Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review: War Games
Kalvin Martinez / Nov 2nd, 2018 No Comments
“That’s a tough act to follow.”
This phrase is used a lot for performers. Its meaning is slightly lost when applying it to other mediums, but in video games, it is apropos when talking about sequels, especially sequels to highly regarded games.
Valkyria Chronicles holds a special place for many gamers. While Valkyria Chronicles 4 isn’t the first sequel in the series, it certainly has its work cut out for it after the fantastic Valkyria Chronicles Remastered last year.
The latest addition to the franchise delivers challenging tactical gameplay that requires players to think ahead and devise clever strategies to outsmart the enemy. Its story focuses on characters with compelling moments and arcs, but never forgets to build toward exciting and unexpected plot points. The game also features a gorgeous watercolor art style and wonderful voice acting.
The Good Fight
The Second Europan War was the largest conflict the world has seen. It was fought between the Federation and the Empire to control the precious and scarce resource ragnite. After only three months of fighting, the Federation found themselves losing ground to the superior numbers of the Empire. Not looking to be on the defensive, the Federation tasked its Ranger Corps with a vital mission to turn the war around: Operation Northern Cross.
Lieutenant Claude Wallace and his Squad E, along with the rest of the Ranger Corps, have been tasked to take the fight to the Empire. By using better tactics and catching the Imperial army off guard with its audacious aggression, the Federation hoped to carve a path to the Empire’s capital. Thanks to Claude’s exceptional leadership and his squad’s skills, Squad E experienced victory after victory, allowing the Ranger Corps to get deeper into Imperial territory.
If something seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. If the Federation thought the Empire would just let them easily roll up to the capital and take it, then they were dead wrong. Perhaps it was hubris or the early arrival of winter, but it all went south fast. As the Federate forces waited for supplies before making the final push for Operation Northern Cross, it all fell apart.
With the Operation shattered, the remaining Ranger Corps members were left scrambling for a rendezvous point and direction. Yet, the indomitable spirit of Squad E meant they wouldn’t lay down and wait for the Empire to come for them. As they marched starving, cold and under-supplied toward the rendezvous, Squad E decided to continue taking decisive victories to further improve the Federation’s chances of victory. However, what can the determination of one squad do in the face of such a superior force?
There is a lot to love about Valkyria Chronicles 4’s narrative. It is hard to say if the way the story is plotted or how it handles character growth is better. That is one of those good problems to have.
In terms of plot, the game does a masterful job of inflating and deflating the player’s expectations. For the first portion of the game, we see Squad E and the Federation winning quite spectacularly. Even in dire moments, they come out ahead, making it look like taking out the Imperial army will be a cake walk. It builds up the reputation of Claude and Squad E as this elite unit.
The structure of the plot is also done in a more complex method. It isn’t afraid to let conflicts play out over multiple chapters and stop the action to explore backstory and individual characters. This structural play adds a lot of depth to the narrative.
However, a good story can’t exist without actual conflict. When the bottom falls out for Squad E and the Federation, it does so in a similarly monumental fashion to their victories. It is a testament to the smart plotting that even in the darkest moments in the game, a new development helps reframe the conflict to give you hope that the Federation can pull it off. The ingenuity of the Federation and the skills of Squad E continue to make you believe they can win.
While Operation Northern Cross mostly focuses on the Federation and Squad E’s characters and history, the latter half of the game pulls back the curtain on the Imperial army’s elite unit, X-O. Focusing on the enemy allows you to identify with their characters and makes them a credible threat. It also deepens the drama because of a startling reveal.
That reveal, however, wouldn’t be as impactful without the smart character work done early on to build up Squad E. The way these characters grow and how their relationships mature over time — especially the bond between Claude and Riley — makes you care for them. They aren’t just chess pieces to move around the battlefield or soldiers to be disposed for whatever is an expedient victory. You identify with them and want them to come out of it alive, not for the victory of home country alone, but for their camaraderie and their aspirations
When you’re in enemy territory, naturally, the enemy overwhelms you with numbers and power. The only way to beat them is by outmaneuvering them. In Valkyria Chronicles 4, strategy is how you’ll achieve victory while minimizing losses. Many of the battles you face as Squad E will have you at a disadvantage in any number of ways. To overcome these challenges, you’ll have to plan ahead and use your wits.
