Game Reviewby Richard Eisenbeis,
Valkyria Chronicles 4
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
A great war rages across the face of Europa. As armies collide in a melee of tanks and men, it's up to Claude Wallace and EZ Squad to embark on a mission to strike at the very heart of the East Europan Imperial Alliance and bring the war to an end. But between them and their goal lies an army of millions, hundreds of miles of rugged terrain, and a woman of myth and legend rumored to control the very winter itself.
The Valkyria Chronicles series is a piece of historical fiction set in a world much like our own. However, instead of coal or oil, it is the mysterious mineral ragnite—which can do anything from cure wounds to power a tank—that is the key to human technological advancement. And it is the constant need for this mineral that leads to the Valkyria Chronicles equivalent of World War II and the subsequent invasion of the small neutral country of Gallia.
Taking place at the same time as the original Valkyria Chronicles (and its “sidequel” Valkyria Chronicles 3), Valkyria Chronicles 4 focuses not on Gallia but on the greater war between the Atlantic Federation (the allies) and the East Europan Imperial Alliance (a cross between Imperial Russia and the Nazis).
The story follows a group of Gallian childhood friends who, feeling that war was inevitable regardless of whether Gallia remained neutral or not, joined the Federation army to protect their homeland by fighting the Empire. Leading them is Claude Wallace, a hardworking and talented commander who has the strange ability to sense changes in the weather and in the tide of battle.
Hoping to bring the war to a swift end, the Federation army begins its march to the Imperial capital with Claude and his special forces, EZ Squad, taking the lead on the most vital missions. But no sooner has the mission started than Claude is reunited with Riley, a mechanical genius and ragnite expert who hates Claude more than anyone else on the planet. But together, they may be the one chance the Federation has at victory.
While Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the story of a war, it's told on a personal level. Each member of the core cast has a distinct personality and complicated past to go with it. Some characters violently clash. Others work secretly at conflicting purposes to the rest of the group, seeking their own version of justice. It is a story of both intrigue and betrayal that's further complicated by a healthy helping of ethical dilemmas. And that's just on our heroes' side.
Like the other games in the series, Valkyria Chronicles 4 has a solid cast of villains that plague our heroes across the length of the story. This time, they are up against X-0, an Imperial task force led by an unethical scientist eager to test his theories (and prototype weapons) on the battlefield. His team include a pair of sadistic girls, a disabled tactical genius, a dashing scoundrel of a tank commander, and “the Winter Witch”—a mentally unstable Valkyria of such raw power that she can obliterate entire armies with a single stroke.
As in past titles, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is not afraid to explore some touchy topics. The first two games explored the issue of anti-Semitism, and the third game was focused around a penal military unit. Valkyria Chronicles 4 tackles the atomic bomb and the ethical implications surrounding its use. It's not a topic you might expect a Japanese game to explore given its understandably touchy nature, but the game is all the more captivating for this angle.
As for the gameplay, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a strategy RPG like its predecessor. Each turn, you have a number of points to use in battle. Using one of these, you take direct control of a character for a limited amount of time, moving and/or attacking with them in third person as you see fit. Moreover, each of your characters is assigned to a specific unit class, dictating which weapons they can use and how far they can move. You can also use your points to issue orders, powering up your troops to make their actions all the more efficient. Regardless, when you have spent all your points in a given turn, the enemy has their turn. You continue this cycle until the battle is won or lost.
With its usual battle system in place and its beautiful art style prevalent as always, the game is unmistakably a Valkyria Chronicles game. But at first glance, Valkyria Chronicles 4 appears to be a large step back when it comes to the advancements and refinements made by Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3. Gone are things like character-specific special moves and multi-area maps. Likewise, gone away are all the advanced units, including fencers, armored techs, medics and melodists.
Luckily, many of these things return in a somewhat altered form. Kurt's special move to have up to two allies move and attack with him for one turn in Valkyria Chronicles 3 is now an ability any officer can use. Likewise, most advanced versions of the game's original core classes can be recreated simply by researching and equipping the right weapon. (Though the melee and medic classes are gone completely.)
This simplification feels like a conscious choice on the part of the developers to make the game accessible for new players and make it more familiar to those who played the original on PS3, PS4, or PC (but not the PSP-only sequels, one of which was only released in Japan). While understandable, it's still disappointing to lose out on some of the franchise's most enjoyable albeit obscure additions.
What makes up for these losses is the addition of a new main class, the grenadier, which is frankly a game changer. Firing mortar rounds in a parabolic arc, grenadiers can shoot over cover—even over buildings—and hit targets half a map away. Moreover, like many of the other classes, they will fire automatically and repeatedly when it is the opposing player's turn. They even have the ability to damage armored units like tanks. This makes mortars insanely powerful on both offence and defense. Learning how to deal with them quickly and efficiently becomes a vital part of nearly every mission.
If there is one issue with Valkyria Chronicles 4, it's that the main story missions are a double-edged sword. To keep things exciting and unpredictable, the vast majority of the story missions are more complicated than “take the point” or “kill all the enemies.” Sometimes the game gives you interesting objectives from the start, like doing a mission without being seen or having you make a running retreat from an overwhelming force.
Other times, the missions have a twist mid-battle that's just impossible to plan for. As the game rewards exp on how fast you complete a mission rather than anything else, you are forced to balance speed with attempting to prepare for the unknown twist objective. While it does work out as intended for the most part in the early game, it feels ridiculously unfair in the late game missions.
No matter how conservatively you play, there are missions you will likely be unable to complete the first time you try—especially if you want to keep all your characters alive. (As in previous games in the series, if one of your non-main-character soldiers dies in battle, they are no longer usable for the remainder of the game.)
And since you can be an hour into a mission before hitting the twist, it can feel like a complete waste of time the first time you play. Without literally knowing the future, you may be doomed to failure from the start. As I neared the end of the game, I found myself fighting the urge to spoil each mission's twist beforehand, just for my own morale.
But while the game could be frustrating at times, overall I found Valkyria Chronicles 4 to be an excellent return to the battlefields of Europa. It's got complex characters, a captivating story, poignant themes, and well-tuned gameplay—all tied together with the unique art style and powerful score you'd expect from a game in this series. Whether you're a longtime fan of the series or a newcomer, Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn't disappoint.
Overall : A-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A-
Gameplay : B+
Presentation : A
+ Complex characters and a refined gameplay system
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