The original Valkyria Chronicles was one of my favorite games of 2008. It featured a great setting that combined alternate, low-fantasy military history with animu, a huge cast of loveable characters, and an extremely unique combat system that mixed traditional SRPG elements with a pseudo-third-person shooter. As much as I loved the original, I must admit that I never played the sequels or spin-offs, primarily because they were limited to handhelds that I didn’t own. But finally, after roughly a decade of waiting, Valkyria Chronicles has received a new mainline entry on consoles. In many ways, Valkyria Chronicles 4 feels like a reboot designed to return to it’s roots, and while I feel it sticks a little too close to the first game’s formula, read on why to find out why the result is still an excellent strategy RPG well worth your attention.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Windows PC, Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: September 25th, 2018
Price: $59.99 (Standard Edition), $99.99 (Limited Edition)
For the uninitiated, the world of Valkyria Chronicles is essentially an anime interpretation of the first half of the 20th century, with the Second Europan War being the equivalent of World War II.
The Atlantic Federation is a loose alliance of countries that more or less represent the Western Allies of WWII, while the East Europan Imperial Alliance is an amalgamation of Nazi Germany and the German Empire, with a few elements of the Russian Empire and USSR thrown in for good measure.
You can make direct comparisons between many of the setting’s fictional nations, like how Vinland is America and Edinburgh is Great Britain. As a military history buff, the amount of detail Valkyria Chronicles has put into it’s worldbuilding has always been one of my favorite parts.
Even though the world’s technology is based on the near-magical ragnite ore, the developers have done an admirable job ensuring that the setting’s weapons and vehicles are all fairly believable and draw inspiration from real-life counterparts.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is set during the Second Europan War, the same conflict that players fought through in the original game. The story revolves around Squad E of Edinburgh Army’s elite Ranger Corps and their contributions to Operation Northern Cross.
This was the Federation’s first major counteroffensive following the initial blitz that saw the Empire claim a third of the Federation’s eastern territories in the early stages of the war.
The goal of Operation Northern Cross is to quickly push through the Empire’s lines in the south and head straight for the Imperial capital of Schwartzgrad to end the war as quickly as possible.
The plot’s central characters are Claude, Riley, Kai, and Raz, a group of childhood friends that grew up on the quiet border town of Hafen, in the neutral country of Gallia.
They all joined the Edinburgh Army as foreign volunteers to help protect their nation from the looming threat of the Empire, and quickly rose through the ranks in the same squad.
Whatever their initial reasons for joining the Federation, they’re motivation soon becomes vengeance against the Empire after Gallia is conquered early in the war and their hometown is devastated.
Of course, these four are far from the only characters you will be commanding throughout Valkyria Chronicles 4. As with the previous games, Squad E consists of a massive number of characters with a wide range of quirks and personality traits that set them apart.
Each character has a set of positive and negative traits, called Potentials, that can trigger in battle when certain conditions are met. These could include being near their friends, standing on specific types of terrain, reaching a certain health or AP threshold, and much more.
Potentials can even change as the story unfolds, with negative traits turning into positive ones, and vice versa, as characters progress, develop, or experience hardship.
Between Potentials, the in-game encyclopedia, and optional Squad Story subchapters, Valkyria Chronicles has always done a good job fleshing out it’s gigantic cast, and this latest installment is no exception.
The characters in Valkyria Chronicles 4 are arguably the best part of the story, as the actual plot recycles quite a few tropes and plot points that were in the first game.
Claude, Riley, Kai, and Raz have excellent chemistry, and the many side plots involving the lesser characters are a joy to watch and a huge motivation to keep playing and discovering all the optional Squad Stories and subchapters.
Also, Squad E’s mascot is an adorable shiba inu nicknamed Rags, which objectively makes Valkyria Chronicles 4 better than any Western AAA game coming out this year.
In terms of gameplay, the franchise’s signature BLiTZ system makes its triumphant return to consoles and PC. If you’ve played the previous titles then there won’t be many surprises when it comes to the combat.
Each turn, you are given a set number of Command Points, which are then spent to activate characters from an overhead map. Bringing more Leaders (Which are generally the core characters like Claude, Riley, Raz, and Kai) will give you extra CP to spend.
Once you choose a character to activate, you are brought to a third-person view of that character and can freely move around the environment until you run out of Action Points, which are represented by a bar that gradually depletes as you move.
Characters can do one action per activation, including taking a shot with their weapons, making repairs to vehicles, using health items, and so on.
As a character moves around, enemy units can take pot shots as long as the target is in range and line of sight. When you are ready to attack, you can hit the R1 button to bring up a targeting mode to decide the general area where you want to place your shots.
Headshots deal the most damage obviously, and vehicles can often be taken out with a well-placed rocket to it’s bright blue ragnite generator. As with most strategy games, you’ll want to move from cover-to-cover or sneak around in tall grass to make your characters more difficult to hit.
You can activate a character as many times in a row as you want, but they will start with less AP each time. Ammo is another concern that helps discourage you from using the same character repeatedly.
Positioning is key in Valkyria Chronicles, and not just when it comes to cover. Like in XCOM, setting up lines of interception fire with multiple characters in entrenched positions is one of the best defenses against enemy attacks.
Likewise, when a character fires at an enemy during your own turn, nearby allies will also join in, allowing you to potentially take down enemies that a single character might not have the firepower to do on their own.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, characters also gain bonuses when they are near people they like, which encourages you to build squads that synergize with each other based on their likes and Potentials.
