Valkyria Chronicles 4 (Xbox One) Review
Merges tactical RPG with 3rd person combat in an intriguing and interesting blend
New grenadier class is fun and powerful, almost game breaking
Art style is gorgeous but looks just like a copy and paste of the original
Environment has some invisible jaggy edges that are annoying
Story, gameplay, and battle prep takes a lot of time and moves slowly
More fully animated cutscenes, please!
A Return to Form
Born on the PS3, Valkyria Chronicles made a name for itself with its unique blend of action strategy with 3rd person shooting. It eventually spawned a couple sequels on the PSP, one of which was never localized, and last year’s Valkyria Revolution was an awkward Dynasty Warriors action title that missed the mark of what made the original shine. Now, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is essentially a true sequel to the original game which is a good thing. A very good thing actually.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a slow, thinking man’s strategy game. Each battle can easily take more than an hour to complete especially if you play cautiously, thinking ahead several moves. The uniqueness comes from the CP (command points) system. Each character uses CP for pretty much everything from movement, to taking cover, to attacking. The more CP available, the further a character can traverse. Character classes are also important to consider when balancing your army. Shocktroopers have nice attack and defense strengths but cannot move far. Scouts are the opposite as they are weaker but can traverse more each turn. Snipers are great for taking out distant targets with headshots but have low mobility and weaker defenses. Engineers are not great with combat but can reload and revive comrades. Then, the new grenadier class opens new possibilities as they can lob grenades for huge damage but need time to prepare.
This next gen sequel also puts an emphasis on storytelling and character development. After all, this is war so there are some harsh tones to deal with despite the colorful and whimsical art style. However, this is still considered a JRPG so you still have your cute anime babes fighting in short skirts and some characters are there just to create drama. Each character has a name, a backstory, and a purpose of some kind too. The player is also rewarded with experimenting with each character and partnering them with other characters to build relationships. In time and with experience, characters can unlock new abilities, earn buffs by working with other specific characters, and even unlock side missions. There is a lot here and keeping track of it all can honestly can be intimidating. This is actually Valkyria Chronicles 4’s biggest flaw as there is so much prep work before and after each battle, the player can spend just as much time navigating the menus and map as in battle. With dozens of available characters to sift through, equipment to manage, experience to gain, abilities to unlock, and rapport to build, battle prep takes a lot of time even for a Japanese RPG.
Visually, VC4 is a gorgeous game. The water colored painting art style is a visual treat that isn’t seen much in games today. The downside is, it looks exactly like the first game in the series, so much so that the menu system has even been reused. Also, most of the game’s narrative is depicted through avatars talking to each other almost like a Metal Gear codec sequence. With a game this beautiful, it is a missed opportunity that more cutscenes were not fully animated. Luckily, voice acting is mostly high quality, the soundtrack fits the long play sessions, and the sound effects provide that extra bit of personality to make the whole package more memorable.
VC4 is the sequel fans have been asking for since the original release a decade ago. It plays its hand close to its chest by not deviating from the formula almost to a fault but there is still plenty here to give fans what they want. It is a shame some aspects were not ironed out like the long battles, the tedious menu prep, and getting stuck on edges of the environment during combat (especially when driving the tank), but this is still a unique strategy RPG that incorporates action into a well mixed blend. Even if you missed the other titles in the series, this is still a solid place to jump in as this sequel barely recognizes the other games in the series from a story perspective and plays as the best yet.