Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review: A Very Welcome Return to Form

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the long-awaited console return of the strategy franchise and it's very worth the wait despite a lack of innovation.

The mere western release of Valkyra Chronicles 4 is a triumph in and of itself. The original Valkyria Chronicles is one of the PlayStation 3's best and most underrated strategy games but it began a troubled history for the franchise, not selling well, and its direct sequel only releasing on the PlayStation Portable in the west. Valkyria Chronicles 3 never even came outside of Japan. The franchise was dormant until the disappointing action spinoff Valkyria Revolution. Mercifully, Valkyria Chronicles 4 returns the franchise to consoles and to its strategy roots.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 isn't as advanced as you'd expect from a sequel that's three times removed from the original. Ultimately Valkyria Chronicles 4 is just more Valkyria Chronicles albeit with an all-new cast and a couple new character classes. Given how unique the original Chronicles game was (and still is), more of the same isn't a bad thing in this case.

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Everyone should play the original Valkyria Chronicles because it's excellent but the first game is not a prerequisite for Valkyria Chronicles 4. The sequel takes place mostly concurrently to the first game. It's set in the same world and the same war but in a different area. Valkyria Chronicles 4 tells the story of a small squad fighting in the Second Europa War, which is essentially World War II if there were magic and anime tropes. This distinct setting is just as appealing and oddly heartbreaking as the first time around thanks in large-part of Valkyria Chronicles 4's cel-shaded art style. As cute as Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks it's not afraid to dive into the horrors of war with great effect.

Combat is largely unchanged too. Valkyria Chronicles 4 offers a mixture of real-time and turn-based strategy mechanics. Players move their units one at a time and electing a soldier turns the game into a quasi third-person shooter. The selected unit moves around the map freely but with a limited range and only one action (combat or otherwise) per turn. Valkyria Chronicles isn't the first game to mix real-time and turn-based for a strategy purposes but it's so satisfying and balanced here. The turn-based moves allow players the time to methodically plan out an attack but there's also a wonderfully real-time tension when controlling a unit. If a soldier gets in an enemy's range of fire and they're out of cover they can get cut down, even before they take an action.

It might sound overwhelming but Valkyria Chronicles 4 does gradually introduce new mechanics and abilities. Throughout the 40-hour campaign there's a variety of challenges and strategies introduced but it's through slow immersion. Valkyria never asks or expects too much. This isn't to say that the game isn't challenging. Some missions in Valkyria Chronicles can be brutal but even when the odds are against you, there's a way out and it just requires knowledge of the game's systems.

There are real stakes to every battle of Valkyria Chronicles 4 too. Like X-COM or Fire Emblem, a soldier's death in the field is permanent... for the most part. Valkyria Chronicles sets itself apart from the other two games by having select "immortal" characters. The three of the four story characters of Valkyria Chronicles 4 (Raz, Kai and Riley) will merely retreat if they fall in battle. (The death of the fourth main character Claude, the tank commander of Squad E, will result in an immediate game over.) For everyone else, once they're gone, they're gone. All of their XP and emotional attachment goes with them.

On the subject of emotional attachment, that's another area where Valkyria Chronicles 4 succeeds. There's no level of customization for soldiers like in X-COM or the unlockable romantic subplots that are found Fire Emblem. However Valkyria Chronicles 4 still finds a way to give each and every character their own identity. Every solider has a creative anime-like appearance and through chatter on the battlefield they show their personalities over and over.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 also refines the preference and potential system of previous games. In other words, certain units prefer fighting alongside others. Sometimes it's because they're married in the backstory of the game or they just have similar dispositions. Keeping those preferences in mind can result in a higher chance that a unit's potential will activate during battle. These potentials are essentially power-ups that offer enormous benefits in combat. For example, the foul-mouthed shocktrooper Raz loves going up against difficult odds because he's competitive. This competitiveness sometimes gives Raz a boost to accuracy. On the flip side, units also have dislikes. A soldier who loves fighting in lush green fields will hate trudging through snowy terrain. These preferences and potentials force players not to use the same troops over and over.

The cast of Valkyria Chronicles 4 isn't as immediately likable as the original cast, partly because the original Valkyria Chronicles soldiers were just civilians who were thrust into a war where the evil Imperial army invaded. Squad E, for the most part, is full of career soldiers. They still want to defeat the Imperials but there's less of an underdog feel to these heroes. Over time they do start to open up but they're immediately ingratiating. The most lovable unit in Valkyria Chronicles 4 isn't human at all. Meet Squad E's Shiba Inu medic named Ragnarok.

Medics are one of two new classes to Valkyria Chronicles 4, at least for console players. Medics were introduced in Valkyria Chronicles 2 but for those who just played the original Valkyria Chronicles 4, this will be their first introduction to medics. The addition of medics is notable because for the most part the classes are about the same as they were in the first game. The base units are still scouts, engineers, shocktroopers, anti-tank lancer, snipers and the commander class who drives around in one small tank. Each class can be upgraded to a more specialized version, which is new compared to the original Valkyria Chronicles, but this was a change instituted in the previous sequels. The only brand new class besides the medic is the grenadier.

The grenadiers are Valkyria Chronicles single-person mortar crews. Grenadiers move very slowly but they pack a considerable punch by lugging around a portable mortar. The portable mortar takes a long time to set up so it's important they're in cover when they're aiming but once unleashed a mortar can take out a single fortified enemy or a group in one shot. Grenadiers aren't usable in every situation but they're often real life-savers. For the most part though the backbone of a squad is still going be the speedy scouts and the main infantry of the shocktroopers.

This lack of innovation is the one real failing of Valkyria Chronicles 4. Even with a medic puppy and the powerful grenadier, the game feels more like an expansion than a sequel. The presentation of Valkyria Chronicles 4 is improved over the original as are the visuals. Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks better than any remastered version of the original even on the less powerful Nintendo Switch. A little bit of polish and refinement doesn't make a brand-new game. Anyone who is expecting Valkyria Chronicles 4 to be something different or even better than the original is going to be disappointed.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 merely shuffles the franchise back into its proper place. It's back on consoles, it's back to being a strategy RPG with terrific gameplay and it's set in the wonderfully weird world that's a mix of real-life history and magic. This might not be enough for everyone. It's been too long since the original release though to not be happy about Valkyria Chronicles 4 even if it's not a brand-new game.

For anyone whose slightly interested in strategy games or adored the original Valkyria Chronicles, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a must-buy. Just don't expect it to reinvent the wheel. Valkyria Chronicles just (hopefully) sets the series back on the right track and sets the stage for a few more sequels to arrive.

More: 12 Bosses That Hurt Their Video Games (And 13 That Saved Them)

Valkyria Chronicles 4 will be available September 25 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided a Nintendo Switch copy for review.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5 (Excellent)
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