The military-focused tactical RPG series Valkyria Chronicles has been around for just over ten years and in 2017 its spin-off game, Valkyria Revolution, became the first in the series to launch on the Xbox One and indeed the first on any Microsoft console. Sadly, there was an overall feeling of mediocrity to proceedings, but now SEGA and Media Vision have brought us an instalment of the main series to satisfy our JRPG needs. Can Valkyria Chronicles 4 on Xbox One deliver an experience which creates the perfect balance between tactical play and excitement, or is it going to be lacking in the enjoyment department?
Valkyria Chronicles 4 tells the story of the young soldiers in Squad E (Federation), who are on the battlefield amid the confrontation between the Federation and the Empire. It’s like an alternate take on the Second World War in a fictional continent of the world called Europa, with both sides fighting over a scarce mineral known as Ragnite. Squad E is led by Lt. Claude Wallace and amongst those he commands are the overconfident, but very capable, Raz; the sniping ace and long-time loyal friend, Kai; and the Grenadier who has a bad history with the Lieutenant, Riley.
There are many other squad mates and characters to encounter as the narrative unfolds too, with most of the storytelling done via a huge amount of motion portrait sections that focus solely on whichever character is talking at the time – in either English or Japanese. Proper cutscenes do appear every now and again though for more important matters. The conversations had can be quite jovial on occasional, but once you overlook the immature facade they put on, you’ll grow to like many of the characters and begin to make connections with them through the gameplay as well, ensuring that the action is even tenser. Especially when you find out that if a member of the squad dies on the battlefield, they’re gone for the long haul – albeit with a couple of exceptions.
Once you’ve gotten through a slog of dialogue, it’ll then be time for a main mission and these can range from simply capturing the enemy bases and reaching a set point, to scouting an enemy base for active tanks whilst experiencing terrible visibility. To achieve these goals you’ll be given a certain amount of turns on the battlefield, after which you’ll fail. Wiping out your entire squad or a key member in the mission is another way to lose. Before getting stuck in though, decisions must be made as to who exactly is deployed from Squad E.
Every available member fulfils a specific role within the ranks: there are Shocktroopers, which are handy for all out assaults due to the heavy armour; Snipers, to pick off the baddies from distance and clear a path to victory; Lancers, for primarily taking out tanks and such; Scouts, who have much more mobility and can uncover enemy positions from a greater distance; Engineers, primed for repair jobs and revivals; and finally Grenadiers, the newest class that can launch mortar strikes to decimate enemies behind cover.
There are a whole load of soldiers to choose from, but you’ll definitely have a few favourites that complement each other. Going into a mission unprepared for the dangers ahead is foolish, so a decent balance of roles must be selected to suit the enemy threat. Paying attention to their strengths and weaknesses plays a part too, with certain situations triggering abilities known as Potentials and these could be just as much of a drawback as an advantage. Take Aladdin as an example, whose ‘Shiny Head’ Potential decreases his evasion, whilst ‘Chivalrous’ ups his defense when near women. It also helps to pick squad members who like each other, as this can lead to higher chances of co-op attacks on the frontline.
As for the gameplay and well, the missions begin with an overview of the battlefield which pinpoints your troops and any known enemy threats. The enemy troops you’ll have to face come in similar roles to the make-up of your squad, whilst they also have a myriad of vehicles, turrets and pill boxes at their disposal. Valkyria Chronicles 4 uses the BLiTZ system, a rather unique turn-based approach to battling that blends RTS with 3rd-person shooting. After being given a number of Command Points, these can be spent on controlling your squad one at a time. Once the CP has run out, the enemy gets to take their turn.
It’s the spending of the CP on your turn that kickstarts the more exciting action portion of the gameplay. No matter which character you choose, they have a limited gauge of AP (action points) that allows manoeuvrability. Should that deplete, said character – or the vehicle they are in – will simply stop all motion on the spot, so if you’re out in the open and unprotected, then that’s just tough. You are still able to go into target mode though, which enables you to fire off a round of bullets, throw a grenade, pop off a headshot with a sniper etc. It’s not the greatest shooting mechanic unfortunately and the accuracy is inconsistent at times – to the point where you’ll often not want to shoot unless you’re practically close enough to breathe on the enemy. Despite that, the shooting aspect is acceptable in the grand scheme of the BLiTZ system. There is a strange reoccurring issue though regarding the enemy troops who are behind cover; attacks from their rear appear to have a weakened effect for some reason.
One thing that’s seldom a problem though is the enemy army putting up a good fight, with every mission feeling like a giant game of chess; moving squad members around, ensuring they’re out of enemy sight lines and never alone, whilst attempting to outsmart the opposition’s weakest links first. Having the option to save mid-battle is such a blessing as it ensures you can avoid any major disasters and don’t need to finish off a mission in a single sitting. You could easily spend an hour in one mission, especially if you’re a tad cautious.
Aside from the main story progression, there are also the side mission type options of Squad Stories and Skirmishes. The Squad Stories enable you to get to know the squad even better as they are focused on the daily lives and goings on of the lesser featured characters. Skirmishes meanwhile act as bonus battles to accrue additional EXP and the currency of the Federation, the Ducat (DCT). They serve a purpose, however the usage of DCT and EXP is fairly limited.
Spending EXP in the Training Field is restricted to distribution across the different squad roles e.g. you can pile a load into the Snipers to level them up. Personally, I’d rather have the option to invest in the characters used most frequently and develop them separately. It’s also not clear enough as to how levelling up improves the stats of each character within the roles either. In regards the DCT, the weapon upgrades you can purchase with the currency aren’t overly exciting; in fact, you’re more likely to find joy in acquiring a new weapon by eliminating an enemy ACE – one of the toughest types to fight.
The aesthetic of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is something that’ll either be adored for its lovely water colour style presentation throughout, or disliked because it often looks outdated as a result. I’m in the former camp as it adds a certain beauty to the generally brutal nature of the warring factions. Most of the maps you’ll battle in are well varied too; ranging from towns to areas in the middle of nowhere, with added weather effects to help layer up the visual differentiation. In the audio department, the English voiceovers are very welcome and suit the majority of the characters you’ll meet. It’s also worth mentioning the soundtrack because that’s always ready to get your head in the zone for an emotional section or an epic confrontation.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 has a massive amount of depth in terms of the story and although the dialogue can drag on, there’s plenty of lore to ensure you’ll get to know everyone that matters in Squad E. The mission variety is also impressive, with lots of gameplay to be had in both the main story progress and the side missions. Whilst the BLiTZ system works to an acceptable standard in providing a turn-based/action shooter hybrid, the shooting side does let things down a little bit, some of the A.I. behaviour is odd, and the tank-based movement is rather clunky. The post-action spending of currency and such just doesn’t offer enough reward for the slog of battling.
It’s a very slow paced game overall though, so whether Valkyria Chronicles 4 is for you depends on how patient you are and whether the deep story can cover over the gameplay drawbacks.