By Alex Irish / September 26th, 2018
|Title||Valkyria Chronicles 4|
|Release Date||September 25th, 2018|
|Platform||PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One|
The dormant Valkyria Chronicles franchise has returned to the battlefront with an honest to goodness new entry. Sega’s decade-old strategy-RPG series has seen only a few releases over time, including the PlayStation 3 original and a couple of PSP-only sequels, one of them never to be released in the West. Now, seven years later we have what many thought was impossible in Valkyria Chronicles 4, but you won’t need to have played any prior game to appreciate what this new entry has to offer.
Valkyrica Chronicles 4 regales with a coming-of-age story amid the pangs of intercontinental war, set parallel to the events of the 2008 original. Set in an alternate reality during the 1930s, it follows the ongoing war between the Federation and the East European Imperial Alliance. You take control of the ragtag team known as Squad E, led by the up-and-coming Claude Wallace as he leads his battalion across towns, mountains, and trenches to the Imperial capital Schwartzgrad. Claude’s promotion to a squad leader carries through the whole story as he grapples with right and wrong decisions and faces life-threatening decisions, playing off his squad mates in a way the audience can identify with on some level.
It’s surprising how engaging the plot becomes in Valkyria Chronicles 4. It focuses heavily on character interactions and revels in a lot of harsh truths about what it takes to be a good leader among people, finding courage, and camaraderie. It captures a vast array of emotional turmoil, jubilation, struggle, and pain. You’ll grow to love all the characters, from the hot-headed, irascible Raz, the stern no-nonsense Kai, and the muted Ferrier and her secret past. Fans of the also-story heavy Persona series will see some of that characterization DNA in Valkyria Chronicles‘ cast. The dialog will make you feel laughter, anger, and melancholy.
The English voice acting is strong, always bringing the proper emotion and never rising to overt cheesiness. Some of the dialog is surprisingly ribald, what with some tossaway sexual connotations and its reckless use of the word “damn” and then some, even for a Teen-rated game. Valkyria Chronicles 2 was criticized for its perpetual anime-trope horny levels, so I can assume that any risque content here, as shown in the shot below, is much toned down from that second installment. There’s another particular scene early on that felt like a #MeToo moment waiting to happen. Whatever your feelings about tonally dissonant comments about someone’s underwear are in a war saga is entirely up to your taste for anime tropisms.
From the outset, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is not immediately accessible. It’s a unique hybridization of turn-based strategy and third-person action. Within each turn you take, you have a set number of moves to control your character units in battle. The viewpoint changes from a simplified top-down to third-person as your unit moves across the map. You can duck and hide to avoid being shot at, or can engage enemies in shoot-outs. If you’re familiar with other strategy RPG series like Fire Emblem, there are some similarities to the genre norm but enough unique elements to set it apart. So unlike in, say, Fire Emblem, when a character falls in battle, they don’t die for good but can be rescued by a medic.
As is the strategy genre norm, the different classes abound in Valkyria Chronicles 4 to populate your army. You have control of a variety of classes, from conventional scouts and shocktroopers to specialists like lancers and snipers. New to this fourth entry is the Grenadier, who packs a punch with an aerial mortar capable of one-hit KOs, but whose placement must be careful due to lowish defense. And then there’s the tanks, which pack the most health and the biggest firepower on the battlefield. As if all this wasn’t enough, each class have variable strengths and weaknesses and specialized skills that can activate on a dime. It’s like a massive-scale game of chess where the pieces fire ammunition back and forth.
Mission objectives have some decent variety, too. You’ll most often have to simply claim all enemy bases as your own, or you have to set the numbers on towering clocks with your sniper, moving carefully through fog of war to uncover the hidden real and fake tanks. Some missions prove to be head-scratchers and require a restart, lasting from ten to a whopping 30-plus minutes to complete optimally.
Active combat is far from the only thing you’ll do. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is presented in chapters written in a journal that Claude documents from the very start of the game. Most of the time, you’ll jump across episodes full of nothing but character dialog. Don’t skip out on them however, or you’re missing out on story context and character development. Quite often, later chapters will have multiple battles as they up the volume of episodic moments.
In-between missions, you’ll make frequent stops to Headquarters to level up each class, purchase equipment and vehicle upgrades at R&D, and learn medically useful skills in the Mess Hall among other ways to be primed for the next battle. Skirmishes and side stories test your mettle on alternate battle maps while furthering the lore and backstories of the secondary soldiers.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is visually gorgeous, awash in watercolors and subtle soft lighting. The anime-influenced character designs are also well-done, with everyone visually distinct and reflective of their personas. The massive alt-reality Europe boasts some stunning landscapes and tableaux in the story scenes. The music by famed Japanese composer Hitoshi Sakimoto is also effective, featuring iconic themes that reflect the mood and excitedly up the stakes.
On Nintendo Switch where this was reviewed, the overall presentation holds up well, with nary but a few scant frame drops occur during visually intense moments. If there’s one area where Valkyria Chronicles 4 falters, it’s actually the controls. Quite often, it feels like an input you intended doesn’t quite register, like trying to activate aiming or ducking behind a sand wall. Misses like that can result in your soldier taking more damage than intended, even resulting in a full knock-out. Chalk it up in part to the complexity of the controls. Figuring out all the shortcut buttons for simplifying menu-based options (like ending your turn) is an exercise in itself.
Trying to sum up everything about Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a tumultuous ordeal. Just know it’s an excellent strategy-RPG that is consistently engaging, challenging, and full of depth, vital for the game’s 30+ hour campaign and full $60 price point. It’s blend of genre-blending combat, likable characters, and potent storytelling simply click together. Best of all, you don’t need any prior familiarity with the series to enjoy what’s going on. Despite a large learning curve, if you’re a strategy game greenhorn or no, Valkyria Chronicles 4 might just win the battle for your heart.
Review code provided by publisher
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