Valiant Hearts: The Great War on Nintendo Switch is UbiArt at its Best
Even though the game released about four years ago, Valiant Hearts: The Great War might have found its best system to play on.
At first glance, one would think that Valiant Hearts: The Great War is just a cute 2D puzzle game. The art style comes across as very cartoonish, characters are extremely expressive and wave their limbs around to show emotions, and there is so much gibberish that if you close your eyes, you might think that you are playing Banjo-Kazooie. However, once you get past the initial impressions, Valiant Hearts provides some excellent puzzles and an absolutely heart-wrenching narrative that will have you reaching for a box of tissues.
To get this out of the way first, this is my first playthrough of the game. The Ubisoft title has been on other consoles since its release in 2014, but it just recently made the jump over to the Nintendo Switch, the version that I am reviewing: thus, all of my opinions on the game will be totally fresh. With the power of the Switch though, I was able to play this title on both the big screen while docked and curled up on the couch or bed while in handheld mode.
The gameplay is the same in both modes, but I did feel that playing in handheld mode with headphones on did provide a much more intimate experience that enhanced what I felt while playing Valiant Hearts. I have always felt that having that screen right in front of you with some headphones on can provide an even better experience for thoughtful experiences: Celeste from earlier this year is a perfect example. I don’t think that story would have connected with me as much if I wasn’t playing it handheld, and I believe that my experience with Valiant Hearts: The Great War is very similar.
Valiant Hearts tells the tale of a handful of characters during World War I and weaves the story arcs together throughout your playthrough. The narrative starts off with a family living on a farm somewhere in France; Karl, a German immigrant, lives there with his wife Marie, his newborn son Victor, and Marie’s father, Emile. The French begin to deport all the Germans in France once they discover that war is imminent, leading to Karl being ripped away from his family and then being drafted into the German army. In turn, Karl’s father-in-law Emile is drafted into the French army. Throughout the playthrough, you will play as both Karl and Emile, as well as a few other characters you come across in your adventure.
As stated earlier, Valiant Hearts: The Great War looks like a UbiArt game in the vein of Child of Light or the past few Rayman games. However, it perfectly captures the cold, desperate, and horrific moments of World War I. While you might come across NPCs flailing their arms around and murmuring random gibberish, you will run across fields of dead soldiers and hear screams of wounded men. Despite Battlefield 1 being the AAA title that it is and having millions of more dollars to throw at the game, Valiant Hearts enamored me more in its rendition of World War 1 much more than the EA title ever did.
While the story told is absolutely captivating, the gameplay is quite good as well. Most of the gameplay revolves around you solving various puzzles to push the story forward or to move onto the next chapter. That could involve anything from finding an object and then applying it to another object like you would find in a classic adventure game like Grim Fandango or The Secret of Monkey Island, or some light stealth missions that could have you silently take out an enemy or two. I will admit, some puzzles got a little tedious and turned into a fetch quest rather than an actual puzzle. There were a couple sections I can think of that just involved you wandering around to find obvious items that need to be given to a certain person to progress through.
Those sections were very rare though in my playthrough. Most of the puzzles I experienced were thought-provoking and generally were not too hard and not too easy. I was never racking my brain trying to solve one, yet I was not just barreling through them in a breeze. My roughly 6-and-a-half hour experience was just the right amount of challenging.
I am a little sad I missed Valiant Hearts when it released back in 2014; I would have loved to discuss the thrilling and gut-wrenching narrative it told so well despite a minimal amount of dialogue used. However, there is a positive to waiting. I do believe that the Switch is the best way to play the game: I felt much more enraptured in the story when I was laying in bed wearing headphones rather than playing on my TV. If you are like me and missed out the first time around, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is an absolute must-play for puzzle-adventure games and history enthusiasts.