Monday, November 20, 2017

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is coming.

It's coming, it's coming west in 2018 and it's coming to PS4, Xbox One and the Switch.  I'm a little thrilled and a lot worried. Here's a trailer.  

Here's some screenshots:

This is the announcement fans of Valkyria Chronicles have been waiting for since... 2008?  I wanna' say?  Let me look that up...

Yeah, 2008.  So let me set the stage, here.  It's fall.  Microsoft is leading the console war against the PS3, and the previously-console-exclusive Game of the Year According To Everyone, BioShock, is finally coming out on PS3 with a decent port.  Waiting in the wings is also the soon-to-be critical and commercial success new-IP Dead Space, billon-dollar annual Call of Duty: World at War, the legendary and ultra-hyped Fallout 3, Ubisoft's ambitious Far Cry 2 and gorgeous Prince of Persia, Sony's headliner LittleBigPlanet and Electronic Arts' hugely-anticipated first-person platformer Mirror's Edge.

Valkyria Chronicles arrived against this incredible lineup with absolutely zero fanfare and hype.  As someone who avoided JRPGs as a general rule, I had zero interest, but I decided to check out the demo on a whim.  I remember, it appeared on the PSN store the same day as the BioShock demo.

So I played the BioShock demo twice, and then I checked out this Valkyria Chronicles thing.  It's a turn-based tactical RPG, with the action gauge and all that.  You move your heroes until the action gauge drains, putting them in to cover, telling them to toss grenades, and when you aim you manually do it with the analog stick before telling them to shoot.

It had this gorgeous aesthetic, less "anime" than a manga that was being animated, if that makes sense - with crosshatch shading and gentle, poppy watercolors.  It had gorgeous music.  It had remarkable writing, for a JRPG, and - for some reason - I ended up playing that demo again and again and again and again over the coming week, until I started going on the Penny Arcade forum and telling people "look, you probably haven't heard of it, but you really should be paying attention to this."

Valkyria Chronicles (2008)

Sega America would go on to credit fan communities like Penny Arcade's with the game's long, slow-burn success in North America.  It did not light the charts on fire at launch, but critics were so positive on the game, and gamers were going out of their way to to tell each other about it and celebrate it to the point that the game enjoyed a long tail of consistent sales.

For me, this was a JRPG the likes of which I'd never seen or even heard of, before.  It was a war story that was very much about the sacrifices and horrors of war, but equally about the humanity of its characters.  Every soldier in your squad (there's like forty) have well-developed, well-rounded personalities, quirks and weaknesses.  They all look unique, they work better with some allies than others, and the core group of heroes were all similarly fleshed-out and charismatic.

Main character Welkin Gunther is not your run-of-the-mill personality-less JRPG protagonist.  We first meet him sketching fish in a stream, because he's obsessed with natural science, animals and plants.  He's a geek and a nerd and absolutely socially clueless.  He is immediately set upon by the rifle-toting Alicia Melchiott, his hometown's resident master baker, and a member of the local militia who fears he may be a spy for the empire - and this is merely the beginning of a game that both embraces its manga/anime aesthetic with things like a goofy cartoony squad mascot (an adorable pig) and a beach episode, and rejects its simplicity with meaningful investigations into the morality of wartime and investing your country's enemies with the same multidimensional depth as the leads.

Really, it's an incredible game.

Valkyria Chronicles II (2010)

It got a decent-but-disappointing sequel in 2010, exclusive to Sony's beleaguered PlayStation Portable, which offered new soldier classes and smaller maps, along with a fairly infantile narrative that followed students at a military academy - more Archie comics than Band of Brothers.  I always thought it was trying to cash in on the Harry Potter craze.  With the small install base and a lot of PS3 owners unwilling to make the jump to a different platform, it didn't do great.

