Review: Valkyria Chronicles 4 refines the art of war

After two PSP sequels and middling success in the West, there was a long period of quiet for Valkyria Chronicles. Revered by those who played it, it was set to fade away like so many franchises before it. Thankfully, it found a larger audience on PC and PS4, and this unlikely fourth game became reality.

There’s a lot of pressure on a project that comes about like this, and the first Valkyria Chronicles casts a long shadow. Thankfully, Valkyria Chronicles 4 more than lives up to the legacy.

Set during the same time period as the original Valkyria Chronicles (a move that also worked well for the Japan-only Valkyria Chronicles 3), this game puts you in control of an elite ranger corps in the Atlantic Federation, this game’s Allies equivalent in its fictional World War II. It’s a move away from the series’ setting of the small neutral nation of Gallia, though many of the core members of your group are Gallians who joined the Federation to fight back the Empire.

The first Valkyria Chronicles casts a long shadow. Thankfully, Valkyria Chronicles 4 more than lives up to the legacy.

The move does two things that fundamentally change the experience, as well as justify the sorts of moves that are inevitable in the creation of a sequel. First: the storytelling. While the Empire is definitely the Bad One, the Federation had some questionable morality in the first game, and the game plays a bit with the consequences of power in a way that only works if the playable faction has that sort of presence. Second: your army has more resources. That means you’ll have access to a lot more weaponry and tech, making for some cool variety and strategic loadout management while also allowing that to make sense in a game set concurrently with the original.

About those weapons: the system doesn’t truly come into its own until a few hours into the experience, but the “buy all the things when they’re available and use them” sort of upgrade path of the first game gives way to one that branches in more meaningful ways. Within each class, there’s a much greater variety of character to build. It really lets you customize your team, too, as you don’t have room for everyone in a mission and can judge whether, for example, you’re better off with a tank sniper or a scout built to resemble a ludicrously-mobile shocktrooper.

The grenadier is the game’s new class, joining the classic lineup of scout, shocktrooper, sniper, lancer and engineer. It seems designed to counter the particularly useful scout class by constantly bombarding the other army with mortar attacks as they move, making a class that just runs around a lot a bit less appealing. They’re your first target to eliminate, causing you to have to break your careful formation and push ahead with vehicles to get to them or hold back yourself while finding a good perch for a counterattack with a sniper or grenadier of your own. The other classes have seen some adjustments, too, and you’ll generally need a larger variety in any given mission this time around.

There’s more tank variety in Valkyria Chronicles 4, and with all units dropped to just one Command Point to move, you’ll want to put them to more active use. Builds are more important here, too, as there are many more parts and the same limited space to fit them. Joining the party is the infantry-transporting APC, and you can outfit it for survival, capacity or range depending on the situation. And there are maps that encourage each one, though there’s still room to implement your own tactics rather than follow the One True Strategy that some games often result in requiring.

The storytelling in Valkyria Chronicles 4 has a hard act to follow in the first game, though the second and third have certainly given it a bit of a break on that front. It’s not as focused and poignant, but it does its best to deliver characters you eventually find endearing on a mission that feels important and justifies large events along the way. There’s a lot of the storytelling, too, and though you can skip through it if you find it too arduous at times, it’s broken up into smaller chunks that make it feel like less of a burden.

If there’s one element of the game that still leaves us a bit frustrated, it’s the all-too-common tendency in Japanese games (and games in general, really) to deliver fanservice. It’s not particularly disruptive, but there’s a male-gaze cutscene every eight hours or so and some impractical character outfit designs here and there. Given our conclusion here, we feel we need to mention it, but, well, given our conclusion here, we clearly think it’s more than tolerable.

Like its predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 4 delivers best in the quieter moments, and thankfully it also builds its structure around having a ton of those. It swaps its old-man-at-a-graveyard method of learning new orders with a mess hall full of silly anecdotes that somehow inspire new ideas. It creates three-person “squad stories” that are essentially loyalty missions, giving you smaller-scale maps with focused challenges surrounded by tales that give you insight into those random soldiers that keep showing up every chapter. Doing these usually unlocks or improves one of each unit’s Potentials, special characteristics that make each one play differently.

But you’ll want to play them even if they didn’t, because it’s more crafted gameplay from a game that does that better than almost any other. Valkyria Chronicles 4 goes back to the single-map missions of the first game, free as it is from the technical restrictions of the PSP. These large areas make much more use of elevation, and your travels through the vast landscape of the game are accompanied by wildly-different terrain. It’s not just aesthetics; weather and architecture come into play to cause you to use new strategies as you progress.

Like its predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 4 delivers best in the quieter moments, and thankfully it also builds its structure around having a ton of those.

The aesthetics are totally worth mentioning, though. The game’s CANVAS Engine (we’re still not sure if that stands for something) has been revived and amplified to make the game even more hand-drawn, but it expands from the single palette of the original’s Gallia and gives a wider spectrum of colors to the Federation and Empire you explore. Also returning is the music of Hitoshi Sakimoto, leaning on his prior work just enough to feel at home here. Switch players will generally get a resolution and level of detail comparable to the initial PS3 release, which looks passable on a TV and downright gorgeous on the handheld screen, while those on PS4 and PC will get to enjoy a game that looks significantly nicer. It’s not bleeding-edge tech, but it does what it sets out to do.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the game that most players wanted when they said they wanted a follow-up to the original Valkyria Chronicles, and to deliver on such lofty expectations is a monumental achievement. It’s well worth your time and attention, and hopefully just one step of many back into the land of Europa.

Score: 10/10
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Developer: Sega
Platform(s): PS4, Switch, PC
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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