Despite the Imperial army consistently having better fortifications, more units and superior fire power, Squad E has the brilliant strategic mind of Lieutenant Claude Wallace (and you) to outthink and position your units to catch the enemy unaware. There are many paths to achieving your objectives in a mission, which is what makes the gameplay so satisfying.
Every mission can be completed in a number of ways, whether you want to take your time and meticulously flank the enemy or throw caution to the wind for a blitz. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. Using stealth keeps your soldiers safer, but prolongs the battle and gives your opposition more time to call in reinforcements. Obviously, frontal assaults leave your units more vulnerable, but a blitz can achieve a mission objective with quickness.
No single approach is the best fit for every mission. There is a lot of nuance to the tactical combat. Sometimes, a strategy you start with may turn out to be ineffective, causing you to switch up your plan midway through a mission.
One early mission sees Squad E fighting a multiple front assault from a superior force. The natural inclination would be to sneak and find a clever way to rescue your ally without using too much firepower. However, strategy kind of goes out the window for multiple reasons: your units are scattered across the battlefield without a strategic stronghold, your opponent’s tank brigade, mortar units and heavy guns can easily rip through infantry, the enemy has the high ground and you have no reliable cover. It is a mission where prolonged fighting won’t work, but neither will a straight dash to the objective.
When neither mainline strategy works, it becomes about finding a creative solution to your major roadblocks. In this case, dealing with the heavy units that can wipe out infantry is paramount because only your infantry units can perform the rescue. Figuring out the most expedient way to clear a path for your infantry is the best strategy even if it means a lot more open conflict.
Despite all missions having their own conditions, unit choice is the one thing that can lead to victory. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your units is vital to making smart decisions when placing them on the battlefield. More than that, knowledge of your enemy is hugely important. While most maps need a diversification of units, knowing how and when to stack the deck with scouts, snipers, shocktroopers, lancers or mortas can be the edge you need.
While it may seem like the units you choose to start with are what you’re stuck with, it is important to remember that any missions allow you to send units back and call in reinforcements. Therefore, you can give yourself a strategic advantage at the beginning of a mission with a certain unit makeup to handle a specific threat, then change things up by redistributing your units. It can also let you call audibles if you’ve experienced heavy losses or an unknown variable causes you to rethink your strategy. Flexibility is a huge part of what will make you successful.
Units are always going to be the most important aspect of any mission. To help you get the edge on your opposition (especially when they bring out their elite soldiers), you have a wealth of upgrade and customization options. All units can be leveled up with experience gained from the battlefield. You can also improve their armor and give them better weaponry, from primary weapons to explosives. Everything you do to better outfit and train your squad gives you an edge in battle.
However, you can’t talk about customization without talking about vehicular units like tanks and armored transport. Much of your money will go to making the Hafen and other units damn near impenetrable in battle. Investing in vehicles has very immediate and obvious benefits. They act as equalizers for the superior numbers and firepower you’ll come across.
The gameplay is extremely well balanced. Unlike the first game where spikes of difficulty in missions were overwhelming, Valkyria Chronicles 4 builds in a smart way to ease you into the mechanics and how best to approach missions. While early missions may seem easy, the difficulty slowly ramps up. However, no matter how challenging the scenarios get, they aren’t impossible. By rethinking your strategies and experimenting, you can be victorious in any mission thanks to how effectively the game teaches you its mechanics.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 more than honors the series’ legacy. In many ways, it is the best of the series. What makes it stand out is how sophisticated the narrative is and how it plays on and against the expectations of the characters and the player. The gameplay has been refined with additional units to deepen the strategies you employ. Everything about the game makes you want to keep playing.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
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tags: review , sega , Valkyria Chronicles , Valkyria Chronicles 4 , Valkyria Chronicles 4 review