Honesty time, I have never played any of the Valkyria Chronicle games, so this was all new for me and coming in, I honestly was not sure what to expect.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 tells the story of Squad E, a tank and infantry platoon, who are serving in the Atlantic Federation, as they fight against the oppressive Eastern Imperial Alliance. The leader of the group is Claude Wallace, someone who graduated the military academy as its valedictorian and has the ability to read the shifting winds to help direct his squad to victory. Soon after we meet the squad, they are informed that the Federation is going to push towards the heart of the Imperial Alliance in Operation Northern Cross and Squad E is going to be a big part of that. What takes place is a story where things follow a standard numbered sequence, ambush here, snow there, retreat and more and I am ok with that, as it is the characters that make up the reason to invest.
Claude as a leader is someone who comes across as indecisive, at times, but when he knows the right course of action, he becomes firm and makes calls, even in the heat of battle. Supporting Claude are fellow hometown soldiers, Kaz and Sai (also known as Leanne) and soon after Reiley joins the squad, she is a grenadier, new to the series and also from the same town as the others, but she has a complex history with Claude, which is explained as you go. Other members of the squad also make an impression, even with the little amount you can interact with some of them, other members of the Federation are hit and miss, most are generic, but Minerva sticks to closely to the stereotype of a high strung lady, who wants to be the best, to be of any interest early on, she does thaw somewhat as the game progresses, but only slightly.
Once you know the squad and other military members, you will jump into the game, which is part tactics game and part 3rd person shooter, the combination might seem strange, but together, it works. When you star your missions, you are given the chance to deploy your squad, in one or two set locations and choosing who you deploy with, is crucial for surviving, especially some of the later missions. When you deploy the game will give you an overhead view of the map, complete with enemy base locations, but not all the enemies will appear all the time, only if you can see them, will they show up. When you are ready to being, you can select a member of your squad, which in turn will use up an action point, this is where the game swaps to a 3rd person shooter, you are then given free control over the unit selected.
Taking control is simple enough, but each soldier or tank, has a limited range of movement and unlike some tactical games, this is not a set number of spaces, but a stamina meter, which depletes as you move. Once you have gotten in range of an enemy, they will start shooting at you, the grenadiers are a pain for this and unless you get behind cover, or out of range, you will start to take damage. When you are ready to attack though, they will stop their attack, letting you line up your shot in peace, but unless you take them out, they will retaliate, so being able to take cover is critical, to ensuring that you avoid enemy fire. What I liked was that you could literally walk up to and around an enemy and shoot them in the back, but the game would list it as a surprise attack as you were attacking from behind.
Enemy soldiers, just like some of your own have gold emblems next to their names, if you take them down in battle, they lose an action point going forward, but again happens to you. If you don't use all of your action points in a turn, they bank for the next one, giving you plenty of chances to build up for a massive shot. Some of your soldiers like Raz and Kai, are able to take other soldiers into battle with them, letting you advance many troops for the cost of a single action point and if you take them all into combat, they all fight. One of the elements that I hope you never see is what is known as the Brave system, basically if one of your leader soldiers falls in battle, they can use a CP or command point and stand up for one last push, how you use it is up to you and it honestly can feel like a really hard choice, especially as if you use it, you may lose that soldier from the rest of your game.
If you are alongside a squad mate, when you open fire, they may also join in and fight alongside you, but it is not always a guarantee, as they have to like your current character, in order to do so. Once you have exhausted your action points, your turn is over and then it is time for the enemy to move around, the same rules apply here as to when you move, if they get in range of your weapons, they will start being attacked and will receive returning fire, if they happen to shoot at one of your squad. Once it is your turn again, the mission continues, now each mission has a few requirement for success, the most common one, is usually don’t let someone die, which is possible and if they die, they are usually gone for good.
As each member of the squad likes someone else, keeping everyone alive is in your best interests and it is this system that rules if you will get support in battle from other squad mates. After each mission, you will notice that squad likes will change, new members will join and so on, so keeping up to date with that, will come in handy, to ensure that when you deploy people to the battlefield, you have people that work well together.
Sadly, the game has a number of issues, most comes down to combat and how slow it can be at times, but the worst part is how the game decides on when your attacks will hit and when they will miss. There were countless times that I had the enemy in my sights, only for the bullet to go wide, now I can appreciate that they wanted to make sure it was somewhat realistic, but when you are only feet away and using a machine gun, you would expect all the shots would land, not a handful. When playing as a Sniper, you can zoom in, line up your shot and still miss and at that point, it is just a numbers game, as there is no way for you to hold your breath or watch the wind, you just line up, shoot and hope for the best.
The other annoying part is when you are attempting to play through the story, with each section being broken up into chapters from a book, as you progress, you will unlock the next piece of content and I say content and not missions as a lot of the parts are just story sequences. The frustrating part of them is that, you can’t just let them play like a cutscene, they play out, only when you press the button to move forward, each and every time the character is done speaking, press it to early and you get seconds of silence as the game catches up. There were times when I had to sit though half a dozen of these, before I was given a mission and then once mission complete, another handful of story parts. As they slow the game down to an almost full stop, they are beyond stupid and venture into anger generating, the ability to just let the game progress on its own there, an auto function would have made them bearable.
The games presentation is also a bit weird, there are times when it looks really nice, with its comic book inspired visuals, but almost all of the story of the game, is presented with characters inside of little boxes and moving in one motion per box. The resulting effect is that the same character will fade in an out multiple times, as they speak, which then begs the question why have them move at all, if it was going to result in this. When you are in the 3rd person portions, the game has none of these issues, heck at random times, when the story calls for it, you will get a more standard cinematic, complete with multiple movements, the juxtaposition of the two is very different and you will notice. Characters are very well designed, a lot of effort went into their weapons and outfits, which are all upgradable, as much as their faces and personalities. The vehicles, what few there are, are also designed quite well, as are the countless environments you battle through, towns and country side included. Once aspect I liked is that when your particular soldier has a potential activate, a good or bad change to their stats for a turn, a cool effect appears on the screen, indicating it, blue is a boost, purple is a downer and it is easy to understand what is happen in those moments.
From and Audial point of view though, the game is a bit of a mixed bag, the sounds of the weapons sounds cool, but at no point does the surrounding noises, provide the sense that you are in the middle of a full-scale war, more like a small skirmish. Even in one particular mission, when you are retreating, the game still provides no sense of the scale of the conflict. Other than that, my gripe with the audio is that the game is clearly set in a fictional Europe, the map, the names and more all hint at that, but the game provides American voices for the game, at least in English, there is nothing wrong with the actors performances, just seems weird to have American voices in European countries is all.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a really incredible game, if you can overlook some strange presentation issues, the games level of detail it gives will appease those hardcore tactical players, but the 3rd person point of view, will appeal more to the masses, it really is the best of both worlds.