War is a common backdrop for many games, and different genres provide players various ways to experience it, whether through the strategy of command or the urgency of ground combat. The thrill of the Valkyria Chronicles series is how it blends these two approaches; conflict becomes a puzzle to be solved as you assess the situation from a tactical map, then control individual units directly to gain the advantage. This compelling approach to warfare remains at the core of Valkyria Chronicles 4, but this sequel does more than march in step behind its predecessors.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 largely ignores the PSP sequels and gets back to what I loved about the original entry (like big and varied maps populated by plenty of units), then makes up for lost time with smart additions. The most impactful change is the new grenadiers, who fire mortar-like grenades from afar and provide interception fire, allowing them to clear the way for other infantry while effectively punishing enemy advances. Using them to take out enemies in defensive positions is especially fun, and opens up a new array of strategic options. I also love the leader units’ ability to bring squad mates along for move actions, ensuring slower troops like lancers and grenadiers don’t get left behind. You also earn the ability to call in naval support later, but it is available too inconsistently to play a major role in your planning.
These factors combine to take the puzzle-like quality of encounters to a new level. Finding a path to victory carries the same satisfaction as untangling a devious knot; you pull a string in one place to see how your enemy responds, which creates an opening to exploit elsewhere. Distract a boss so you can score a headshot from behind, or draw a tank away from the base it guards. The number of viable options are impressive. Heap buffs on a single unit and dash for the objective, or employ a traditional multi-pronged advance. Personally, I love the gambits that only barely work. My first time defeating the final boss using the expected tactics took nine turns. When I replayed the mission, I used an unconventional alternative that ended the fight in two. That kind of flexibility is rewarding, and encourages experimentation.
After the battle is won, you earn XP and money to level up your classes, upgrade equipment, and outfit vehicles. Despite being linear at first, you eventually get more gratifying avenues for customization. Do you prioritize firepower, movement, or defense when considering how to allocate your tank’s limited capacity for new parts? Different situations call for different loadouts, but if you want to get a general leg up, you can grind skirmish battles or story missions, though I never hit a wall that required it.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn’t demand prior experience with the series, since it tells one squad’s standalone story. Though it presents a fantasy-infused vision of World War II, it conveys real human struggles in clever ways. Soldiers have biographies you can read, but their personalities truly come out in “potentials” that trigger under specific conditions. One character drinks to escape a past failure, which manifests as the “hammered” potential that ends her turn prematurely. You learn more about characters as you use them, culminating in special side missions starring a handful of linked squad mates. These were my favorite rewards, because they have satisfying narrative payoffs in addition to the practical benefits of granting new potentials or changing negative ones.
As much as I enjoyed the character development, the storytelling in the main campaign falls flat. The plot is interesting and the setting is gorgeous, but the scarcity of cinematics and reliance on animated portraits rob many moments of their intended gravity – including some major scenes that feel especially shortchanged. Along with some crass language and sexual references that are tonally inconsistent, this is the main area where Valkyria Chronicles 4 feels outdated rather than a return to classic form.
After aircraft were introduced to military operations during World War I, they changed the shape of warfare. They opened up a field of conflict above the land and sea, and even though tanks and infantry still worked the way they always did, new considerations altered the ways they were deployed and used. Valkyria Chronicles 4 does not actually have aircraft, but the innovations it brings have an analogous effect on the turn-based strategy of this series. Though familiar mechanics and units remain, excellent new features and conveniences transform the way you see the battlefield.