Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review | Gaming News
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Valkyria Chronicles 4 comes off as Sega trying to get the series back on track, returning to its roots and leaning heavily on what made the first Valkyria Chronicles so good 10 years ago. That’s mostly a good thing, and this latest entry adds some new mechanics and balance changes that make it feel like more than just a rehash, even if some of the first game’s issues make a not-so-welcome return as well.
There’s no other strategy game quite like Valkyria Chronicles, and describing its mishmash of genres can sound like someone took a few throws at a dart board covered in game types and hoped it would all work out. It’s a JRPG set in a colorful alternate-reality World War 2, with deep turn-based tactical battles where units are controlled with semi-realtime, third-person shooter combat. Like I said, extremely weird on paper, but it works extraordinarily well in practice.
Put more simply, Valkyria Chronicles 4 feels like a tactics anime. There’s a huge focus on the story being told in the campaign, which is enjoyable for the most part over the roughly 40 hours it took me to conquer it. Compelling (if melodramatic) visual novel-style dialogue and animated cutscenes tell the exciting story of Squad E of the Atlantic Federation fighting against the Imperial Alliance, and then those fights play out in tactical battles where you use Command Points to take direct control of soldiers in the field.
Turn-Based Tactics Anime
Those battles are really what make Valkyria Chronicles so much fun. Battlefields are fairly large and often dotted with dozens of enemy units, making it a fun challenge to keep track of multiple engagements at a time. There are six different soldier classes – ranging from fast-moving Scouts to slow tank-busters called Lancers – fortified enemy bunkers to destroy, and even tanks to control, so you have a massive amount of options during any given fight.
I loved surveying the battlefield at the beginning of every match, enthusiastically playing the role of commander and tactician as I plotted out my strategies and attack routes. As with any good tactical puzzle, it rewards you for thinking ahead multiple turns and punishes you – severely – for not considering how your opponent might counter-attack once it’s their turn to move.
I was overjoyed to see Valkyria Chronicles 4 return to the sprawling maps of the first game, as opposed to the smaller, interlinked areas of the second. This entry really seems to recognize what made the first so special, and I appreciated that as a long-time fan. It maybe could have been a bit more ambitious with its additions, but just about everything that has been added or changed is undoubtedly an improvement.
Grenadiers are a great addition, opening up new strategies that simply weren’t possible in previous games.
Most notably, Valkyria Chronicles 4 didn’t just bring back the original five classes, it added a brand new one: the Grenadier. Grenadiers allow you to drop long-range explosions on enemy units, and they are a ton of fun to command because they open up new strategies that simply weren’t available in previous games. For example, you can blindly fire guess shots to test if areas behind by buildings or hills are hiding enemies, and that proves to be true often enough that Grenadiers quickly became a staple of my squad.
I also found that their presence alone got me to use my Engineer units significantly more than in the first game. Engineers are essentially weaker versions of Scouts that can repair tanks and refill ammo, so pairing one with a Grenadier meant I could constantly top off their mortar ammo and fire significantly more rounds in a turn.
That strategy was fun to discover and refine, but it’s borderline game-breakingly powerful: once I unlocked a new type of mortar for my Grenadiers that deals extra damage to tanks, their extended range and ability to hit a tank’s weak spot without having to walk behind it essentially made my Lancer units obsolete. I even managed to win a huge, climactic boss fight against a stronger tank enemy toward the end of the campaign with a single grenadier in a single turn, just by walking into range and repeatedly pelting its radiator with bombs.
Cheap strategies like this aren’t a new problem for Valkyria Chronicles, though some of the old exploits have actually been counteracted somewhat – for example, Scouts can still be used to rush through a mission by quickly capturing camps, but the mission objectives and level layouts this time around mean that’s not always how you’re going to win. But the fact that exploitative strategies like this still exist at all is indicative of some the series’ problems that Valkyria Chronicles 4 has brought along with it.
It’s disappointing to see a handful of quality-of-life issues persist 10 years after they annoyed me the first time. Things like my tanks getting caught on the invisible edges of terrain and causing me to waste precious movement points, or the Headquarters – where you level-up classes, buy new weapons, and learn new special buffs called orders – failing to notify you when new upgrades or orders are available, forcing you to click through every single menu after every chapter to check for new stuff.
These are by no means deal breakers, and they ultimately didn’t distract me too much, but seeing these old problems again made me wish Valkyria Chronicles 4 hadn’t played it quite as safe in returning to the old ways. Hearing the same sound effects and even most of the same battle music as the first game (as great as they all are) prevents it from having its own distinct voice, and trudging through those clunky old menu layouts is a wrong turn on a trip down memory lane.
Memoirs From Battle
Another thing that’s stayed the same is the uneven balance between story and combat. Fights can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, which are short enough that they aren’t daunting but still long enough that the really epic fights truly feel it. But in between those fights, you usually watch between five and 25 minutes of story cutscenes, which can be a bit much. You’re basically alternating between commanding a fight and watching a full episode of an anime that’s fairly melodramatic in a way that’s sure to be familiar to anime fans, which I was okay with once I knew to expect that pattern.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place at the same time as Valkyria Chronicles 1 and 3, but from a completely different perspective in the war, so you don’t need to have played the others to jump into this one. It half-heartedly tries to root its characters in Gallia (the neutral country that the other games take place in) by making the main characters of your squad in the Federation army be from there, but doesn’t significantly tie Gallia into the story after that. As a result, the plot mostly misses an opportunity and feels disconnected from the greater story of the series.
