Reviews

Valkyria Chronicles 4 review – Anime Warfare

Valkyria Chronicles takes the series back to its roots in more ways than one. Particularly the perfect balance between strategical positioning and turn-based gunplay returns. For those uninitiated think X-COM meets Steamworld Heist wrapped up in up a JRPG format. Oh, and don’t forget the ever-humorous ragdoll animation.

With a haircut straight out of an early-00s boy band your Commander, Claude Wallace, takes the lead with his tank, Hafen in tow. Occupying the front seat in Squad E of the 101st unit of the Federation, you’re thrown into the middle of the war spanning the continent of Europa in a battle against the Imperial army. With the Federation on the back foot, it’s time to launch a counter-offensive of epic proportions.

Claude has a past he wishes to break away from, which is utterly cliché and he’s a well-rounded every-man sort that never offends. As a group though, the squad has excellent chemistry.

2018100622165600-4F26C43AFCA5C03EE5FA461A886D1153

The original Valkyria Chronicles ventures into the supernatural relatively quickly, by displaying the powers of the lost extinct race of North Europa: the Valkyrur. Anyone familiar knows the stakes quickly escalate where the Valkyrur’s power is involved. This time, the plot is fairly grounded. Taking a parallel timeline to the original Valkyria Chronicles makes for an immediately relatable experience and recognisable world for fans of the original.

 

Ground Zeros

For me, adding a manga plot to a World War II-era fiction worked wonders, thanks in no small part to the excellent character development and a sense of responsibility over my party I hadn’t felt since I threw my first Pokéball. Character building and pacing was handled deftly in 2008’s original; one of its core strengths.  By comparison Valyria Chronicles 4 is a tad slower out of the gate, but it wasn’t long before I despaired over the permanent loss of one of my squad members, doing my utmost to make sure my medic got out there in time to avoid further loss. I mean, these feelings never grew to the extent that my wife and I grieved for the dependable straight-arrow scout, Wavy, from the first game but, you know, how could they?

2018100622143200-4F26C43AFCA5C03EE5FA461A886D1153

As time moved on I once again felt the draw of comradery but, where previously it was Welkin’s mismatched band of underdog rookies from the series’ first entry, Claude’s team generally have a much tougher time and it bred a desire to help them succeed. 4 feels more grounded with the squad facing more tension, tragedy, loss and gut-wrenching disappointment. It’s handled comfortably and offset by the charm of the squad interactions. Playfully awkward dialogue is offered through, supplemented by some optional scenes, keeping things light-hearted between the heavier moments and making you Squad E feel a little more rounded.

As mentioned, permadeath returns, meaning that any character not featured in the main plot can be permanently offed if you’re not careful. Once I’d picked my favourites, I found it important to do what I could to keep them alive – very much echoing the sentiments of Commander Claude.

There are no major graphical upgrades from 2016’s Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, but with the unique and utterly sublime painterly art style, the presentation and feel soars far above many technically superior AAA titles. Better still, this means you get an extremely similar experience on the Switch as you do on more powerful hardware, running like a dream in handheld mode. The artistry focus really lends itself to the smaller screen. Performance holds up for the most part but, while it may be limited to the Switch version, there is occasionally a little lag between dialogue involving a new animation being loaded for the speaking character. When the weather conditions deteriorate, so do the frames slightly.

VC

In terms of gameplay, Valkyria Chronicles 4’s formula remains very much the same as Valkyria Chronicles. This is a good thing. Meticulously planning your positioning and managing class combinations never grows stale, remaining satisfying and gratifying. There’s no feeling quite like overcoming overwhelming odds and making you feel it was your own sheer tactical genius that brought victory. And Valkyria Chronicles 4 really makes each victory feel hard-fought and worthwhile, even while breezing through the majority of missions with relative-ease. The Skirmishes mode – which allows you to level grind by playing through simplistic missions on maps you’ve previously beaten – retains the flow of the core gameplay, albeit more relaxed. Given just how fun the whole process is, from tactically arranging your troops to deciding which base you should take over first for the best strategical advantage, replaying missions is never a chore.

Movement is handed in a turn-based fashion where you’ll deplete your Action Points (AP) as you move. Though you can stop moving to pause the consumption of your AP, certain types of enemy can fire back at you when within range. A click of the shoulder button and you’re moved to a free aim mode with a reticle, allowing you to take your time to place your perfect shot, during which enemies cannot return fire.

