World War II is one of the most popular settings for a war story. It makes sense; with so many fronts, political movements, and people in the war, there is opportunity everywhere for a story to be told. Most of all, it seems that the story of the people of Allied Europe and Charles de Gaulle’s French Resistance are told again and again. There’s something tragic yet inspiring about people putting their lives on the line in a hopeless fight against the Third Reich that immortalizes the story in media. Sega’s take on WWII is expanded upon in Valkyria Chronicles 4, which runs parallel to the events of the original game. The love and care put into this title leads to a remarkable, though familiar, game.
In the year 1935, war is rampant across Europa. The Imperial Alliance has begun an invasion of the small country of Gallia, forcing the Atlantic Federation to defend the small state. The story of Welkin and the Federation’s heroic defense is nothing new, however. That’s the objective in the first Valkyria Chronicles game. A decade later, the perspective shifts northward, and focuses on Claude Wallace and Operation Northern Cross. Claude and the rest of Squad E enlisted in the Federation army after their hometown, Hafen, was razed by the Alliance. After a successful defense of a Federation town, the group is sent to help push through the Empire and attack the capital in order to end the war quickly. Taking part in the largest military movement in history, Squad E begins a journey that will have many unexpected turns and show the atrocities of war.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 wastes no time getting the player into the action. A brief cutscene introduces the world, before the player is dropped into their first battle. Much of the background information is doled out as the game progresses. While I like not knowing anything early on, I did feel that this leads to an uneven distribution of information. Some chapters would introduce a pivotal plot point, new characters, and give insight to a character’s past, while others wouldn’t have half the depth. Luckily, the former was more common, but it does make a few of the lighter chapters seem out of place. The story itself isn’t bad, as I often found myself in suspense, always wanting to play one more chapter. There were a few turning points that seemed unbelievable, such as (minor spoilers ahead!) when the Alliance is reported to be in the retreat, then manages to send a large force to attack the Federation’s base of operations. For the most part, the story is believable, but the plot points occasionally strain my credulity. This isn’t a bad thing, as it made Valkyria Chronicles 4 distinct from other war stories that try to always paint a bleak image with no sign of change. However, the biggest story improvement, and what makes it better than other titles in the series to me, is the focus on relationships.
One notable thing about the story is that it always focuses on Squad E. Sure, some cutscenes show the events across Europa, but the player commands Squad E through the entire game. This allows for every character to develop, even the seemingly throwaway grunts. The introductory conversation with each character isn’t throwaway text; every character has an opportunity to be characterized since so much time is spent with Squad E. I don’t just mean simple traits, like “Viola is hardworking”, or “Nico is soft”. Everything in relation to the character, whether it be their sayings in combat, facial expressions, or potentials, helps further the understanding of their motivations, backstory, and hopes. What’s more, many characters have unlockable Squad Stories, which are unlockable side missions that feature cutscenes with the soldiers in question, and a battle. I was encouraged to use many different characters during my playthrough in order to understand a bit about their life and potentially unlock a Squad Story, even if I wasn’t going to use them for the majority of the game. When I first began playing Valkyria Chronicles 4, I assumed most characters wouldn’t develop beyond their initial dialogue. Now, I see that the assumption was completely incorrect, as I am attached to many members of the diverse cast. Every character is uniquely written, even those meant to fit a certain archetype.
There isn’t a character I truly despise among the cast, which I found surprising, considering how many members there are. Some of my personal favorites include Aulard, a mechanic with an obsession of tanks, Godwin, an ex-war profiteer forced into the military to pay for his crimes, and Aladdin, an egotistical, narcissistic sniper. I think that many of these side characters managed to compete with the main cast in terms of memorability. Everyone has a page on their story, showing the effort the writers put into these characters. On a related note, there is a page on almost everything in Valkyria Chronicles 4, so voracious readers like myself will be satisfied by the large glossary available. My only complaint about the character development is that a few of the characters available from the beginning don’t receive much development until one of the later flashbacks. Now, this wouldn’t be a negative in any other form of media, but video games must be approached differently. A character who died early on might become extremely remarkable 10 chapters later, but by then, it’s too late. Luckily, this circumstance felt like the exception, not the rule. The lovable characters of Valkyria Chronicles 4 are not just strengthening the story; the bonds created with these characters make gameplay much more intense and emotional.
Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s core gameplay combines both tactical and action elements into one great package. Battles take place in many types of settings, ranging from flourishing pastures and bustling towns to frigid, remote cliffs. Before battle, one can deploy up to 10 units, and arrange them around the provided slots. A large map shows the pathways and barriers for the stage, your units, enemy units visible to player units, and the last known location of enemies that have escaped the eyes of allies. Like Fire Emblem or Disgaea, battles are turn based. On the player’s turn, a certain amount of CP is provided, which is used for a variety of purposes. CP can buff player units with orders, radio a ship command, call reinforcements, and most importantly, move deployed units. Once a unit has been selected, the game shifts to a 3D perspective with the camera set in 3rd person behind the controlled unit. Each unit has AP, which dictates how much they can move when selected. The unit can interact with the environment, disarming mines or climbing stairs, and use an action once per CP. This puts the unit in targeting mode, where they can shoot or use one of the many items, like first aid, a vehicle repair kit, or a grenade. After the action, the unit can use any leftover AP, before ending their movement and returning to the map view. CP can be distributed however the player wishes, meaning that one character could potentially be the only one moved the entire turn if the player desires. Max AP decreases each time they are moved, but is fully restored at the start of the next turn. One thing I wish I could do is get an exact measurement of AP usage. Sure, estimation did the trick most of the time, but there were a few moments when I had a strategy thought out for the next turn, only for it to all fall apart since a shocktrooper needed an extra 3 steps in order to capture a camp or duck behind a sandbag(Though, it did lead to an interesting story when I detonated a grenade at my foot in order to launch myself into the grass for cover). During the enemy turn, certain player classes will provide interception fire as the enemy does all the aforementioned things. At its core, the gameplay is unique, satisfying, strategic, and most importantly, simply fun.
While Valkyria Chronicles 4 is sometimes viewed as an action game and RPG working in tangent, it is really much more of an RPG. One instance of this is the class system. There are 6 infantry classes in the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses: Scouts, Shocktroopers, Snipers, Engineers, Lancers, and the latest addition, the Grenadier. The Scout is a relatively fragile unit that has the most AP and can be deadly in close range engagements. The Shocktrooper carries a machine gun which low accuracy but high damage and a large magazine. They’re the typical soldier, being a great all around choice, especially for interception fire and breaking through an enemy encampment. The Sniper, as the name suggests, uses a sniper rifle and normally can’t provide interception fire. Engineers have slightly lower stats than scouts, but make it up by having better healing for themselves and allies, as well as being able to repair tanks. They, the Scouts, and the Shocktroopers can also use a limited amount of grenades. The Lancer fires a spear shaped missile for anti tank uses. They are bulkier, as they are meant to come face to face with a tank. Finally, the new class, Grenadier, can shoot mortar shells from a distance, dealing area damage and slowing enemies during interception fire.
The last effect is especially important, as it is one of the new changes meant to discourage the classic strategy of “Scout Rushing”. One design problem that the developers have faced with the Valkyria Chronicles series is how to discourage “cheap” strategies. A prevalent one in early titles was strengthening a Scout with the Order system, before using the now practically invulnerable Scout’s high AP to run through the enemy lines and capture their base. Since ranking is based solely on turn count, this strategy proved itself to be very viable in previous titles, in conjunction with the fact that most missions were “Capture the enemy base to win”. There are many changes, some noticeable, some neglectable, that are meant to stop this maneuver. Luckily, I think that this did the trick. While a few missions can still be rushed, most levels are designed to encourage slower, strategic play. Whether it be by placing the multiple objectives in certain positions that made solo rushes no longer feasible, a few grenadiers defending certain chokepoints, or by designing the terrain to favor certain units, it’s clear that the design team learned from their past mistakes by encouraging different types of play instead of boring, repetitive methods. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Valkyria Chronicles game if nothing felt a degree above the rest, and this time, it’s anti tank shells. The extensive R&D system for each class means that there are many ways to customize a unit. Tanks have weak points on their radiators, which are usually placed on the back. Before, an infantry unit or player tank would have to attack from behind, which wasn’t feasible in certain situations. One shell that can be unlocked has anti tank effects, just like a Lancer. Instead of risking a flank, I could just bombard the tanks from a safe position with the Grenadiers. It doesn’t feel as powerful as the original Scout Rush, but it did outclass Lancers in many situations. I refrained from using strategies I considered to be cheap as long as I could, but it became hard to resist when Elite troopers appeared. At times, these soldiers with inflated stats felt like an excuse for difficulty as opposed to clever stage design, though the latter was more common. Of course, imbalances are to be expected when adding a revolutionary new class like the Grenadier is added, which I expect will be countered by a new overpowered class in Valkyria Chronicles 5.
