Review of Valkyria Chronicles 4

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It’s been ages since the west was able to enjoy a proper Valkyria Chronicles game. The third instalment was never localized and the recently released Valkyria Revolution was an unpopular spin-off, which abandoned the franchise’s trademark tactical elements. Valkyria Chronicles 4 thankfully returns to its roots. Both the combat system and setting are identical to the first game. For those unacquainted with the series, Valkyria Chronicles takes place on a continent that suspiciously resembles World War II Europe. Players lead a squad of Federation soldiers who are battling against Empire invaders. The Empire started the conflict to secure stockpiles of Ragnite – a magical mineral that can power machinery, heal the sick and turn well-endowed babes into super humans.

CHARCTERS

Valkyria Chronicles 4 recounts the adventures of Squad E, throughout a 35-hour campaign that sees the battalion venture deep into Empire territory. The plot is both straightforward and well written. Players experience first hand the brutal tragedies of war. Balancing out the drama are moments of romance and comedy that wouldn’t look out of place in an anime. There’s even a hot springs episode and DLC that takes place at the beach. Claude Wallace is the game’s protagonist. He begins the story with a reputation of being a coward, but as events unfold he develops into a courageous commander. His subordinates include childhood sweetheart Riley, a reckless trooper named Raz and Deadeye Kai. The latter is a sniper who possesses an irresistible heinie. Did you know that German soldiers, who the Empire’s conscripts are modelled after, were once nicknamed heinie? Perhaps Kai’s ass is a reference to that. Nah, it’s just eye candy.

Apart from the main cast there are over fifty unique characters to command. Picking whom to take on a mission is akin to assembling an army in Fire Emblem. There’s even a private named Odin who acts like his Fire Emblem namesake! When selecting a team I suspect most players will choose soldiers based on looks/personalities they find appealing. The supporting cast don’t play a major part in story cut scenes, but they do at least feature in optional chapters that flesh out their origins

COMBAT

Gameplay wise Valkyria Chronicles is a hybrid of strategy and action. Each level has an objective to complete. The missions range from capturing a base, to defeating all the enemies or protecting a zone for a specified number of rounds. Levels are laid out on a map, where players spend command points to issue orders and move their troops. If this was a fantasy game orders would be magic. By issuing an order it’s possible to heal allies, apply buffs and replenish ammo. Hey rookie I command you to stop being poisoned and um… cease being dead. What distinguishes Valkyria Chronicles from other strategy games is that when repositioning a soldier the action switches to a third person view. From this vantage point players assume direct control of the soldier in real time. To keep things tactical, characters can only attack once during their movement phase.

A character’s stamina limits how much terrain they can cover during a turn. Different classes have varying amounts of stamina. A nimble scout can therefore take more steps than a heavily armoured Lancer. I love Valkyria Chronicles’ battles, as they are more interactive than simply moving pieces on a chessboard. Possessing a soldier means you have to dodge bullets yourself and watch where they go, due to the ever-present danger of landmines. Mercifully, the enemies will seize fire whenever you line up a shot. Great news for me, as I have terrible aim when under pressure. Maybe instead of the Federation I should be fighting for the Empire. I do after all hit targets less often than a Storm Trooper.

CONCLUSION

My rating for Valkyria Chronicles 4 is five stars. Easily one of the best games I have played in 2018. Valkyria Chronicles 4 might be too similar to the original, for some folks, but I personally didn’t mind. It’s been almost a decade since the west got a mainline VC title, so the combat system still feels fresh to me. One new addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4 is the introduction of grenadiers. These soldiers can blast foes from afar with a mortar. I thought the grenadiers were overpowered during the early missions, but used them less in the later chapters. Sega might have added the class to benefit the enemy AI forces, more than the player. Their inclusion, on certain maps, does somewhat discourage players from making a beeline for the objective. You have to plan out movements or else Squad E will get an unwelcome explosive surprise when navigating choke points. Stop pelting me with grenades – that’s “bang” out of order.

