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Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review


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On 09/20/2018 at 09:00 PM by Julian Titus

Squad E, retreat!
RECOMMENDATION:

For fans of Valkyria Chronicles, or masochistic anime lovers who enjoy a good story and fun characters.

One of my favorite things about playing strategy/role playing games is the sense of satisfaction that comes from executing on a well-laid plan. The thrill of deftly maneuvering units into place for a swift and deadly strike after multiple turns of meticulous consideration is something that few games deliver. I love strategy/RPGs, and I was excited to tear into Valkyria Chronicles 4; a return to form of sorts for a series held in high regard by a rabid fanbase, and a franchise I have little experience with. Sadly, instead of tearing into this game because I couldn’t get enough, I will now need to tear into this bizarre title that not only doesn’t reward sound strategy but does everything in its power to undermine player agency.

It’s been a bit since the first Valkyria Chronicles hit the PlayStation 3 (the second game was a PSP title and the third one didn’t make its way Westward), so I’ll bring you up to speed if you’re new here. This game is set in 1934 in a fantasy, pseudo steampunk (electricpunk?) version of Europe in the midst of the Second Europan War. You command Squad E of the Europan Federation, tasked with a vital mission to strike a fatal blow to the heart of the Empire. This is accomplished through turn-based battles that give you full control of each soldier via a third-person shooter perspective. Simply select the unit you want to command, move them into position, then aim and fire.

It’s a great idea on paper, but its execution leaves much to be desired.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Valkyria Chronicles 4 was an odd review experience for me. For the majority of the 40+ hours I spent with Squad E, I kept telling myself that it’s not a badly made game; merely one that wasn’t clicking with me. Now that I’m reflecting on the time I spent with it my feelings have changed, but there is a lot to like about this title. The setting is supremely interesting, thanks to the backstory of a mysterious power source called “ragnite” that features heavily in the technology and aesthetic of nearly everything in the game. Tanks have glowing blue ragnite radiators (such a tantalizing weak spot to exploit), soldiers heal themselves with “ragnaid”, and powerful beings known as Valkyria are able to wield ragnite as an awe-inspiring weapon. The world of Valkyria Chronicles is fascinating, and the trials and tribulations of Squad E’s vital mission kept me invested.

This desire to see things through was bolstered by a fantastic cast of characters. Unlike many other strategy/RPGs that provide you with mostly cannon fodder and the occasional important character, the entire squad is fleshed out in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Sure, you have the main cast that drives the core story forward, but every new recruit has their own backstory and motivations, and they feature in the main cutscenes in addition to the excellent “Squad Stories”: self-contained episodes that focus on a few troops at a time. These vignettes allow them to bond better in addition to giving the player more insight into the squad as a whole. Since Valkyria Chronicles 4 features a permadeath system for all but the main characters (fail to rescue a fallen soldier in three turns or before an enemy soldier finishes them off and they’re gone forever), getting to know each of them a bit better makes the difference between cutting your losses and making that push to leave no one behind.

Adding to my affection for Squad E is the absolutely fantastic translation and voice acting. There are a ton of standouts in this game, from the brash and hot headed Raz (who is also the most infuriating character I’ve ever seen) to the effervescent Riley and the aforementioned lower-tier grunts like Vancey and Stanley. It was a joy to listen to their performances, and I never felt like I wanted to button through the dialogue to get to the next battle. I wanted to hear everything.

Unfortunately, I experienced a shocking amount of dropped dialogue. It was common for me to miss the last couple lines of dialogue as a music track was ending, as well as the first few lines as the next song faded in during conversation scenes. Now, I should mention that I experience intermittent audio dropout on my PS4 due to my soundbar, but this was a consistent issue that may very well be systemic to the game, and something to take note of if you’re interested in this one.

You may not be as interested after this review, though.

That’s because I found Valkyria Chronicles 4 to be an exceedingly frustrating experience that not only doesn’t reward sound strategic planning but goes out of its way to stifle that line of thinking, to the point that it will straight up lie to the player.

