What a wonderful way to spend an evening. At once funny and charming, while also giving a decent challenge, Valkyria Chronicles is a fine way to unwind after a long day. Strategy games are hardly known for their calming properties, of course, but the gentle pace of the story, the beautifully muted sketchbook visuals and intuitive battle system, takes the sting out of even the toughest of challenges.
I’ve not played any of the previous entries, so forgive me if I’m missing some character details, but in this game you take control of Squad E, commanded by Claude Wallace. Using the troops at your disposal, you are to fight back in the war against the Imperials attempting to take over the land. Some characters – like the charmingly cocky Raz, or ace sniper Kai – are fully involved in the story, though there is a fair breadth of support characters to choose from, each with their own stats, likes and dislikes, and potentials.
The writing is of a generally high quality too. While I’m not a fan of the cutscenes often requiring a button prompt after each line of dialogue – it seems redundant and interrupts the flow of the scene – characters exude a real warmth and depth. The game even managed to coerce a few genuine laughs out of me at times, its anime style humor hitting the spot. It’s not afraid of a bit of blue either, which was a fun surprise. I found myself increasingly interested in the goings on, and while I’m fairly certain some references to old games went over my head, the story is perfectly great as a first timer in this world.
Each chapter is laid out on the pages of a book, it slowly filling in as you go through the story. After several smaller dialogue points, you are granted access to the game proper. Here you must balance your squad effectively, making sure to be covered across disciplines. The aforementioned Raz or Kai pretty much always come with you, but filling out the ranks with the support cast can be a delicate balancing act. As well as their class, you must consider their friendships and potentials.
Placing friends together on the field will give them a boost to attack or defense, often helping out in a pinch. The solider select screen clearly labels who likes who, but in the heat of battle it’s easy to forget the details. Potentials are of more importance though. Ranging from getting a damage buff while low on health to losing accuracy if near another team member, potentials must be paid close attention to. Otherwise solid combatants can crumble if conditions aren’t met. Likewise, the payoff to a positive potential can turn the tide of war.
Each side gets a number of turns to move units about, attack and complete objectives before the other side gets a go. Unlike more traditional grid based strategy games, VC4 allows full 3D movement within each character’s stamina range. You are free to run up to an enemy, gun them down and retreat in a single turn if the range allows. Cover can be sought by simply turning a corner. Sight lines are displayed as a line between you and a foe; so long as that line isn’t there, they can’t see you. It’s an effective way of communicating your status, keeping you in full control of the situation.
Aim at an enemy, and it’s clearly presented to you the chances of killing them. Raz, for example, has 20 rounds in his starter gun. The info says that as long as 10 of them hit, the enemy will go down. While some dice rolling is going on behind the scenes, rarely did I find shots missing at almost impossibly close range. Rushing in is ill-advised however. Enemies will mow you down in a headlong assault. You cannot move and shoot so effective use of snipers of grenadiers is a must.
Playing on normal, the AI is no pushover either. One early mission had me failing within 2 turns, my confidence getting the better of me as I attempted to rush. Take your time, plan your route and use the right troops at the right times; it’s extremely satisfying watching a plan come together. New weapons, mods and perks are awarded for successful missions, as well as EXP and currency to expand your abilities. Side missions and skirmishes are available to help boost this too, letting you grind if stuck on a hard mission.
If you’re after a strategy game that’s not as stressful as others in the genre, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a great choice. Its beautiful art, story and characters are the icing on a well balanced game that rewards the time and effort you put into it. Keeping on top of some of the nitty gritty can be a bit much at times, but thankfully this doesn’t entirely negatively impact the overall experience.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.