Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review — The Great Continuation this Series Deserves
Valkyria Chronicles 4 manages to be the awesome console continuation the strategy series deserves with its great story and refined gameplay.
The original Valkyria Chronicles was one of my favorite strategy games of the past decade. It’s gorgeous art style and unique modern-fantasy war setting grabbed my attention, and the unique BLiTZ battle system that blends elements of turn-based and real-time strategy gameplay made sure I stayed. That being said, the series lost it’s way a bit in the west after that initial entry. Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3 were decent but limited by hardware, and Valkyria Revolution was very disappointing. Fortunately, things look like they are back on track with Valkyria Chronicles 4.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 picks up on consoles right where the original left off, and reminded me why I loved the series in the first place. It isn’t flawless as the menus can be cumbersome and there are presentation issues, especially on Nintendo Switch, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it. Valkyria Chronicles 4 contains the best gameplay, story, and characters yet for the series, and leaves more optimistic for the future of the series than I have been in years.
Like the previous sequels, the story of Valkyria Chronicles 4 runs parallel to the first game, with little relation outside of a couple of cameos and DLC. Of course, the game gets away with this by telling another “untold story” like that of The Nameless, though the plot still manages to make sense within the wider scheme of things. Instead of Squad 7, Valkyria Chronicles 4 follows Squad E, the most skilled squad within the Ranger crops whose core is made up of childhood friends from Hafen Claude, Raz, Kai, and eventually Riley.
The game starts with Squad E set out on Operation Northern Cross, an effort by the Federation to push right to the Imperial capital. Without spoiling too much, once things go south the effort forces Squad E to traverse the desolate, cold outskirts of Imperial territory during the dead of winter in a nearly suicidal attempt to still reach the capital. Like Valkyria Chronicles III, the plot of Valkyria Chronicles 4 can purposefully get quite dark and dire at times, but the relatable and loveable cast fortunately brings levity to things.
Each of the game’s main aforementioned main characters are fleshed out well with interesting backstories and complicated relationships with each other that will kept me captivated throughout the entire game. Outside of one fanservice-heavy scene towards the start of the game and some beach DLC, none of them are even demeaned or treated oddly by the plot either, leaving them relatable and the player empathetic towards what they have to go through.
The rest of Squad E doesn’t suffer either, as small introductions, minor appearances in main cutscenes, and unlockable side stories all do a good job of fleshing out the squad and at least demonstrating everyone’s motivations. The character work is here the strongest it has ever been in the series, and the story and voice acting stay really solid for the most part. A couple lines come out awkward, likely lost in translation, or don’t hit as well due to a mediocre vocal performance, but I ended up caring for Squad E more than any Valkyria Chronicles protagonists before them. (Also, there’s a medic dog named Ragnarok, need I say more)
This intimate relationship with the characters as a whole reflects on both the gameplay and wider plot, which ends up tackling the fact that neither side of the Second Europan War is truly innocent, even if the Federation and United States of Vinland are painted and remember as the goody guys and are home to the protagonists of each game so far. While I really dug the world and story Valkyria Chronicles 4 is telling, I wasn’t always keen on how it was presented, which leads into some wider presentation problems the game has.
My main problems with Valkyria Chronicles 4 mostly have to do with presentation, and these issues are only heightened when playing on Nintendo Switch. Like previous Valkyria Chronicles games, the story is told through a journal. While this idea is atmospheric and novel, it is still a tedious slog of clicking through menus, and I’m surprised it has been modified that much yet four mainline entires in. Between almost every cutscene, big and small, players are kicked back out to the menu, which just hurts the pacing.
Even in headquarters and some of the other menus, quick shortcuts and the like aren’t there, making upgrades and changing up Squad E’s roster more cumbersome than it needed to be. Even once you get into more cutscenes, they still tend to feel like sluggish menus with how much clicking you have to do. Instead of playing out in beautifully-rendered cutscenes, most of the plot is relegated to visual novel-style talking heads.
While the art is endearing as ever, the budget really shows here as some scenes end up not hitting as hard as they should because they are presented in this more restrictive format. Hidden loading screens also create some weird pauses between lines of dialogue, especially during the course of the battles, and these seem to be at their worst on Switch. While the added portability is really nice and something I definitely took advantage of, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is definitely the least technically sound on Nintendo Switch with longer load times and semi-frequent framerate drops, especially as things get more intense towards the end of the game.
Even with the occasional technical issues, Valkyria Chronicles 4’s battles are expertly designed and as fun as ever. For those who may have not played a Valkyria Chronicles game before, battles are turn-based, though the BLiTZ system makes things run in semi real-time once they are chosen. Once players take control of a soldier, they have a limited amount of AP to move around with as well as do one action, such as shooting or healing. Outside of the three different tanks at the squad’s disposal, there are six different classes, all of whom attack differently and have special abilities to help them in battle.
Scouts maximize distance over power, while Shocktroopers function this opposite. Snipers roles are self-explanatory, while beginners are prime for restocking ammo and Lancers are great anti-tank units that are slow don’t fare as well against other soldiers without the right equipment. New to Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the Grenadier class, which is a slow but powerful unit that can fire a motor from anywhere. The Grenadier class is a great addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4 due to its power and range, and quickly rose to become my favorite class.
As for other new gameplay additions to Valkyria Chronicles 4, the Brave System gives soldiers a chance to make one last stand before they enter critical condition. Before entering that condition, the given soldier can stand up, inspire, or counter. Stand Up gives the soldier one last burst of energy to move invincibly and attack something while Counter just lets them directly counter-fire at whoever got them into critical condition. Finally, using Inspire will give the squad one more CP and also boosts the stats of the nearest ally.
Each action has its advantages and disadvantages, adding a interesting new layer of strategy where a soldiers used to go be down for the count. That being said, this system didn’t pop up often enough for me to consider it an amazing addition, just an interesting and innovative one. In general, I was never that scared of perma-death in Valkyria Chronicles 4 outside of a few story-based events.
That isn’t to say the game is challenging, it definitely can be at times, but as long as I played smart my soldiers were never in any real danger of being reached and permanently killed by enemies before I could get to them. As a result, I was able to stick with basically the same squad throughout a majority of Valkyria Chronicles 4, which deemphasized some of squad management mechanics the game probably wanted to emphasize more.
One final place where Valkyria Chronicles 4 really makes strive over previous entries is in map design. Pretty much every levels puts some sort of unique twist on the formula, whether that be through a unique objective or unique environments. While Valkyria Chronicles 4 does play things very close to the original, the few new mechanics and noticeable design improvements really show how the development team has honed their craft and poised the Valkyria Chronicles for a resurgence on consoles.
The Nintendo Switch version has noticeable technical faults, which does make it the weakest version of Valkyria Chronicles 4. Fortunately, outside of annoying menus the rest of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is so solid I am more than willing to overlook those flaws. Due to its likable characters, engaging plot, and fun and unique as ever gameplay, Valkyria Chronicles 4 has definitely cemented itself as one of my favorite strategy games in recent memory.