Segas beloved action strategy finally gets a proper sequel, but how much have things changed in the last 10 years?
There is an art and science to knowing when and how to create a video game sequel. Rush too quickly to make a follow-up and you risk sacrificing quality and the long-term fortunes of the series but wait too long and theres the danger everyone will have moved on by the time it comes out. Its a delicate balancing act and it seems fair to say that Valkyria Chronicles has, up until now, got it completely wrong.
The original Valkyria Chronicles was released in 2008 and was one of the most critically acclaimed of the PlayStation 3s early wave of exclusives. But its strange mix of genres and influences was a hard sell and despite strong reviews it did only mediocre business, especially in the West. That meant its sequel was demoted to a PSP-only game and the third entry was only released in Japan. Which wasnt as tragic as that suggests given the games had already become more interested in cliché anime storytelling than the innovative gameplay that made the original so interesting.
In the intervening years though the first games reputation has grown, and it received a recent port to the PC and an upcoming one to the Switch. And then finally we got last years Valkyria Revolution which was… dreadful and seemed to completely misunderstand everything that was great about the series. But now, 10 years later, we finally have the sequel that always should have been.
Although its always upsetting to see a good game not perform as well as it deserves theres no denying that Valkyria Chronicles is a pretty odd proposition for even the most adventurous gamer. In gameplay terms its a mix of turn-based strategy and real-time action, but that combines with anime storytelling and some distinctive cel-shaded graphics that simultaneously play up the horrors of war and the beauty of the countryside.
Just to make things that little bit stranger the plot is a thinly-veiled retelling of the Second World War, only with more anime-looking teens. The story takes place in the same time frame as the original, which makes sense on a number of levels but more so once you realise that the entire game is more a remake than it is a full sequel. Innovation and evolution are, perhaps understandably, not what Valkyria Chronicles 4 is aiming for. Instead it tries to restate the premise of the original and this time try and make it stick.
Once a battle breaks out youre introduced to the games unique combat system, which starts in command mode – where you plan your strategy on a simple overhead map. From there youre allowed direct control of each of your soldiers and vehicles, but they can only be activated by spending command points. You have a finite number of these to use each turn, each of which allows a unit to move once (although vehicles require more points).
Once you spend command points on a unit the map switches to a third person view, where the amount you can move is determined by a swiftly shrinking time gauge. Aiming and firing (or using items like medical kits) can only be done once per turn, but when you do so the action pauses.
Perhaps the closest comparison too all this is Fire Emblem, except instead of letting the computer resolve battles according to the stats of combatants youre allowed to directly control them. Your first few goes will likely end in you wasting all your turns and running out of time, but it doesnt take long to get a handle on the games internal logic and the fact that it is not really a third person shooter.
The only questionable part of the equation though is the storytelling, which take up seemingly half the running time and rarely with much justification. The game does try to portray some of the evils of war, and the Second World War in particular, but its not as morally grey as the first game and once again its the individual characters that are interesting rather than the overarching plot.
All of your troops have their own unique personality traits and limitations, that range from being scared of being alone to being racist and not wanting to fight alongside some allied soldiers. These backstories are more expansive than the first game and even end up getting referenced in the main story, depending on who you keep alive – which is a big question given death is always permanent.
As a game in its own right Valkyria Chronicles 4 is highly engaging and just as good as the original, but as a sequel theres no pretending this isnt a disappointment. The list of new features is paper thin and amounts to nothing more than more troop and vehicle variety, a new grenadier class, and artillery support.
Its the sort of thing youd expect in a DLC expansion, not a sequel 10 years in the making. Especially when many of the flaws, such as awkward tank controls and robotic artificial intelligence, are also the same as they were a decade ago.
All this can be forgiven this once though, if its what it takes to establish the franchise as an ongoing concern. Because while the gameplay and features may not have changed much neither has the enjoyment of playing such an unusual and multifaceted action strategy.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
In Short: More a remake than a sequel but still a welcome return for one of the most original and distinctive genre mash-ups of recent years.
Pros: Still one of the best action strategy games ever made, with a clever spin on traditional turn-based combat. Nicely humanised units and the cel-shaded artwork still looks great.
Cons: Very little in the way of new ideas or feature. Story is less interesting than the original and there are too many cut scenes. Limited AI and twitchy tank controls.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Developer: Sega CS3
Release Date: 25th September 2018
Age Rating: 16