According to the transitive property, war is other people.
With the Shining Force series focusing more on the action RPG end of things ever since Shining Force III launched in 1998, Sega went a long time without a strategy RPG in their barracks. Ten years ago, the original Valkyria Chronicles created a new spin on the World War II strategy game by injecting it with an amount of anime worthy of its own Blu-ray box set. The results were much heralded and now, the fourth entry of the series is en route to Switch, creating a high bar for other competing series to clear.
The world of Valkyria Chronicles is an alternate version of mid-1930’s Europe, noted for its reliance on a fantastic fuel called “ragnite”. War has broken out between the Federation and the evil Empire, ten years ahead of the real world’s schedule, as the Empire seeks to control Europe’s supply of ragnite while the Federation seeks to defend their homeland by pushing the Empire back to their home. Claude Wallace, the main character, is a former military school valedictorian placed in charge of the rebellious, yet capable, Squad E. Although Claude does have his own history with key members of Squad E, the squad grows throughout the game. Each new member brings their own beliefs and baggage to the story. Depending on the characters used in battle, there are side conversations between characters; one I ran into during the review involved a religious member of the team asking their friend if it was worth trying to “save” someone else on the squad. The side conversations do add a nice bit of background, and I could see myself going for them on a future playthrough.
Structurally, the game runs on a chapter system with both plot conversations and combat happening in “episodes”. Early on, it felt like the conversations were going too long at the expense of jumping into combat. But, by the time I reached chapter 4 - with its three different combat episodes that were over an hour - I wanted to go back to the conversations. The conversations themselves are well acted even though the plot sequences had a predominant focus on Claude, the rest of the senior leaders of Squad E, and the army brass. I spent most of my time on the main menu, which is also accessible from the chapter selection screen.
Valkyria’s experience system is a bit different than other strategy RPGs Nintendo fans will be familiar with. Although individual units can be given specific weapons, most of the stat growth is done per class. The experience earned in battle is banked, to be spent either in learning new commands for Claude or in growing all members of the game’s six combat classes. Since everyone has the same level, and there are routinely three or four new members joining Squad E every chapter, this mostly eliminates the need to grind. The other ways for characters to stand out is through Potentials, innate abilities that affect a unit’s performance in battle. Each character comes with four, and more can be unlocked via leveling. Notably, not all of the potentials are positive; some troops don’t function well around the opposite sex, and there’s one sniper character who has lowered evasion because of the shine of his bald head (I am not making this up). The negative Potentials can transform for the main cast, so they will grow out of them at points.
Each combat mission has its own rules, though as a general rule you’ll need to finish the mission within 20 turns. The faster the objective is completed, the better the grade given at the end (along with more experience given). The combat itself controls like a third person shooter, with cover options and each class having different ranges of movement and enemies they specialize in taking out. Everyone on the map has stamina, and there are a limited number of turns for each side before control passes to the other side. Unfortunately for me, this means that due to the random number generator I lost turns and even an entire mission because of missing consecutive shots at point blank range. The 5% miss possibility is real, and it could bite you at the worst possible time, like in most strategy/shooter hybrids.
As a multiplatform title, there was the possibility that Valkyria could have ran poorly on the Switch. For the most part, however, there were no issues aside from some slight frame dips when one character was being targeted with multiple shots or by explosives. The initial load when booting is also a bit slow, even when in docked mode or when using a downloaded copy of the game on a microSD card. The game looks and sounds great, although a white frame effect often used in story sequences can be a bit distracting.
Valkyria Chronicles has had a rough go of it since its initial release. Although the remastered version of the original sold well, the second game was divisive and the third was never localized. Don’t even get me started on the Revolution side game. But with Valkyria Chronicles 4, the series is back and everyone needs to enlist.