Orders are another thing you can spend CP on. These are special buffs that you can apply to characters that raise their stats, heal them, and more. Alternatively, you can choose to “bank” CP by ending your turn early, giving you more to play with in your next turn.
Another resource introduced later is SP, which can be spent on a leader once per turn to form a small fireteam with nearby allies. This allows you to move multiple characters at once into strategic positions, and the two buddies you drag along don’t use up AP, allowing them to activate afterwards at full efficiency.
Characters are divided into classes, such as Scouts, Shock Troopers, Lancers, Snipers, and Engineers. The latest addition to the system are the Grenadiers, an artillery class equipped with mortars.
Grenadiers are fairly slow and take a while to set up, but their mortars can deal heavy damage to entrenched infantry and fortifications. Their interception fire, while slow and less accurate than other classes, can apply speed debuffs should they hit, draining a unit of their precious AP.
Tanks return as well, with Claude’s heavily modified Federation tank, the Hafen, being your main assault vehicle. Fairly early on you also gain access to the Cactus, a half-track APC with minimal offensive power, but the ability to carry infantry safely into battle.
The Brave system is another new addition to combat. When a character is on the verge of death, there is a chance they will make a heroic last stand.
When the system kicks in, you can choose to either Inspire a nearby ally, or Stand Up. Inspire gives the ally a stat boost, while Stand Up allows the character to get a free activation before finally succumbing to their wounds.
While the BLiTZ combat system is as fun as ever, it still has a number of quirks that have been around since the first game. Pathing can be a major annoyance, as sometimes you’ll find yourself unable to move through an area that it looks like you should be able to.
Other times, you might get stuck on bits of terrain seemingly at random. The vehicles in particular can fall victim to the engine’s pathfinding bugs, causing you to burn AP as you try to get yourself unstuck or find the exact part of an invisible obstacle that the game will allow you to move around.
Personally, I also dislike some aspects of the game’s scoring system. Getting A ranks is vital, as they’ll reward you with the maximum amount of money and experience. You’ll also get variant weapons and trinkets to improve your characters if you get high scores.
My problem with the score system is that it places a large emphasis on speed over seemingly everything else. Since Scouts are the fastest class, many missions can often be aced by just spamming Scouts and running to capture camps and complete objectives as quickly as possible.
This tactic becomes even more powerful as you unlock Orders and level up your Scouts, and it’s been a prevalent issue since the original game. Obviously the strategy only works on maps where the objective is to capture a specific base or race to a set location, but its the optimal strategy in enough missions that I feel like it kind of devalues the other classes and reduces your strategic options if you are concerned about ranks.
Between missions, you’ll get a chance to return to Headquarters, a central hub where you can spend money and experience. Unlike a typical RPG, characters are upgraded by class instead of individually. You can train classes to increase their stats and unlock new Potentials and Orders.
When you upgrade your weapons and gear, the upgrades are automatically applied to all instances of that gear. The weapon trees have a few branching paths that offer side grades and variant weapons, but the armor and secondary gear are normally just straight upgrades, which is a little on the bland side.
The tank parts are one of the more interesting upgrades, as installing new optional parts comes in the form of a grid-based inventory puzzle. The Mess Hall is another place you can go for upgrades.
There you’ll see mini cutscenes involving conversations with your squad mates, and they always result in a new Order if you have the experience to spare. There’s an encyclopedia too that allows you to dig deeper into the game’s lore and setting, if you so choose.
The game offers plenty of replayability outside of its main story, which will likely take you somewhere in the range of 40 hours to beat.
If you position characters that like each other nearby often enough, then you’ll unlock optional Squad Stories, which are mini-chapters that involve a series of cutscenes and a mission.
There’s skirmishes too, which can be used to score some extra money and experience to aid you in the main story. You can probably add another two dozen hours to the game if you want to get A ranks in everything and complete all the optional content.
The story is well paced too, with a smooth, gradual difficulty curve. New mechanics, characters, and upgrades are steadily drip fed to you so you’ll always have something to look forward to when starting a new chapter.
While I absolutely love Valkyria Chronicles 4, I can’t help but feel that Sega could have done a little more to spice things up and give the game that little bit of extra polish. The story is fairly predictable if you played the original game, but that is balanced out by the huge cast of great characters that really keep the plot engaging.
The core gameplay only features a handful of new mechanics and tweaks, but considering that this is only the second main Valkyria Chronicles game to hit consoles then I think they can get away with only minimal alterations.
For better or worse, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is extremely similar to the first game, and it’s just unfortunate that extends to some of the original’s faults. If you dislike the series for one reason or another, then Valkyria Chronicles 4 won’t change your mind. If you already love the series or have never given it a try yet, then Valkyria Chronicles 4 is well worth adding to your collection.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a review copy provided by Sega. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Massive cast of well-developed and charming characters, including some top-tier waifu material
- Interesting setting that blends animu nonsense with real-world history
- The unique and fun BLiTZ combat system finally makes its return to consoles and PC
- The CANVAS engine looks as beautiful as ever on current generation hardware
- Close to 70 hours of content if you choose to go after everything (and you should)
- Solid pacing in both the story and introduction of mechanics
- A tad bit formulaic as far as sequels go
- Many issues that have been around since the first game return, including Scout Rush and pathfinding problems
- The upgrades remain a little bit on the boring side, especially the armor and secondary weapons.