Valkyria Chronicles 4 is one of the deepest, best strategy game we have had in years.
Long suffering series fans of Valkyria Chronicles who have had to suffer the ignominy of a flanderized PSP sequel, a better follow-up that never got localized, and whatever Valkyria Revolution was supposed to be, will be happy to hear that Valkyria Chronicles 4 squarely represents a return to form for the franchise. It’s got everything fans fell in love with in 2008, when the original launched on PS3- the same gorgeous graphics that look like a colored sketch come to life, powered by the CANVAS Engine, the same blend of turn based tactics meets strategy meets third person shooter, and the same emphasis on a wartime story while eschewing the more anime inspired tropey trappings of the PSP sequels.
As a matter of fact, by returning to the conflict in the original game – Valkyria Chronicles 4 is set parallel to the story of that game – the game basically disowns the PSP sequels, and makes it possible for fans of the original to pretend as though they never happened. This works for the best, especially since it also means that newcomers to the franchise can jump in without having to worry about continuity considerations.
The story itself is a sweet, almost naive examination of wartime, and the human cost that armed conflict entails. It manages to balance the larger scale conflict and the stakes involved in the battle of the Eastern Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation, with smaller, more personal characters and their stories, using the former to frame the latter, and using the latter to lend more weight and poignance to the former. It’s obviously no literary masterpiece, and generally views the subject matter through the lens of anime storytelling (which means you’re going to get a lot of anime tropes here, albeit generally in tolerable doses- though I am aware that people’s tolerance for anime tropes generally varies)- but it’s a compelling narrative that works, and keeps you invested in wanting to find out more about where Squad E of the Ranger Corp ends up as the Federation pushes ever deeper into Imperial territory.
The story, however, is secondary to the actual meat and bones of the Valkyria Chronicles experience, and it’s there that Valkyria Chronicles 4 shines. Blending a deft mix of real time and turn based gameplay, Valkyria Chronicles 4 keeps you on your toes, and constantly demands that you use all the faculties and tools at your disposal, or suffer.
"The story itself is a sweet, almost naive examination of wartime, and the human cost that armed conflict entails. It manages to balance the larger scale conflict and the stakes involved in the battle of the Eastern Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation, with smaller, more personal characters and their stories, using the former to frame the latter, and using the latter to lend more weight and poignance to the former."
Gameplay during battles itself can be broken down into two distinct phases- the larger map, where you need to account for the macro flow of battle, and the actual battlefield, where you take control of one unit at a time, and need to account for the micro flow. During your turn, you’re given a view of the map, and where your units are positioned, along with any enemy units in view (those not in view get obscured by the equivalent of the fog of war, where you know they’re there, and moving around, but you can’t get anything more specific than that); you select a specific unit, and control them on the actual battlefield, moving them around, shooting at enemies, taking cover, and so on. You get a set number of actions per turn, while an individual unit’s ability to move on the field is governed by their AP (or Action Points); you can control a unit multiple times per turn if you feel that’s advantageous, but the AP available to them each subsequent time goes down dramatically, and you risk stranding them.
While you are controlling a unit on field, you are engaged in a sort of real time shooter style of play; moving within an enemy’s line of sight and fire means they will shoot at you, and you will take damage. You can take cover and shoot back (and in turn, you also get to shoot at enemies that move within your units’ line of sight and fire during their turns). Shooting isn’t all your units do on the battlefield, though- they can claim bases and objectives, disarm mines, interact with the environment to gain an advantage, and more. It’s honestly a lot to keep track of, but the game does an incredible job of introducing variables slowly, so that you never feel overwhelmed. And I haven’t even gotten to things like terrain type, varied visibility, class differences, and the differences each different kind of weapon entails yet! There’s incredible depth to the mechanics, and between the larger map, and the actual battlefield, your strategy gaming chops will be put to the test.
The best part is that Valkyria Chronicles 4 puts all these mechanics to good use- the map design is incredible, and designed to force the player to think quick, adapt tactics on the fly, and leverage all of the game’s mechanics. It is also great for players who have mastered the game’s full range of tactical options, and good players are handsomely rewarded for being on top of the game at all times.
"There’s incredible depth to the mechanics, and between the larger map, and the actual battlefield, your strategy gaming chops will be put to the test."
You’re also encouraged to invest in your characters- the game has a permadeath system, so once someone dies, that is it, they’re not coming back. That, plus the game’s emphasis on characterization during its storytelling, makes it easy to get attached to Raz, Kai, Riley, and co., and to do your best in not letting any of them die. That said, you never suffer a tangible setback when a character does die- leveling is class based, not unit based, so any gains made by a unit apply to all other units of their class. It works to ensure you don’t suddenly find yourself stranded with grunt units late game after a particularly gruelling battle.
There’s a lot going on in the game, too- you’re encouraged to train units, to engage in skirmishes to gain XP and currency, to learn more about your units by reading their dossiers, which are frequently updated. There are sub-stories that go off on entirely different tangents from the main plot, complete with their own battles for you to try to win, and there’s a lot of the story to take in. Seriously, if there’s one complaint to be leveled against the game, it’s how chatty it is. Story sequences and cutscenes seem to go on forever- and what’s worse, a lot of the times, they don’t justify how overbearing they are. Cutscenes are generally character portraits accompanied by voiceovers an text boxes, which becomes tiring to see after a while, and they’re divided into small vignettes called “episodes” per chapter- a form of storytelling that works within the frame narrative of the game theoretically (you’re following entries in Claude’s journal), but too often breaks the flow and momentum of the story.
"I would easily recommend Valkyria Chronicles 4 to anyone who likes strategy games in any measure. It’s incredibly well designed, and as a strategy game, it is largely peerless, unless you go looking for 4X grand strategy games on PC."
The other complaint I have is the music- for how gorgeous the game is, the music does not seem to match up. It’s fine, and the tunes are inoffensive at best, but there’s a lot of repetition, and generally, given how starkly beautiful the game is, it feels like it’s not pulling its weight enough.
In spite of these complaints, I would easily recommend Valkyria Chronicles 4 to anyone who likes strategy games in any measure. It’s incredibly well designed, and as a strategy game, it is largely peerless, unless you go looking for 4X grand strategy games on PC. Gorgeous, charming, sweet, and mechanically captivating, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is this series’ return to form, and, quite possibly, its best foot forward yet.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
An incredible breadth of mechanics, each developed to a staggering degree of depth, so that there's a whole lot going on that demands the player's attention, and rewards them for it; great map design with varied objectives, and tons of variables thrown in to keep things interesting and not let them settle into a rote groove; gorgeous graphics, that shine on the strength of the artstyle; a sweet, well told story with some compelling characters you come to grow close to
The game is extremely chatty, and cutscenes and story sequences can seem interminably long; storytelling frequently falls back on anime tropes; music does not match up to how great the game looks
Fans of the series, and of strategy games, will be well served by what is one of the best strategy RPGs we have had in years with Valkyria Chronicles 4.