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Thursday, May 11, 2023

Valkyria Chronicles 4

Valkyria Chronicles was a slow-burn success for Sega on the Playstation 3 and a big hit again when it got a remastered release on Steam, but its later entries were not as well received for a variety of reasons.  Valkyria Chronicles 4 was released nearly a decade after the original game, but does it reignite the Valkyria's flame, or does this sequel also fizzle out?

Valkyria Chronicles was a definite fan favorite on the Playstation 3 and also famously became the top-selling game on Steam the week it launched there (surpassing other major IPs like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed), leaving fans yearning for a worthy sequel for quite a long time.  It took almost a decade to happen, though, with a lackluster PSP sequel (with ill-thought-out reworked mechanics) proving a pretty big disappointment and the third game never getting localized at all.  Then came Valkyria Revolution; a spinoff title set in an alternate history which, while having an interesting premise, was too much of a jumble of gameplay elements to be much fun.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 was the first proper HD entry for the franchise, and thankfully, it also proved to be a return to form in its core gameplay.  The awkward split class system from 2, as well as the superfluous ArmoredTech class, are gone, snipers are back, and the balance overall has been significantly refined - Scouts no longer dominate 90% of the game, and obtaining A ranks on most missions requires far less painstaking perfection in movement and AP use (and generally allows you a turn or two to spare - a good thing as the maps are much larger and more complex in 4).  Your tank is also substantially more useful, only requiring 1 AP to move instead of 2.

A few new tweaks are added to the gameplay, that said.  One is the inclusion of an entirely new class called the Grenadier - they fire mortars with extremely long range (aided by allies' line-of-sight), which can deal heavy damage to soldiers and even provide interception fire over that same long distance.  However, they are hampered by having no short range attack, overall low movement range and having to stop and set up their mortar before they can fire it, which takes several seconds and leaves them open to attack while they do so; in short, you want to keep them well away from enemy fire or they'll get taken out easily.

Other balance tweaks are evident right away too.  Scouts once again have impressive move range, though their overall low durability and mediocre damage and accuracy ensures they're relegated to more of a sneak-attack and scouting role than a proper combatant (or sneaking in to capture unguarded bases).  Snipers and Lancers can actually hit things pretty consistently now without having to train them up at least a dozen levels first.  Engineers can also unlock a "Revival Ragnaid" to revive a downed ally and get them back in action right away, which is quite handy in later missions.

A major problem in the first game (again going back to Scouts being so overpowered) was that units with low move range would get left behind.  Valkyria 4 mitigates that somewhat with two new additions.  One is an APC vehicle that can load up to two infantry units and deploy them elsewhere; it's less well-armored than a tank, though, so while it can take a significant amount of small arms fire, Lancers, Grenadiers and Tanks are a major threat to it.  Another is that, once per turn, a squad leader can use the "Direct Command" ability to order up to two other infantry units to follow them; they will stay behind the leader even if they have a much shorter movement range than them normally, and can still move their full normal range afterward if they wish.  So, for example, it is possible to have a Scout lead a Lancer through a safe route to get behind a tank, at which point they can use their own move to get off a kill-shot and retreat to cover.

Another changeup is the Morale system.  When a unit's morale is high enough (usually after landing a kill), they'll get a boost to their stats that lasts for the rest of the round, or until they take another turn.  This ties into another new mechanic called the Brave System - when a unit is downed by enemy fire, there's a chance they'll get the option to take a Brave action.  They can Inspire an ally to instantly put them in high Morale status (as well as restoring 1 AP to your total), or choose to Stand Up, which restores their movement meter and makes them immune to all damage until they take their attack, at which point they will be downed as normal.  If downed on the enemy's turn they may also get off one final Counterattack before being put in downed status, potentially taking down their attacker too.  These effects have a low chance of occurring so it's not something you can rely on, but it's a nice bonus when it does happen.

As in the previous game, all of your units are relatively unique, with differing stats and Potentials (both positive and negative) that come into play on the battlefield.  Some sidequests can turn negative Potentials into powerful positive ones, though, so they're worth doing if you plan on using certain characters.  As in the first game you also have several paths for weapon upgrades to take, as well as special ones awarded for achieving certain ranks in missions or downing enemy Aces.  Grenadiers in particular benefit from this, as you can fit them with mortars better suited to taking down armored targets or infantry depending on the mission.  All units can now equip one accessory too, giving them a small bonus to their stats that can help offset some of their innate weaknesses or boost their strengths.

So, was Valkyria Chronicles 4 a successful return for the franchise?  I'd definitely say so.  It takes everything that made the original great - its storytelling, memorable cast of characters and inventive gameplay - and changes it for the better.  The gameplay is drastically rebalanced and substantially more tactical, missions are grander in scale and consistently throw new challenges your way, and the story is a gripping tale of a desperate struggle against an empire, with no shortage of tense moments and some very inspired character writing.  Not just another great wartime epic, but I dare say the best Valkyria Chronicles game to date.  Now if only we could get some Kiwami-style high quality remakes of 2 and 3...

Developer: Sega, Media.Vision
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2018, 2020, 2021
Platforms: Playstation 4, Switch, PC, XBox One, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Recommended Version: All versions are pretty much identical as far as I can tell.