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Review

Review: Valkyria Chronicles 4

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When Valkyria Chronicles 2 was announced for the PSP, many fans were concerned. The move to a less powerful system would mean that many corners would have to be cut to bring the series to handhelds. The final product was a mostly watered down version of the first game, with an unnecessary school setting and some strange character class additions. While the third game may have improved on the basic gameplay of the original, it never saw a Western release and the only time we saw the series since was the awful Valkyria Revolution last year. For Valkyria Chronicles 4, the developers opted to go back to the gameplay style of the first game (XTgamer review) without changing too much. This was an unfortunate choice, as many of the issues that have plagued the series have remained in this latest release, along with a mixed bag of additions.

Like previous games in the series Valkyria Chronicles 4 is set during the Second European War, a series of prolonged battles taking place in an alternate version of Earth. Focusing on the previously untold stories of the Eastern battlefront in Europa, Lieutenant Claude Wallace and his squad take part in a mission to save his homeland from the invading Empire. The original game mainly focused on defending against the empire, but by reversing these roles Valkyria Chronicles 4 allows for a much different type of story to be told. A lot more focus is placed on the sacrifices made during the war, and how the battle between the Federation and Imperial armies is more than just good vs. evil.

The opening few chapters of the game have a somewhat familiar feeling, setting up the cast of characters and taking place on maps that are close to ones in Valkyria Chronicles. Claude is a likeable protagonist, devolving as a person during the course of the story. The series has always been great at giving you a likeable main cast, even the rather poor second game had some decent characters, and here it’s no different. The Empire also has its fair share of important characters, though these are more hit and miss. Klaus Walz, a fierce Imperial tank commander who becomes a recurring presence on the battlefield, is particular standout but many of the other adversaries you face end up being bland thanks to a lack of backstory or interesting motivations.

Returning once again for Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the BLiTZ battle system, where battles are turned-based but character movement and actions play out in real time. Each mission starts with an overview of the map and mission objectives. The amount of characters you can deploy in battle varies, but for the most part you’ll have a limit of 10 on the map at any one time. Once your troops are deployed, you can control them using command points (CP). Characters you control can move a certain distance – mostly determined by what class they are – and perform one main action. Most classes have both a main weapon and ragnaid, the latter allowing you to heal if you’re in a pinch. Certain classes have their own unique items, such as flamethrowers for shocktroopers and a vehicle repair tool for engineers.

The amount of classes has been cut down from the second and third games, only bringing in 1 new class on top of the original game’s roster. Scouts are the bread and butter of your squad, being able to move long distances. Shocktroopers are almost a sidegrade of scouts, trading movement for damage and defense. These two classes are likely what you’ll be using the most, the rest being very situational. Lancers are great at destroying tanks and other vehicles, but most of the time you can ignore them if you’re just rushing to the enemy base. Having powerful weapons matters little Engineers can resupply troops and repair vehicles, along with being the only class that can revive teammates, but they won’t see much use outside of creating ladders during a couple of missions. Snipers can do great long distance damage, but are very slow and near useless on maps with a reduced viewing distance. The new class, grenadier, is also rather slow but is good at slowing down enemies using mortar fire.

Anyone that played through the original Valkyria Chronicles likely remembers how scouts were far stronger than the rest. In a game where the majority of objectives are to capture the enemy base, being able to get to said bases quickly is incredibly powerful. Combining their large movement ranges and the double movement potential (potentials being certain positive and negative traits each soldier has) gives you an easy way to clear the majority of missions. Unfortunately, while there have been a few changes to try and fix this poor balance, scouts are still far and away the best unit in the game. In some ways they’re even stronger due to a couple of strange design choices, the most baffling of which is the APC.

A new addition to the series, the APC is an armoured vehicle that can hold troops across the battlefield. The APC can move further than scouts and has strong enough armour to withstand bullets and other non-explosive attacks. It was likely introduced as a way to make up for the low movement speed of certain classes, but instead all it did was make scouts even more useful. The biggest downside to that class was its low HP and defense, both of which are non-issues when being transported. For any mission that required the enemy base to be captured, I would just use the APC to ferry scouts (and the occasional shocktrooper) across the battlefield. This is also why tanks end up being near useless for most missions. High damage means little if a lot of CP is required to move anywhere, and unlike lancers tanks can’t even take advantage of the commands.

An original mechanic in Valkyria Chronicles 4, using SP – another resource that can be used once per turn – a leader unit can command up to two other units to follow along with them. And since one of your leaders is a scout, you can effectively chain the long distance movement of scouts to go from one side of a map to the other. The returning order mechanic, where you can spend CP for certain benefits that turn, can also be used to negate the only real downsides scouts have: Their low defence.

The developers obviously knew how unbalanced the classes were, so when designing certain missions they decided to throw in certain surprises. This can be new enemies appearing suddenly, or a powerful vehicle that can take out soldiers in one hit. The problem with this is that these gimmicks are usually far to strong to try and deal with the first time you encounter them. You likely won’t have the right units, or what you do have is poorly positioned and will likely die during the enemy’s turn. Instead of trying to keep going with whatever setup you have, it’s often better to just load a previous save during the mission or just restart entirely. It doesn’t help that the grade you get on completing a mission, and in turn the rewards you get, are nearly entirely based on how many turns it took to beat it.

At least both the excellent visuals and soundtrack the first game were known for are still present here. Valkyria Chronicles Remastered showed that a strong visual style is more important than just an abundance of polygons. The bright character designs and environments combined with the sketch-like filter applied to everything look fantastic. Some parts of maps like rocks and ruins look little rough, but the overall art style is consistent throughout the game. The later snowy levels are especially great with soldiers and vehicles leaving long-lasting trails in the snow. The soundtrack is also up to the standards set by the original, but it’s unfortunate that a noticeable amount of tracks are just borrowed from previous games. A few tracks here and there would have been fine, but when important battles lack their own unique battles themes they lose a little of their impact.

Conclusion

SEGA definitely succeeded in bringing the Valkyria Chronicles series back to its roots, but they really needed to do more to make a truly great game. There’s been a 10 year gap between the releases of the first and latest games, and yet it feels like the series has barely evolved. A great story and beautiful visuals cannot hide just how poorly thought out the battle system is. We can only hope that the developers were playing it safe when creating Valkyria Chronicles 4, and the next game will be full of changes that the series desperately needs.

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