Valkyria Chronicles 4 on PS4
The original Valkyria Chronicles made a big splash on PS3 with its brilliant mix of strategy and action, a fascinating story and characters, and a gorgeous sketchbook art style. Since then, however, the franchise has hit stumbling blocks with the second entry on PSP not gaining as much traction, a third game never even making it to the west, and the spinoff Valkyria Revolution having a very lukewarm reaction from fans and critics alike. Now, 10 years later, Valkyria Chronicles 4 brings a grand return to the series’ roots, and boy what a return it is. A fantastic story, well-developed characters, meaningful additions to combat, and more, make this a successor worthy to the beloved name the first game made for itself.
Valkyria Chronicles 4’s story takes place during the same time period as the original game, focusing on a new protagonist named Claude Wallace, commander of the elite Squad-E of the Federation army. At the start of the game, Claude and his squad are selected to lead the vanguard for Operation Northern Cross, a last-ditch effort by the Federation to capture the Imperial capital and bring an end to the devastating Second Europan War. Valkyria Chronicles 4 has some tenuous links to the first game, particularly that the main cast of characters grew up in Gallia, the country that was the central focus of Valkyria Chronicles. There are quite a few references and nods that fans will recognize, but despite this, you don’t actually have to have played any previous Valkyria Chronicles games to appreciate this one.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 has a self-contained story, and a detailed journal and glossary help explain terms and events you may not be totally clear on. The game is hugely story-focused, just like the first Valkyria Chronicles, and as a whole it’s very well done. There’s an engaging narrative to play through here, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes ample time to develop and flesh out its cast of characters, simultaneously getting you attached to them. The main cast of Claude and his squad mates Raz, Kai, and Riley are all wonderfully complex characters, and each one goes through their own development arc throughout the game, even though they may seem stereotypical at first. Of course, the adorable squad rescue dog Ragnarok, Rags for short, deserves special mention as a fun little addition.
At the same time, the basic squad mates are also given more time to shine with a feature called Squad Stories. These are similar to the stories you could purchase in the first Valkyria Chronicles, but each one is a dedicated chapter you can unlock with cutscenes and a unique battle to play through. There’s some really fun character development that happens in these, and it also provides a valuable reward by unlocking new Potentials for units. There’s also a good amount of time taken out to develop the villains of the story, and provide more insight into their ambitions and motivations.
Most of Valkyria Chronicles 4’s story is told through dialogue scenes with accompanying character animations, though some gorgeous cutscenes do highlight important story moments. Hitoshi Sakimoto, of Final Fantasy XII fame, returns once again to score the game, and it’s by far one of his very best scores yet, and that’s really saying something. Outside of the highly memorable main theme, there are some really evocative songs used to punctuate emotion and tension at various points of the game, helping draw you into the already engaging story even more. The only problem the story suffers from is some sluggish pacing for the first five chapters or so, as events move slowly and the game builds up. Once you’re invested, Valkyria Chronicles 4 really kicks into high gear, but the opening moments can drag here and there.
Of course, there are also some big changes made on the gameplay front with Valkyria Chronicles 4, and overall this feels like a natural refinement of the systems the series has been using for years. The base systems during battle are all the same as past Valkyria games, with you and the enemy taking turns moving units and attacking. Your actions in combat are split into two sections, Map and Action mode. Moving a unit costs 1 CP (Command Point) and once you start moving a unit the map view zooms in on them to let you move the character around, and then manually aim and shoot. If you’ve played a Valkyria game, it’ll all be familiar.
A brand new class called the Grenadier really shakes up gameplay and strategies with the ability to pelt enemies from a distance and over obstacles with grenades. The class can also use intercept fire on enemies that are moving and that, of course, holds true for the enemy as well. I cannot overstate how integrally the Grenadier can change strategies, and even as a returning Valkyria player I found myself having to rethink the way I approached combat, and the best way to work Grenadiers into my typical strategies, as well as how to avoid the enemies.
Orders are once again in the game, letting you expend a certain amount of CP during a turn to use a special skill that can have a variety of effects, like boosting an ally’s accuracy or repairing a vehicle. A new feature called Ship Orders, as shown in recent trailers, also extend your tactical options by letting you radio your ship to provide support. The final new mechanic is called Last Stand. This gives your units a chance of getting a final burst of energy when being KOd, standing back up to unleash a final attack, or inspiring nearby allies and increasing their stats.
Between battles and story scenes you can go to your Headquarters tab to level up your units, learn new orders, develop new weapons and tank parts, organize your squad and more. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock an almost overwhelming amount of weapons and equipment for your units, that provides a high level of customization for your strategies, and boy will you need to.
The first Valkyria Chronicles was known for being difficult, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 is no different. Battles can be tough, often pitting you against overwhelming odds, and you’ll need to be prepared. What amazed me the most about the game’s combat system, however, is just how varied each and every battle feels. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is constantly introducing unique instances or challenges, and no two battles ever feel the same. This keeps you engaged and on your toes at all times, really having to think through each battle. Some of these battles are also absolutely staggering in their scale and scope, providing multiple avenues and fronts you’ll need to fight on.
By and large, most of these battles are enjoyable and challenging at the same time, but there were a few instances where I found the difficulty spiking quite a bit from one battle to another. This wasn’t a constant issue but there were times I found myself blindsided by going through an easy mission and then next being dropped into a tremendously hard one. Luckily, the game also gives you the option of playing Skirmish battles for extra money and experience to improve your army, if you need to. I never really found I needed to play Skirmishes, but it was nice to have the option there.
Graphically, the series’ sketchbook aesthetic looks better than ever, with characters and environments really popping. Cutscenes, in particular, are fluid and absolutely gorgeous, and my only complaint in that regard is that I wish there were more of them sprinkled throughout the experience. Outside of a few instances of me having trouble navigating a tank around an obstacle, Valkyria Chronicles 4 played without a hitch, both framerate and control-wise.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a grand return to form for the series, and it’s all the more exciting to see after a rough period for Valkyria. Outside of some early pacing issues, Valkyria Chronicles 4 fires on all cylinders, giving you some fantastic strategy battles to play, mixed in with a highly emotional story that keeps getting better the further you go.
For the first time since the very first Valkyria Chronicles, it feels like the series has realized its full potential. It’s easily the longest Valkyria game yet, but it doesn’t suffer for it. Longtime fans have a lot to love here and for newcomers, it’s the very best place to try the series out.
Score: 4.5/5 – Great
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