During Nintendo’s E3 Direct, the company showed off a trailer for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the much-anticipated HD release in the company’s long-running strategy series, and the hearts of many fans soared at the sight of footage. Those hearts quickly sunk back down, however, when the trailer reached its end and the release window was revealed: Spring 2019. Though the delay may have been a bit of a blow, SEGA has strategy fans covered with its upcoming fall release of Valkyria Chronicles 4, which is shaping up to be the kind of game that is going to eat a lot of your time.
You’d be forgiven for not hearing much about this title, as the Valkyria Chronicles series has been mostly PlayStation exclusive so far; the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4 will mark the series’ first entry on a Nintendo console. Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place in an alternate Earth setting on the fictional continent of Europa, where an analog of World War II is being waged between the evil East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Atlantic Federation over a material called Ragnite (basically petroleum).
Though we didn’t get enough time in the E3 demo to get in-depth into the story, it’s clear that Valkyria Chronicles focuses heavily on building the personalities and interactions of the various characters that make up your team, Squad E. It calls Fire Emblem to mind, in that regard, in the sense that these characters are believable, quirky, and have some depth to them. Listening to Commander Claude stoically issuing orders and bantering with the rest of the team gives the player a sense of being another member of the team; we can’t wait to dive deeper into this game later this year and see how these characters develop. Part of this focus on deep characterisation is no doubt in service to a certain aspect of gameplay; just like in Fire Emblem, a character who’s killed in combat dies for good, and there’s no casual mode here to revive them for the next battle
Our demo saw Squad E participating in a battle to repel an enemy squad en route to attack a small village surrounded by a field of flowers. Gameplay plays like a third-person shooter with heavy strategy elements mixed in, not unlike Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.. Each turn gives you a handful of Command Points that enable you to make moves, and upon selecting a character, you’re given complete control over their movement, with each step consuming a little bit more of the Action Gauge. Once you’ve moved into a favorable position, ideally behind some sort of cover, you can take aim at the nearest enemy and fire. Though the aiming when you shoot can be a little oversensitive - think aiming the slingshot or bow in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - it’s still satisfying when you pull off a headshot, and this slightly increased focus on player agency is a welcome inclusion.
Each of your characters has a different role which lets them specialise in certain movements. The grenadier - a new class debuting in this entry - has an incredibly powerful grenade launcher that’s excellent for busting tanks and groups of enemies, but also moves slowly and takes time to set up the launcher. The sniper class has great mobility and high damage, but is a bit of a glass cannon due to low health. This balance of characters, coupled with the diversity of the terrains in the environments, helps to make for a constantly enjoyable and stressful experience, as one poor mistake could result in a character getting turned into swiss cheese by a tank. This doesn’t seem like it will be the kind of title that’ll be gentle, but it doesn’t seem unfair.
A new mechanic being introduced in this sequel is what’s known as the 'Brave System', a sort of last-ditch action you can take to save a dying character. If a character is brought to near death, you can spend a Command Point to either buff the stats of all the surrounding party members, or to grant temporary invincibility to the injured character for one action while allowing them to move or attack. It’s a nice safety net that can sometimes be just what you need to make a narrow victory and save the character, though it doesn’t feel too overpowered.
Naturally, Valkyria Chronicles 4 can be played on the go with the Switch, and it even looks gorgeous on the portable 720p screen. The anime, semi cel-shaded art style helps to cover over any noticeable visual blemishes that doubtless exist, and thought we did notice a few dropped frames here and there, the turn-based action is largely fit to the Switch’s humble internals. Despite the seemingly gritty atmosphere that one would expect with a WWII setting, the bright colour palette employed here gives the game an optimistic and hopeful tone.
We could hardly think of a better game to introduce fans to the Valkyria Chronicles series than Valkyria Chronicles 4. The turn-based strategy/action style gameplay is deep and enjoyable, and the bright, colourful visuals look fantastic on both the TV and the Switch’s portable screen. Although we didn’t get a ton of time to gauge the story, it seems that the friendly visuals hide some much darker themes about the consequences of war, and the character interactions that we witnessed suggest that plenty of time has been invested into writing interesting characters. Fire Emblem better watch out; Valkyria Chronicles 4 is shaping up to be an SRPG fan’s dream.
What did you make of our preview? Are you excited for Valkyria Chronicles 4? Share your thoughts below...