Valiant Hearts always put human stories before actual warfare. There was never any shooting or combat to be found in Valiant Hearts: The Great War, but instead smaller, more personal tales of individuals and their close relations just trying to survive the most hellish war the world had ever seen at the time.
Almost a decade after The Great War, Valiant Hearts: Coming Home emerges with similar themes. The sequel to the 2014 original might have a new developer, and new additions to its cast of characters, but it’s still circling those same ideals of putting humans in a time of war under the microscope instead of the act of war and battle.
Not backing down
Freddie and Anna are back again for Coming Home, the former a Black American enlisting with the French army, and the latter a Belgian battlefield nurse. They’re joined by James, Freddie’s brother, British pilot George, and reluctant German fighter Ernst. Valiant Hearts is up to its old tricks - drawing together a wide variety of characters for different points of view on the same conflict.
Valiant Hearts’ strength was always its cast, and the same is true for Coming Home. Freddie is immediately empathetic as one of millions of Black Americans who sign up to fight for a country that largely despises them, only to be thrown to the wolves as part of the Harlem Hellfighters, while Ernst makes daring plays to save as many opposition lives as possible and keep his conscience clean.
It’s through Freddie, James, and the Harlem Hellfighters that Valiant Hearts isn’t shying away from putting World War One’s ugliest moments under the spotlight. The Hellfighters, made entirely of Black American fighters, were routinely thrust into the bloodiest battles of World War One by white superiors, and Valiant Hearts: Coming Home puts the Hellfighters front and center of the narrative to enshrine their place in history.
“Even though their bodies have long since returned to dust, their sacrifice still lives on. We must strive to cherish their memory and never forget,” a message at the end of the original Valiant Hearts read. Coming Home almost takes the latter part of this passage as a challenge, determined to give Black Americans the remembrance they deserve in the First World War.
Still fighting the good fight
Valiant Hearts has shifted exclusively to mobile platforms for Coming Home, and its gameplay has switched gears as a result. The Great War was a point-and-click adventure game, tasking players with scavenging their surroundings for items to break through puzzles. Coming Home incorporates more minigames than actual puzzle-solving for its gameplay due to its touch-screen nature.
Large parts of Coming Home play out as rhythm-based minigames with Freddie, for example, who loves playing a clarinet as part of a makeshift jazz band. Or there’s a sequence where George has to dodge airborne projectiles and bombs in his plane, set to the ever-increasing tempo of classical music until you’re swiping to dodge something every other second.
It’s a bit of a weird shift, but moments like James and the jazz band still gel with Coming Home’s themes of human emotions and the bonds between comrades in wartime. That’s not to say Coming Home abandons Valiant Hearts’ puzzle-solving aspects entirely - they’re just interspersed in the relatively short run time among mobile-based aspects, which actually ends up being a bit of a welcome treat.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War was one of behemoth Ubisoft’s rare smaller games at the time, following the likes of Child of Light. These days, Ubisoft is even more the gaming giant it was nearly a decade ago, pumping out AAA blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed from teams of developers numbering in the hundreds, while holding the gaming industry’s attention with long-gestating projects like Skull and Bones and Beyond Good and Evil 2.
Valiant Hearts was an ace addition to Ubisoft's portfolio, which was dominated by mainstream hits back in 2014, and the same is true for Coming Home in 2023. Valiant Hearts is still a reminder that gaming giants like Ubisoft can tell deeply personal stories via smaller-scale games, should they wish to turn their attention away from games that make profits in the hundreds of millions every now and then.
I’ll admit: before Coming Home I didn’t know if Valiant Hearts needed a sequel. The Great War deftly hammered home its wartime narratives of humans rising above the bloody conflict and finding the good in one another. But Coming Home earns its place alongside The Great War with the heartfelt stories of Freddie and James, putting the focus squarely on racism in warfare and refusing to flinch.
Valiant Hearts: Coming Home is out now for Netflix members on Android and iOS. Keep track of more exciting releases on the horizon with our roundup of upcoming indie games.