That is likely a bold claim, especially if you’re already a fan of this franchise. I’ll make my case, but I will say that, if you loved the first game, you will most likely enjoy this one far more than I did, as it plays nearly identical to the original. Or, it does based on my memory of the 5 or 6 hours I put into the first title before deciding it wasn’t for me. If that’s the case, you already know you want this game, and I’m not going to convince you otherwise. I will question what you see in the game, though.

The key issue with Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a matter of the information the game provides to you as a commander to make informed decisions. Simply put, it sucks at it. In a strategy/RPG the numbers are everything, but here the numbers seem to be meaningless. Instead of giving the player a chance of success percentage (ala games like X-Com) or an indication of how much damage you may cause (ala games like Fire Emblem), VC 4 only tells you how many shots are needed to kill an enemy and the number of shots you are about to take. That would be fine, I suppose, if these numbers mattered. For example, I know that a lancer should be able to take out a tank in one shot if the lancer is aiming at that glowy radiator on the rear of the target. Lancers are anti-tank units, and it’s literally their one job to get behind tanks to take them down. It’s odd, then, how many times those shots only hit for about 25-40% of the target’s hit points, if they hit at all.

Oh, and accuracy is easily one of my biggest issues with this game. We’re talking about battles where every shot counts, and it’s shocking how many of them whiff right by the enemy, often by a mile. Now, I’m not talking about a sniper trying to head shot someone from across the map; I would understand if some of those don’t land. No, I’m talking about situations where characters can’t hit huge targets (like a TANK) right in front of them, or literally can’t hit stationary objects like bunkers. I lost track of the number of times I made my way behind the enemy’s defenses, aimed a gun point blank at their unsuspecting head, only to have most, if not all, of the shots miss. It’s supremely aggravating, and I don’t think I’ve ever hurled as many expletives at a game before, and I reviewed The War of the Worlds for Xbox Live Arcade.

Completely inaccurate numbers are one thing, but the computer in VC 4 seems to cheat more often than not. It’s as if the player must abide by certain rules, but the computer is not bound by these conventions. You’re told that units have a certain cone of visibility for intercept attacks. As you approach an enemy unit they will open fire if you fall into that area. That doesn’t hold true for your troops though, as I have seen multiple friendly units twiddle their thumbs as enemies run by. I’ve seen my characters not counterattack, but enemy units dodge and counter attacks even when their backs are turned. Why? Because screw you, that’s why. Enemy grenadiers (the new long-range units featured in this game) will pick off your moving units with pinpoint accuracy, but most of the time your own grenadiers won’t even fire, let alone actually hit anything. Why? Because shrug emoji, that’s why. There’s no rhyme or reason for why the enemy can circumvent the rules, nor is there any consistency with the stat bonuses your soldiers may trigger in certain situations. I’ve seen a character with a buff to tank damage do just as much as a regular attack, while a character suffering from an accuracy down debuff will score a trick shot for massive damage. This is a game about numbers where none of the numbers seem to matter, and it makes my brain hurt.

Adding to the absurd levels of rage-inducing random number generators is how duplicitous the game is, especially when it comes to how certain objectives are communicated to you as the player. “We need to sneak into this base and avoid alerting enemies”, the game tells you, only to have the entire base go on full alert the second you move your first unit. “Move those snipers into the high ground to take out those bombs before they land”, you are told, only to have the snipers be largely ineffective, seemingly unable to even target said bombs. “Use the sewer to bypass imperial troops”, someone says, but that path leads to a dead end. Oh, and the prompt to use that shortcut randomly becomes inaccessible. Why? Because middle finger emoji, that’s why.

