Sega's anime-styled war-time strategy Valkyria series has always had a rough time gaining a foothold on the western front – after the 2008 PS3 original, the series was demoted to PSP, meaning it failed to breakthrough to more mainstream audiences outside of Japan. That's a real shame, since between its sharp combination of turn-based strategy, RPG influences, and lush pencil-shaded aesthetic, it wins over most people who give the Valkyria games a chance.
The latest entry offers something of a fresh start, set parallel to the events of the first game but in a larger theatre of war, taking advantage of more powerful current-gen hardware to play events out on a grander scale. The action centres on Claude Wallace and his comrades in Squad E, a small but plucky bunch of soldiers caught in the war between the Atlantic Federation and the Eastern Imperial Alliance – a not-terribly-subtle analogy for World War II.
Returning players will find the combat system familiar, with a few refinements. Units are placed onto maps before engagement, each one representing classes such as scout, stormtrooper, lancer, or the all-new grenadier, which can deliver powerful ranged assaults on elevated foes. Claude himself, as commander, typically controls your main tank, powered by a quasi-magical power source known as Ragnite. Each unit has specialisations, with lancers being suited to take down rival tanks, engineers replenishing ammo and making repairs, or snipers helping control the field from a distance. However, each character can only perform a single action per turn, making each decision critical.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 makes strategy games accessible while providing the depth genre fans crave.
What makes Valkyria stand apart though is that each of those units are individual characters, each with their own backstory. Riley, the first grenadier you'll meet, has her own tragic origins, while others have buffs or debuffs based on their personalities. A scout named Rosetta is a natural pacifist who may become less effective if you have her take out too many enemies, while cocky stormtrooper Raz gets accuracy boosts from good performances on the field. There's even a lancer who misses her husband. It's not all gloom though – characters build relationships with other squad members which, if fostered, can result in powerful special attacks if friends are deployed together. These glimpses of personality, even in the heat of battle, help endear even the most incidental characters, making you really care about their safety on the field.
However, much of the core story is delivered by way of cutscenes, which while pretty to look at are confusingly cut up. You'll sometimes have multiple smaller scenes, each of which has to be selected individually from the book-styled menu between missions, rather than stitching these dialogue scenes together into more cohesive wholes. The result is a frustrating staccato pacing whenever it’s time to move the narrative along.
There's also a shade too much menu-diving between battles, where you'll recruit characters, customise others' loadouts, or shift accessories around. Tweaking your set-up can drastically affect performance in combat, but can bog the game down at times.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 treads a narrow line between making strategy games accessible to outsiders while providing the depth genre fans crave, and for the most part keeps its balance. If you can forgive the stuttering nature of its storytelling and occasional tendency to get overly technical, you'll easily find yourself swept into this world.