Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles franchise has had a resurgence over the past few years with mixed results. 2016 saw the release of the delightful Valkyria Chronicles Remastered on PS4, while 2017 saw the critically panned Valkyria Chronicles Revolution release on both Xbox One and PS4. Thankfully Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a return to form, giving fans a new sequel that may not necessarily break new ground, but is enjoyable and hopefully paves the way for even more entries.
Like the original, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is set on the fictional continent of Europa where the East Europan Imperial Alliance has started a war with the Atlantic Federation over a limited resource called Ragnite. The story runs parallel to the original Valkyria Chronicles and sees players take command of Squad E, an elite team of the Ranger Corps who are considered one of the best in the Federation. The beginning of the game feels more streamlined as Squad E has already been established and you quickly begin Operation Northern Cross, a campaign to take the Imperial capital city. However, the plot does divert to flashbacks and additional (sometimes optional) chapters which explore the history of Squad E and expand on character development. This includes secondary characters, many of whom have fleshed out backstories which makes the risk of in-game permadeath more impactful as you grow more attached to them than in previous installments.
Unlike Revolution, which was an action RPG, Valkyria Chronicles 4 returns to the tactical gameplay the series is known for. For those unfamiliar with the series, the game combines turn-based combat with minor real-time strategy. On the battlefield each side takes turns commanding their squad with Action Points, which allows a unit to move and attack. When you move a unit, you take direct control of them and can freely navigate around the map in real-time. You are limited to moving a certain distance and attacking once per Action Point. When moving on the map you need to consider the location of enemy units as they will fire upon you if you come into range. Conversely, when enemies are moving your units will automatically attack as well! When you press the attack button, the action pauses and the camera changes to over the unit’s shoulder. You can then take your time aiming the perfect shot; lining up for a target’s weak point or looking for environmental damage opportunities such as Ragnite power generators that will explode when damaged. The combat system is fluid, engaging and encourages you to act strategically.
Before each battle you can choose which squad members are deployed to the field. This is where the game truly shines as you need to consider unit classes and ensure you have a balanced team to suit the scenario. Unit classes include Scouts, Shocktroopers, Snipers, Engineers, Lancers and Tanks. Scouts can travel greater distances but have average defense and firepower, while Shocktroopers are the opposite in that they can’t travel quite as far but excel in defense and firepower. Snipers offer long-range offense and Engineers can repair vehicles, resupply ammo and disarm landmines. Lancers can damage enemy tanks and Tanks offer heavy firepower support to the squad and can enter locations that are unsafe for other units, such as areas that are overrun with enemies. New to Valkyria Chronicles 4 are Grenadier and APC Tank units. Grenadiers are a little slow on the battlefield but can shoot devastating long-range mortars. APC Tanks aren’t quite as protected or powerful as normal Tanks, but can safely transport other units across the battlefield. The new unit classes shake up the established formula just enough to keep gameplay fresh for returning fans, but overall there’s plenty of variety here and it’s fun to experiment with different unit combinations.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 has an interesting mechanic where squad members will have an affiliation with other specific teammates. If they are adjacent to each other on the battlefield they will support each other by jointly attacking enemies, whereas if the teammates are not affiliated with each other then they are less likely to attack together. It not only adds another layer of strategy when selecting your squad but is also crucial to unlocking bonus chapters. If the affiliated squadmates work together enough times then you will unlock bonus chapters which explore their relationship and backstories. There’s encouragement here to mix up which characters are in your squad so that you can view all content.
Squad members also have a number of unique buffs and debuffs called Potentials which are triggered randomly. For example, the character Raz has a Competitive Spirit Potential which increases his firing accuracy when he discovers an enemy. If Raz is around someone he doesn’t like however, it may trigger his Mad Dog Potential which causes his defense stats to lower. Due to the random nature of Potentials it offers both novelty and annoyance. Initially it’s an intriguing gameplay mechanic that forces you to build you team more thoughtfully, but in later chapters the debuffs in particular can actually hinder the flow of combat and drag out battles.
Throughout the campaign you will gain experience points and money which can be used to train unit classes and upgrade equipment. To name a few options you can upgrade armour to offer higher defense points, upgrade the accuracy or firepower of weapons and unlock new Potentials that are unique to a unit class. It’s standard fare really for an RPG, but it’s functional and lets you have a break from the main gameplay.
The series’ popular canvas engine has received an upgrade for Valkyria Chronicles 4. The game world is warmer and more detailed than ever, thanks in no small part to being developed for newer systems, but still retains its distinctive watercolour style. At times it’s almost like watching an anime series or reading a coloured manga and is one of the more artistic videogames available on the market recently. Gameplay also runs smoothly with no noticeable slowdown.
The only real let down for Valkyria Chronicles 4 is that is is perhaps a little too similar to the first entry of the franchise. There’s a few new bells and whistles, with the story having deeper character development, and the graphical presentation benefits from the title being developed for modern platforms. These are all the trappings of a safe sequel, but what we’d like to see moving forward is a new direction. We want to see Europa in a more modern setting, or even take the series to a new continent altogether. Of course when Sega did try something new we got Valkyria Chronicles Revolution, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves…
Regardless, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a worthy successor which will appeal to fans and newcomers alike. The strategic gameplay is engaging and it’s pretty hard to fault the game in any significant way. It comes highly recommended.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is available now on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PC. Version reviewed was for Xbox One.
- Deeper character development - Improved canvas graphics engine - Engaging strategic gameplay
- A little too similar to the original game - Unit Potentials can become an annoyance