- Delightful character designs
- Bright and colourful environments
- Plenty of depth to strategic gameplay
- Challenging yet accessible to series newcomers
- Enemy AI can be a little dim at times
- Doesn’t push the series forward too much
- Review Price: £39..99
- Release Date: September 25, 2018
- Genre: SRPG
- Developer: SEGA
- Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Combining a fictional interpretation of one of the world’s most harrowing conflicts with melodrama, cute girls and panty shots should be a recipe for disaster, but Valkyria Chronicles somehow makes it work. Marking the first time the series has left Japan in over a decade (not counting the remaster and last year’s awful Revolution), this is a stellar yet familiar return to form that shines on all platforms.
You’re thrust into the Second Europan War, a fictional conflict in an imaginary world that somewhat mimics our own. The game takes liberties with technology, which is at times intertwined with mystical properties akin to magic, but it never quite leaves the realms of plausibility. Hardcore fans will recognise a few names and locations, but newcomers needn’t be afraid of being overwhelmed with lore as there isn’t much of it on the surface.
You play as Claude Wallace, a young commander of Squad E, who is entrusted with the running of Operation Northern Cross. A successful mission could change the tide of war against the Empire, although it’s no easy task. Luckily, you’re assisted by a cast supporting characters. At first glance, they look like a laundry list of anime archetypes, but throughout the game’s narrative, they’re developed enough that I felt invested.
Especially Riley, a young grenadier with a tragic past that is fleshed out at a steady pace, unfolding alongside the wider conflict your team partakes in. There’s also Kai, a quiet, brooding sniper who proved essential in battle. She usurps the stereotype I expected from such a character, which is a rarity in JRPGs.
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Valkyria Chronicles 4 is almost identical to the 2008 original in terms of mechanics. It’s a turn-based strategy experience where you move individual troops around the field. The third person perspective is reminiscent of an over-the-shoulder shooter, but the action is considerably more mediated. Aside from movement, you can only perform a single action per turn. Whether it’s firing a gun, lobbing grenades or healing wounds, you need to think carefully.
Missions are normally labeled with simple objectives. You’ll either be dispatching a group of enemies, identifying a threat or protecting special forces. The premise is nice and simple, lending itself nicely to experimentation once things kick off. Much like XCOM, every action counts as your expected to approach later excursions with a significant amount of hindsight. Knowing enemy positions, what could they be doing five or more turns from now? On more than one occasion I failed to consider this, and within seconds my commander was flanked and killed.
That aside, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is surprisingly forgiving as you’re free to request reinforcements from camps across the field. Captured from the opposing force, these act as checkpoints of sorts where you can easily restore health and formulate your next steps going forward. Every mission is marvelously paced and short enough that screwing up and needing to start over never feels that frustrating. Having a healthy number of classes to choose from also lends a bit of variety to the gameplay.
Your deployed squad can consist of a combination of Scouts, Shocktroopers, Engineers, Grenadiers and Snipers. All possessing unique equipment and abilities, peppering different roles throughout your squad is super important. I often had a sniper sneak behind some high ground cover to snipe out nearby Shocktroopers, providing my scouts with ample safety to push forward.
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Orders can also be activated throughout a battle. These sacrifice precious action points, but their benefits are huge as a wide range of attributes can be temporarily boosted using them. Having two characters close to one another who are friends outside of battle might also provide extra attack power or potential for a special attack. SEGA has done a tremendous job making everything outside of combat feel like it matters.
When you aren’t fighting, you’ll be in your Headquarters where you can recruit new soldiers, upgrade equipment and converse with fellow comrades. Enhancing equipment and player abilities is very simple. All you do is navigate a menu and purchase the upgrades that fit your fancy. It’s disappointingly bland, and I would have loved for individual soldiers to have a more noticeable sense of progression in battle, whether it’s individual levels or simply an experience bar filling up with each milestone.
Despite this, each upgrade has a noticeable impact. Improving my tank’s armour, which are a rarity on the battlefield, allowed it to act as mobile cover for my infantry while bursting through hostile armaments with no trouble at all. I felt like a truly cohesive unit that nobody should mess with. Anime is serious business I suppose. Military murder aside, there’s plenty of downtime for cute conversations with squadmates and character-specific side quests that are often adorable. They’ll also reward you with abilities to use in combat, so there’s real incentive to try everything Valkyria Chronicles 4 has to offer.
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Graphically, Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks positively lovely. The watercolour anime aesthetic of the original remains timeless, and this installment takes the same approach. With the edges of the screen reminiscent of an unfinished canvas, colours flourish across environments in bright flushes, reacting accordingly to whatever’s happening on screen.
I primarily played on PS4 but managed to briefly dip into the Nintendo Switch version. Visual compromises aside, it’s a perfectly fine way to play Valkyria Chronicles 4. Certain textures, particularly shadows, can book a bit underwhelming, but performance remains solid in both docked and portable mode. The short, turn-based nature of makes this a wonderful experience for portable play, with sleep mode acting as a saving grace if you’re on a commute or having trouble with a certain stage.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a triumphant return to form for the beloved strategy series, and it’s amazing to see it finally pack a punch outside of Japan once again.
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