Valiant Hearts is the newest digital only title from Ubisoft Montpellier, the developers behind the Rayman franchise and Beyond Good and Evil. Inspired by letters written during World War 1, Valiant Hearts follows four main characters as they go to different locations across France and see WW1 from a variety of perspectives.
A side scrolling puzzle game with a hint of adventure is the best way to describe Valiant Hearts and its gameplay. There are a few moments that will break the 2D perspective, but most of the game you will be going from left to right. Reaction speed and button mashing take a back seat to puzzle solving and timing for the 2D adventure. Most of the areas in the game do not have a hidden clock or pressing threats, a majority of the enemies stay in a static position, so it can be played at a slower methodical pace. There are mini games scattered throughout to break up the game play, and are generally fun for the short time they are in the game. One or two, like Anna’s healing Parappa the Rappa style minigame, were overplayed and ended up being more nuisances towards the end.
Puzzles are a heavy focus of Valiant Hearts and for good reason. They are well thought out and can be figured out using context and visual clues. From the characters dialogue ‘picture’ exclaiming what they need to move, or the ability to ask for hints makes it so the player is never stuck for too long in one spot. The areas are also broken up in a way to keep the player from being overwhelmed. The areas were never too big that would lose my bearings or have to tediously backtrack to give someone an item. The puzzles always made sense to the story as well. Some games will put in items in head scratching situations just to have a different type of item, but Valiant Hearts kept its focus with impressive and well thought puzzles throughout. The game itself runs like a dream. Loading times were short and even with many things happening at the same time or more than your average characters on the screen, it never stuttered or dropped frames.
The gameplay can be polarizing to the video game players across the world because it will either be loved or hated. For how nicely put together the puzzles and scenes are, they are all easy. Very Easy. Most of my deaths came from a lack of patience and not from any challenge created from the game itself. No puzzle took up more than 5 minutes of my time. Players looking for a challenge or a few head scratching puzzles may find the game boring in certain sections. A harder difficulty mode is available, but it does not offer many differences aside from removing glows around important objects. What you see is what you get for how Valiant Hearts plays. Some of the puzzles would snowball after the first leg was figured out and took most of the difficulty and satisfaction away. After the first item is picked up, the rest of the area would boil down to go to Person B and get Item B, then to Person C to get Item C and so on down the line.
Without having much of a background in the intricacies of World War 1, the Great War blew me away with how engrossing of a backdrop it was for Valiant Hearts. The main characters Emil (who is drafted into the French army even though he is getting older in age), Karl (a German that has to abandon his French family because he is forcibly deported), Anna (a medic in search of her father), and Freddie (a typical punch first American) all have interesting stories and show how deeply rooted the war was in everyone lives. The main overall story connected all four main characters finished stronger than it started. Til the middle, the main plot focused on everyone chasing a zeppelin, which felt more of an excuse to shoehorn different war locations than actual storytelling. The story does really pick up in the last quarter of the game, as the characters being to shine on a personal level. The ending isn’t the most heart wrenching ending to a game I have ever seen, but it makes a case to be up there.
The history aspect and real information about the war was a welcome surprise. By using real life pictures and detailed relevant write ups before each new area, the developers were able to bring home the themes and how in depth they were making the game. I have a bunch of TIL’s that I will be using for my friends and family after playing through Valiant Hearts. A section of the game that stuck out was the taxi scene in Paris with Anna. The puzzles were forgettable and the section was relatively short, but combing the historical context and picture with the scene and it felt like ‘playing a part of history’.
Valiant Hearts will make a lot of ‘best of 2014’ lists because its art and design, and they will be much deserved. The game is flat out beautiful. The character designs were cartoony, but still were able to display a wide range of realistic emotions. There was such a unique style that it made every single area a joy to play through and to experience something new. The comic book style panels that would pop up to show action off the screen were awesome and fit perfectly with the other aesthetics. Working in such a drab palette of browns and grays of the battlefield, Ubisoft Montpellier was still somehow able to make a game that looked vibrant. Even the backgrounds were done with such detail they could have a whole paragraph dedicated to their originality. Only during close ups of characters or settings did the short comings show in the form of jaggy lines and some clipping.
I was able to finish the game a hair under 7 hours. My first play through, which was purely focused on finishing the game, I was able to find 75% of the collectibles scattered throughout the game. The collectibles are the only real reason to want to replay a section, aside from enjoying the game again of course, and I can’t imagine they can add anything more than a few hours onto the game length. For a puzzle game that uses many of the same puzzle types throughout, 7 hours was the perfect length and it never felt like dragged or wore out its welcome. The pace was nicely done and character/focus change happened at perfect times to keep the game fresh and avoid becoming stale.
With no real difficulty bump and lack of incentives for another play through, Valiant Hearts will be a one and done for many gamers. Considering how well the game is put together, with its puzzles and the amazing art style, I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. Valiant Hearts is easy and could be a major turn off, but at the end of the day the game is fun. I may not have been challenged as much as some other recent adventure titles or merciless platformers, but from beginning to end I enjoyed the whole experience. $14.99 is a steal for the prettiest looking game of the year.