The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Valkyria Chronicles 4: Fire and Ice At The Halfway Point

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

—Robert Frost

An Imperial surprise attack annihilates the Federation camp, setting it ablaze. In order to cover for allied forces, Squad E stays behind to fend off the Imperials. Claude engages Klaus Walz and manages to elude him, impressing Klaus: the actions of Squad E allow Federation forces to retreat, but the frigid Eastern winter arrives, slowing their progress to a halt. Imperial forces capitalise on this to assault the Federation soldiers, and Squad E is forced to flee. Claude decides to head for the coast, and along the way, destroy an Imperial munitions depot. While waiting for Claude to return, Raz shares a story with Riley about Kai’s origins: she was originally Leena, Kai’s sister and joined as a replacement after Kai decided to leave for unknown reasons. To help her through training, Claude and Raz risked expulsion in a test course, but it turns out that Leena was a crack shot. Back in the present, the intense fighting annihilates Squad F before Squad E can reach the coast, and an embittered Minerva blames Wallace for the outcome. However, when it appears that the Imperial forces have surrounded the remnants of the Federation forces, Federation snow cruisers appear and drive them off. After boarding the Centurion and meeting Captain Morgen, Wallace prepares his Squad to work with the naval forces, and liberate a village in the process. Meanwhile, Walz is assigned to lead special operations unit at Lord Heinrich Belgar’s request, and they begin an operation to capture the Federation cruisers. Valkyrur Crymaria is sent to participate but disobeys orders, seemingly sinking one of the cruisers. However, the Centurion had merely been damaged, and Wallace leads Squad E in repelling an Imperial assault while Riley fixes the main reactor. In the aftermath of the battle, the Centurion is able to escape, and Squad E finds an amnesiac girl sleeping in the engine room. At this point in time, I’ve reached the halfway point of Valkyria Chronicles 4, and have found myself thoroughly impressed with the successor to Valkyria Chronicles; Valkyria Chronicles 4 has done a phenomenal job of keeping me engaged and entertained with its mechanics and writing.

At Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s halfway point, my appreciation of the upgrades to the Canvas Engine have increased tenfold as I’ve seen more of the game. At the forefront of everything are the improved visuals: while Valkyria Chronicles 4 is definitively sharper and more detailed than Valkyria Chronicles, other updates to the engine have been much more subtle. These details, while minor, do much to bring Europa to life; higher environmental details and nuances add depth to each mission, conveying the sheer weight of the battle against Squad E at every turn. From the flaming desolation caused by the Imperial raid, to the frigid wastes of the Empire’s territories, and the unearthly blue snow surrounding Valkyrur Crymaria, each mission captures the environmental extremes Squad E has found itself in as a Soviet Winter™ closes in on them. The snowfall brings with it additional challenges: blizzards hamper visibility and even reduces movement distance, taxing Squad E’s members. The extreme cold reduces survivability, and downed allies must be retrieved more hastily, lest they succumb to elements. Soldier movement leaves tracks in deep snow, and mortar fire places craters in the ground. The weather conditions are visibly felt, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 leverages new mechanics to keep players thinking ahead, keeping the game fresh. Further accentuating the challenge is the introduction of Crymaria, an unstable Valkyrur who is beholden to the X-0 unit. She is accompanied by Nikola and Chiara, two enforcers carrying electric crossbows. However, players gain access to new assets, as well: the arrival of the Centurion and its state-of-the-art combat systems allows players powerful new strategic options – a cool head and an eye for optimisations allow for missions to be efficiently completed.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • By the virtue of being powered by the Canvas Engine, the atmosphere in Valkyira Chronicles 4 far exceeds anything that came before it. While the earlier missions had shown improvements to the sharpness and draw distance, it was during the sixth mission where the changes became most apparent. When the mission starts, players are presented with fire and fury as far as the eye can see, with glow from the fires illuminating the smoke billowing into the night skies. Foot-mobiles cannot pass through fire, but vehicles can, and my first move was to move the Hafen forwards and flatten an enemy tank.

  • While scouts in Valkyria Chronicles 4 have been balanced out with lower accuracy than their Valkyria Chronicles counterparts, they remain effective with the right upgrades. I’ve been spending more of my in-game currency on upgrading the Lenfield’s accuracy, reasoning that harder-hitting bullets don’t mean a whole lot if they can’t actually hit their mark. I’ve generally focused on accuracy and range, except for the shock troopers’ submachine guns: here, upgrading their damage per shot allows these front-line units to hit harder.

