In 2008, Sega released Valkyria Chronicles. This weird PlayStation 3 exclusive caught many eyes thanks to its mixture of genres and strong art style. While the game got a pair of iffy sequels on PlayStation Portable, it never really saw more than a cult following. At least, not until it was re-released on PC and current gen, catching the interest of a new set of gamers. Sega, taking advantage of this, has seen fit to continue the series with Valkyria Chronicles 4, a new entry crafted in the spirit of the original game. Does this gamble pay off, or should the series remain dead?
Valkyria Chronicles 4 opens up with the Second European War, which pits the democratic Atlantic Federation against the fascist Eastern Imperial Alliance. You follow the story of Claude Wallace, the commander of the Federation's Squad E. When the Federation's back is against the wall, they come up with a last-ditch counteroffensive against the Imperials that they hope can lead them to victory. If this sounds familiar, it's not super different from the plot of the first game. This is because Valkyria Chronicles 4 runs parallel to the plot of the first game, just featuring a different front of the war. It's not a bad idea, as people can get into the series without needing to play the other entries.
While I like the idea of the plot, it suffers from bad writing. The tone changes with such absurd speeds that I have no clue what the game is actually going for. One scene saw characters watch a man commit suicide and begin talking all dramatically about the horrors of war, only to suddenly turn around and gush about how great their new weapons are. Another section saw an enemy commander arrive on the battlefield standing on top of his tank. He then reveals he's currently in the middle of an orgy inside his tank, then drives 90 mph off a ramp and does a flip. Every future scene with this guy has him talking in absurdly overt sexual innuendo. It's really hard to take Valkyria Chronicle 4's occasional efforts to be dark and introspective seriously when everyone is just having such a good time.
Right from the first mission, there's a lot of mechanics in Valkyria Chronicles 4 and the game really seems to throw you in the deep end with little training. The absolute basics are that the game combines turn-based strategy with third-person shooting in a way that's surprisingly natural. You'll begin each turn looking over a war map with symbols on it that represent various units. When you select which unit you want to use, the game then zooms down into a third person view in a way that simply hasn't gotten old in the last decade. From here you can move your units around, so long as they have AP, and can use a single attack each time you pick a unit. You're allowed to control the same unit multiple times so long as you have moves left, but each time you do they have less AP to move around.
Positioning your units is important, as anyone can freely open fire on enemies they see moving around. It stops you from simply charging right next to every enemy you see and hitting them for free headshots. Instead, you need to run from cover to cover and try to take advantage of the environment to get behind the Imperial army. You can do things like use tanks as walls to shield your troops or put snipers in towers to pick enemies off from afar.
You can also use Grenadiers to provide mortar fire for your troops. If you've played the original Valkyria Chronicles then this is going to be the one major difference in this new entry. This troop carries around a portable mortar that allows them to drop grenades from long distances. They can be specialized as either anti-infantry or anti-armor, and have the unique ability to slow enemies down or lower their AP with interception fire. They're also the only units in the game that can fire based on someone else's line of sight rather than their own. While they may not look like much at first, Grenadiers can massively change just how you play.
Valkyria Chronicles 4's gameplay is such a smart combination of two genres that I'm still genuinely shocked no one has made much of an effort to copy it. Driving around a tank and figuring out which type of ammo can make the biggest mess of some enemy's face is just joyful. There's just enough mechanics that, once I get used to them, I never quite feel overwhelmed but I still feel like I have plenty of options. I liked how the troops had personal traits that made them feel individual, and each of the six classes has some skill that I felt complemented the other classes.
However, combat suffers from a few problems. The most notable is just how dumb the enemy AI is. More than once I watched enemies let themselves get mowed down by my troops without even trying to fight back. They'd set themselves up for perfect attacks that could really leave me crippled, but then won't seize their moment and instead wander off like I'm not even there. I always feel like it's a waste even trying to make strategies because I could just bum rush every level and win with no issue.
There's also a bad problem with Valkyria Chronicles 4 trying to catch you by surprise. Often levels would start out with the expectation that you know what's going to happen already. One level starts with troops under fire from an enemy tank. If you don't put in the explosive-resistant Lancers, your entire front line will be wiped out before your first turn even begins. Other levels will interrupt your turn to spawn tanks, troopers, or even boss units behind you without warning. It doesn't really feel fair or fun, just a cheap tactic to make up for the bad AI.
Each level in Valkyria Chronicles 4 requires you to complete an objective. Usually, levels require you to either defeat all enemies or capture specific bases. The latter opens up another problem with the game. The ranking you get is based entirely on how fast you finish a mission and nothing else. The infamous "scout rush" strategy from the first game still works, and you'll need to utilize it occasionally for good rankings. You'll want those rankings too, as they affect how much EXP (which you need to level up your troops) and DCT (which you need to buy new weapons) you pull from a level.
There are two major types of side content available when you lose interest in the story missions. You'll unlock Skirmishes as you play the game, usually a new one showing up at the end of every chapter. These take campaign maps and give you a simple "kill all enemies" objective. It's a quick and easy way to farm some EXP and DCT for when you need it. However, by repeating the same maps and offering simple objectives, Skirmishes don't quite entertain much.
The real treat is Squad Stories. You'll unlock these by using the various members of Squad E over the course of the game. Each Squad Story is a self-contained short story focusing on three different members of the team. They'll usually contain a set of 3 to 5 cutscenes and a single mission built around the classes and traits of the characters involved. Some of them can be comical, like one where a doctor attempts to convince a gambler to repay his debts through organ donation. Others can be more serious, with one such story dealing with subjects like racism, privilege, and religion. Before long I came to love earning new Squad Stories, and they quickly proved to be my favorite part of Valkyria Chronicles 4.
One real thing that stands out? The art. While the game may not be a real technical beast, Valkyria Chronicles 4 has a beautiful art style that looks like a watercolor painting in motion. Watching the game zoom from a battle map to in-game assets seamlessly is a ton of fun, and each time I feel like I see a new little detail during this effect. Small touches, such as onomatopoeias appearing when characters run, shoot, and aim, all drew me into the world just a little more.
At about 25 hours into the game, I've already found quite a bit that makes me like Valkyria Chronicles 4. I've also found quite a bit that makes me dislike it. For every time I groan from the main plot's slapdash writing, I smile from the side plot's better focus. Every time dumb enemy AI makes me wonder why I bothered with a strategy, I had a good time driving a tank right through their lines. Things are improving, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is certainly a slow burn, and the more I play the more I come to appreciate it. If you're a fan of the original or looking for a fun game to occupy your time, this is a solid choice that should win people over. At the very least, I'm excited to keep going.