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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (381)

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Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5
Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5

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Valkyria Chronicles 4   PC (Steam) 

Better than Ever    5/5 stars

Way back in 2008, as the RPG genre was circling the drain at the midpoint of the dire 7th Generation of Videogames, Sega – the perpetual second-place console-maker cum third-party developer – surprised everyone by pausing in its perpetual flogging of its old, tired IPs and produced a brand new one. Not only was the original “Valkyria Chronicles” an incredibly rare high-quality RPG from the 7th Generation, it was also a game that revolutionized its subgenre. It took two sad, frustrating years for word of this gem to reach me through the grapevine of the online gaming community, but when I played it and reviewed it in 2010, “Valkyria Chronicles” single-handedly justified my ownership of a PlayStation 3… but then it was ported to Steam in 2014.

Imagine my dismay, then, when Sega – a company known for bumbling as much as anything else – decided to forego releasing the next TWO ‘Valkyria Chronicles’ titles on the PlayStation 3 and/or Steam, but instead sequestered them away on the incredibly unpopular handheld, the PlayStation Portable (and Sega didn’t even bother to localize the third game in the series outside of Japan). Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I learned that, after a long Valkyria-free decade, they would be releasing the fourth game on PlayStation 4, XBONE, AND Steam (with a later port to the Switch) in 2018. Of course, knowing the “AAA” games industry as I do, I knew that, if I waited and was patient, a ‘complete’ version of “Valkyia Chronicles 4” (“VC4”) would come down the pipe sooner rather than later, and I was vindicated when that happened a year after release.

Picking up “VC4 Complete Edition” during the Winter capitalist shenanigans of Holiday Season 2019 for a little over $20 made me very happy. But not nearly as happy as playing it!

Presentation
“VC4” appears, for all intents and purposes, to be built on the exact same engine as the original game from 2008. Normally a ‘new’ game that looks like an ‘old’ game would elicit groans and complaints from any audience… but that is largely a side effect of banally ‘realistic’ games with no sense of art direction. “Valkyria Chronicles” had a very strong sense of art direction, and “VC4” proves its longevity with how great the visual stylings look a decade later. “VC4” is a polygon-rendered game featuring cell-shaded textures as well as skeuomorphic brushstrokes and faded borders on everything that blur the line between fading photographs and painted portraits. These visual conceits work well within the game’s framing device, which, as in the first game, is that of a book, retelling the exploits of a group of characters during a world-changing event. A huge portion of the game consists of cutscenes, and while there are a few moments of fully-animated activities, most of these consist of talking heads, which freeze into illustrative photographs when not delivering dialog, each of which pops-into a backdrop scene in its own photo-bordered box. In short, “VC4” combines the narrative stylings of comic books and visual novels to great effect.

Audiowise, “VC4” is likewise exemplary. There are a few recurring themes from the first game in the series, but much of the soundtrack seems original. The game is fully voiced by a competent cast of no-names, meaning that the English dub of the game is well done (and well lip-synced) without breaking the bank for celebrity voices.

Technically, “VC4” has a few minor slip-ups in the PC version, but nothing that should make anyone scoff at it as ‘unoptimized’ or ‘a lazy port.’ While the game features Xinput compatibility out of the box, there is a minor glitch that causes the Xinput to register phantom right-analog movement if a Dinput device is plugged into the PC while playing (easy fix: unplug your Razer Hydra or other Dinput controller before playing). There’s also the minor issue that the in-game playtimer caps out at 59 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds. Anyone just playing through the main game won’t run into this issue, but completionists and trophy/achievement hunters likely will, even though it ultimately doesn’t mean anything. Lastly, “VC4” launched with Denuvo Anti-Tamper DRM, which still hasn’t been removed. The original “Valkyria Chronicles” did have its DRM removed after some time, and since the ‘Complete Edition’ of “VC4” is still fairly ‘new’ at less than a year old, I expect Sega will get around to deep-sixing Denuvo eventually.

