Review: Valkyria Chronicles 402 Oct 2018 0
Review: Valkyria Chronicles 4
Released 25 Sep 2018
Sometimes when it comes to sequels, less is more. Valkyria Chronicles 4 constantly reminds me of the original game in it’s design and story beats, only now it’s been given an extra layer of polish and fine-tuning. New character classes, side story missions, weather effects, and more have been added into the base game, without losing what makes it charming in the first place. While some mission design balance and enemy AI issues are still a prevalent problem, it’s hard to deny that the PC port of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a satisfying entry for strategy fans to sink their teeth into.
For those uninitiated, gameplay is split between two perspectives: the tactical map and each soldier’s individual perspective. On the tactical map, Claude (Squad E’s commander and the protagonist) can issue distinct orders for a unit, providing statistical bonuses, and survey the current situation. When you select a soldier, the game transitions into a quasi third-person shooter as you navigate their way across the battlefield, performing one action per Command Point (CP). With limited CP and movement for each unit, battles come down to spatial awareness, finding flaws in enemy formations, and paying attention to potential hints from the mission and terrain. The design lends itself to high-intensity moments of action, while also allowing the player as much time as they want to think each action through thoroughly on the tactical map.
New additions to Valkyria Chronicles 4 in particular are the introduction of the Grenadier class, who specialize in indirect fire against fortified enemies and cannons, and the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) for loading multiple units into a semi-tank and blitzing them safely across the map. Veterans of the series bemoan previous title’s reliance on Scouts as the go-to unit towards finishing a mission as fast as possible, given the total number of rounds taken is often the game’s main measurement of score. Now at least you can load up a key Sniper, Lancer, or Shocktrooper (or all three!) in the APC and go down the highway to hell with style.
Unfortunately, some scenarios are fairer than others. A particular mission roughly one-third of the way through the game that requires you never lose a base is constantly throwing reinforcements at you from multiple areas that are behind your troops. Meanwhile, you’re forced to fend off an enemy boss tank assault at the northern edge of the map. For my first pass, I found it very difficult to defend everything without hemorrhaging units. Once I’d learned all of the troop triggers and what to expect, my second-time through was flawless. As a result, it begins to feel like Valkyria Chronicles 4 is taunting you about wasting your time. Just as you think you’ve got everything figured out on a mission, it throws a curve-ball that you often had no way of knowing about.
The story of Valkyria Chronicles 4 follows a familiar coming-of-age saga, filled with everything from touching family moments and silly anime battles over food-fights, to unwarranted sexual harassment of female leads and civilian murder. Personally speaking, the constant innuendo towards female leads and overt sexual conquest felt unnecessary and counter-intuitive to the core game where women are just as badass as the men. Needless to say, the story is all over the place, and sometimes that results in the core narrative feeling disjointed from what’s taking place during each chapter. Likewise, the unique and gorgeous art-style of the series (not quite cel-shaded but certainly a notable shading style) tends to butt heads with what it’s trying to portray. With that said, the addition of optional Side Story missions allows non-story critical characters some time to shine and show off their unique personalities and quirks. Think of them as a more game-play centric version of the Fire Emblem support series. Rewards for completing these missions are additional experience, cash, story beats, and often units transforming their negative quirks into positive potentials instead. Players are encouraged to mix up the squaddies they bring along on missions, and use their personal likes, dislikes, and quirks to their advantage.
Back at Headquarters between missions you can spend experience on levelling up each troop type or unique orders for Claude to utilize on the tactical map. Likewise, cash can be spent at R&D for significant upgrades to weaponry, armor, and tanks. While I personally completed optional Side Story Missions and Skirmishes for some extra resources to spend, the main story missions themselves often bestow more than enough rewards to progress through the upgrade cost requirements on their own. (See my below cash total versus the expense requirement of this sniper rifle as an example.)
Overall, if you enjoyed the first Valkyria Chronicles, there is a significant chance you’re going to like Valkyria Chronicles 4 as well. It’s obvious from playing through the game that SEGA leaned heavily on the original’s design philosophy, and that’s not a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with adding smaller implementations onto a classic strategy game when the core gameplay loop is this strong. I just wish that some of the random plot missteps (full frame grab-ass, really?) and mission difficulty spikes were smoothed over or removed entirely.