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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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