Story
“VC4” takes place in parallel with the events of the original “Valkyria Chronicles,” only following a different military unit on a different front of EWII (the Second Europan War). This series takes place in an alternate reality where Europe and North Asia are divided largely between the Atlantic Federation in the West and the Imperial Alliance in the East, roughly corresponding to the European Union and Russian Federation of the real world, in that the Atlantic Federation values Democracy and Liberalism (and is allied with the United States of Vinland – paying props to my bro, Leif Erikson – on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean), while the Empire combines the Totalitarian Autocracy of Tsarist Russian and fierce Nationalism of Nazi Germany.

Taking place in the 1930s, both of these political superpowers have found themselves butting heads over access to a mineral known as Ragnite, which is responsible for the game world’s industrial revolution. Ragnite is both a powerful energy source and possesses healing properties, but on top of that, it’s also the semi-mythical power source behind the legends of an ancient race of Northern people known as the Valkyrur, who were supposedly able to manifest incredible powers simply by touching Ragnite.

Closer at hand, the main narrative of “VC4” revolves around a group of Gallian (Valkyria-World Switzerland, only located where Latvia is in the real world) expatriates who flee the Imperial incursions into their homeland in order to join the military of the Kingdom of Edinburgh (Valkyria-World England). Our hero is one Claude Wallace, something of a nobody who ultimately joined the military in order to make up for childhood mistakes that have wracked him with guilt ever since. Serendipitously, Claude finds himself in command of a unit packed with many of his childhood friends from back home in the tiny Gallian town of Hafen – after which he named his squad’s tank. ‘Squad E’ as they are known, soon develops a reputation as one of the best of Edinburgh’s elite Ranger Corps forces and is sent into the heart of the Empire’s fortifications in an operation known as Northern Cross. When the Empire pushes back, Squad E quickly finds itself reassigned to a top-secret mission known as Operation Cygnus, which aims to deliver a deathblow to the Imperial Capital (situated in real-world St. Petersburgh) by crossing the seemingly-impassible Crystal Sea (the real-world Baltic Sea) during the dead of winter aboard a prototype ship.

Along the way, the player will get to know Claude and his closest allies, as well as a fairly large and quirky cast of ‘expendable’ side characters. Using these side characters enough will unlock special side-chapters in the story revolving solely around them, providing additional content aside from the main plot. Additionally, “VC4” features some high-quality DLC missions, some involving crossover stories between characters from the first game and the fourth, as well as a robust postgame, which leads to a “true” ending.

In general, the writing in “VC4” is extremely well done. This is the type of war story that can only be told by the Japanese, as losers of a world war and the recipients of a nuclear bombing. There’s a lot more nuance and emotion in “VC4” than there is in a stereotypical ‘American’ war-themed game, in which grunting shouts of “Yoo. Ess. Ay. Yoo. Ess. Ay,” are the typical reaction both the game and the player seem to expect from each other. Even though it uses anime art stylings, “VC4’s” writing does not lean particularly heavily on anime tropes. There are a few noticeable character archetypes, but, for the most part, “VC4” feels fresh and believable when compared to typical ‘modern’ anime or anime-styled games like ‘Persona’ and ‘Fire Emblem.’

Overall, the basic game experience clocks in at around 40 hours, but the extra content provided in the ‘Complete Edition’ as well as the post-game and completionist aspects will double that. It’s a solid experience with good pacing that never wore out its welcome and left me wanting to sip the very last drop.

Gameplay
The original “Valkyria Chronicles” impressed the hell out of my with its revolutionary streamlining of the Tactical RPG subgenre, which had grown increasingly grindy and un-fun thanks to the influence of games like the ‘Disgaea’ series. I am very happy to report that, within the first few moments of gameplay, it appears that “VC4” is identical to its progenitor… but that’s not entirely true, as there are a handful of small additions that make it even better!

The basic gameplay formula of the ‘Valkyria Chronicles’ series is a 2D, top-down tactical map which looks like a WWII-era paper map, but upon selecting one of the colored unit icons and expending a Command Point (CP) to activate said unit, the view drops down into a third-person over-the-shoulder Action Mode, allowing the player to directly move their chosen unit based on an amount of Action Points (AP) that vary by class. Once a unit is in place, the player can select one of its weapons or items (each class typically has one weapon, a grenade, and a healing item called Ragnaid) and have them use it, again, manually aiming the crosshairs to target an enemy or ally. Meanwhile, while a unit is in motion, enemy units will attempt to ‘interception fire’ to damage it.

