Inspired by the letters sent by those involved in the conflict 100 years ago, Valiant Hearts is a side-scrolling puzzle game developed by Ubisoft.
In Valiant Hearts, you take the role of four different characters (five if you count Walt the dog) each with their own reasons and motivations for being involved upon the Western Front during World War One: Anna, Emile, Karl and Freddie. The game progresses through notable events during the First World War, such Ypres in April 1915 – the first large-scale deployment of chemical gas during the war, and the infamous Battle of Verdun.
As well as the action and puzzle levels, there are collectibles in each setting; they are styled and hidden well, but each one links with a piece of historical knowledge concerning the First World War, covering elements that were not covered in-game (such as the outbreak of the war, and conscription), as well as more in-depth pieces, such as the role of nurses.
Ubisoft always finds a way to make its soundtracks unique and special (Ezio’s Family from Assassin’s Creed II still moves me 9 years on) but with Valiant Hearts it’s able to balance the whimsical design of the game with the brutal reality of World War One, and the hardships found across the Western Front.
The art style itself make use of colour/lack of colour within its settings and character designs, with a piece that sticks out to me being the use of eyes; only young children and Walt the dog have eyes shown on screen, the adults (including the player characters) all have theirs covered – perhaps displaying to the player without words the innocence of the children, and it’s loss in adults.
I first found this game shortly after its initial release in 2014 where it was promoted in tandem with the official French Memorial services to commemorate the Centenary since the outbreak of World War One. The art style is awe-inspiring, and its use of dialogue at key points means that everything is there for a reason. You feel the anguish that Emile goes through, you feel for Karl as he rushes through the chemical gas attacks.
The ending becomes no less impactful no matter how many times you replay it. Every note in the background music, every tremor in the voice of Emile’s voice actor is heartwrenching. You feel every consequence, every emotion. This is the game that was infamous for making YouTuber Jacksepticeye (known for his humour and boundless energy) turn into a puddle of tears. The ending is definitely one of the most moving I have ever experienced, and it blends narration with the actions of the player in a way that makes you want to stop, to turn away. But, like you cannot change history, you must continue onto the inevitable.
What’s more, the tone of the game perhaps resonates with people; this war happened, and people did die in it. The letters that survive now are evidence of that. The game treats these experiences with respect, and perhaps in a ‘friendlier’ way than big budget shooters like Battlefield 1 who have used the war as a setting previously.
With the 100 year celebrations of the ending of World War One upon us, the game’s final line is one we must take to heart in these times of remberance:
“We must strive to cherish their memory, and never forget.”
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is on Nintendo Switch, PC and other Consoles now.
Check out the E3 2014 Release Trailer below: