Mashing together elements of anime characters and story, European watercolour visuals, Advance Wars strategy, and the type of third-person action you’d find in the Gears of War series, the first Valkyria Chronicles was a novel take on the turn-based strategy game. I didn’t play it until years after the fact and it made a strong imprint on my heart, even though it got too tough towards the end and I never finished it. Not having owned a PSP, I wasn’t able to play the next two entries in the main series, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 is just weeks away from arriving on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. Having taken the lengthy demo for a spin on the Switch, I’m very excited to rejoin the battle.
Having not played the last few entries in the series, the fact that this game’s story is set between the first and third game is lost on me. However, the game does a great job of setting up its own tale. Set in an alternate universe during the 1930s, you control a squad fighting for the Atlantic Federation; protecting your land from the evil Eastern Imperial Alliance.
You’re not commanding a crew of nameless and faceless soldiers. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Every soldier has a unique name, look, and personality traits that help or hamper their abilities in battle. On top of that, your main characters are prominently featured in the demo’s plethora of cutscenes. It’s not hard to develop feelings for these characters, as they’re put into scenarios that give you something to latch onto.
Based on my understanding of the franchise, the cutscene-to-action ratio seems par for the course. However, for the purposes of a demo, I think a shorter and tighter build would be more effective. That said, this is essentially the first few hours of the final game packaged as a demo, as your demo save will carry over to the full experience.
For me, the meat and potatoes of the Valkyria Chronicles experience comes from its tactical action. Based on the handful of missions that appear in the demo, the game is on pace to deliver in spades. On your turn, you get a set number of actions to move your characters around the battlefield. Once you’ve selected a solder, you’ll take control of them for a set amount of time, which decreases based on their movement. From here, you can take cover, complete objectives, or shoot enemies, which adjust the camera to a behind-the-shoulder view. At this point, you’re aiming like you would in a shooter, though shot accuracy is essentially dictated by dice rolls like in similar strategy games. What I played was essentially more of what I wanted.
One new element that the demo prominently features is the new Grenadier class. These soldiers attack by launching mortars. Having the mobility of a soldier but the firepower of a tank is a great asset, but they move slowly and the time it requires them to set up their equipment leaves them more open to attack. It’s used to great effect in the second mission and I look forward to see what other new elements have been added to the formula.
On top of all of this, the game’s gorgeous visuals are still intact. I had some concerns going into the Switch version that it may suffer due to weaker hardware. Not having played it on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, maybe it doesn’t look as sharp or run as smoothly. However, I thought the Switch version looked great and I didn’t feel like I was losing anything by playing this version. Even so, the graphical sacrifice for portability seems like a fair trade in this particular situation.
If you go into the Valkyria Chronicles 4 demo with the mindset of it being a demo, you might get overwhelmed by the ratio of cutscenes-to-action. Having said that, it might server as a better indicator of your enjoyment in the end, as it’s basically the first few hours of the final game, with your progress from the demo carrying over. I, for one, am excited for this game based on what I’ve played thus far. May have to make some tough financial decisions to fit this into my queue, but it’s certainly a game I want to play more of!