I’ve always had a soft spot for strategy games, with my love for Fire Emblem being evident enough on this site and plenty other series peaking my interest. Most of these are turn-based affairs, with menus and chess-like grids being the norm. At this year’s E3 I got to shed that familiarity and instead replace it with something new and more active through a title that still carries much of what I like about those games: Valkyria Chronicles 4.
Even with the 4 in its title, this is only the third of the main series games to be localized in America and the second to appear on a home console. This sense of renewal is helped by it also being the 10th anniversary year of the series, though even with no prior experience you won’t be lost, as the game features an all new cast.
Jumping into the journey
Starting up the demo, I was introduced to my squad members, each with various stats and abilities — all very familiar. Where Valkyria Chronicles games break that familiarity is in its BLiTZ combat system: Battle of Live Tactical Zones. You’ll begin in an overhead view of the map, with allied and enemy unit placement based on icons. By selecting one, you can shift to a third-person perspective on the battlefield to take full control of their movement and ready yourself for attack.
Once I did this for the first time, I was really taken by just how gorgeous the game is. Its graphical engine goes for an almost painting-like appearance that captures the ambiance of its environments — in this demo, it’s based on a rural European hillside. Other than the presence of some barricades and the soldiers, it didn’t feel like a battlefield, carrying on the sense of war encroaching into your homeland.
When in control of a character, I moved them to nearby cover, lined up a shot, and attacked an enemy. You have a fixed amount of movement based on a meter, dependant on what type of soldier they are. You may not be able to take control of all your characters in one go though, with how many actions you’re able to take based on a squad-shared pool of action points. Maybe it’s best to push your multiple front line units, or to let one at a further range handle things. Even in the brief demo with a few characters I saw the potential, so I’m excited to see how things go with a much larger army.
I decided to let the infantry hold at a choke point for a bit and shifted focus to a sniper placed on a hill instead. I was able to zoom in for precision shots, though the drop-off that came with said aiming took a little getting used to. It was here that I was also told just how detailed some of design process for the game had been. Rather than the standard “+” crosshairs, the score used a “T” based sight to better fit the time and region that game was going for. I was told similar care went into basing the area I was in on the appropriate inspiration, taking cues from the Netherlands specifically.
At various points squad members would speak to each other about the mission, giving some insight into their dynamics. Squad leader Claude comes off as a bit of a sentimental softie who takes that compassion to carry his rank and look out for his team. This is represented best by their tank, named the Hafen after some of the core members’ hometown — and this aspect shines through in dialogue as well. Other members carry clear personalities and I was told that their individual stories would be explored over the course of the game.
Walking away excited
The idea of learning more about the characters is always what drew me to Fire Emblem over, say, Advance Wars, and while I only got the faintest hint of it during my demo time, it’s still good to know that aspect will be in-game. Paired with how fun and unique the map and combat systems feel and the dedicated fidelity to the time and cultures that inspire the world, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is now easily one of my most anticipated games for Nintendo Switch.
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