After last year?s Valkyria Revolution left a sour taste in my mouth I despaired for the future of the franchise. Now comes a proper sequel to the beloved strategic JRPG in the form of Valkyria Chronicles 4. But is it enough to right this franchise?s course?
The short answer is; yes, almost to a fault. If all you wanted to know is whether this follows the well-trodden tank tracks of the first three games, then you?re good to go on pretty much every gaming platform around (except mobile phones).
For those new to the franchise this is an excellent place to jump on board. It takes place during the same conflict from the first game, but deals with the larger war at hand rather than the focused conflict from the first game.
Set during an alternate version of our World War 2, known as the second European War, the conflict is primarily over a material known as Ragnite. Valkyria Chronicles drops you into the war cold and with very little set-up. You take command of ?Squad E? as Commander Claude Wallace who, like so many of the soldiers in this war, seems far too young to have command. That said, he proves his worth in the early stages of the conflict by successfully pushing through enemy territory.
The game?s ?Canvas Engine? makes a return, rendering the game in a beautiful pencil and watercolour palette that is almost indistinguishable from the remaster of the original game; this isn?t a bad thing because the look of Valkyria Chronicles 1 is timeless. The engine has had some upgrades though; character models and environments feature smaller, more nuanced details.
Like previous entries the story is presented as pages from a journal. Large sections of story take on a graphical novel styling, with the back-and-forth between characters. The dramatic, fully acted sequences occur much less frequently and are used to punctuate the narrative. The writing does suffer from a few aged tropes that will make modern audiences cringe, but the characters responsible for delivering some of the worst offending lines do tend to go through redemption arcs that go some way to alleviating their horrible earlier performances.
Before combat starts you choose a squad and ensure they are equipped for the mission that lays ahead. Then you?re presented with a map of the region and the objectives. Once everything is ready to go you choose which squad mate to move and attack with. This is presented in a third-person view, which also shows how much movement a character has in the form of a bar that drains with each step. It?s usually good practice to use this time to locate a vantage point from where you can attack. Upon completing a round you use up a command point and can choose another (or same) character to move about the battlefield. When all command points are used the enemy gets a turn to move all of their units.
As you get further in to the game it becomes increasingly necessary to anticipate your enemy?s movements a head of their turn. Failure to do so will quickly result repeated defeat. Luckily you can replay missions for bonus experience to further level-up your host of characters and acquire the necessary resources to research and build enhanced gear back at your headquarters. A well thought out strategy will always trump superior stats in these games; trying to brute-force a tough mission can be gruelling.
A further bonus to replaying missions with different squad members is that you?ll eventually unlock side missions. These further individual character's motivations and gift them with special traits.
With Valkyria Chronicles 4 being so closely link to the original, mechanically speaking, it also comes with the same issues as the original. Enemy AI can be hilariously dumb - or forgiving - and tank units will often get stuck on scenery, forcing you to waste their movement points struggling to get them into place. In terms of balancing, one of the new additions - the Grenadier class of soldier -feels game-breaking due to its powerful mortar. It can fire over almost all terrain within its range and will make mincemeat of most units.
Overall Sega has made an excellent addition to the franchise, even if it?s not hugely progressive and feels a little ?safe?. That?s not unexpected after the backlash from Revolution and hopefully, with things back on track, the next in the series will be a bit braver in advancing the series.
+ A return to form for a franchise that strayed from the fan?s path
+ Easy to pick up, hard to master turn-based combat
+ As visually striking as you?d hope from the Canvas Engine
+ The story manages to portray the darkness of war with the levity of a tight squad
- After the aforementioned debacle of Revolution, this feels too safe
- Tank controls and getting stuck on geometry is still problem