The original Valkyria Chronicles might have seen three different follow-ups since it came out in 2008, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 marks the first time in a decade that the first game has gotten what feels like a true, heartfelt sequel. Valkyria Chronicles 2 was a tonal 180 that lacked a lot of the artistic polish of the first game as it was shrunk down to PSP, while Valkyria Chronicles 3 never even came out in English and Valkyria Revolution tried and failed to bring the series into the realm of action adventure games. Valkyria Chronicles 4 returns to where it all began and delivers an experience informed by and enhanced from the game that started it all, giving long-time fans the new Valkyria Chronicles game that they’ve waited ten years for.
Much like the original game, Valkyria Chronicles 4 sees you controlling a fledgling army commander and his rag-tag squadron as they push through grueling battles in a bloody war. Despite taking place at the same time as the first game, this sequel sees you embroiled in a totally different conflict with a brand new set of equally engaging and well-developed heroes and villains. The first Valkyria Chronicles excelled at combining JRPG cheese with grim, harsh themes that tied into the struggles and realities of war. Valkyria Chronicles 4 does the exact same thing, and with an expanded look into the side of the antagonists, delivers a gripping and tragic story that paints the morality and ethics of both sides in equal shades of grey.
The wartime epics of Valkyria Chronicles are only part of the charm that makes this series so special, though. It’s the way these engagements play out that truly sets these games apart from others. In Valkyria Chronicles, you embark on lengthy turn-based missions that see you controlling a hand-selected platoon of soldiers in their quest to accomplish any number of unique goals or objectives on the front. Each turn grants the player a finite number of points that they can expend to select a soldier off the map, then zoom-down into their perspective and run them through the map to reach objectives or encounter enemies. While the actual art of combat utilizes frozen-time and statistical chance like XCOM, you’re still in charge of aiming your characters’ weapon in real time to assure the odds are ever in their favour.
For me, the biggest source of satisfaction in Valkyria Chronicles comes from picking and assembling your small squad from the dozens of available recruits the game provides you. Rather than pulling from soulless grunts or having characters just be distinguished by their appearance, Valkyria Chronicles has given each character a unique personality, voice, and backstory. They’ll give you unique little quips when you select them or deploy them in battle, and a lot of them even get moments during story scenes or dedicated side-missions to develop their stories even further.
On top of that, each of these characters has unique character quirks and squadmates they prefer to work with, and all of these personality traits play a vital part in battles. If a character prefers to be alone, they might suffer a debuff when they stand near allies in battle, while another character might get increased accuracy during combat if the mission is going well so far. Some of these can be accounted for, but others are up to chance, and it helps spice missions up and give you more of a reason to think about the composition of your squad carefully.
While a lot of the advanced mechanics and classes from the PSP sequels didn’t return for this outing, Valkyria Chronicles 4 superbly refines and advances the core systems from the original game to make things simple to learn, but hard to master. Scouts, Shocktroopers, Snipers, Engineers, and Lancers make up your returning core classes, with each offering different strengths and weaknesses that make them all ideal for different encounters. That selection is rounded out by the new class, the Grenadier, which offers some insane new tools like mortar strikes and defensive advantages that make them one of the most powerful classes in the game.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 does manage to slip in some tools from the PSP games, though, and they end up alleviating some of the biggest pains of combat from the original game. I often struggled to keep my entire squad moving forward in battle due to my limited number of command points, for example, but a convenient APC transport vehicle lets me transfer a bulk of my units with ease in Valkyria Chronicles 4. Certain characters who are designated as “leaders” can also choose two teammates to move and attack with them during their turn, once per player phase, allowing you to group up and overwhelm enemies more reliably.
Much like the war that the game itself takes place during, missions in Valkyria Chronicles can be long, tense, and unforgiving. Story missions often clock in at an hour or longer, and while these battles aren’t too punishing to start with, the game begins to ramp things up exponentially in the second half. Thankfully, while there’s a suite of equipment upgrades and class enhancements available, Valkyria Chronicles 4 never requires you to grind these out in order to stand a chance. As long as you make the right calls and command your troops responsibly, you can tackle nearly any mission. You can also take a break from the lengthy campaign missions and tackle much shorter and sometimes less gruelling Skirmish missions for some extra experience or a quick battle while commuting to work.
Still, if things get a little hairy, you can switch the difficulty from Normal to Easy at any time for a more forgiving but equally nail-biting experience. I relied on the easier difficulty pretty often, as characters who die in battle remain permanently dead, and I just refused to let any of my squad get done in like that!
In the same way that Valkyria Chronicles 4 lovingly returns to the roots of the original game’s combat, it also embraces the visuals of that initial entry. The sequel is rendered in the same pastel, painterly aesthetic as the first game, with character designs also lovingly capturing the same style and variety as the original. I was initially dissapointed by the low fidelity of the graphics on Nintendo Switch, from sometimes muddy textures to slightly dated particle and explosion effects. The upside of this, though, is that the game looks and runs almost identically across all systems. Even in handheld mode, I only experienced minor slowdowns during the most chaotic of battles.
On top of all that, though, the last two direct entries in the series were visually unimpressive PSP releases, so even if Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn’t hold up to the graphical standards of other modern games, it serves as a great follow-up to the visual perfection of the first game.
When the original Valkyria Chronicles dropped for the PS3 in 2008, it came about during a dearth of quality Japanese video games in the west and took peoples hearts with its unique visuals. Sega failed for years to properly build upon the success of that original game, and now, ten years later, a lot of what made Valkyria Chronicles unique is all too familiar to many people. Despite that, though, Sega has managed to craft an incredible entry in the long-suffering franchise that is fun, fully-featured, and gorgeous. In a time for the industry where a game like Valkyria Chronicles should struggle to find footing, Sega has proved that this dark horse has many bright years ahead of it.
Version tested: Switch – Also available on PS4, Xbox One & PC