I probably could have gotten over all those frustrations if the game gave me those satisfying strategic moments where I felt like my tactics had outmatched my opponent’s. That’s just not the case most of the time, though. Valkyria Chronicles 4 grades your performance purely on completing missions in as few turns as possible, so the order of the day is to load up on scouts and have them make a mad dash for the objective for most of the battles. With as much choice you are given as far as deploying units and moving them out, this is a game that funnels you into a course of action chosen by the developers. Bosses aren’t challenging because they outmaneuver your troops; they simply do ridiculous amounts of damage and barely take any in return. In one of the final battles you can use snipers to destroy a piece of equipment to make a boss vulnerable, but the game won’t let you use long range attacks to whittle it down. Why? Because the game only wants you to go down the path it has laid out and get in close. Also because shut up, that’s why.

It was rare for me to have fun with this game. All too often, if I wasn’t cursing the absolute hypocrisy of the computer playing by its own set of rules I had my mouth agape as I witnessed my characters miss shot after shot. I was looking for that feeling I have mentioned, but I only experienced that a handful of times, and most of those instances occurred during side missions. I don’t think Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a badly made game, but I do thing it’s a bad strategy game. While I can’t recommend it for that reason, I will reiterate that the cast of characters is fantastic, and they were enough to keep me going.

Except for Raz. That dude deserves a court martial.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


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A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Super Step Contributing Writer

09/20/2018 at 09:55 PM

Ok, so this was the game you were talking about on Twitter where the enemy AI had separate rules from the player. 

Side note: I didn't realize there was a game based on The War of the Worlds book. I'll have to read that at some point, since I didn't like the Tom Cruise movie and the game apparently sucks, but a classic book is a classic book and I want to see what's different. 

Also, you sure razzed Raz. I'll show myself out. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/01/2018 at 08:18 PM

That comment deserves a Razzie.

Super Step Contributing Writer

10/01/2018 at 10:18 PM

I'll wear a cat suit to my acceptance speech. Be careful what you wish for. 

KnightDriver

09/20/2018 at 11:39 PM

I had similar problems with the first VC game, and for that, I never finished it or played any of the DLC. Same with VC II.

Your issues with it remind me of similar frustrations I've had with the Advance Wars series. There seems to be one specfic way the devs want you to win, and if you don't do it, you're penalized with bad dice rolls. Phoey on that. 

I'll probably get VC4 though because of those delicious graphics and the first dozen levels or so that I will be able to beat. Sigh. . . 

Nick DiMola Director

09/21/2018 at 04:20 PM

I laughed out loud reading this, nice work. This game sounds infuriating. The good old "miss" in games like this just pisses me off. If that happens all the time, I'd sure want to hurl the thing out a window myself.

At some point I'll grab the original on the PC (when it's $5) and finally try this series, but I've always hesitated even when it's on sale to pull the trigger.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/01/2018 at 08:19 PM

I'm glad it came out as funny as I intended. Definitely had some people tell me they were laughing while reading it.

SanAndreas

09/24/2018 at 01:56 AM

I am one of those fans of the original. In fact, the original was my favorite game out of literally the entire 7th generation. I literally loved it more than any other game that came out on the PS3, Wii, 360, DS, or PSP. So I'm obviously pretty biased. I played the demo version on Switch, which is the system I preordered it for, and I am loving it. It's likely to be competing right against Dragon Quest XI for my GOTY. But I can see where it might be frustrating for an outsider, however. There is some room to improvise, but it does want you to follow a set series of maneuvers in order to get the best score in a lot of battles. 

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/01/2018 at 08:22 PM

If the computer played by the same rules as the player I'd be fine with most of it. I literally had enemies shooting me through fences that I had to destroy before I could fire back. And maybe I was just on the bad luck side of the RNG, but the odds were rarely in my favor. I will say that I noticed my squad was more accurate in the final battles, but the improvement had been so painfully incremental for the bulk of the game that I couldn't see a difference at all most of the time. 

I'm curious what you think of the game now that you've had a chance to play it. Since I barely played the first one I can't tell if it's exactly the same, or if this one has issues that the first one didn't.

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