Most of this isn’t new to returning fans, but here are some new neat touches. One of which I’ve taken to calling the ‘knackered animation’, where you controlled unit looks almost comically out for the count after a short jog. There’s a new class of soldier in the Granadier; a class which uses long range mortar attacks to root out enemies behind cover, fitting into the wealth tactical considerations nicely. Extra movement can be squeezed out of your turn by utilising the command option – a captain within your squad can opt to have two soldiers accompany them while moving. Though this can only be used once per battle phase, it provides yet another trick to whip out of your ever-expanding deck Rounding it off is the ‘Last Stand’ mechanic in which a wounded character can chose to mitigate problems by counterattacking, at the cost of their presence on the battlefield (they can no longer be rescued).

2018101421210000-4F26C43AFCA5C03EE5FA461A886D1153

Finished in Hafen the Time

Sega also decided to add a gift from the heavens: an option to increase the battle speed during enemy turns. This one small option absolutely transforms the flow of battle by simply cutting down wait times between turns. Another classy addition is an icon that displays on the command screen to show when your soldier is out of ammo, avoiding wasted turns.

Personality traits are also back, a feature I find incredibly fun for making your own comedy character stories up on the fly. Traits, which are triggered by squad members being put in specific circumstance, cover some great explanations for periodical buffs and de-buffs, with examples ranging from social anxiety (decreases defence when around others) to scavenger (loots a dead body for ammo) and everything in between.

VC 1

There’s something I find exceptionally compelling about the battle mechanics, with so many choices and freedom to approach any situation as you choose, not to mention the intensity of firing off your Lancer’s last rocket in a last-ditch pot-shot to take out that tank that’s about to make shrapnel out of the commander’s precious Hafen.

Tank you, Very Much

Fans of the first game will notice you start with the aforementioned light tank, Hafen which can move for half the cost of Welkin’s medium tank, The Edelweiss. This makes a huge difference in early battles (later battles provided more options in both titles) as I often found myself leaving the Edelweiss behind for the majority of levels due to its high turn cost, whereas in 4 I could immediately make use of the bullet-shielded tank armour to assist with troop manoeuvres.

2018101323594600-4F26C43AFCA5C03EE5FA461A886D1153

For newcomers, the tutorial is brilliantly paced, offering steady hints during the opening missions to properly prepare you for later levels. For veterans though, it can be infuriating that you can’t skip the help text.

You Pay, I Shoot

Outside the mission and Book mode, you will soon unlock the Headquarters hub, containing various sections to buy gear, level up and learn new skills. The Private Quarters offer various game stats, profiles and nuggets of information to get to grips with more of the lore. The News section provides a fun way to flesh out the world and overarching narrative, though it’s pretty disturbing leafing through the articles only to realise the local press are giving your secret military tactics away for 50p – it’s no wonder we faced so many ambushes!

I love the trend of adding the Japanese voice pack as free DLC where digital releases are concerned. It’s the best way to manage the feature and has been adopted by a lot of games in recent years, keeping half the Otaku crowd happy without forcing extra hard drive space out of those who prefer the English dub. Once again, the Japanese voice cast does a perfect job of bringing the anime feels, with returning VA, Kazuya Nakai, giving a fantastic performance as the man-of-few-redeeming-features, Raz; one of my personal highlights.

2018100921542100-4F26C43AFCA5C03EE5FA461A886D1153

Perhaps the only prominent flaw, which is completely down to my own preferences, is the lax difficulty. I appreciate some of the complaints of the first game stemmed from the difficulty, but it’s been toned back so much that I found myself wishing there was a ‘Hard’ option open from the beginning. Let’s not forget the fact that I have recent experience with the remastered version of Valkyria Chronicles and, as such, a huge advantage over those new to the franchise, thus opinions on this may vary.

Verdict:

Graphics & Presentation: 4.5
Sound: 4.5
Gameplay: 4.5

Overall Score: 4.5/5

 

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is arguably the best entry point to the series and, honestly, it’s not one anyone should miss out on.

Formats: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Price: £49.99 (Nintendo eShop)
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega

Release Date: 25/09/2018

Review copy provided by publisher

 

Advertisements

3 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.