There’s something to be said about a game that combines a comic-book aesthetic with a JRPG-styled story and throws in large doses of WWII allegories in at liberty; but boy does it pay off in the end. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the latest instalment in the Valkyria franchise produced by Sega. The game follows the rag-tag group of soldiers in Squad E, part of the Federation army involved in the Second European War. Led by Claude Wallace, Squad E is part of what seems to be a losing side against the Imperial Empire; whose last-ditch effort to win the war leads to ‘Operation Northern Cross’, an operation to strike at the heart of the empire.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 pulls no punches when it comes to its influences; naming the continent “Europa” stands out like a sore thumb, and names of the towns and locations as well as the enemies take it one step further. This is where it lost me a little though; the storytelling came across as a little childish (despite some moments of ‘chasing tail’ and adult references) but then shocked you right back into the horrors of war by consistently reminding you that people are dying. I felt this inconsistency really removed the themes of the story and the narrative being presented, taking it from an emotional ride to just another generic JRPG storyline. It probably doesn’t help that the cel-shaded, almost comic-book like aesthetic and onomatopoeic explosions and gunfire exclamations were there too, but I guess you have to take it as it comes.
As expected with a game like this, side-stories are often relegated to expanding the story; often between certain characters, each side-story expands on backstories or relationships with other characters. In some cases it expands on the depth of a squad and opens up more abilities for characters, which also gives an understanding into the buff and de-buff system (but we’ll get into that later). The biggest gripe here is the fact that story-related content is barely skippable and takes a long time to drag through – I found myself losing interest not only in the story, but in the game itself after continuously skipping through conversation options.
Thankfully, the gameplay and combat save the day here, as this is one of the deeper and more articulate tactical RPG games you’ll play. While many of you are hankering for a new Fire Emblem, Valkyria Chronicles takes the tactical gameplay element and adds an extra layer to it. You begin by viewing a map of the battlefield (and any potential units in your line of sight), but when you select a unit to move, the game switches to 3rd person mode and you take full control of that unit. Running across a field for cover as an enemy is shooting at you before you get the chance to aim and fire back becomes an exhilarating experience, and even more-so when you’re hoping the tank you’re strafing doesn’t line you up in its sights and wipe your character out. Each turn, you get “Command Points” (CP) which are expended on your units to move them around, and each unit has a limited movement meter that drains as you move. These two factors can be used in conjunction to deal great tactical damage to opponents; you can use multiple CP on a single unit to get them into a great tactical position or take out several enemies. However, the movement meter is not infinite, and neither is your ammunition in some cases – meaning that every move you make needs to be calculated.
Additionally, enemies on the map only appear there if they are within your line of sight – meaning that if there’s an enemy around a corner you can’t see, you could very well be walking into a trap. During the enemy’s turn, if their units are moving and aren’t in your sight lines you only get a general idea of where they may be. If you’re a run-and-gun style player, this will usually thwart your tactics and cause you to send your units scurrying away in the hopes that there is cover nearby; or hoping that you’ve tactically organized a small squad to back up a certain unit. Line-of-sight plays an important role too in how you position your units – long-distance enemies can attack if you wander into their line of sight and vice-versa, allowing to set up ambushes or causing you to walk into them.
Several times I found myself leaving units accidentally out in the open and having to send others to save them – which can be problematic as the game also enforces a perma-death system. When a unit goes down you can save them by making it in three or less turns, providing the enemy doesn’t arrive to finish them off first. Ensuring you have the right amount of distance or cover between your units and enemy units is key for survival in a lot of situations.
The class system is also relatively variable in terms of how you assemble your squad; from the simple Scout class to the long-running Shocktroopers, the long-range Sniper class and the tank-destroying Lancers, Tanks and Engineers, and the Grenadier class. Each unit’s strengths and weaknesses can change the tide of a battle depending on how they are used, and in some matches you have the ability to summon additional units (using your CP). The biggest downside to these classes is once you hit 3rd person mode to take control, the actual firefights are out of your hands – you can aim and line up shots, but the accuracy becomes a chance roll. Adding to this is a buff and de-buff system which relies on comradery between units who like each other, or certain units who have preferences for certain terrain or environments. Picking a unit-balanced team can sometimes come at a cost of dealing with other de-buffs which cause low accuracy or reduced movement range. Alongside this, as the commander, you can activate “Orders” that allow similar buffs to some/all units depending on the scenario. The game is punishing with its character depth which can be overwhelming at times where you’re already trying to tactically plan things. With the ability to train your units in the Home Base option and upgrade your weapons and equipment using experience points in battle, you can really hone your battle-ready skills and increase your camaraderie between your units, as well as learning new Orders and skills.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Despite all this, Valkyria Chronicles offers something better than the standard fare in the tactical RPG space. Where it lacks in the storytelling department and capturing the emotion of the narrative, it makes up for in the depth of gameplay that it offers; it is sure to keep tactical RPG fans happy. The game is only let down by the lengthy discussion scenes and slightly frustrating chance-based combat – a small price to pay for a deep gaming experience. Additionally, the game feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch; definitely something to consider while you wait for the next Fire Emblem.