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October 2022

Valkyria Chronicles 4

Platform(s): Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Valkyria Chronicles 4'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 26, 2018 @ 11:30 p.m. PDT

Soldiers, strategists, and commanders - the call has come in from the front lines. It's time to rejoin the fight in Valkyria Chronicles 4, the next installment of the tactical RPGc franchise.

Buy Valkyria Chronicles 4

Valkyria Chronicles is a franchise with an odd history. The original PS3 game was released early in the system's life and sold rather poorly until it was in the bargain bin. The first two sequels were released on the PSP as budget titles. The first sequel was poorly received, and the second was never officially translated. Then there's Valkyria Revolution, a generally reviled attempt to reinvent the franchise. For a long time, it seemed like the franchise might return to the dustbins of history, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 represents the first true sequel to the PS3 game, and that should give fans something they've been awaiting for a decade.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a side story to the original game. Set in a semi-fantasy version of World War II-era Europe, Valkyria Chronicles follows the small country of Gallia as it tried to repel the Empire. The original game focused on the defense of Gallia while VC4 follows a new group of soldiers. Claude Wallace is a fresh-out-of-school officer who enlisted after his hometown was attacked by Imperials. Along with most of the war-age recruits from his town, Claude is tasked with a very dangerous mission: Operation Northern Cross, a direct assault on the Imperial homeland. Together, Claude and his allies must overcome impossible odds (and even more impossible weather) to take out the Imperial's most well-guarded stronghold.

VC4 has a fun cast and an interesting plot, but it has a problem with the tone. It isn't as bad as Valkyria Chronicles 2, but it's still a tad all over the place. The game veers from realistic problems of war and struggle to wacky anime-inspired antics in a heartbeat. Characters can go from discussing mass genocide to blushing over accidental underwear glimpses. A tense mission where a character is shot can be followed up by two allied sides going to war over fluffy bread. It's not entirely incongruous, but the rapid shifts in tone and style can definitely feel odd.

Perhaps the coolest part of Valkyria Chronicles is the wide variety of recruitable characters. Characters come in six classes: Engineer, Lancer, Scout, Shocktrooper, Sniper, and the new Grenadier. All characters in the same job class share levels and upgrades. You can customize them somewhat with unlockable equipment that allows you to focus on anti-tank or anti-infantry actions. What really sets apart the characters is distinct potentials that are exclusive to them. Some are positive, and some are negative. Some characters functions better when fighting with friends or battling alone. Some panic in the face of enemy fire or occasionally fumble when reloading. One character is a drunkard who shouldn't be on the battlefield. Finding the right mix of potentials to augment your team can make battles easier. You can even complete side-quests for various characters to transform some of their negative potentials into positive ones.

Combat in VC4 is a mix of strategy and real-time action. You're given a set number of Command Points at the start of a turn, as well as a static overview of the map that shows the location of all units. You can select one of your units, and when you do, the game changes to a semi-real-time game. You can move your unit around the field freely, though every movement takes some of their AP gauge, and when that runs dry, they can no longer move. Every character can also take one action per turn — either attacking or healing. A major important element is that you aren't limited in who you spend your CP on. You can have the same character act every single turn if you desire. They just get reduced AP for each action until they are unable to move at all. The number of CP you have is determined by the number of leaders you have on the field, and if any of them should go down in combat, you lose CP.

Any character who is not the chosen character can't directly act during their turn, but they can participate in different ways. Enemies engage in Interception Fire: weaker but consistent attacks on anything that is in their range, which is often enough to kill anything if given enough time. Allies will attack alongside your chosen character if they're close enough, but if you attack, enemies can counterattack for massive damage (if they're not killed first). It's an interesting system in that it rewards both tactical play and quick movement. It's not fully real-time because the game pauses when you aim, but  it's not purely turn-based, either.

An important note in the game is that enemies play by the exact same rules you do. They have a set number of CP and have to spend them to act. If you find and kill enemy leaders, they have fewer CP to act with, which in turn means they have a much harder time functioning. It's a really interesting mechanic because it rewards you for figuring out ways to waste enemy turns. It also makes the moments when they do something ridiculous feel fairer because anything they can do you can do — with the exception of a few bosses.

While VC4 is indeed an improved version of the original Valkyria Chronicles, it contains a lot of the same general gameplay flaws. Probably the single biggest one is that rush strategies eclipse almost everything else in the game. You're given an incredible amount of flexibility and tactical options, but the easiest way to finish a lot of missions is to choose or two characters and rush them toward your goal, ignoring enemies along the way. Sometimes, this gets absurd. One side mission, for example, involves an engineer character learning to become a better tank supporter by forcing them into a mission with no allies except tanks and an APC. In theory, you need to make full use of the engineer's abilities to succeed. In actuality, the best way to win the mission is to put the engineer in the APC, suicide-charge the enemy front lines, and deploy the engineer to capture the enemy base on Turn-1. Afterward, the characters incongruously praise the character's repair abilities.

The new Direct Control function actually makes this worse. Direct Control allows you to assign two characters as followers for a leader. These two characters follow the leader without using up AP or turns, and they seem immune to damage. This effectively makes it remarkably easy to daisy-chain character movement or have Shocktroopers travel much farther than normal. It just makes more sense to rush. You can also spend CP on Orders, which buff characters, and buffing a single character to be near-invincible is far more useful than moving two weaker characters.

Fans of the original Valkyria Chronicles will recognize this as the same basic flaw. There are improvements, and some missions avoid this (such as a mission where you have to capture a base and then hold it for several turns), but it still is an issue. Considering the scoring system so heavily rewards speed, it also makes it tough to want to use slower tactics. Getting A-ranks unlock special gear that improves your characters in addition to buckets of extra EXP, so it's the best option. You don't have to play it that way, and you can even replay stages, so there's no obligation to get an A-rank your first time. It's just disappointing that they still have not quite managed to fix it.

Really, the biggest criticism one can level at VC4 is that it's safe. It has almost all the same strengths and same flaws as the original Valkyria Chronicles. As I've mentioned, it feels like a direct sequel to VC1 and not the fifth game in the series. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since criticism of the sequels ran high, and Valkyria Revolution was the exact wrong kind of spin-off. For a sequel to a game that's a decade old at this point, it's incredibly safe. Those disappointed in the original game and hoping for a huge improvement may be disappointed, but those who found the sequels to be unsatisfying may be glad to have what amounts to a "true" Valkyria Chronicles 2.

Visually, not much has changed from the HD Remaster of the original game. The graphics have improved but not quite as much as you'd think. There's better animation and more detail in the movements, but it retains the same storybook art style. That isn't a criticism, since the game looks amazing. The bright and vivid colors and charmingly animated characters give it a huge sense of style and personality, even compared to other similar anime-styled games. The voice acting is top-notch, and the dub makes me like some characters who I find annoying when the Japanese voices are used. The soundtrack has some standouts but is mostly standard.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the true sequel that fans of the original Valkyria Chronicles have wanted. It's safe, by the book, predictable, and it does little to fix the flaws of the original game. However, that's not a bad thing. After repeated attempts to reinvent the wheel, it's a relief to see the developers going back to what made the first game work, without handheld limitations or reinventing the franchise. One can hope Valkyria Chronicles 5 is more willing to take risks, but that isn't necessarily something to hold against this title. In short, if you liked Valkyria Chronicles, you'll like Valkyria Chronicles 4. If you didn't, you probably won't.

Score: 8.0/10

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