Valkyria Chronicles 4 Preview - E3 2018
Exploring alternate history with a mix of action and strategy
The Valkryia Chronicles series of games has been chugging along for over 10 years now, had its own manga and anime, but still may be considered an obscure property in the West. While it never quite made the jump as some other overseas series, it has still produced a solid slew of tactical, military-themed games. I had some hands-on time with their latest installment, Valkyria Chronicles 4, and partied like it was an alternate version of 1935.
The game takes place on Earth, in 1935 EC to be exact, but not as we know it. The continent of Europa is split between the Federation and the Empire. The Imperial army is winning in the Eastern Theater, when the Federate forces launch Operation Northern Cross, a last-ditch effort to tip the scales.
Graphically, Valkyria Chronicles has always had a distinct style to it. The CANVAS engine renders the world and characters in a watercolor palette, reminiscent, in my eyes, to the Tales Of series. While not pushing any current-gen console to the limit, it does evoke a manga/anime aesthetic.
Valyria Chronicles puts its own twist on tactical combat, injecting it with a real-time element, instead of the tile-based system from games such as Fire Emblem, Shining Force, and tons of others hailing from Japan. Other familiar elements remain, however. There is still a preparation period before each battle, featuring your objective and the ability to select and place units on the battlefield.
There are six different units: Scouts, Shocktroopers, Engineers, Lancers, Snipers, and Grenadiers. Simply put, Grenadiers make things go boom; Scouts are quick but don’t do too much damage; Shocktroopers push the frontlines; Engineers can fix things and people; Lancers destroy tanks; and Snipers hit things from far away.
You select which mission you want to embark on from your “book”, drawing on different historical perspectives. There are also Interludes and Squad Stories. The former are side stories, letting you learn more about the characters you’re playing/interacting with. The latter are footnotes that follow the lives of squad members.
I employed my tactical prowess on two levels, the first geared toward getting players used to different classes, while the second had me left to my own devices to tackle a fort. Fans of the first game will find the mechanics familiar. You switch between different units, at which point the battle goes from an overhead map to the 3D battlefield itself. However, you have a limited number of points, meaning you can only select so many units per round of battle. Let’s say I have five points, but six units, I have to choose who’s best for the situation.
With a unit chosen, you then move the character with the analogue stick, taking advantage of environmental features such as grass (which you can crawl in) and chest-high fortifications, like walls and sandbags. Once your target is in sight, simply tap R1 (for PS4), to bring up your sight reticle and hit fire. This phase plays out as a fairly typical third person action game.
Don’t think you’ll be getting out unscathed, though. If you can shoot the enemy, they can shoot you. It’s also integral you watch out for the different enemy lines of sight. If you’re wandering around in the open, there’s a good chance several units can target you. This adds another layer of tactical planning to encounters. It gets tense when your character’s move metre, which decreases as you move around, is tantalizing just in reach of the enemy.
My first level was easy enough, featuring an area of farmland, complete with places to take cover. My footsoldier could rush forward and take out the enemy, while my Sniper upon high could fire off crack shots and hit foes right between the eyes. Since the combat phase is treated as an action game, aim matters – getting those headshots results in much bigger damage. Near the end of the round, an enemy tank rolled into battle, so we unleashed our own. Capable of doling out massive damage, the tank is perfect for eliminating small units, but, if you’re smart, you’ll be focusing on tank-on-tank conflict.
With the first level done and dusted, I was eager to have a little more freedom at my fingertips. My mission was to assault a fort. There was a tank on the field, along with several footsoldiers, and a few troops manning machine guns along the perimeter. I brought my Sniper, a tank to lead the charge, a few footsoldiers, a Lancer, and the Grenadier, a new unit that can fire mortar rounds.
There’s also the new Brave system, which comes into play when an ally soldier is killed or nearly dead. It lets players consume 1 CP (the currency to select units) to increase the stats of allied units who have the “Entrust” skill. It’s most useful in more dire situations, when you are unable to get one of your repair/healing units to the character on death’s door. There is also the Camp, which is your spawn point. By staying there, you can recover health and also spawn new units if needed.
If you’re familiar with tactical games of any ilk, then you’ll fall into your usual patterns. For me, it started off with taking my tank to crush the enemy’s tank right off the bat. It’s vulnerable at the rear, so I swung round a fountain to my left and fired off a round… managing to hit its armor instead of its power cell. This is because your hit reticle has room for error, so you need contingencies in the bank.
Luckily, my lancer was ready to rush in, crawl through the bushes, avoiding enemy fire, and take of a chunk of the tank’s health. I then brought in my Shocktrooper to mow down some regular foot soldiers, backed up by my quick Scout. Meanwhile, my Sniper got to work picking off enemies up high as we all pushed forward together to take the fort.
The RTS system is a lot of fun in Valkyria Chronicles 4. It rewards your tactics but is not difficult to get into after you learn the basics. If you’re a fan of tactical RPGs from either side of the pond, there is a lot to enjoy. However, those looking for a complex experience akin to, say, Planescape or Divinity Original Sin, won’t quite find it here. It seems to be a fun addition to a solid series of games, well worth my time. You'll be able to join the fight on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch later this year.