Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review- A Fine Return to Form

Posted September 24, 2018 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Sega CS3

Publisher: Sega

Release date: March 21, 2018 (Japan), September 25, 2018 (world-wide)

Available on:Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

War has long been a staple in video games, from the Medal of Honor series to the Fallout games. They’ve encompassed various genres, from first person shooters to more tactical strategy games. In many, war just forms the backdrop for exciting, action filled set pieces and waves of enemies to shoot at. Others take on the very nature of war, and just what it can do to a person. These games can make us question our choices, even when done for the most noble of reasons, that of protecting our squad-mates or our freedom. Sometimes our choices can have horrible, unintended side effects, such as in Spec Ops: The Line. And yet, those leading the charge into battle must bear the weight of such decisions. And it’s that thought that permeates throughout the new tactical RPG, Valkyria Chronicles 4.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 returns us to the series roots that began with the first game’s release on the PS3 in 2008. That game followed Welker Gunther and his comrades in the Gallian forces during an alternate universe version of World War 2. This new game, while taking place in the same time frame, follows a new set of characters, those led by Claude Wallace of the Federation. The Empire is once again the villain, though some of the Empire’s forces are more shades of gray than being purely black. The fact that you follow a new cast makes the game easily accessible to newcomers to the series, while veterans will enjoy some nods to past entries. The game also makes a return to form, combining strategy with some turn based, third person shooting, and erases the bad memory of last year’s Valkyria Revolution.

The new cast of characters, despite embracing some well worn anime tropes and occasionally spouting cringe=worthy dialogue. prove to be the heart and soul of Valkyria Chronicles 4. Over the course of the game’s 18 chapters (along with a prologue and an epilogue), we get to know these characters well, thanks to some fine character development. While the main cast gets the bulk of our focus, the rest of your squad, consisting of 30 characters, get some recognition through Squad Stories, an optional mode you can enter to see how your team interacts with each other. You don’t necessarily need to indulge in this mode to complete the game’s main story, but it is a nice inclusion to flesh out characters that may have just served as bullet fodder in other games. Getting to know them makes it all the more poignant when one is lost to combat, and gives the game overall some extra emotional weight.

This character development extends to the bad guys as well, some of whom prove to be far more nuanced than just being purely evil. Shades of grey are evident across both sides of the conflict, though the game is not without a stereotypical bad anime villain or two. The voice acting is for the most part competent, and each character feels independent and not just a carbon copy of others. Unnamed soldiers are where the game falters more, as outside of uniform differences you’d be hard pressed to tell a Federation soldier from one who serves the Empire. The game’s story is solid overall, with a couple of twists you may or may not see coming. The story allows both sides to dwell on just what they’re fighting for, instead of it just being a purely good vs. evil, white vs. black conflict. It’s a testament to the game’s strength that you can experience tender feelings for some of the villainous characters, as well as growing attached to the band of heroes.

Gameplay wise, Valkyria Chronicles 4 eschews the action combat from Revolution, and returns to the strategy mixed with third person shooting mechanic that made the first game stand out. Characters move using AP (Ability Points), and you need to be careful where your characters end up when their AP runs out. Leaving them in the open leaves them vulnerable to enemy fire, and can make for some tense situations as you can only sit, watch, and hope the enemy ends their turn so you can save your own forces. At times the character’s AI will make smart choices, such as ducking a shot or counterattacking. But there are other times when that AI can let you down, as I’ve watched enemies sneak right behind my oblivious squad-mates without a shot being sent in their direction. When the AI works, it can provide for some satisfying moments. When it doesn’t, it makes for some very frustrating moments, especially when it can take a turn or more to return a character to combat.

Doing so is not always such a simple matter. Another character needs to reach your fallen comrade to call for a medic, or if you’ve learned it, an evacuation order can be issued. These do consume CP, or Command Points, which you’re allotted a finite amount, based on how many leaders you’ve deployed. This leads to some tense strategy and management of your CP, as you only have 20 turns to complete missions. Failure to resolve the mission by your last turn ends in failure. Failure, though, can prove to be a valuable teaching aid. That showed itself to me especially in some late game missions, where the proper strategy became more apparent after I failed.

Your squad makeup is very important, as you can only deploy 10 characters from a roster of 20 active reserves. Your reserves are pulled from a pool of 30 candidates, and are divided into six classes: Scout, Shocktrooper, Engineer, Sniper, Lancer, and, new to this entry, Grenadier. Scouts use rifles and grenades, and have the highest AP of all classes. Shocktroopers use machine guns, and can deal out a lot of damage, though they need to operate from a closer range. Engineers can repair both tanks and combat cover, as well as resupply other squad-mates with more ammunition. Snipers have lower AP, but benefit from being able to operate at greater distances. Lancers are slow, but pack an explosive touch, and help greatly against enemy tanks. The Grenadier also allows you to launch some powerful attacks from a hidden vantage point. Each class has their strengths and drawbacks, and knowing which one to deploy at any given moment is key to being victorious on the battlefield.

You gain both experience and currency in missions, both of which can be used to enhance your squad. With the game being laid out in story book fashion, with the story being relayed through episodes in standard book form, you can turn to other sections of your book to beef up your characters. Skirmishes are optional battles to engage in, that allow you to gain some extra experience to aid in leveling up. Be warned that if a character dies during a skirmish that they are also lost to the main story, giving the game a nice risk/reward mechanic. Your Headquarters tab is where you’ll spend most of your time outside the main story. Here you can engage in Training, spending experience points to level up your classes. Each class levels as a whole, so you can feel free to swap characters in and out within a class. Currency can be spent in R&D to develop better equipment for both your soldiers and your tanks. New orders can be learned through other characters in the Mess Hall, but these too will need experience points to unlock. The Squad Stories tab gives you more insight into your characters, fleshing them out and making them feel as valuable as your core of main friends.

The game’s visuals are done well, with watercolor scenes that give the game a nice look, making it feel like a playable anime feature. There aren’t a lot of fully animated cut scenes, but those present are nicely done. Much of the story is relayed through slightly animated portraits with the player advancing the dialogue. Keep in mind that you will spend a lot of time watching more than actually playing, so knowing that going in can help decide if this game is your cup of tea or not. It’s not without flaws- the aforementioned cringe-worthy dialogue and poor ally AI in spots, some bad anime tropes, and hit boxes can at times be off. Tanks and characters can get hung up on scenery, costing valuable AP. And some late game bosses can feel cheap, with the game unfairly stacking the odds against you. None of these flaws are deal-breakers, however, and all odds can be surmountable with the right strategy. While the final chapters seem to keep going on beyond where they could have stopped, the game’s actual ending does prove to be satisfying. There are some post credits scenes, and post game you can engage in skirmishes, training, and use more R&D to unlock more content.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 proves to be a fine return to form, hearkening back to what made the first game one of the PS3’s best titles. While giving us some welcome upgrades, such as the new Grenadier class and tanks only consuming 1 CP instead of three, some of the old flaws are present as well. Bad anime tropes and some cringe-worthy dialogue hold the game back from being better than it is, but superb strategic gameplay make this worthy of your time and money. My game clock stood at just over 56 1/4 hours (Note: the game clock does not count the time when you fail. My actual playing time was well over 60 hours.), meaning the game has some bang for your buck in terms of length. The uneven balance between watching and playing may be off putting to some, but for others who enjoy story based games mixed with some strategic play will find a lot to like here. Friendly to newcomers and a return to form for veterans, Valkyria Chronicles 4 proves to be a worthy entry into the franchise, and gives hope to seeing more games down the road.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus