It’s been a very long time since the original Valkyria Chronicles – literally a decade now – and finally there is a sequel on an actual console and not just a handheld. It’s been long awaited by a lot of people, myself included, and since the port to PS4 and PC it was demanded even more. Was it worth the wait? I’ll try to avoid spoilers while answering that.
Also, before I go further – don’t watch the opening video to this game, it spoils a massive amount of twists to come. It’s a good video but seriously it’s one of the most “why do anime always ruin every fucking story beat and twist in the OP?” cliches possible.
Let’s start a little bit back though with a short aside about the other games in the franchise. Valkyria Chronicles 1 is something most people reading this probably played, it was niche but it kind of blew up for awhile, and then it got even more well known when it re-released on PC and PS4 becoming pseudo-mainstream. It’s deservedly seen as one of the best games in the entire PS3 library and even by 2018 there’s pretty much nothing else like it in aesthetic, story, setting (for this genre of game), or really this ‘take’ on the strategy genre as even those in the same sort of style don’t really take on this type of gameplay. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, it’s a very known quantity.
I actually really enjoyed VC2 even though a lot of people skipped it or dropped it right away due to easy to understand reasons – thing is the game, even while it had to deal with limited hardware (and did so pretty well), added a lot of great ideas to the series and made it in some ways actually superior to the original. It was a true sequel, if not for being held back by being on a handheld and having an entire cast of teenagers with a weird tone to it, it would be much more loved. The maps felt bigger even if they usually actually weren’t (and if they were, were broken into two parts to make it work on the PSP), they had a lot of various ways you could tackle them introducing a lot more tactics – including the concept of having to deck out your vehicle with specific equipment to deal with things if you wanted to use alternative routes, introduced an APC into the vehicle roster, introduced the shield and hammer class, introduced class changing for literally every character (and at all), and also – my favorite addition – added side stories for every member of the squad along with missions attached, not just “the main crew” but literally every single person you could possibly have in the squad which is something I wished for since playing the first. It was simply avoided because of being on PSP and seen by many as not a true successor for it, and for some the whole teenage highschool military kids thing was a turn off as well. Sad because it was quite good – though the endless-feeling length of it kept me from ever finishing it too.
VC3 I have a lot less to say on. For one, it didn’t really bring anything new to the table aside a class that may as well have been out of an edgy kid’s notebook where he writes notes for his (not actually edgy at all) Kingdom Hearts FAQ. Two, the whole thing actually reeks of that edge too, everyone wears dark uniforms, everyone has dark fucked up history, everyone is a “bad boy” that they are pretty much canonically the HOL UP…YOU SAYIN WE SUM…WE FINNA BE SUM KINNA SUICIDE SQUAD of the VC universe wherein the army forced a bunch of edgy fucking teens with messed up histories who did bad things to go be a special squad of their own. It was like the opposite of the fun and mostly free of anything serious 2, but they took it way too goddamn far. And, of course, third is the fact that it was never released in English.
I won’t waste my time talking about Azure Revolution – it’s not even canon or in the same fucking genre (it’s a real shitty action game) or seemingly the same universe anyway.
And now we have Valkyria Chronicles 4, released 10 years after the original and finally not on a handheld – a genuine true actual successor, what many are treating as the “real” VC2. A lot of people are loving this game, but while I’m not sure how many would agree (sounds like a lot though), I hope most would join me in saying this is the best game of the franchise and even miles above the original.
The story – in writing, pacing, and even presentation – is vastly superior to the original. Here, you’re not some militia of teenagers thrown together last-second to protect their home with a feel-good story against evil bad baddies, instead you get such a different feeling situation of not only being in the military and being part of a giant 3,000 troop literal brigade (which is part of a massive march of millions of soldiers). Another huge change is that this time YOU are the invading force, pushing through the lands of the Empire to try and reach their capital and end the war by taking down their most important stronghold…in a way I won’t spoil, but not what you’re going to expect. And, again, this time it’s not just you and your buds, the casualty count at the end is “over 10 million” and the other branches of the military are even aiding you (the Navy is a major part of this game) which changes the story in big ways but also, at times, impacts the gameplay as well.While VC1 was an underdog story at heart, VC4 is a war story through and through – coming off more along the lines of Band of Brothers, further noted by the little fact that your specific group is literally called “E-Z Platoon” not dissimilar to the Easy Company the show is based on, though in this case it’s not American troops and not the Airborne infantry, but rangers in the United Kingdom of Edinburgh military (though for the record your whole unit is one made up of Gallians who wanted to enlist in an active military – Gallia’s military is self-defense only). Everything feels so much bigger because everything, from the story to the maps and missions, IS much bigger. We’ll get to the gameplay elements like the literal map size being huge compared to anything in the past for the franchise and all the missions being way more involved later, but even just in the way they’re presented and how they roll from one to the next makes them feel like real actual military operations.
Thanks to the fact you’re on the offensive this time, the story never slows down either and it does take it’s toll on the cast and war effort in meaningful ways, just like in real life. Which is another point, this manages to feel like war. VC1 spent a lot more time romanticizing the whole thing, 4 feels a lot darker and heavier in the way wars do – that isn’t to say it’s edgy, grimdark, or without fun moments, but – especially after a clear turning point in the story – it feels like it’s being a lot more genuine to what it actually would be like being on the frontlines in a world war, let alone one you are on the currently losing side of going on a desperate mission to end the war before it is lost. Everyone is still trying to find positivity and there are still cute and fun moments as well as romance, but it never loses the momentum or lets any of the weight of what is actually happening off your shoulders.
This also pays off in terms of emotional content, especially when it comes to the sad or messed up stuff. I won’t spoil VC1 even though it’s so old and you should have played it by now as it’s a classic, but there is basically one single sad moment in that entire game. It works, it’s genuinely fucking sad, shocking, unexpected, and that sadness lasts the rest of the game and is a main point in the lives of everyone in the story from then on. However, it was still the only thing. One person dies, their friends are sad. The war has no real impact to the player or the characters to be honest, and aside that one sad part nothing feels heavy, sad, or even really meaningful – if you had them die from cancer during peace time it would be identical. In 4 there are numerous casualties – and not just off-screen nobodies – the presentation of sad elements is far better and more impactful, and there is a lot of messed up stuff that isn’t even always “sad” per-say but dark or screwed up enough that you wouldn’t expect it out of this series (and plenty of straight up fucking sad too) but it manages to fit in without feeling out-of-place or edgy.
That is true both on a large and small scale – for example, some of the smaller ways that situation plays out in the game play is through additions to the actual gameplay at times; for example one mission is about rescuing someone from a resistance group in an annexed area of the Empire. However, the imp general there who isn’t even a character is just known to be a little less interested in following the pseudo Geneva convention than most…so you can’t use your medic, if you try she just gets fucking sniped and isn’t able to do anything, so if any of your squad goes down they’re basically fucked. Or how Nico will sometimes remind herself God is watching her before she opens fire – which is a negative ‘potential’ of hers because she believes she’s maybe going to go to hell for this and it lowers her accuracy if I recall (it gets replaced in her squad story which I got very early on, so I forget exactly).
It also really tackles the more harrowing and dark aspects of the second world war in many ways, including a huge one I won’t spoil at all. It does a great job too of showing that war isn’t “good vs evil” – unlike VC1 where it was devoid of anything aside the fact I AM EVIL NAZI-MAN/ROMAN/RUSSIAN it now features real believable characters with personality and life behind them and reasons for what they’re doing that actually make you care and interested.
For one, the antagonists this time are all legitimate characters, not just caricatures of powerful empires of bygone days. Apparently all of those guys went on the trip to invade Gallia for VC1 – which is happening right as this game is as well, which is kind of cool as the two games very much impact one another in ways that would make the other game impossible. It reminds you it’s a huge war with multiple fronts all of which effect the other. Anyway, they aren’t just fleshed out more, but they all also have much more genuine motivations for what they’re doing – even the crazy mad scientist type guy who is essentially the big bad of the game. Two of the antagonists even end up really likable. Most of the bads – both the primary named story ones AND even generic foot soldiers at times – are humanized and shown to us to be fighting for the same reasons we are, and that the ones who have done terrible things were simply twisted by the war itself in believable human ways.
There’s plenty of time spent on showing just how bad our side in this war is too, in a lot of pretty fucked up ways at that. For once, a story of war shows that there is no good or bad, just “us vs them”, and that simply because we are “us” we must win WITHOUT it being shitty corny in your face about it. Yet again, everyone is pretty humanized and those who have gone too far aren’t seen as “evil” but as figurative casualties of the war, twisted by the situation and losing their humanity because of it. It really shows the impact on everyone involved ranging from great sacrifice and doing horrible things for your country to the relationships we form in times of strife on every side of the battle.
Even Claude, the main character, ends up becoming twisted by everything that takes place, culminating in a really powerful scene near the end of the game where he’s conflicted about an absolutely huge decision – and not just in some lame “right or wrong” debate within him. It feels…less ‘anime’ than the prior games in a way, and it pays off with a lot more emotion and meaningful value throughout.
Another way I already touched on that the story directly impacts things and makes it so different from the prior games is in the gameplay itself in various ways. Everything is always evolving and changing because you are constantly on the move; you go through all sorts of places with all sorts of weather and topography that really mix up what you are seeing and how to tackle the levels – and even various things, like your base camp for example, change over the course of the game in huge ways because of that constant push forward deeper and deeper into enemy territory.
Another story-related, but less impacted from the story thing – the system for side stories about all the squad members that was introduced in 2 makes a comeback, and I am so happy that it did. It was one of my favorite things about 2 and the same goes for 4, it’s just so much better to get to spend even a little bit of time focusing on the ‘supporting’ cast and fleshing them out. They have stories, personalities, relationships, and it’s all stuff that would go completely ignored and unsaid before, which was always sad when you’d find a character you really enjoyed but they basically were nothing but a face and a few lines of dialogue in combat. Now, not only do characters all get SOMETHING even if they aren’t the focus in it, but it also is given as sort of a ‘reward’ for using various squad members – giving you reason to sometimes swap up who you use so they can go up in their personal rank. Each story also, after you finish it, removes a negative ‘potential’ of at least one of them and gives all of them a new positive special one.
Speaking of the cast, I have some surprising and not-at-all surprising favorites. As far as the main crew goes, that’s the most unexpected one; my favorite character in the game aside Nico is Minerva Victor who has absolutely no attributes in (the majority of) her looks or personality that I’m usually into, but for whatever reason I am really into her anyway. She hides them well, but she’s also got big tits (which are bouncy too!), so there’s at least something that makes sense for me to like her for. I got lucky too in that she is constantly around throughout the game, story relevant, and she might even have the most dialogue of any of the girls in the cast. She’s also the main focus of a lot of the most dramatic or emotional big moments in the game – in fact she’s maybe one of the most drastically changed by the story from start to finish and, along with one of the other main cast, maybe the most unfortunate. Raz is a close second for my favorite of the story cast.
Then there’s Nico who is probably my overall favorite. She’s just a cutie and a mega sweetheart, there isn’t anything surprising about her being one of my favorites who I never do a mission without. She’s also got some fun combat lines like “God is always watching”. Also, while it’s not uncommon in real life, she’s a rare breed for anime styled stuff sporting blond hair and green eyes – not to say it’s impossible to find, I mean even Saber has the same and she’s insanely popular even nowadays, it’s just surprising they actually made her look genuinely nordic.
After her, I have to say Vancey. She’s a mega-drunk shocktrooper who is really cute and fun – she has a sad little backstory but also is one of the best shocktroopers due to her experiences around it. I also really like Ferrier a lot (the girl with the iron mask), Fleuret because cute knight girl, Aoife because she’s hot but also while it isn’t who I’m thinking of – there is a slutty supposed-trap (I’ve heard a lot of traps in my time and this one sounds like a real girl too much) in VRChat who claims to be a guy who works in voice acting from time to time and this character sounds fucking identical so it just is hilarious to me every time she speaks regardless if it’s them or not, Neige because she’s an Atelier character, “Odin”, and really I actually kind of really like almost everyone with the exception of the obnoxious empowered black woman, the single mother, and literal fucking tranny. I’m not surprised those tropes are here, they were even in VC1 including a mega-homo, but they are just so goddamn unlikable as characters beyond the simple descriptions I gave them…well okay, the tranny I kind of just hate because it is one, but the black girl and the single mom are just so annoying any time they speak and their potentials are all whiny or “I’M A STRONG WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR” shit, I can’t stand them. Oh, I also hate the totally-not-a-Mexican guy because he was a complete dickhead to Nico.
The main antagonists are good too as I also already mentioned and have a lot more depth to them than that of VC1’s evil Nazi-Romans who were evil because they were Nazi’s and Romans. Here, each of them has a more meaningful story to them – kind of like how Selvaria did in the really great DLC for 1 where you get to play as the Empire and her (in this case not literally playing as the bad guys, but you get my point). In fact, Selvaria has a lot of relevance to one of the people in this and why they are how they are, which was kind of a cool way to refer back to VC1. Another thing about them is that – okay, spoilers, there’s a Valkyria in the game called Valkyria Chronicles which also has had them in every single game. I was worried, there’s not many ways to make that make any sense with how everyone reacts in 1 to a Valkyria existing – or to how Maximilian only has Selvaria with him because she is the sole Valkyrian they have access to and is a special and important tool for him. However, they do a really good job of it and the explanation for it is actually kind of a major plot point for several reasons which I appreciate they didn’t just go “whatever, just throw a Valkyria in there who gives a shit” and instead realized what a big plot hole that’d create without proper context and even made that context matter enough to JUSTIFY having a Valkyria behind it beyond “well it’s in the title so…”.
Now, lets finally actually focus on the gameplay instead of jumping around between shit so much.
VC4 absolutely stands tall over it’s predecessors in this department as well. Something I noticed and really loved pretty early on was that every single mission in this game has a “thing” to it – not necessarily a gimmick or trick, but always at least some kind of twist to it. Not like “OH HERE COMES THE TWIST” but just SOMETHING that sets that mission apart from the others, be it combating paratroopers or some literal actual twist halfway through where a new group of enemy tanks comes (or allied ones, which does happen – you get control of 4 tanks in a pretty early mission, actually), or a train with cannons comes and goes and you need to mess with the tracks, or you have to snipe some signs on old signal towers, or some big story thing happens, or even stuff like avalanches and other weather stuff, having enemy units chasing after you while your mission is simply to escape, or something as simple yet very new to the series of having the squad you used in the PRIOR mission be actually locked into the next one and you having to play as them and also send a rescue team at the same time. Even that aspect of it makes it feel more ‘believable’ because the operations shouldn’t all be too similar.
Sometimes it’s something small, sometimes it’s a huge turn of events, but no two missions feel alike in this game – even the very first missions in this game (which are in the demo) have special elements to them that set them apart. It’s really cool and makes it feel so much more fun to tackle these missions and play them because it’s not just dealing with a new layout yet the game being the same, you’re both stuck tackling new terrain while also facing other new aspects (or being aided by them) each mission. It also helps make it feel more legitimate and less video-gamey.
The actual thought put into the maps is also notable beyond those aspects; not only being far larger in scope compared to anything in VC1 both in physical size and the amount of stuff going on, but also just in the overall actual layouts and creativity. Each one is really smartly designed in a way that makes them mostly all feel super well balanced while also often demanding the player to use different strategies; the tactic of VC1 where you could (and were practically encouraged to) beat nearly every mission with ease by just using Scouts isn’t as applicable here, they’re still extremely important (especially as leaders) but they’re far from everything. VC4 really forces you to use all the classes and do so intelligently while also considering the terrain and thinking several steps ahead or else facing sometimes lethal consequences.
Of course one of the most obvious at a glance changes is that of the new Grenadier class, which carry around mobile mortars that have long range, do really good AOE damage, can stop tanks from moving, and also – just like most other classes (including snipers if you level them up enough!) – do have interception fire, meaning they will be launching bombs at any enemies that move in their field of view which is both awesome and hilarious at times. Not only does it add to your hand, it also really changes the game in a huge way – especially when the enemy has them. A lot of the levels combine mortars and even mounted gatling guns or anti-tank cannons in your enemy’s arsenal – and it really throws off your tactics in a brilliant way for something as small as just one additional class.