The story is good, but kept disappointingly at arm’s length from the events of the other games.
That said, what unfolds is a good war story full of love, loss, and lots of other well-serviced WW2 tropes, but it’s just not an overly personal one. While the first game was all about Gallia’s citizens thrown into a war to repel the evil empire and take back their homeland, this one is about Gallians fighting in the Federation because the Empire are the baddies.
It’s a more straightforward war story on the surface (attack the enemy, win the war) but one that seemed a bit muddled for me in the context of the other games. While the Empire is unquestionably evil, the first two Valkyria Chronicles games establish that the Federation you’re now fighting for isn’t really the good guy either – a point that is addressed in Valkyria Chronicles 4, but in a way that still ultimately portrays them as the good guys.
This sort of thing won’t matter to someone just jumping into the series for the first time because the story still does a good job of making you question the nuances good and evil in war, but it was still weird for me to control Gallians who seemed so invested in the Federation while knowing how poorly the federation has treated Gallia – or rather, is treating it right now, since the first and fourth stories are happening simultaneously – in other games. It’s also a little frustrating that the whole mission you’re on in Valkyria Chronicles 4 is supposedly an “untold” secret story from the war, which keeps it conveniently but disappointingly at an arm’s length from the events we’ve played through previously.
While I eventually became very invested in the soldiers of Squad E, it did take awhile to get to that point. Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn’t even really introduce its main antagonists until about halfway through the 40-hour story, and it becomes significantly more compelling once you aren’t just fighting unnamed bad guys.
Across the board, that halfway-ish point feels like the moment you really see the full scope of Valkyria Chronicles 4. You get a permanent home base, a clearer objective, and access to cool new systems like being able to call in radar or artillery support. The bulk of the missions leading up to then are still extremely entertaining and challenging, but lack the more interesting and focused goal of the latter half.
The Soldiers of Squad E
Another fantastic new addition that eventually unlocks is the ability to promote one of your squad members as a leader – a position otherwise reserved for important story characters. While you can only take 10 units into a given battle, you deploy them from your squad of 20 active soldiers, which are in turn chosen from a larger pool of around 30.
The first Valkyria Chronicles impressed me with how it gave each and every one of these squad members a backstory of their own, including which other soldiers they’re friends with, even if you never cared about them because you were using someone else. Leveling is done by class, not character, which leaves you free to swap out or focus on whichever characters you want, and most of my decisions were based on how much I liked their personalities, not their stats.
The way it makes even the smallest characters feel important and alive is remarkable.
But Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes that idea and runs miles farther with it. Characters don’t just have backstory now, they have actual story, too. Squad members will show up in cutscenes alongside main characters, and every one of them has a side mission that only unlocks if you use them frequently. Those stories both tell you more about their past and grow them as a person, buffing them up with a new ability in the process.
Of course, that’s only if you don’t get them killed on the battlefield. Permadeath is easy enough to plan for and avoid as you’re given time to rescue characters who get knocked out, but it adds a very real threat hanging over these characters I grew to love. If they die, you don’t get those cutscenes or side missions, and you don’t get that personality back.
Without spoiling anything specific, there was even a moment where my stomach was tied in knots as I was asked to pick a soldier for a special mission they might not come back from. I literally had to put my controller down and take a moment to breath before deciding – and it was made even more impactful because every single squad member has unique VO specifically for if you pick them for this mission, with reactions ranging from brave pride to utter fear. It was an extremely powerful touch.
The characters are generally over-the-top and anime, but still relatable enough for me to get attached. Probably my favorite soldier was a Scout named Millenia Hudson, a shy women who joined the war to find her MIA husband, and whose journey got me genuinely teary. There are also quirky characters that just made me smile, like a Shocktrooper named Ferrier who always wore a mysterious iron helmet with blonde pigtails sticking out of it, or an Engineer name Aulard who is obsessed with tanks to a hilarious degree.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 reuses the first game’s idea of framing the whole campaign as a book being read after the war, which is the big inspiration behind its gorgeous art. Everything looks like a watercolor painting, and the edges of the screen fade out into rougher line drawings. The tactical map looks like an actual battlefield map, and zooming into its vibrant landscapes is still a great way to sell the idea that you are both commander and soldier. It is a little disappointing, however, that roughly two-thirds of its missions take place in the snow – these scenes are still lovely and creatively varied, but the constant greys and blues made me eventually miss the earlier levels’ vibrant colors.
That stylized art also means Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks fantastic on any system you choose. I played through the full game on Switch and only noticed some occasional blocky shadows and a few framerate slowdowns in particle-heavy sections. It runs smoother and at higher resolutions (though still 30 FPS) on PS4 and Xbox One, and has an uncapped frame rate and resolution on PC, though very limited graphical options. The mouse and keyboard controls work well too, with new tank controls that fix the touchyness present in the PC port of the original.