Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review: Beautiful Turn-Based Strategy
I'm just gonna come straight out and say it: I'm not an anime fan.
I'm not going to discount the genre on the whole: a work of art is a work of art. I appreciate and enjoy Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion (I'm not a monster, after all), but the general over-the-top tropes that come with your average anime always left me a bit cold. But, as I said, a work of art is a work of art, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 is magnificent.
The Stories of War
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is another installment in the quasi-World War 2 universe first introduced to the PS3 in 2008. In it, you take charge of a scrappy group of soldiers from the Atlantic Federation: a force dedicated to fighting back against the creeping doom of the mysteriously evil Imperial Alliance.
With a wide-stretching range of characters with well-written motivations, it's nearly impossible not to get caught up in the story. These soldiers of yours are fighting to protect their homeland after all, and that underdog mentality has always been contagious. But beyond that foundation, there's a real flexibility in the narrative that allows for moments of irreverent nonsense just as often as staring, grim-faced, into the horrors of war.
As the war progresses, you're subject to a great number of little scenes throughout. And while some of these scenes felt a little long-winded at times ("when do I get to the next battle, for God's sake?"), they did a wonderful job of perpetually deepening the storyline.
As the perfect complement to this story, each character is lovingly crafted and detailed, to the point that even the grunts who aren't a part of the main storyline feel like fully fleshed-out people. Even the most minor character has a unique take on their actions. A failed writer-turned-grenadier mutters about how well a certain moment would work in his novel, and a pretty boy sniper quips "Did you fall for me?" after headshotting an enemy soldier from a distance. No two characters look or act the same (outside of the enemies), and that had an effect on how I treated these characters on a level that I haven't felt since I named all my characters in XCOM after my friends and family.
Commanding Your Soap Opera in Battle
XCOM is actually a game that gets brought up a lot when it comes to this franchise. With its combination of turn-based strategy and HQ-based research and development, it's easy to see why. Like XCOM, you spend a lot of time developing your army and building yourself up from your headquarters using resources collected on the battlefield.
But if I had to compare Valkyria Chronicle's gameplay to any previous game, it would have to be the Shining Force series: the classic turn-based fantasy games that were a high point for RPGs with the Sega Genesis, a console that otherwise felt very bare in that sense. Like the Shining Force games, VC4 focuses heavily on both storyline and tactical strategy, something that is often lost in turn-based games these days. That perfect blending of story and mechanics gave me a wash of nostalgia for those older games, and I was more than happy to take that feeling here.
There are differences, however. Your strategies are based on Action Points, meaning that units can move multiple times or not at all, which is handy for focusing on tougher enemies or getting a soldier out of trouble.
That level of gameplay allows for a lot of replayability, given that you receive a score for the completion of each mission. This could be frustrating at times because your ranking appears to be based on nothing more than how fast you can finish. It doesn't hurt that, even on the more mild challenge levels, Valkyria Chronicles 4 can be hard. While some levels can have a more subtle bent, like an assassination or scouting mission, others are full out, D-Day style meat grinder affairs, with all the constant, bullet-pounding action that goes with it. Anyone who's interested in replaying this game for perfect scores will have to deal with that in a big way: and that's not even mentioning the fact that you can spend upwards to 40+ hours on a standard playthrough.
But past that difficulty (and occasional controller-throwing frustration), there's a game that is as filling story-wise as it is sharp gameplay-wise. As a continuation of a beloved franchise, Valkyria Chronicles 4 hits all the right notes, sometimes bending them into the stratosphere. It also works brilliantly as a stand-alone game or introduction, as the cast is completely new, and require no previous experience to fully appreciate.
For players who have enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles from the beginning, there's plenty of the same to enjoy here, with some added goodness. The first new thing to pop into mind would be the Grenadier class, a valuable heavy-hitter armed with a mortar-style weapon that can be launched up and over enemy cover, and even takes out the weak spots in the backs of tanks. The ability to upgrade your more rank-and-file soldiers into Leaders is also a terrific way to add some customization to your squad.
Unfortunately, those players will also find some of the same exploits they saw in 2008. A glaring example of that is the unbelievably fast scouts, who can overtake and hold camps at breakneck speed, sort of breaking certain aspects of the game. As a small concession to that, there are many missions that center around far more than just holding camps, but the ability to tear through various missions with little worry about enemy reinforcements is absolutely still there.
Just graphically speaking, VC4 is a piece of art. The colors alternate from lush, blissful explosions of pigment, to muddy, dirty warzones. It only accentuates the two sides of the coin that the storyline offers. The weapons, uniforms, tank designs, etc: all of them are incredible. These characters were basically tailor-made to be action figures and statues: I wanted at least a dozen of them to display on my shelves.
This is a game for people who love strategy and/or love a beautifully woven story. The care and precision that went into making it is clear, and there's little doubt in my mind that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is going to make it into quite a few Best of 2018 lists come January.