Why Valkyria Revolution is a disappointing speedbump on Sega’s road to recovery
Sega was dead, or so they said. Back in 2012, with financial pressures forcing it out of publishing in continental Europe, the company’s execs spoke ominously of ‘strategic realignment’ and ‘a refocusing on digital’. To all extents and purposes, it seemed beyond a handful of proven successes – Aliens, Total War, Football Manager and Sonic – the Sega we all knew and loved was no more.
Five years on, and things are looking a good deal rosier for the publisher, thanks to a number of smart licensing deals, creative partnerships and revivals of the games with which it made its name in the first place. Last year, it acquired Endless Space developer Amplitude Studios; in May, the sequel to the popular 4X strategy sequel launched to a warm reception. Halo Wars 2 may have been a Microsoft production, but it was certainly a profile-booster for Sega subsidiary Creative Assembly, while the same studio’s link-up with the Warhammer brand has already borne fruit. Total War: Warhammer was a big success last year; a quick-fire sequel is due in September.
Meanwhile, in Deep Silver it has found a publishing partner willing to bring its more esoteric, Japan-developed games to Europe. Though Valkyria Revolution isn’t the game we all hoped it would be, it bodes well for future games in the series heading west – which had previously looked unlikely when PSP title Valkyria Chronicles 3 wasn’t deemed worthy of localisation. And it would be hard to complain too loudly when 2017 has already yielded the excellent Persona 5 (developed by the Sega-owned Atlus) and Yakuza 0. With Kiwami, a remake of the original Yakuza, launching in August, and the sixth mainline entry due to reach these shores early next year, that’s three games in 12 months for a series whose western life appeared to be over until relatively recently.
While looking to safeguard its future, Sega has also discovered the value in delving into its past. The extraordinary success of its 2014 PC port of the original Valkyria Chronicles has since inspired the publisher to rework its other 360/PS3-era hits: over the last few months we’ve seen Bayonetta and Vanquish arrive on Steam, both looking better and running smoother than ever. August, meanwhile, sees the release of Sonic Mania, a handsome throwback to the hedgehog’s side-scrolling heyday, made by a team of long-term Sonic fans headed by Christian Whitehead, who ported the first two games to mobile platforms.
And talking of smartphones, there’s Sega Forever, its new initiative to bring classic games to a new audience on iOS and Android. Free to download, and supported by ads (but with the option to pay a one-off fee to remove them) they’re not simply a nostalgic reminder of Sega at its creative peak, but a chance to reintroduce properties and potentially benefit from cross-promotional opportunities. Nintendo saw a significant boost to sales of the 3DS Fire Emblem games after the launch of mobile spin-off Heroes; likewise with Super Mario Run. It’s hard to imagine Sega not having similar plans in store.
In a quiet way, then, Sega is starting to become a major player once more, and it’s doing it without taking any serious risks – sharing the burden of responsibility with publishing partners, while getting results from relatively low-cost ports for its recent PC releases, and emulators for mobile. There’s still work to be done: complaints about poor quality emulation on the Forever series suggest it needs to do more to live up to its promise of a renewed focus on quality. But Sega has made significant progress by doing exactly what it said it would, proving that we needn’t have been quite so worried about those seemingly doom-laden promises. In other words, Valkyria Revolution is hopefully nothing more than a fleeting dip on an upward trajectory for one of gaming’s most enduring names. Now, let’s have Ghost Squad VR, hmm?
Developer Media Vision was also responsible for the third game in the Chronicles series: though far superior to Revolution, it was never released outside Japan