I’ve mentioned the characters of Valkyria Chronicles 4, and that’s because I believe they truly enhance the experience. Running through the hail of mortar shells and rain of bullets as a beloved person feels much different than the same action with a nameless grunt. The bonds created with these characters help convey one of the harshest realities of war: the loss of friends. I believe that creating these tragic feelings also creates moments of elation; surviving a sniper shot by a hair leads to jubilation as a character who you have grown to love over the past few hours of gameplay lives another day. Rushing over to a fallen comrade before the turn limit is reached or an enemy finishes them off is exhilarating and creates memories that will remain in my mind for quite some time. The character’s nature also manifests itself in combat abilities. The potential system makes every unit unique in a way other than pure stats. Even if the character has little to no development, which is rare in itself, the potentials will always tell a story. For example, one character can’t focus around his sister, and another gains a defense boost when near a tank. Many of the negative potentials also are improved as the character in question develops, which is a great way of showing development without blatantly stating it. The characters truly are the highlights of Valkyria Chronicles 4, and the gameplay would have suffered if less work was done on them.
Of course, a JRPG isn’t the same without an upgrade system. Luckily, Valkyria Chronicles 4 excels in that regard as well. In the headquarters, units can be leveled up and new weapons can be researched. Each system requires its own type of experience, which is gained in battle. When a class levels up, everyone in the class improves, no matter how much they are used. Sometimes, a level up simply boosts stats, but there are many instances in which everyone in the class learns a new potential or Claude learns a new order. While I leveled up my units without thinking, I personally don’t feel that it matters as much as skillful play. Personally, I believe this is for the best, as it highlights the strong tactical system in the game. This is the main use for EXP, but it is also used to learn a few specialized orders, like instant aid or medic support. The R&D department is quite extensive, having upgrade paths for every infantry weapon as well as tank upgrades. Every main infantry weapon has at least two upgrade paths: a standard boost and paths specializing in specific stats, like anti-tank, accuracy, or magazine size. These are mass produced, and can be applied to units in whatever way you want. While Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn’t have all of Valkyria Chronicles 3‘s specialized classes, many weapon types create a close replication, which helps diversify the uses of a class even more. For example, I had two favorite grenadiers, Connor and Riley. While Riley has high damage mortar shells, I would outfit Connor to serve a different purpose, like anti tank or further range. These add an extra layer of strategy, as I have to choose the right unit for the job among the entire class. Tank upgrades work slightly differently. While there are standard upgrades that always are in effect, many specialized upgrades weren’t passive. Instead, they were assigned a block which has to be arranged on a grid to fit with other upgrades. A universal analogy to this would be Tetris, but it’s practically identical to Kid Icarus Uprising‘s power system, so it may be familiar to some. The tank, weapon, and unit upgrades in Valkyria Chronicles 4 added an extra layer of depth to an already deep strategy game, which isn’t necessary, but I loved.
The soundtrack isn’t bad either. I loved the many battle and cutscene themes, as they were all wonderfully composed, with the perfect balance and mood of an orchestra. Generally, the sentiments of Claude determined the piece for each stage, which led to the “confidence” theme being played a bit too much in the beginning, before practically disappearing by the end. If there were multiple themes per mood, I wouldn’t have had a problem, but it is a bit too repetitive right now. However, the entire package of presentation was wonderful, and I look forward to the future of it.
Visuals & Performance
I loved Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s presentation. The entire story is told as a flashback, based off of the diary Claude is seen writing throughout the game. As such, the game has a beautiful sketchbook style. The entire game looks like a beautiful drawing, with lines along the characters, watercolor buildings, and all the little atmospheric particles. I love that the palette always reflected the mood of the game, as it is how Claude’s diary would be illustrated. I feel the game looks a bit too similar to the first game, but that’s not a bad thing. The first game has aged beautifully, but I think the developers could have made it a bit prettier if they wanted to.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is one of my favorite games of 2018. The story is emotional, with deep characters that are impossible not to love by the end. Gameplay, while a bit superfluous at times, combined the calm nature of strategy with the hectic nature of action games perfectly. The new grenadier class is an excellent addition to the classic 5, and opened up many new strategies that were impossible before. As always, there are a few tactics that felt unbalanced, but it’s not as much of a problem as before. The amazing presentation also bolstered the atmosphere of the game, which, in tangent with the characters, led to a world I cared deeply for. Valkyria Chronicles 4 may have come out a decade after the original, but the time has led to a refined product that will be loved by all.
Sometimes the tracks get a little repetitive