You’ve probably heard of the old saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. After all, it’s a quote that I’ve used one or two times in previously written reviews. In terms of video gaming, it’s a premise that’s usually adhered to, often with developers building on the foundations of a successful title in order to improve on the original. However, there are also occasions where things are changed too much, or a new direction is taken, often producing a result that falters from the playability of the first game within a particular series. It’s something which happened within Sega’s Valkyria series of games. After the success of the first title, the developer’s tried to build on that success across a number of other platforms, but also changed the main core of the gameplay to produce a series of titles that deterred from the original’s concept. However, with the latest title within the series, Valkyria Chronicles 4, Sega have taken the series back to its roots and, in doing so, have produced a game that matches, or even surpasses, the formula that first made the series a success.
For those who have never played the original Valkyria Chronicles, or if you only played one of the less-successful spin-offs, then the general premise of the game follows the exploits of a squad of soldiers as they take part within the war of Europa. Although not directly based on the conflict, it follows a very similar theme to the events of the Second World War. Blending a mix of role-playing and strategic elements, across a 2D plain and a 3D battlefield, you take part in a series of battles that help to make up the whole story of the larger conflict; not just in terms of combat, but also within the personal feelings of those involved in it.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 may contain the same level and mechanics in its strategic play as the original game, but this new version also comes with a fresh cast, the troops of Squad E, and a whole new story that charts the conflict between the Atlantic Federation and the Eastern Imperial Alliance. Told through a series of chapters and depictions from the pages of Squad Leader, Claude Wallace’s diary, the story presents you with a series of animated shorts, static stills, key battles and skirmishes, as well as hosting a series of options in order to level up ranks and squad capabilities. Due to a dwindling supply of a precious mineral, Ragnite, the Imperial armies have begun an invasion of the Federation and it’s through the eyes of Squad E, a federation unit, that you take part in the offensive to stop the halt of the invading army.
There are a number of elements that make the whole package of the game; not just in terms of gameplay, but also in the inherent anti-war messaging and a deep connection to the cast and characters of your squad. Your squad comprises of an eclectic mix of soldiers, from the brashness of Raz, a trigger-happy Shocktrooper to the thoughfulness of Claude, your tank commanding leader and the cool and calculating sniper, Kai. With such an array of ensemble characters and a story that incorporates key focusses on each of them, there’s a deep connection that develops between the player and the members of Squad E; even amongst the background players of the reserve troops.
However, although the story contains a serious message, it’s also offset with a number of lighter moments, some cheesy, some sexual connotations that come close to borderline exploitation and the general banter often associated with a close-knit community of squad soldiers. It produces a nice balance to the narrative, all of which is in spoken form, that promotes a feeling of optimism, despite also dealing with the more harrowing subjects of death, stress and loss. There’s a lot of it too, with the pages of Claude’s diary split between narratives and battles, with some pages comprising only of story scenes, while others contain back-to-back battles.
The main core of the strategic elements takes place over a 2D map of deployment, positioning and selecting, whilst the main combat element takes place in third-person environment with finding cover, providing support and firing positions. Despite being sectioned into a series of elements, each one holds as much importance as the other in a seamless transition between planning and fighting. Depending on who you take into battle, a series of command points are awarded and these determine the amount of selections you can make with each squad member. Once deployed and selected, movement is then determined by an action gauge which slowly depletes with every movement. This makes the need to find close cover an important element, so as not leave members stranded in a no-man’s land and open to enemy fire.
Once your squad member is in place, you can use their offensive capabilities to throw grenades, provide covering fire, fire mortars, deploy tanks or provide long-range sniping. Each of the characters possess different abilities, as well as personal traits called potentials, that can help or hinder depending on personal circumstance and battlefield positioning. It adds an element of surprise to the proceedings and keeps the tables turning in the performance of each soldier. It’s a simple system to get to grips with and is one that is extremely rewarding should you accomplish your mission objectives; especially if you manage to keep all of your squad members alive, or rescue any that may have found themselves in a compromising position. There’s a nice balance between the capabilities of specific squad members, or the cover and hard-hitting systems of tank warfare; one that compliments each other with their strategic and tactical implementations.
Successful skirmishes awards experience points which can be distributed amongst the squad during training exercises when stationed at the forward HQ. This in turn allows further traits and orders to be issued, thus expanding on the capabilities available on the battlefield. As well as boosting attributes, you can also develop and improve weaponry and tank capabilities to make your squad stronger, more tactical and able to withstand heavier enemy fortifications. You can also be awarded medals, which again offers further options, as well as customisable elements in order to the game your own. There’s a massive wealth of options here, with levelling up capabilities and weapons, squad selections and customisation.
Overall, Valkyria Chronicles 4 presents a welcome return to form for the series. With a supremely satisfying tactical element, an immersive storyline, deep character connection and a wealth of options, it’s thirty to forty hour campaign will simply fly-by. Even after its completion, its series of skirmishes or replayable battles, in order to improve on your overall ranking, provides enough content to keep things going over the long-term; there’s even a steady stream of DLC coming to bolster out the story or present new challenges. It’s overall presentation is equally as sublime as its gameplay, with a hand-drawn aesthetic that is beautiful to look at and adds a real charm to the overall game. With its ability to save on-the-fly, this is an instantly accessible game, yet also one that provides a perfect balance in its challenge that sits perfectly upon the Nintendo Switch. For me, this is a very strong contender for game of the year, at least in terms of Switch releases and it’s easily one of my top five, even top three; heck, even my overall top game for Nintendo’s hybrid machine. War has never looked so good, or tasted so sweet as it does in Valkyria’s welcome return to form.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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