  • The Vulcan makes yet another appearance, although at this point, it is fortunate that its main cannon cannot deal significant damage to the Hafen this early in the game. With this in mind, its radiator is located at the top of the tank, requiring players to make use of Riley’s anti-tank mortar rounds or move a lancer into the right position for a better shot. Missions no longer singularly revolve around capturing an enemy camp: some missions will involve holding out against waves of enemies.

  • I ended up applying demolitions boost to Riley to help her smash the Vulcan, and then turned my attention towards neutralising the remaining enemy forces. Demolitions boost was incredibly overpowered in the original Valkyria Chronicles, to the point where for each mission after I had it, I could simply run Alicia around the map and have her single-handedly wipe everything that moved. Between her Valkyrur healing boost, double movement and abilities as a scout, Alicia was so powerful that nothing phased me.

  • After exiting the flaming inferno of the burning camp, players are next dropped into a snowy, icy map. The goal here is to move three teammates towards railway tracks on the far side of the map, and to exacerbate Squad E’s low morale, the weather has increased the risk of avalanches. Players must now fight the environment in addition to enemy forces, and in this mission, a group of Imperial forces lie in wait at the far side of the map, covering a bridge players must cross to reach the railway tracks.

  • My strategy this mission was simple enough: move three scouts close to the target point, alternating between advancing the objective and positioning my other units to mop up any hostile forces that could down my units. Enemy grenadiers are a nuisance owing to their interception fire, and I make it a point to actively eliminate them: their shells inflict debuffs, and I’m beginning to recall the days of Valkyria Chronicles 4 when enemy units could lower my units’ defenses with their weapons.

  • I ended up applying defense boost to Teresa and had her fire on the ragnite container, eliminating the need to move Kai up to a suitable spot for that shot: there are enough forces camped out on the ridge so that it’s not practical to engage them one at a time, but the same avalanche conditions that made the match more difficult also gives Claude an idea. Once the enemies are gone, moving my remaining scouts across was trivially easy.

  • The next mission involves sneaking through an Imperial munitions depot and blasting it sky-high to prevent the Imperial forces from using the equipment to launch an assault on Gallia. The map is covered by armoured trains, and engaging them is an exercise in futility: using the Cactus to move players from cover to cover is the way to go, and here, I stopped to again, admire the lighting effects in Valkyria Chronicles 4Valkyria Chronicles looked great, but compared to 4, feels distinctly flat.

  • The armoured personnel carrier becomes an indispensable tool, and having seen how fragile it is, I immediately went about upgrading its durability. While survivable against all small arms fire and Gatling guns, the Cactus is easily melted by enemy armour, anti-tank munitions and bosses, so the trick is to only use the Cactus to get through areas with light interception fire, and then disgorge troops.

  • After moving a pair of scouts across the map, I had enough firepower to close the distance and reach the enemy camp. Using defense and attack boost on Millennia, I was able to run right by the hostile Imperial forces, eliminated the forces chilling in the enemy camp and then captured it. One longstanding complaint about Valkyria Chronicles that endures in 4 is that players who prefer a play-style allowing them to destroy everything that moves on a map are not rewarded: Valkyria Chronicles 4 continues in the vein of its predecessors and scores players primarily based on how quickly they complete the mission.

  • With Squad F gone, Minerva and tank operator Ronald Albee joins Squad E and resolve to fight for their fallen comrades. Their first operation with Squad E is in a training exercise, allowing players to get a feel for how Minerva and Ronald handle. Players are also introduced to ship orders, which allow players to call upon support from the Centurion. These powerful orders can shift the tide of battle, but are extremely limited in use. I’ve not made use of them yet, having found the missions quite manageable so far, although I bet that a few levels later down the line could really test that.

  • We’ve now crossed the halfway point of the month, and with my being halfway through Valkyria Chronicles 4, I feel that I’m making excellent time in the game. I expect to finish Valkyria Chronicles 4 by July. In the meantime, it’s been an eventful week and some back since F8: besides watching Avengers: Endgame over the weekend, I also enjoyed a delicious steak dinner at The Keg, where I had their Baseball Steak cooked to medium rare with sauteed mushrooms, seasonal vegetables and their house special twice-baked potato. These cuts are so thick that medium rare is actually the maximum they can be cooked to. The cut offers best of both worlds, with the seared parts being very flavourful, and the heart of the steak is tender and juicy. Steaks are much rarer in Valkyria Chronicles 4: Kai favours bread and becomes uncharacteristically angry when there’s no bread around.

