"Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks like it's going to be a showcase of all of the series' best moments, rather than a bevy of new content."
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of this year is that we'll be getting a brand new mainline Valkyria Chronicles for the first time in 8 years. Western fans missed out on the third game before being punished with ill-advised spinoff Valkyria Revolution last year, so Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks like a welcome return to form for the series. This E3 I got the chance to play the game and get a feel for some of the new mechanics in store for Squad E.
The events of Valkyria Chronicles 4 happen parallel to those of the first game. Instead of being set in the heart of war, the game follows Claude Wallace, the determined yet caring commander of Squad E. His team are ordered to undertake Operation Northern Cross, which aims to stop the Second Europan War by taking over the Imperial capital. This tale is meant to provide yet another perspective on the war, and from early impressions, this squad seem a lot more grounded and a little more serious than the idealistic Welkin and Alicia from the first game.
There was a choice of two demos at E3: the first was a practice demo that let you adjust to the combat of the Valkyria series; the second drops Squad E straight into Chapter 2, and naturally that's the one I went for. In this mission, your goal is to capture a huge gun at the top of the map, but your path is fraught by danger. I was handed a save file which was around halfway through the mission, and ordered to cross bridge for the specific purpose of being gunned down. Picking my Scout, I guided him through the sandbags only to be killed by two turrets either side of the gate.
The time to mourn for my lost troop was cut short by a cutscene, and I was introduced to Reiley, a Grenadier, which is a brand new class for the series. The Grenadier has the longest and highest range of any other class, and their job is to take out units who are gunning for you from high above. To use Reiley, you have to set her up in the middle of the field, and then choose where to launch your grenade. These travel in a high, long arc and cause huge amounts of damage, so she was an essential unit in my mission. Her readied state leaves her extremely vulnerable, as her heavy equipment means she's slow and has limited movement on the field, adding yet another layer of strategy to this already deep game. I can't wait to see how Reiley will be implemented into the later stages of the game, and whether there will be more Grenadiers available.
Using Reiley to take out the turrets at the top, I was able to move my Shocktroopers all the way up the battlefield, gunning down the enemy one-by-one in brutal fashion in order to storm the gates and capture the main objective. Picking up Valkyria Chronicles 4 was like sitting down with an old friend again; the game looks and feels exactly like the first, and there are no significant diversions from the formula. This proves that the game is intended for fans of the first one, and is a true return to roots after the smaller maps of the PSP games and the abysmal action combat of Valkyria Revolution. It felt great settling back into the Commander's seat, moving each of my units around, attempting headshots with my sniper each and every time.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 truly feels like a Valkyria Chronicles game. The maps are large and robust, the returning classes function the same, and a wide range of abilities and traits are available, both supportive and detrimental. The game’s gorgeous, too, retaining the series’ trademark watercolour storybook style. This unique art style has translated so well to this generation of consoles, but compared to 2016’s remaster of the first game, there's very little difference in terms of quality and textures. I only had a chance to play the PS4 version, but reports state that the Switch version obviously loses some of that quality, and may even suffer from some slowdown. Hopefully this can be smoothed out before the game's release later this year.
I only got to spend time with the characters outside of battle twice, so my connection with this new squad has still yet to be formed. If anything, the two cutscenes from the demo have me a little concerned over the quality of the story and the writing in the game. When Reiley turned up to save the day, she and Claude exchanged in Cinderella jokes and puns which all felt awkward and out of place, drenched in anime clichés. Wooden and stilted isn't something I associate with the series, so I'm hoping this is just an out-of-context moment that didn't make sense within the demo, and that when I get to spend some time with the crew, I can fall in love with them.
There are a couple of new features that weren't available in the demo. One of these was the snowy levels, which have been so prominent in promotional material and key art. These tundra landscapes allow Squad E to use a snow cruiser to gain extra support in battle. Our furry friend Ragnarok also wasn't present, but the Medic system — which you use to revive downed units — was still available to use, and is as it was in previous installments.
Rather than going gung-ho on new additions, Valkyria Chroncles 4 uses the first game as its base, while borrowing some of the better mechanics from the PSP sequels. One such feature (though unavailable in the demo I played) is the ability to transport slower units from the back of the field right to the frontline. No need to worry about your Lancers and Grenadiers being left in the dust!
Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks like it's going to be a showcase of all of the series' best moments, rather than a bevy of new content. I'm okay with that, as long as it retains the charm and beauty of the original game, and the story is as heartfelt and compelling as each of its predecessors. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is out now in Japan, with a Western release scheduled later this year, so there's plenty of time to tidy up the script and smooth out any issues. Squad RPGFan, move out!