Valkyria Chronicles 4 (Switch) Review
About ten years ago was the time I discovered Valkyria Chronicles — a tactical RPG on PlayStation 3 that stood out for its gorgeous watercolour art style and interesting take on the tactical RPG genre. Since then, we’ve had sequels on PSP and weird RPG spin-offs, some of which never made it out of Japan and none of which, for me at least, were able to capture just what made the first game so good in my mind. It seems someone at Sega feels the same way, because in so many ways Valkyria Chronicles 4 (VC4) feels like a return to what captured people about the series in the first place.
Valkyria Chronicles is a series of tactical RPGs with a twist; rather than moving units from a fixed sort of commander view overhead you take direct control of characters in third-person shooter style. Like most tactical games you have a limited number of moves per turn, and each character has a limited range of movement and number of actions they can perform in a turn, as determined by their class. Each class has different offensive weapons and support skills they can use to assist other friendly units, or push back the enemy.
You take turns, alternating between you and the opposing force to move your units and have them take some sort of action. There’s a lot to consider at any point during your turn. You generally want characters to end their movement behind cover, be standing out of sight or crouching behind sandbags so that they can’t take critical headshot damage during the enemy turn. You also want them looking in the direction of enemy soldiers, or where you expect them to be, since your view is limited to the line of sight of your units. Additionally, if one of your characters walks close enough to an enemy unit, even though it’s your turn, the enemy will attack with ‘Interception’ fire, which can damage or kill the moving character. You can take advantage of this as well by positioning yours to keep watch on high traffic areas.
Something that sets Valkyria Chronicles apart from most tactical RPGs is that individual characters are important considerations that can mean the difference between victory or death. Each character has a backstory, and character traits based on that background. Some characters thrive when surrounded by a particular gender, or maybe they feel calmer in more natural environments, which helps them be more accurate with their shots. Characters have their own interpersonal relationships as well, and will generally be more effective when surrounded by people they know well. For this reason, you need to consider much more than class composition when choosing your character deployment before a mission. This all might seem like a lot to consider, and it is, but a fairly easygoing tutorial mission introduces new players to these concepts in a way that’s fairly easy to understand. The game begins with what I found to be a reasonable difficulty — if you’re cautious you’ll usually make it through a mission, however there are some missions early on with many moving parts that might seem overwhelming. The AI at times can be a little moronic, but more often than not it will punish you pretty hard for leaving units in vulnerable positions or making other ill-advised moves. Remember that you can save mid mission, or restart it without penalty if you screw anything up that colossally.
There are some small changes from the original game like some new unit classes, like a new last stand mechanic that gives characters a chance at one final action before they’re downed — but when Sega said they were going back to the series’ roots, they meant it. For better or worse, Valkyria Chronicles 4 plays extremely similarly to the first in the series. From the interface and controls to general mechanics, it’s similar enough to the point where I’d have believed someone if they told me this was an expansion rather than an entirely new game. Given how badly spin-offs like Valkyria Revolution were received, I feel this is actually a good thing. They’ve returned to a formula that works, made some relatively minor mechanical changes, and crafted an entirely new cast of characters to take through tried and tested Valkyria Chronicles gameplay. There’s only a little bit new mechanically for veterans, but if you’re like me then you’ll appreciate an entirely new set of Valkyria Chronicles missions and storylines to play through, and this has the advantage of being welcome to newcomers who won’t need to catch up on the mechanics of past games to begin this one.
I mentioned earlier that character combinations are important, as they each have preferences and traits that compliment each other, however you don’t want to stick with just one group of regulars. Most characters have at least one negative trait, something that, when triggered, will have a detrimental effect on your turn. If you use a character regularly enough however, you’ll be able to access some special side-story missions which flesh out exactly why they are the way they are, and as a bonus can often turn that negative trait into an advantageous one. It’s worth switching up your regulars purely to see more of their backstories, and will come in useful if, at any point, you need to bring in a reserve character if they’ve outgrown their detrimental trait.
Something else brought over from the original is its signature visual style. The entire game renders in such a way as to resemble a moving watercolour painting, and it’s quite striking in motion. Performance is generally pretty good on Switch, though there were definite periods of slowdown related to heavy smoke and certain other visual effects. It’s never enough to truly impede the experience, especially given action is turn based and so generally moves at whatever pace you’re comfortable with anyway, but the slowdown issues are consistent enough that they’re worth considering — especially if you’re deciding between platforms for the game.
While it doesn’t stray too far from the formula set in the series’ inception, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is just the kind of follow-up I think the series needed to introduce the series to new players, as well as rekindle an appreciation for the series that has languished in the time since the first game. Whether you’ve been waiting for a great follow up to the original for a decade like me, totally new to the tactical RPG genre, or looking for something new after whetting your appetite with Mario + Rabbids, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is totally worth a look.
- Cool fusion of shooter and Tactical RPG
- Depth to strategy
- Wonderful visual style
- Little progress from the first game
- Some performance hiccups