I highly recommend Valkyria Chronicles 4. The game is fun and very pretty to look at. I like how the cell shaded graphics have a watercolour tinge to them. Anyone who was frustrated by the original’s difficulty spikes will be pleased to learn that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is much less challenging. The only level that took me a while to clear was the final showdown. It wasn’t hard per say, but a bit ponderous due to the amount of damage the last boss could soak up. Then again that was due to my bad planning rather than poor level design. After besting Valkyria Chronicles 4 I looked online and found clips of people beating that mission quickly, via the creative use of orders. Man, I really suck at making orders. Perhaps that is why it takes me so long to pick a main course.

Review of Black Panther

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The time has come for another B-list hero to get a feature film, as Marvel has already released movies based on their more iconic characters. Not that I am complaining though. Ant-Man for example showed that Marvel is capable of producing enjoyable flicks based on their more obscure properties. Black Panther’s kick ass display in Civil War impressed me a lot, so it’s good to see him get his own solo adventure. Shame that not everyone gets the opportunity to headline a blockbuster. I feel bad for the likes of Black Widow and Hawkeye. They have been around since the first phase of Marvel movies and are still awaiting their own motion picture.

OVERVIEW

Many moons ago a meteorite, rich in Vibranium, crashed on the fictional nation of Wakanda. The inhabitants used the indestructible metal to develop advanced weaponry, and a mixture that turns anyone who consumes it into a superhuman. Said concoction is fed to the land’s incumbent ruler. Along with enhanced strength and agility, Wakanda’s monarch inherits the mantle of Black Panther. I don’t understand why a mineral alone would cause Wakanda to prosper technologically. The country’s African neighbours also possess valuable resources and it hasn’t helped them develop past third world poverty. Plot wise I think an advanced alien craft crashing on Wakanda, rather than a meteor, would have made more sense. Oh well, who cares. When it comes to superpower origins Vibranium is still more plausible than an eradiated arachnid bite.

Over the course of 134 minutes the newly crowned king T’Challa has to contend with two villains. The first of these is a Vibranium smuggler named Ulysses Klaue, who is played by Andy Serkis. A strong performance from the English actor proves that he is capable of more than simply doing motion capture for CGI characters. At one point in the story T’Challa travels to South Korea, with the aims of capturing Klaue himself. What an odd thing for a head of state to do. Isn’t that a job better left for one of his minions? Black Panther isn’t exactly short on capable soldiers who are up to the task. Perhaps if T’Challa focused more on local matters he wouldn’t have to worry about losing the throne later on in the movie.

“Black” Ops soldier Erik Killmonger is the challenger who attempts to usurp control of Wakanda away from “Black” Panther. Yep, there is a lot of black in this movie. Killmonger’s crusade against Wakanda’s royal family is fuelled by vengeance, as T’Challa’s pop is the man responsible for his father’s assassination. He also plans to become commander of Wakanda’s army, so he can wage war against anyone who dares to oppress his race. I sympathise with his motivations, but not his methods. Killmonger has no respect for tradition and treats allies as disposable commodities. Michael B. Jordan, who is no stranger to the superhero genre, plays the character. Previously he was cast for the role of Johnny Strorm in 2015’s flop Fantastic Four.

VERDICT

My rating for Black Panther is a three out of five. It’s a worthy addition to Marvel Studio’s impressive live action library. Unlike other Marvel releases, Black Panther uses comedy sparingly and it doesn’t feel like a traditional superhero tale. The sequence in South Korea resembles a secret agent film, as it features spies and gadgets that wouldn’t look out of place in James Bond. For the most part the script concerns itself with politics rather than crime fighting. Will the people of Wakanda offer foreign aid or keep out immigrants with their holographic barrier? I wonder how much that cost to build. Trump cannot even secure funding to erect a regular wall at the frontier.

Despite my positive opinion of the film I must say that Black Panther is overrated. Back when the movie premiered I recall critics being very generous with their assessments. If those early write ups are to be believed Black Panther is one of the greatest movies of all time. In reality however it is good, but wouldn’t crack my personal Marvel top five. Those who champion diversity will find a lot to like in Black Panther. Apart from a cast list dominated by minorities, the final battle sees female warriors trounce their misguided male counterparts. In your face patriarchy they will cheer. Expect similar praise from that crowd when heroine Captain Marvel debuts next year. I predict said movie will put a smile on their faces… even if Brie Larson is incapable of grinning in the trailers.