If you listen to Geeks of Color’s gaming podcast, Gameboys of Color, you’re well aware that I’m a huge fan of the anime-tactics game Fire Emblem. From the rewarding feeling of finally clearing a map after several desperate attempts to save my favorite character to the almost inconsequential yet endearing dialogue exchanges that take place between battles, the genre has wormed its way into my heart and made me stress over characters in a way I didn’t think possible. Valkyria Chronicles 4 was able to take several of the aspects I’ve loved from the genre’s past and build on top of it, providing a thoroughly engaging tactical experience.
When I first went hands-on with Valkyria Chronicles 4 I eagerly charged in, excited to see all the changes and upgrades that have been made to the series. After all, I only have experience with the first title in the franchise and never touched the PSP exclusive Valkyria Chronicles II or the Japan-exclusive Valkyria Chronicles III. I started up the game expecting to be overwhelmed by new menus, units, and strategies that had been introduced during my lapse from the series. Much to my surprise, this was far from the case, yet in the best way possible.
Surprisingly enough, everything felt, the same. Valkyria Chronicle’s stunning watercolor and canvas storybook motif remained perfectly in line with my memory from the first game. The controls, units, text boxes, all of it felt so familiar and comforting. Which I admit, could easily come off as stale. However, Valkyria Chronicles expertly subverts this by taking advantage of this beat of familiarity to entice the player into a new story while introducing a sizable cast of loveable characters.
Taking place tangentially to the original Valkyria Chronicles, in Valkyria Chronicles 4 you’ll find yourself waving a familiar banner, yet on an entirely new battlefield. Through proxy of Commander Claude Wallace, players will take charge of Squad E as they perform their duties to execute Operation Northern Cross in the Second Europan War. With each conquest comes a deeper understanding of the history of this elite army of lifetime friends, witnessing numerous character interactions which I believe to be the heart of the game. From humorous moments such as a playable skirmish with an allied squadron to decide who holds claim over the last rations of the bread and bacon to the teary-eyed, gut-wrenching scenes of character development. I frequently found myself hanging on to every interaction and immediately longing for more once the dialogue would conclude.
Just as you begin to understand the dynamics of Squad E, the game will introduce fresh mechanics that will implore you to alter your strategies. This continues with for the first handful of hours with the game, as the player is consistently introduced to new mechanics just as they’ve had enough time to get comfortable with the prior. The earliest of these I faced was the introduction to Grenadiers. Like what you would find in an XCOM title, units in Valkyria Chronicles are set into a sentry mode during their off cycles, allowing them to squeeze in a few extra shots if you’re a little too reckless with your flanking. Thankfully, since this sentry mode was locked to short range and minimal damage units such as Scouts and Shock Troopers in previous titles this still gave quite a lot of leeway in map traversal. Grenadiers blow that sense of comfort out of the water, and if you’re not careful, your unit with it.
Filling the role of a ranged artillery strike, Grenadiers can launch mortars across the map often from unseen locations. A frustrating, yet thrilling addition that grounded me into the gameplay, encouraging a sense of urgency with every move. With consistent movement and a pinch of luck, these strikes can usually be avoided unscathed. But if you hesitate or try to vault of over a barrier at the wrong moment– it ‘ll find it’s marked. And when it does, oh, you’ll feel it. Upon impact, units are sent rag-dolling through the air as the screen blurs and audio muffles as you adjust from the deafening sound of the blast. This tension provided by the whistling uncertainty of when and how close the next strike will hit impelled me to become engrossed in the game’s happenings, even during sections where before I would play with my attention diverted elsewhere.
Of course, this same tactic can be applied to your own squad as well, and while it did save me once or twice, it’s far from what I found to be the most beneficial inclusion. Valkyria Chronicles 4′s introduction of the Last Stand mechanic can radically alter the tide of a battle even in the lowest of moments. Right as a unit falls they have a chance to give one final effort through their Last Stand. In this, the player can choose from a selection of choices including inspire, counter, and stand-up. Inspire gives the unit a chance to give one final hoo-rah, motivating a nearby ally and temporarily boosting their stats. Counter allows for the unit to fire back from the brink of death, limiting their targeting only to who attacked them from wherever they fell. Stand up, the option I found the most useful, essentially gives a unit a full turn. The unit can now move just as liberally as they did at the rounds start, this time empowered with invincibility.
Another extraordinarily useful skill in the execution of maneuverings in Valkyria Chronicles is the newly introduced pairing system. This can be performed in two separate ways. The first is through a new vehicle unit called an APC. Equipped with a weak turret as it’s the main mode of attack, the APC provides players with a method of transporting multiple units at a time across the map in a quick an efficient manner. With boarding and disembarking the vehicle taking up one action. The second pairing system is a little more intimate, connecting leader units with the rest of their team. By implementing a command, leader units can rally soldiers to join their side in battle following them throughout the map and providing some extra firepower in any encounters they face on the way to their objective. Both come with their own collection of benefits and faults, leaving them open to being adapted to varying playstyles.
Despite its initial familiarity, the 4th installment of Valkyria Chronicles manages to accomplish so much to separate itself as a worthy addition to the franchise throughout its runtime. By building on the title’s already sturdy foundation of mechanics, Valkyria Chronicles made me believe that my every move mattered when commanding over each mission. Convincing me that the outcome was truly in my hands and not decided by our sometimes-cruel friend, RNJesus. Tied together with a cast of personalities that I couldn’t help but adore, Valkyria Chronicles 4 ended up being a delight of a game that I can’t recommend enough to fans of the tactics genre.