Valkyria Chronicles 3, which returned to the grittier aesthetic and characterization of the original was also released on the PSP, but it never saw a western localization.  Sega announced, around that time, that if they were to make another Valkyria game for the PS3 it "would have to be so different it wouldn't be Valkyria Chronicles any more."  The game's fans all cried "who the fuck decided that?" and Sega responded "we did, assholes," and didn't touch the Valkyria license again until they re-launched the original successfully on Steam, and then fucked the entire series over with the critical and commercial flop Valkyria Revolution this year, which abandoned the series' thoughtful, tactical combat in favor of really, really shitty action mechanics.

And it's the mishandling of this franchise since its launch that gives me pause, about Valkyria Chronicles 4.  Do I want a genuine sequel to one of my favorite games of all time?

Yes.  Obviously.  Absolutely.  I am squeeing.

Do I trust Sega, of all people, to get a sequel to a beloved franchise right?

Sonic the Hedgehog says hi.  Valkyria Revolution says hi.  VC2 says hi.

But, of course, there's the part of me that wants to believe.  There's the part of me that would have killed for a localization of VC3 for PSP or Vita, and you know there's a part of me that is over the moon that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is coming to Nintendo's Switch.  Hope springs eternal.  Keep hope alive.  Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Don't fuck this up, Sega.

Okay she's obviously of the Valkyrian lineage, but what is that weapon?  Is that a grenade launcher?
I think that's a grenade launcher.

Press release:
Soldiers, strategists, and commandersl, the call has come in from the front lines. It's time to rejoin the fight! The beloved Valkyria Chronicles series makes its grand return westward in 2018 with Valkyria Chronicles 4, a new mainline chapter in the saga for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Return to a continent ravaged by conflict with a familiar-yet-refined tactical RPG battle system, a vibrant and evocative art style that portrays a living canvas of watercolors, and a gripping World War II-inspired story full of momentous triumphs, heartbreaking loss, and unexpected hope for the human spirit.

It is the year 1935 EC...

The continent of Europa is engulfed in the flames of the Second Europan War between the Atlantic Federation and the Autocratic Eastern Imperial Alliance. Although the Federation struggles valiantly against the Empire's forces, the relentless imperial military machine threatens to consume them. With victory slipping away, the Federation executes Operation Northern Cross: a last-ditch attempt to capture the imperial capital and end the war.

Commander Claude Wallace and his loyal childhood friends in Squad E are sent to fight for the desperate operation's success, but they will have to endure harsh bone-chilling elements, waves of imperial soldiers, and the terrifying Valkyria... and unravel a grave truth that will shake them to the core.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Features

• A Coming-of-Age Story in a Time of War - Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place in the same timeframe as the original Valkyria Chronicles, but focuses on a whole new cast of main characters. Players will take command of the eager, young Commander Claude Wallace, engineer/heavy weapons extraordinaire Riley Miller, hotheaded Darcsen Raz, ice-cold ace sniper Kai Schulen, and more. Together, they will experience the painful realities of war--but will the bonds of Squad E's friendships survive the frozen battlefield?

• The Next Generation "BLiTZ" Battle System - The part overhead turn-based strategy, part RPG, and part real-time 3rd person shooter "BLiTZ" battle system returns to the field. New features include an explosive new class called the Grenadier, numerous offensive/defensive battleship support options, chances for a unit to have a "Last Stand" action before death, and more. Plus, fight the imperial threat with more units on larger-scale maps than ever before.

• CANVAS Aesthetics - The series' signature hand-drawn visual style is back and overhauled for the newest generation. Inspired by watercolor compositions, the CANVAS Graphics Engine blends visual elements of reality and imagination to create an expressive world filled with colorful emotions. Watch the journey of Squad E unfold like an interactive painting!

• The Return of a Legendary Composer - The illustrious Hitoshi Sakimoto, original composer of the Valkyria Chronicles series and countless other emotional epics, returns to provide a sweeping orchestral soundtrack for the game.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 will be available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One platforms in the Americas and Europe in 2018. The game is not yet rated by the ESRB. Please visit the official website for more information:
Fingers crossed.

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