Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a Japanese war-time strategy game with unique combat elements. I’ve never played a Valkyria Chronicles game before but I’m willing to try any game at least once, and I’m glad this is the one to introduce me to the franchise. Valkyria Chronicles 4 follows the story of Squad E, many of whom come from the small town of Gallia, in the Federation’s battle against the Imperial army. It’s set in an alternate universe version of Earth during EWII and does a pretty good job of setting up the story for people that have no background information on the series.
SEGA brings the goods with the BLiTZ style combat and the CANVAS hand-drawn watercolour aesthetics. Let me tell you – it’s brilliant. The combat style is turn-based but with you controlling each character’s turn, including aiming and firing of weapons. It really ramps up the excitement of the traditional turn-based strategy system, especially since enemies can fire at you at any point of the game, not just on their turn. The only qualms I have with controlling the characters yourself is that they sometimes get stuck in places where it appears there’s actually adequate space for them to pass.
The CANVAS style artwork is beautiful. It’s hand-drawn and I’ve honestly never been more accepting of a “now loading” screen than I have with this game. Valkyria Chronicles 4 itself actually plays out as half visual novel and half strategy game. With a fantastic art-style and continually developing story, the game does a fairly decent job at drawing you in and keeping you invested in the characters. Since the missions themselves can be fairly long, I actually appreciated having the anime-like stories and cutscenes play out in between them. Though if you’re in for full gameplay this might just annoy you.
The story is fascinating enough but can be slow-going at times. All the cutscenes are separated into episodes and each one of them is completely voice-acted, with both Japanese and English audio options. Personally, I thought the English audio was overly cheesy and made it hard to take the campaign seriously so I’d recommend sticking to Japanese. Certain character side stories and missions can be unlocked by pairing characters together during missions. There is the occasional unnecessary lewd comment thrown in but thankfully the female characters are tough and know how to handle themselves.
There’s also a wide variety of characters you can choose to flesh out your cavalry with, all with their own weird qualities and “Potentials”, which are what the game calls its unique character abilities that sometimes come into play during battle. You might find yourself choosing soldiers based purely on personality traits and who they get along with most. I love the diversity and inclusiveness of the game, and that you really start to care about your soldiers – if you leave them too long on the battlefield they end up disappearing from your squad, so you have to be really careful about huge sacrificial moves. Did I mention there’s a medic rescue dog!?
The battles are all challenging and unique. Most missions have you performing actions such as taking over a specific enemy base, but even these missions have unique terrain and enemy AI to keep you evolving your play style and strategies. It feels like the developers really put time and effort into every mission, and gently guide you to explore new commands and utilise the weapons of each class. In Valkyria Chronicles 4 a new class called the Grenadier is introduced, allowing you to blow up enemy bases and pillboxes from a distance. In combat though, the grenadier is a little hit and miss – the explosions from the mortars seem huge but if you miss by just a little they’ll sometimes do little to no damage. Every move is crucial so it can be frustrating when you plan a move only to have it miss.
Occasionally you’ll be commanded to undertake other missions for recon or just be required to survive until reinforcements arrive. These add even more variety to the already huge and complex missions. Depending on your play style and how accurate your character’s shots are, the missions can go for an extremely long time. The AI is smart and doesn’t go easy on you, nor does it seem like they have any unfair advantages. This means that when you do eventually accomplish a mission, you feel like you’ve earned it. The only thing I’d wish for during missions is an undo your last move option or mid-mission savepoint for those times where you accidentally press a wrong button or forget to perform a crucial move. I guess not having these options makes the game more realistic and challenging, but it can be extremely frustrating spending 40+ minutes on a mission only to have it fail because you forgot about an enemy soldier hiding in the bushes.
Overall, Valkyria Chronicles 4 brings a refreshing take on the classic turn-based strategy. The character-focused story provides the essence needed to bring you back to the game, and with new characters and abilities being introduced every chapter, there’s a lot to do, explore, and upgrade. Even without the optional side character stories and missions, there’s hours and hours worth of quality content here. While the game itself is not perfect, and the story could use streamlining and funnier scripts, it’s still a hugely enjoyable anime/strategy game, suitable for newcomers to both the genre and the Valkyria Chronicles series.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Great hand-drawn visuals; Blitz combat style; developed characters
Lowlights: Long mission times; story is slow to develop; no save points within missions
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch
Available: 25th September
Reviewed on a PlayStation 4 with a retail code provided by the publisher.