Japan has produced some of the most inventive games ever developed for the medium, and in the process have also created entire genres that previously didn’t exist. Their devotion to whimsy and the melodramatic has produced everything from adorable shooters like Fantasy Zone, to action dating sims about steam powered robots like Sakura Wars. It seems that the inventiveness of Japan’s developers knows no bounds.
But considering Japan’s history, it is perhaps understandable that they have tended to shy away from WWII games. The closest we have gotten was the Capcom arcade classic 1942, and that alone generated considerable controversy. A lot of modern war-related material tends to be of the cute and whimsical variety like Azur Lane or Metal Slug. This isn’t to say that military and weapon enthusiasts don’t exist in Japan, it’s just that they tend to be extremely sensitive about their part in a war that brought suffering on millions of people, and ultimately resulted in them being the only county in history to be on the receiving end of nuclear warfare.
But when Sega produced the first Valkyria Chronicles in 2008, people immediately recognized the parallels between the fantasy Europa of VC’s universe and our own. They also recognized that its third-person action approach to Simulation RPGs was a serious game changer.
And now, after two minor installments on the PSP, Sega has produced the first console installment of VC since their mediocre spin-off Valkyria Revolutions. We’re back to the Second Europan War, and this time we aren’t just a rag-tag Resistance squad….
What Is It?
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the fourth installment of the cult-classic Valkyria Chronicles series, and the second of the series to appear on consoles. Developed and published by Sega, it takes place in a fantastical alternate Earth with a more-than-passing resemblance to WWII era Europe, with a nominally democratic Atlantic Federation fighting off an invasion by the autocratic and imperialistic East Europan Imperial Alliance. However, whereas the first VC told the story of a conscripted resistance force fighting off an Imperial invasion, this particular installment tells of the actual frontline of the conflict and of one last offensive into Imperial territory.
You play as the members of Squad E, an eccentric but gifted squad in the Federation Army who become famous for being the first Squad in Federation history to all obtain the rank of Ranger as a group. Though the squad numbers in the dozens, the story primarily revolves around squad leader and tank commander Claude Wallace, his childhood pal and shocktrooper Raz, the engimatic sniper Kai, and the gear head and artillery specialist Riley. Happening around the same time as the invasion of Gallia (the primary theatre of the first VC), Squad E is assigned to be part of Operation Northern Cross, a bold and desperate offensive into Imperial territory, intended to strike at the Empire’s capital and end the war for good.
But there’s more going on under the surface, and the energy source known as Ragnite is source of all of it: what it is, where it comes from and what it could destruction it could possibly create.
Why Should I Care?
Like the rest of the games in the VC series, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a Simulation RPG with a twist. You are not simply a chess master moving pieces on a board, but are intimately involved in the maneuvering of your forces, using their weapons, and defending your territory. Each unit has a set distance they can cover on foot, the reach of their weapons, and their specific functions on the field involving upkeep, repair, etc.
This installment includes all of the unit types of the previous games: Scout, Shocktrooper, Sniper, Tank, Grenadier, and Engineer. This time around, there is also a new unit type: the mortar-firing Artillery. Each unit has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some can strike at long range but can only fire one shot, like the sniper. Some can fire plenty of rounds at close range, but lack reach, like the stormtrooper. The new Artillery unit packs a serious punch with their mortar cannons, but are hampered by their lack of armor, the time it takes to set up their weapon, and the short distance their heavy payload allows them to travel per turn. You also have more than one Tank that can be on the field at one time, with tanks specializing in troop movement and infantry.
Of course, this being a Valkyria Chronicles game, the Valkyria themselves are also a factor. You will encounter several this time around, and each are especially deadly. A pair of sadistic Valkyria twins are especially powerful infantry, but their power is dwarfed by the walking ice bomb that is Crymaria. They are supported by elite troops and vehicles, including the elite mercenary squadron known as Ausbruch.
But the main pitch of the VC series isn’t just its incredibly satisfying strategic gameplay, it’s also the enthralling war drama and the interaction between its diverse cast of characters. Squad E is filled with a variety of soldiers of different races, personalities, eccentricities and flaws. These are not just faceless drones; they all have hopes, dreams, and their own personal demons. These are all explored in the Squad Stories mode, in which a small group of Squad E members are forced to interact with each other in the field.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
Many players have said that the first VC left an emotional impact on them after finishing the campaign, and this installment is no different. You will come to care deeply for these people and their struggle, and you will find that their strange personalities are ultimately what helps them survive in harsh terrain.
But the game is still not without its flaws. Graphically, the game is quite pretty but still has some limits with the animation, constantly recycling a handful of animation sequences in talking-head cutscenes that make up the brunt of the story. There are also some inconsistencies during gameplay with traversing the terrain–obviously you don’t expect a tank to drive over a yawning crevice, but can they seriously not manage to roll over a plateau in the ground that is barely knee-high? There are also some issues with what is and isn’t climbable, and the maps of the terrain sometimes do not go into enough detail on what terrain is actually accessible, or which door leads where. Normally, these are not serious issues, but in later campaigns where every single turn counts, these small annoyances can cost you the battle.
Yet none of this keeps this game from being an emotional and satisfying experience. It can be funny, it can be exciting, and it can be tragic. It can also be shocking thoughtful at times, and incredibly poignant with its meditations on war, violence, nationalism, prejudice, and the costs of battle. You WILL come to love Squad E, and you will miss them when the battle is over.