- Release Date: September 28, 2018
- Genre: SRPG
- Developer: SEGA
Valkyria Chronicles 4 launches on Nintendo Switch (version tested), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on 25 September
War, huh? What is it good for? Well, surprisingly engaging turn-based strategy RPGs with a delightful manga-meets-bande-dessinée visual style, as it turns out.
The Valkyria Chronicles series has been a cult favourite since the first game in the series debuted on PS3, back in 2008. Set in a fantasy world powered by rare Ragnite ore, and on a continent and culture reminiscent of 1930s Europe, the Valkyria games focus on the war effort against the East Europan Imperial Alliance. The problem is, it may almost be too cult – the second and third games were released on PSP only, the latter not even making it out of Japan. The previous entry, Valkyria Revolution, took place in an alternate universe, and, perhaps most importantly, wasn’t very good.
Thankfully, you don’t need to have played any previous Valkyria game to jump into the fourth entry. The latest installment goes back to the beginning, telling a story set alongside the original game but on a much larger scale. While the first centered on defending the small, neutral nation of Gallia from the Imperial Alliance’s advances, Valkyria Chronicles 4 widens its focus.
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You’ll mainly be controlling new character Claude Wallace, commander of Squad E, as he’s sent out on Operation Northern Cross – an effort to end the conflict by seizing the Imperial capital. Other members include division officers Laz and Kai, mascot Ragnarok (an adorable Shiba Inu in a military hat, who also serves a role as a combat medic), and Riley Miller. It’s this latter character who’s most interesting right now, as she represents the new Grenadier class of soldier.
Grenadiers are the biggest change to the tactics of Valkryia, at least as of the playable build Sega had on show at E3. Armed with powerful long-range grenade launchers, they’re able to fire mortar rounds and take out clusters of enemies in one go, even if the targets are behind cover or on higher ground. On top of that, if an allied unit – such as a scout – has scoped out enemy locations on the map, a Grenadier will be able to target them without revealing their own position, making them something of a stealth/powerhouse combo.
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Elsewhere, Valkyria Chronicles 4 feels reassuringly familiar, for better or worse. Visually, it retains the CANVAS engine, delivering the beautiful hand-drawn, watercolour painted effect the series has becomes known for. It’s all particularly fetching this time too, with colour blur, crosshatching, and a sketched aesthetic that makes the game feel like a moving artist’s pad, while sound effects in battle – onomatopoeic “BOOM” and “KZZZAAP” bubbles as weapons fire or tanks attack – create a living comic book feel.
Combat, in general, doesn’t feel like it’s had quite as much of an overhaul, although a case could easily be made that Sega has opted for the “if it ain’t broke” defence. Valkryia Chronicles 4 still operates on the BLiTZ (Battle of Live Tactical Zones) battle system that has served the series well from day one. Each round, you’ll select each of your units, move them in time and position them in an unrestricted 3D world, and then choose whether and how to attack. As commander, Claude has a certain number of Command Points to spend each turn, and each unit you move consumes one CP. Units themselves have Action Points, which determine how far they can move – deplete them too fast, and you could leave an ally standing in the middle of nowhere.
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Aside from that, Valkyria plays like a bog standard turn-based strategy game. The flow and success of each battle is down to which units you choose to deploy, the skills they have, and your own awareness of the maps. The biggest evolutions to BLiTZ that I found were simply of size and scale. Battle maps were much larger than in previous games – taking advantage of the greater power of modern consoles, no doubt – and filled with more opportunities for cover, shelter, and strategic movements. The option to have more units active on a map at once also leads to more intricate and exciting battles.
One particularly nice touch though was playing it on the Switch, a console that is fast establishing itself as a go-to for the turn-based strategy genre. Between the surprisingly excellent Mario + Rabbids, the upcoming Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and now Valkyria Chronicles, it’s proving a great platform for fans of these more complex, tactical games. In handheld mode, the smaller Joy-Con buttons will take some getting used to – at least for any returning player, used to the PlayStation controllers – but there’s no real difference to how the game plays. It also looks great, with the CANVAS engine’s more abstract graphical stylings meaning there’s no real difference between platforms – this will be the full Valkyria experience, in a more portable form.
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Overall, it feels as though existing fans of the Valkyria franchise will be thrilled to have another meaty chapter in the saga to immerse themselves in, even if it does still circle the events of the 2008 original. However, it still feels accessible, slowing introducing its more complex tactics and nuanced units.
Going back to where it all began and exploring the narrative roots of this world from a new angle could turn out to be a stroke of genius too – with Valkyria Chronicles 4 launching on all platforms, it stands to reach more players, and with its rich visuals, deep story, and satisfying approach to warfare, it could lead to a long-deserved breakthrough.