The tactical role-playing genre can feel a little niche. It seldom seems that any of the tactical role-playing games released, make an effort to push the envelope forward. Luckily, a fantastic cast of characters and a diverse set of challenging missions make Valkyria Chronicles 4 feel like one of the biggest steps forward for the genre since Fire Emblem Awakening.
More Than A Standard Unit
If you have played an entry in the Valkyria Chronicles series then you might be familiar with the way the story is laid out here. The continent of Europa has been dived by a dictatorship and a group of rebels. And while you are on the side of the rebels you will only be spending your time with the humble Squad E, led by Claude Wallace.
This misfit Squad is what manages to keep the story from ever feeling dull. Even if the narrative does fall back on some all too familiar tropes, the way the characters respond to them is always interesting.
Claude Wallace is an instantly likable character. Graduating at the top of his class from the military academy has landed him the position as leader of Squad E. However, while many in the Squad respect Claude his childhood bully Raz is all too reluctant to take orders.
This is because Claude was always known as the scaredy cat in his younger years. A trait that is made apparent by Claude’s kind and passive presence as a Squad leader. This adds a different dynamic to a story revolving around war, whereas in most games you would see a military leader aggressive and demanding of their troops. Valkyria Chronicles 4 has its protagonist solve problems by believing in himself and his friends in the most unlikely circumstances.
The hope and compassion that Claude’s story arc brings to the game not only helps flesh out the other characters but makes their friendships and interactions more believable. While there are lots of people in your squad to choose in battle the story really revolves around four main characters. There is Raz the groups bad boy, Kai the serious sharpshooting sniper, Riley the resilient smart grenadier, and of course Claude.
The four have a great dynamic. As the story progresses there are plenty of discoveries made about these characters that really keep you on your toes. The well-written dialogue between the four during the games dramatic moments really help raise the stakes and make for some entertaining situations throughout.
For as strong as the characters are the game’s overreliance on dialogue-driven cutscenes is definitely its biggest downfall. Scenes that develop the story and characters are great, but it seems like for every two cutscenes that were really well developed there were another five that were solely filler.
This meant that sometimes between missions there was upwards to thirty minutes of cutscenes, with only a fraction of them really making any sort of significant impact. This caused the games pacing to take a major hit. In between missions felt more like a visual novel which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, pairing the slow pace of a tactics RPG with the even slower pace of a visual novel means that the game could feel like quite a slog during certain sections.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 follows the traditional formula of teams taking turns moving troops across the map. Every character has a meter that represents their stamina. This determines how far a unit can move and requires players to strategize around this knowledge. With this in mind, you need to decide how you will infiltrate enemy territory and where you might place units like snipers and grenadiers on the battlefield.
Of course, this is the usual fare for any tactics based RPG. How Valkyria Chronicles 4 really stands out is with its varied mission types. Many tactics based RPG’s require you to think purely on the most aggressive way to wipe out your opponents. Which is why I was surprised when some missions required me to avoid conflict.
One mission had me scope out the enemy battlefield in the fog identifying if tanks were real or decoys. This meant sneakily traversing the map and keeping my weapon in their holsters. However, when all of the tanks were identified the same mission flipped the script and required me to use my sniper alone to shoot numbers on top of watch towers in order to call in an air strike on the tanks.
Missions like this were a lot of fun. The best part is that they weren’t far in between either as almost every mission offered something new that kept any of the gameplay from feeling repetitive.
The variety of units also gave the maps an element of replayability too. You could challenge yourself and tackle a mission with a team full of scouts. Or maybe you would attempt a mission with snipers and Lancers. The choice was always yours to make. Which made every battle feel a little more personal.
The game’s base camp feature also helps create that feeling of player individuality. At the base camp, you can choose which types of units will gain experience. For example, you can put all of your experience points into snipers, or maybe you prefer to have a more even army and split them between everyone. Valkyria Chronicles 4 always lets you attune the game to how you play and that was a good feeling.
Basecamp also allows you to research new weapons and tank parts for your army. This adds even more layers to the way you can experience the game. This amount of customization often had me strategizing the use of my skill points around the units I preferred to use in battle. Meaning that the units I used most often had great equipment and a real sense of progression.
Overall Valkyria Chronicles 4 does offer that same tactics style gameplay that is so familiar, but it has really found a way to make it feel fresh and new again.
A Real Page Turner
The graphic novel art style of Valkyria Chronicles has always been something that has stuck out about the series. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is no exception. The cell shaded graphics pop against the weathered pages they are displayed on. Visual novel cutscenes feel like reading an actual graphic novel thanks to this look.
These scenes are represented on pages because the entire menu system for the game is displayed in Claude’s journal. It’s a really nice touch that makes navigating menus feel more like interacting with journal entries. The game has a completely vintage aesthetic and that really helps immerse you in the setting.
The full motion cut scenes are gorgeous and they look incredible whether playing in handheld or docked mode. It is a shame, however, that so many of the cutscenes had the more static appearance of a visual novel. These scenes still involved expressions and movements from the characters, but they really lacked that same style that is displayed in the games more robust cutscenes.
All of the game’s dialogue is voice acted. It’s done really well too. Characters emotions and thoughts really come to life thanks to not only excellent dialogue but some great voice acting. The game’s soundtrack, unfortunately, is not the most memorable you’ve heard in a JRPG. It’s serviceable, but you won’t find yourself humming any tunes.
Tanks For The Memories
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the most engaging and interesting installment of the series so far. While the pacing does bog down thanks to the overabundance of dialogue-heavy cutscenes, the wonderful cast of characters always manages to keep the narrative interesting.
Clever takes on the traditional tactical RPG combat leaves the game feeling fresh. Challenging goals and the ability to tackle them the way I wanted, made me want to keep coming back for more. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is not a perfect game, but it is one of the best tactical RPG’s I have played in several years.