly from the console version, without mouse support.

The first point is regrettable, but also probably inevitable: we are talking about a game developed over 6 years ago for a single console platform. The assets and workflow pipelines used to generate the original in-engine cutscene videos are likely lost or defunct, and it would be a huge task to rebuild them all. Nonetheless, it’s a blemish on a game which—as we will discuss soon—looks fantastic on PC.

As for the second point, it certainly came as a shock to me initially, recalling the dark times of keyboard-only controls in Japanese PC ports. However, after playing the game with mouse and keyboard for about 6 hours I can say with confidence that it’s merely a minor inconvenience. This is due to two reasons: as I’ll detail later, mouse support is great in the central meat of the game—its tactical battles; and the keyboard controls work fast and intuitively in the menus, with a great default set of keybindings.

Controller support works as well as expected, and will even switch button prompts from keyboard/mouse to Xbox buttons on-the-fly during gameplay. Neat.

All the rest is good news

That out of the way, I’ll now discuss the individual aspects of the port in more detail, starting with its graphics, and progressing over controls to the important final topic of performance.

An artist’s canvas

Valkyria Chronicles uses the custom CANVAS engine, still one of the very few attempts to use non-photorealistic rendering in games which goes beyond simple cel shading. The PS3 release already demonstrated its prowess at expressing the artist’s vision, but how does it scale up on PC?

Valkyria Chronciles - Launcher Gfx Options

Valkyria Chronciles graphics options

When I wrote an open letter to developers, I pointed out two graphical features as essential: support for arbitrary resolutions and arbitrary framerates. An uncomfortably high number of console ports in recent history have shipped with arbitrary limits on internal rendering resolution—sometimes to 720p, and sometimes to 1080p. Even 1440p locks, as silly as that seems, are not unheard of. The situation with framerate is even worse, with both the dreaded 30 FPS lock and the more acceptable 60 FPS limit occurring quite frequently.

I’m happy to report that Valkyria Chronicles is entirely free of both of these maladies. As you can see in the screenshot above, the game is happy to run at any spatial and temporal resolution your system claims to support. All of my in-game screenshots in this article are taken at 4480x2520 and downsampled—that’s more than 12 times the resolution the original PS3 version renders at. The game does remain limited to a 16:9 aspect ratio, but while not ideal this is now commonplace even in PC-focused games.

Valkyria Chronicles - Screenshot 2014-11-05 21-25-58 0

Valkyria scales up beautifully to the higher resolution, with the artistic intent fully intact but freed of the artifacts that detracted from it in the original release. You might have noticed that there are no further graphics settings, which could be indicative of ugly low-res shadows or other effects. However, a more in-depth study of the game’s rendering process reveal that everything scales with resolution (which makes sense)—e.g. shadow maps are rendered at 1280x1280 if you play at 1280p, while they use a full 4480x4480 with the resolution I play at. This works out beautifully in practice, with the quality of all effects increasing with increased rendering resolution.

I was personally surprised that even in a slower-paced game such as this, playing at 60 FPS (rather than the PS3 version’s 30) not only looks but also feels better. It’s not the massive difference expected in an action title, but especially with mouse and keyboard the added temporal resolution makes the controls feel more responsive and immediate. I successfully tested Valkyria at up to 120 frames per second, and was able to run it at over 100 fps at 4K resolution—more on that in the performance section below.

Control where it matters

One additional central requirement on PC, beyond arbitrary resolution and framerate support, is built-in remapping of input devices. The Valkyria Chronicles port delivers here as well, including the ability to map two separate keys per action, which is something I personally always find very helpful.

Valkyria Chronicles - Launcher Key Options

Valkyria Chronicles input options.

It’s clear that most effort went into making the keyboard and mouse controls work well in the battle interface, where it matters most. The keyboard mapping does a great job in the menus, even if mouse support there would likely be much more intuitive for PC gamers. In-battle, unit selection, movement and aiming works exactly as you would expect, surprisingly including even small touches like adjusting the sniper rifle zoom level with the mouse wheel.

While the game can’t deny its origin as a console exclusive, after a short period of acclimatization the keyboard and mouse controls work very well and allow you to carry out all tasks rapidly and precisely. At least for me, they are preferable to the gamepad version, especially during the TPS/aiming parts of the game. By the way, you’ll probably want to boost the mouse sensitivity way up. The default setting is very low.

Valkyria Chronicles - Screenshot 2014-11-08 11-36-14 6

Performance: fast like a scout

Generally, performance shouldn’t even be a topic worth discussing in-depth with a port from a last-gen console. However, as Square-Enix recently demonstrated, it’s certainly possible to make even such a port drop frames on high-end PCs. However, this is not an issue with Valkyria Chronicles, which performs incredibly well both CPU- and GPU-wise.

In terms of CPU usage, on my 4 GHz Haswell the game consumed less than 25% of a single core to run at 60 FPS. As expected, at 120 FPS (the highest I could test) it usually remained below 50%, with spikes up to 58%. GPU performance was a similar story. At my monitor’s native 2560x1440, GPU usage on a Geforce GTX 770 was around 33%, and it still managed to achieve an average of 108 FPS at 4k (3840x2160) resolution.

Emboldened by these results, I even tested the game on a convertible tablet/laptop combination, powered by a last-generation low-voltage Core i5-3317U with a nominal frequency of 1.7 GHz and Intel’s HD4000 integrated graphics. Certainly not a gaming machine by a long shot! At 720p, the game ran at around 44 FPS on this system and was absolutely playable.

Valkyria Chronicles - Screenshot 2014-11-09 14-42-31 12

Beyond image quality and framerate, one area where the PC version offers a massive improvement over the console original is loading times. Everyone who has played the PS3 version knows that of the 40 or so hours the game takes to fully complete, at least half an hour will be spent staring at loading screens. On the PC version, the average loading time seems to be around 1 second, and that’s with the game stored on an old mechanical HDD. Saving the game is so rapid that at first I thought it wasn’t working correctly.

In conclusion—Valkyria, Valkyria, may the bloodline live forever

The PC port of Valkyria Chronicles is a no-frills affair, but it delivers all the most essential qualities which should be expected on PC, including arbitrary resolution and framerate support. Its lack of graphics options is easily forgiven taking into account that the quality of all effects scales with resolution, and the artistic intent of its renderer which is inherently less customizable than the average photo-realistic affair. Commendably, it also performs amazingly very well even on modest hardware.

Given the quality of the game, the competent port and its very fair pricing, any fan of turn-based strategy games or SRPGs would be remiss not to check out Valkyria Chronicles. Oh, and if you want to improve your image quality further by means of downsampling, or want to be able to toggle the in-game HUD and take HUDless screenshots, note that the latest version of GeDoSaTo includes a profile for the game.