Command Points can be spent on any character and in any order the player wishes. A single character unit can even be used multiple times during the same player turn (with the caveat that their AP drops by about 1/3 after each usage in a turn), allowing for some truly strategic and tactical placement. Important ‘main’ characters, furthermore, provide an additional CP to the player’s pool when deployed.

Character development is largely a group activity, with both experience and money (ducets) awarded after each battle. Experience can be spent to level-up troops by class, while ducets can be spent to develop new and improved weaponry and tank parts, with are then mass-produced and made available to all characters.

Character classes in “VC4” are identical to the classes from the first game, only with one very important addition. We’ve got Scouts, who excel at covering long distances; Shocktroopers, who excel at firepower and flushing enemies from behind cover; Lancers, who wield rocket-propelled grenades and excel at destroying enemy tanks; Engineers, who are a jack-of-all-trades class, offering movement and firepower almost as good as a Scout, but providing a super-powerful form of Ragnaid that can restore downed allies to action, the ability to repair allied tanks, and the ability to restock allies’ ammo supplies for certain weapons; Snipers, who excel at taking down targets from a distance (after researching decent rifle scopes, that is); and lastly, the new class of Grenadiers, who bring the ability to rain down indirect fire on enemies’ heads. Some people complained that Scouts were overpowered in the first game, and I personally thought Snipers were overpowered, but in “VC4,” each class has received a second look in terms of balance, making everyone feel fairly essential (except Lancers, who are just tank-killers who kill tanks less efficiently than other tanks), but Grenadiers are a delightful addition to the ranks, and I found them to be the lynchpin of most of my strategies.

Aside from the addition of Grenadiers, “VC4’s” other new additions include an Armored Personnel Carrier tank, which allows a small number of infantry units to ride in it, in order to gain position on the field while avoiding interception fire that would otherwise shred them, but which bounces off the vehicle’s armor. There’s also the ability for commander units – that is, any main character or the player-chosen character who receives a command promotion, and thus provides an extra CP for use during gameplay – can, once per turn, command up to two allies to follow them during Action Mode. This feature allows for a Scout or Engineer commander to drag a slow, plodding Grenadier, Sniper, or Lancer across the battlefield to where they can do the most damage, expanding tactical options significantly.

In general, “VC4’s” missions feel immaculately balanced and fair, even though, sometimes, the enemy AI seems to be overly cautious (or not cautious enough). Much of the game revolves around completing missions ‘quickly,’ typically within 4 turns (though every mission has a hard limit of 20 turns to avoid automatic failure). Completing missions quickly provides a higher grade on the mission (ranging from A to D), which in turn grants more experience and money, as well as the opportunity to snag a handful of unique weapons and accessories for characters to equip. I have seen varying accounts from players who claim “VC4” is ‘2 EZ,’ as well as accounts from players who claim that it’s ‘brutally hard,’ so with both ends of the bell curve reporting in, I can’t help but proclaim that “VC4” is ‘just right.’ Even the post-game bonus content, which ramps up the challenge significantly, never feels impossible, especially when the game provides the ability to recruit not only the titular (and I do mean ‘tit’) Valkyria from its story, but also Selvaria, the titular (no, really, look up some images of these characters) Valkyria from the first game, providing some interesting, borderline overpowered tactical tools for the player to use in overcoming the game’s greatest challenges.

Overall
What’s better than perfection? “Valkyria Chronicles 4,” that’s what! While the first game was an eye-opening look at how great the TRPG subgenre could be if it could only get out of its own way, this sequel shines just as brightly, and even manages to one-up its progenitor with a handful of small, but welcome additions. As a trifecta game that nails the three categories of Presentation, Story, and Gameplay with aplomb, Sega has created a rare gem here. I give it my highest possible recommendation.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Overall (not an average): 5/5

 

 


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