This time around you also get a lot more Orders and ease of access to getting them – no more random luck on whether or not that old guy is at the graves to teach you one or not, you just go to the mess hall and typically there’s a new one whenever there are new upgrades for your crew too (typically every chapter). On top of that, later in the game you have access to a sub-set of orders thanks to a story event that then remain with you from then on – which includes some really useful and cool things; radar, artillery bombardment, one that sends out a little car that heals everyone while also grabbing up any downed soldiers to take them to safety, and one that can replace any blown up vehicle of yours (as long as the Hafen is alive, given Claude has to be in battle to do orders). Just another way the strategies you can use are expanded.
Speaking of vehicles – this time around they’re a lot more important and useful. The Hafen, your main tank, only takes 1 action point to use instead of 2 like before, it also is very durable and you’ll find it will almost never die unless it’s shot right up the ass. At the same time, it doesn’t feel TOO overpowered – it just feels like a really good tank should feel, instead of like a dainty flower like the somewhat ironically named Edelweiss. The decal system from 2 is also back, while it’s just a small little thing you can put a decoration of your choice on the side of the armor which of course you can see but it also will add a small stat boost based on which you have on – though honestly I mostly picked based on story or aesthetic reasons given the boosts are minimal anyway. What I appreciated most about the Hafen and the durability of it was that it made me actually use it like we use tanks in real life – it was up in the front but always had soldiers with it and typically acted as both the main scout and main offensive unit while also being an important shield for my infantry but requiring them in exchange to defend it from anti-tank troops or mines.
They also brought back the APC from VC2 – it only seats 2 at first, but even then it is an extremely useful tool to have access to in pretty much every mission from the moment you get it, plus you can upgrade it to carry 5 soldiers later on. It can die really easily, so you have to be sort of careful even when fully upgraded, but still the benefits are often worth it even if the risk is that the APC and any of it’s passengers will be forcibly removed from the mission (though not killed at least). Yet again, it’s something that really changes how you can tackle missions…just be careful about keeping it alive.
You get access to a third vehicle later in the game – it’s not anything special so without specifics I will say it’s just a shittier tank than the Hafen. It’s just a standard federation tank, which means it doesn’t do good damage, doesn’t have good aim, and also dies way faster. However, just like the second tank in VC1 it does a good job of distracting the enemy plus if you’re willing to sometimes spend a few turns thanks to misses to kill enemy tanks it’s pretty great at getting around to their radiators quickly. You get to pick between it or the APC – I think the best way to do it is really based on the mission, and if you don’t know just take the tank instead.
There is also another vehicle but it’s not one you control, just one you’re able to call on for help and that is extremely important in the story.
Easily forgotten at first, but extremely useful, is the new addition of “leaders” – these are the same as they were before, characters who have that little emblem next to them that would make it so you’d have more actions per turn. Now they still do that, but also any leader, after a certain point in the game, can once-per-turn (total, so only one person can do it that turn at all) have two other soldiers follow them. This is insanely useful and maybe the most overpowered addition in the game – especially for Scouts. You can put leadership on 1 extra person aside the main characters, I put it on Nico of course. What is most important to know about this is that they don’t just follow you, but they DO NOT LOSE AP DOING IT, meaning their full movement is still saved – so if you have a scout take 2 people, run as far as the scout can, those other two people can still run their full amount after already having gone as far as the scout could. On top of that they can do support fire when they’re following you. It’s super useful and early on you won’t remember it, but the further you go the more it’ll become a vital part of every turn.
As for bad things, before getting around to just a few more good things…there aren’t many, luckily. The majority are pretty small nothing issues that I feel have been an issue since the original, most notably the cut-ins getting you shot up or even dead because of the half-a-second they don’t allow you to do ANYTHING while enemies can shoot. I don’t even mean just the negative ones, I even hate seeing the positive ones (those ones are sometimes worse, as they’ll pop up mid-turn instead of right away) – it needs to be some sort of smaller corner cut-in that doesn’t pause anything or just be shown once but have them speak the line from then on so you know it triggered. I don’t know, but not this.
Also, even if it doesn’t wind up with being shot or anything it’s just annoying to constantly have the game halt your movement or take ages to do something because it wants to sit there for 10 seconds on the character saying a one-liner – again, issues from the franchise itself. Other small stuff includes bugs – especially during a late game mission which is 2 parts (within 1 mission) and for some reason it really fucks up during the transition from the first half to the second half of the mission – your tank can end up being under the spawned enemy tank making it just flip the fuck out, all crouched people are uncrouched, etc, which kind of screws you over the first time it happens because you expect everyone to be positioned pretty well and then they suddenly aren’t in cover (getting them killed really fast) or are even glitching like hell.
Other, again, very minor annoyances that have always been around would include like the time it takes to go through your upgrades because this guy’s gotta say something and then it has to sit there for a second or two while his image goes away. These minor things do become a lot bigger of an annoyance when you’re replaying missions to get A ratings and whatnot as well because you just want to do the thing and instead you’re stuck seeing this fucking cut-in you’ve seen 8000 times already and wasting time waiting on it and KNOWING that the camera angle will now be fucking different resulting in being shot and losing AP.
The only actually big problem I’d say is the difficulty of the very late game boss missions. They become just completely ridiculous and un-fun, something 1 also suffered from if you didn’t know how to cheese it – but even those didn’t compare to how bad some of these get. For the most part this game is very challenging but also feels balanced, just tough, but there are a few that are just straight up bullshit that you have to win by cheesing, brute force, and/or honestly a lot of random luck making a game based so heavily around tactics and strategy feel a little stupid. Luckily the final boss, while difficult (impossible on the extra hard unlocked mode after completing the game), is more a challenge of endurance rather than “oh no, I’m gonna lose!”.
Actually, there is one other thing that does end up becoming a serious issue from time-to-time – that being the hitboxes. I had VERY regular occurrences of my snipers hitting invisible barriers when sniping enemies or ragnite crates; sure, some I should have noticed didn’t have the to kill number shown (which would imply you aren’t hitting the target at all) but other times it would show that and it STILL WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO HIT because it runs into an invisible wall – and in both cases, that just shouldn’t be possible anyway. It’s really frustrating especially when that sniper shot is an important one.
There are also a lot of small mostly quality of life updates that I won’t go over all of. A good simple example would be what I already mentioned about learning orders much easier, but another would be the training/leveling up of your classes. It’s done the same way as before, but now you get to see if they will earn a new potential for the class upon leveling up, or if you’ll get a new order from it. Another thing you might not even notice is that the main cast cannot die – even if the Hafen gets blown up it simply auto-retreats, most missions don’t auto-lose if it blows up (unlike in 1) and the rest of the main cast are also incapable of being killed off, as in they can’t get you a game over if you were to have them die and run out of time/have an enemy touch them. Of course, for everyone else, they will permanently die if grabbed up by an enemy after being downed, or if you take too long to save them, as usual (aside your 1 chosen Leader character who shares the ability to never die). Another very small positive I enjoyed was that many missions had custom radio chatter specific to them (only noticeable if you’re playing English really, which yes this has dual audio). I also really liked the small but relevant nods to America (even if they’re butthurt Japanese writers so they have some anti-American sentiment in there) and Japan which have gone ignored throughout the franchise, as well as the huge one to the Navy. There are a bunch of things but they’re all small and only really matter when you’re playing, I don’t want to spend time listing them out though.
Back to the story just as a clean way to end this and because I really wanted to comment on it; the ending of this game is phenomenal and absolutely perfect. Everything leading up to the ending is as well, but the very final moment, the last scene before the credits, is not what I expected but exactly what I had hoped for yet figured wouldn’t happen. It was a beautiful and respectful way to give closure to everything that had happened and to the most important soldier of all in the war effort, it was really perfect. There are also a couple good little scenes during the credits and a very nice final montage with a bit of narration for the post-credits scene to finally end everything (along with updates in your private quarters on many squad members and what they did after the war if they survived). There are more scenes hidden away in the post game too, but the final moments before the credits hit will be what stick with you the most out of everything in the game.
I really have to say that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is absolutely not just a return to form, but the very best game in this entire franchise. It is a perfected version of a concept that’s been being worked on for the last 10 years, even on the portable less popular versions. Aside from a few bugs and some small missteps by the franchise’s gameplay as a whole, I really can’t think of anything negative about VC4. This is a fucking phenomenal game with a fantastic story, incredible characters with, of course, top notch and very addictive and unique gameplay – and it may well become something as loved and fondly remembered for the PS4 era as VC1 was for the PS3. I know it’s reached that level for me.