Valkyria Chronicles 4 review: Calm between the storms

The battles are bigger and better in this new entry, but you've got some tough sledding in between them.

4

Sega broke the mold with Valkyria Chronicles in its 2008 debut, layering a unique take on tactical strategy over an outstanding and distinct art-style that transformed war into a fairy-tale storybook. Despite that flowery description, it still maintained enough grittiness to make the story impactful and the overall experience was well received.

The series continued with more games, though their releases have been sporadic. The second and third games were on the PlayStation Portable and the third didn’t release outside of Japan, so Valkyria Chronicles 4 is only the third experience for US players unless they decided to import. With that said, what does this fourth entry bring to the table? Answer: Improvements on an already incredible battle mode slightly marred by poor writing and uninteresting characters.

Welcome to Squad-E

Valkyria Chronicles 4 thrusts players right into the thick of a war between the Federation and the fascist Empire, a conflict that the Empire has pretty much dominated up until the game’s start. The story beat focuses on the playable squad’s chemistry, history, and ability to impact the larger war. On the interactive end, I'm tasked with managing a growing squad of soldiers set against a diverse series of conflicts. Those conflicts pushed me to employ different strategies based on objectives and each map’s unique circumstances.

With this being a tactical strategy game, the battles are the meat of the experience. Thankfully, the they're easily the best part of Valkyria Chronicles 4, and possibly of the series, though the early missions take way too long to get to the punchline. Old and new elements are explained over a spread of missions that could have been cut down into one or two, but things pick way up once that introductory phase is over with. The new additions to the series, like the grenadier and expanded support options, are very welcome and perfectly molded for the largest conflicts the Valkyria series has seen. The only negative strikes for the battles are that the AI occasionally makes things a bit too easy by charging right into a dangerous situation for your benefit and that the vehicles occasionally get stuck, taking up your precious movement resource.

The In-between Time

The developers tried to strike a balance between the game’s battles and the exposition in between, but they failed in the attempt. If the characters and dialogue were more engaging, the time spent between battles would be tolerable. Sadly, they fall flat and I found myself wanting to skip as much as possible so I could get to the next conflict.

Unfortunately for me, skipping these interactions is even a chore due to the series’ established design. The main Valkyria games have their individual segments broken into snippets that I move through as if thumbing through a storybook. Valkyria Chronicles 4 maintains this, but it feels like the conversations and events in between are fractured into minuscule pieces that definitely should be more concise and grouped with other pieces or cut altogether. Having these parts chopped up makes it easier for me to go back to my favorite sections whenever I want, but they slow the pace to a crawl when trying to move forward because of the loading between each piece. There are also serious, more impactful moments scattered throughout the story but they're outnumbered by the more uninteresting parts.

The squad’s core members share a cookie-cutter relationship with a very skippable backstory, largely hurt by the tropey characters and over-the-top behavior. Auxiliary characters look a bit more interesting and, thankfully, can be explored via the bonus Squad Stories that are unlocked if you pair up the right units. The Squad Stories and skirmishes, which allow me to return to maps and attempt to complete them with better scores, somewhat balance out the uninteresting story and poor pacing by keeping me involved in the best part of the game: combat.

Sights & Sounds

The Valkyria series is known for its unique art-style built on cell-shading and Valkyria Chronicles 4 maintains this with no significant faults. The battlefield is really why the art pops, especially in larger-scale battles. There's a specific conflict after the lengthy tutorial phase that feels like a boss battle. It takes place in the middle of a larger war and the background shows that with explosions, gunfire, and more happening outside of the playable area.

On the sound side of things, some of the English voice acting is grating on the ears, but, thankfully, the Japanese voices are available in the options menu. No matter which you use, the squad’s core members remain uninteresting most of the time, which played a part in me wanting to skip as much as I could to get to the fights. For this entry, Valkyria Chronicles retains the original composer Hitoshi Sakimoto and his orchestral compositions pair wonderfully with the battles. 

Conclusion

Valkyria Chronicles 4 has an entertaining and beautiful core unfortunately covered by a flawed shell. You have to break through that shell repeatedly if you want to get to the really good bits and the bits are fantastic, sure, but the in-between moments are incredibly annoying.

Four titles into the main series of games, Valkyria Chronicles has an established formula that can carry the series along for much longer. Going forward, though, the writing and design of exposition elements set between the battles must be improved upon before the Valkyria games really reach their true potential. Thankfully, this particular iteration gives you plenty of opportunities to step back onto the battlefield for the best moments the game has to offer.


This review is based on a code provided by the game’s publisher. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is available September 21, 2018, on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Review for
Valkyria Chronicles 4

7

Pros

  • Bigger, better battles that last quite a while
  • Enhanced strategies via the new vehicle + larger maps
  • Distinct art-style
  • Bonus missions for auxiliary characters

Cons

  • Enemy AI occasionally unchallenging
  • Vehicle collision detection is shaky
  • Exposition and dialogue in-between conflicts
  • Forgettable characters

From The Chatty

  • reply
    September 13, 2018 2:30 PM

    Charles Singletary Jr posted a new article, Valkyria Chronicles 4 review: Calm between the storms

    • reply
      September 13, 2018 3:08 PM

      Bummer that the story isn't good but not surprising really given the quality of the story in the first game.

      The only story element I really remember from the first game is a couple members in your unit being super racist towards the main character's Jewish-analog step-sister and him just brushing it off despite being their commanding officer. It was ludicrous. That's no way to run an army.

      • reply
        September 13, 2018 3:29 PM

        I enjoyed the story in the first game, even with all the Japanese wierdness.

        • reply
          September 13, 2018 8:02 PM

          I'm being a little harsh. The faux-Europe setting has potential, but the characters were a tad unrealistic for me to get into it.

          No idea what happens in games 2 or 3.