  • The weather this week’s been more similar to the moody skies of Valkyria Chronicles 4, even though the weekend’s been more seasonal and sunny. Back in the game itself, when Imperial forces arrive, they bring with them Chiara and Nikola. These arrogant enforces have the mobility of scouts and can one-shot the Hafen if allowed to roam the map unchecked. Fortunately, I found that even without any orders, a shock trooper can mop the floor with the two.

  • Once the Imperial forces arrive, the objective shifts towards moving the Hafen back to the evacuation point. A host of Imperial lancers are covering the route, along with an anti-armour mortar that can slow the Hafen down considerably. I made it a priority to eliminate the grenadiers first, and then made use of Raz to take out the lancers along the way. For the most part, I’ve found that while Valkyria Chronicles 4 does attempt to balance the scouts out, one can still move a small number of characters across the map to finish things swiftly.

  • Here, a crater in the ground from mortar fire is visible. While nowhere nearly as sophisticated as the destruction effects in something like the Frostbite Engine, the Canvas Engine’s upgrades are very apparent, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks as well as it handles. Games of late that have done well have consistently been games that have taken a “back to the basics” approach, favouring skill-driven mechanics that are easy to learn and require an investment to master. Admittedly, modern titles have very complex mechanics that come across as being little more than gimmicks distracting from game-play, and a return to simpler, but tougher mechanics results in more rewarding experiences.

  • The ninth chapter involves capturing an Imperial base in an effort to hold off the Imperial forces, who intend to capture the Centurion. While seemingly a straightforward mission, Valkyrur Crymaria appears for the first time. Her interception fire is downright lethal, being able to destroy the Cactus in one shot if one is careless. Unlike the Barious Desert, I was unfazed by the appearance of a Valkyrur: this mission can be finished in two turns without using the Cactus at all if one is playing strictly for A-ranks.

  • On my first turn, I moved Minerva to the base on the Western edge of the map and wiped out the grenadier sitting here. Walz will call in an order that revives everyone, making it quite unnecessary to kill anyone else, and then on the second turn, it was a matter of running Minerva, armed with defense boost and attack boost, to the enemy camp. More complex strategies will accommodate for players destroying the Vulcan for additional points. When players capture the base, the mission ends, and the Imperial forces will fail to capture the Centurion. In frustration, Crymaria will open fire on the Federation cruisers, seemingly sinking them.

  • However, this turns out to be a ruse: the Centurion is still intact, but its main reactor is down. While Riley sets about repairing it, Imperial forces mount an attack, dropping bombs with the aim of destroying it. The object of the tenth mission is to prevent any bombs from impacting the Centurion: snipers are invaluable in this mission, and I decided to use a pair of snipers: a sniper on the southwestern high point, and then another on the east high point.

  • Because of the deterministic AI, Chiara and Nikola will both go after the sniper on the southwestern edge. I moved Raz to the southwest to provide support, and an engineer to the eastern point so that sniper could be perpetually topped off with ammunition. Once Chiara and Nikola’s asses are beat, the mission becomes a straightforward matter of preventing bombs from landing. Players must eliminate bombs on the turn that they appear: any bomb that isn’t dealt with will hit the Centurion on the next turn.

  • I’ve been consistently scoring A ranks on all missions: Valkyria Chronicles 4 seems to be easier than its predecessor, which had stricter requirements, although this could also be nostalgia and experience talking. I am moving through Valkyria Chronicles 4 much more smoothly than I did through the original, and at my current rate of progression, I am hoping that I will complete this game before Halo Reach for the Master Chief Collection comes out on PC: once Halo: Master Chief Collection becomes available, I cannot see myself playing anything but Halo.

Insofar, I’ve been deeply enjoying the dynamics amongst Squad E’s members, and more recently, their interactions with the Centurion’s crew, plus Minerva’s gradual integration into Squad E. While warfare is brutal and unforgiving, the friendship and warmth in Squad E seems enough to ward off even the bitter cold of a Soviet Winter™. As navy and army forces set aside their disagreements to focus on a powerful and determined enemy, Valkyria Chronicles 4 shows the evolution of a game whose core mechanics have largely been retained, but also enhanced to give players a new challenge. Each mission is memorable, and Squad E’s members now are as familiar to me as any of Squad 7’s members – Valkyria Chronicles 4 has done an excellent job in warming up players to these new characters, and rolling over the game’s halfway point, the push is on to smash my way to the Imperial capital. My back-to-back scoring of A-ranks in every mission up until now have afforded me enough in-game credits to level each of my classes to elite status. I’ve made much fewer uses of orders in Valkyria Chronicles 4 compared to my run with Valkyria Chronicles so far, but I do expect that the game will only become more tricky from here on out, and having access to every tool will allow me a more diverse range of options to kick names and take ass.

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