Uncommon depth and capacity to personalize the ravages of war

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Valkyria Chronicles 4
PC via Stream/Playstation 4/
Nintendo Switch

CONSIDERING the critical and commercial success of the source material, the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4, a sequel that in large measure represents a technical update, shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Developers Sega and Media.Vision certainly set it up well; in preparation for its rollout on retail and as part of its production process, they saw fit to work on and come up with a remastered version of the original for current-generation consoles. Eight years had passed since the latter went on to gain accolades from various quarters, and they couldn’t help but take advantage of the opportunity to both revive and use the title as a stepping stone for the series’ latest iteration.

Creditably, Valkyria Chronicles 4 boasts of gameplay elements that hark back to its roots while, at the same time, capitalizing on technological upgrades in presentation. For all intents and purposes, it serves as the real followup to the original (which proved to be so rich in possibilities as to spawn adaptations in other media), what with Valkyria Chronicles II and III made specifically for the PlayStation Portable and Valkyria Chronicles D and Valkyria Revolution veering from the storyline of the previous releases.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 takes place at the same time as Valkyria Chronicles and Valkyria Chronicles III do, early on in World War II but in Europa as part of an alternate reality. While its aforesaid predecessors’ perspective was that from within neutral Gallia, however, it highlights moves by the Atlantic Federation against the Imperial Alliance. The narrative follows Squad E of the Edinburgh Army in fulfillment of orders to plow to the North and ultimately invade Schwartzgrad. And, remarkably, it shines in its seamless melding of compelling exposition and immersive game mechanics.

Story-wise, Valkyria Chronicles 4 manages to humanize developments by delving into the motivations of the principal protagonists. Squad E commanding officer Claude Wallace, grenadier Riley Miller, and sargeants Raz and Kai Schulen hail from Gallia and are spurred to action in an effort to protect their home country from Imperial forces. Later on, they are joined by former Squad F commanding officer Minerva Victor, whose role as scout proves crucial to progress. Their richly layered personalities lead to colorful interactions underpinned by unique experiences.

Notably, Valkyria Chronicles 4 makes use of a battle interface that brings to the fore its worth as a tactical role-playing game. During combat, players oversee Squad E via a Command Mode that provides a top-down view of the theater of operations, and then via Action and Target Modes that enable direct control of troop movements and allow for precision aiming, respectively. The length of a given turn is determined by the depletion of command points, and of a given battle by the completion of — or, as the case may be, failure to achieve — mission objectives. To this end, six character classes with distinct sets of strengths and weaknesses offer up a myriad options across large swaths of land. And, needless to say, with victory come the personnel and equipment upgrades required to move the game forward.

In light of Valkyria Chronicles 4’s serious treatment of the subject matter, it fittingly treats players to gorgeous visuals and impressive audio cues that reflect its intricacy and attention to detail. The art style is loosely impressionist with splotches of anime, reflecting its presentation as a wistful retrospective off Claude’s journal. Meanwhile, the soundtrack accentuates the mood of the moment, and is highlighted by outstanding voice acting. The visceral feedback is best elicited on the personal computer, but remains impactful on the PlayStation 4 Pro and even on the Nintendo Switch. Softer tones may be abundant on the latter, but hardly to the point of distraction.

Overall, Valkyria Chronicles 4 stands as a reboot that fans of the series will deem worthy of its name. At the same time, those new to the intellectual property will find their effort rewarded by its uncommon depth and capacity to personalize the ravages of war. It’s not flawless by any means; the story can drag on and combat sequences suffer from uneven play that border on the exploitative. Still, it distinguishes itself as an example that fodder for both brains and brawn can go hand in hand. And regardless of the platform it is enjoyed in, it excels.

• Outstanding story and game mechanics

• Remarkable visuals and audio cues

• Stellar voice acting

• Effective update of the acclaimed original

• Story presentation can drag on

• Uneven gameplay that players can exploit

• Quality-of-life issues crop up on occasion and disrupt the experience

RATING: 8/10

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove (Switch) — Humanature Studios’ brainchild has had a complicated past. Announced via a KickStarter campaign back in 2015, it foresaw a two-year turnaround timeline that wound up being delayed for reasons unknown even to backers of the fully subscribed project. Thankfully, the developer’s solid reputation and the success of previous entries in the series enabled it to overcome radio silence and an aborted pivot to publication by Adult Swim Games. After yet another round of delays, it’s seeing the light of day with an eShop release early next month and a physical offering via Limited Run Games in the horizon. And here’s the good news: It’s well worth the wait.

Needless to say, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove features playable characters well known to fans of the original offering in 1991. Which is well and good in and of itself. The clincher is that it highlights gameplay reminiscent of the Sega Genesis classic, in the process mostly eschewing the generic — and, at the time, controversial — underpinnings of sequel ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron. The result is a veritable throwback certain to please even modern-day gamers, particularly those with a bias for roguelike adventures. The island-hopping rappers are back, making use of power-ups boasting of distinct effects to hold enemies in abeyance, with colorful visuals and retro remixed tracks helping keep the mood vibrant. Cooperative play of up to four characters is a blast as well. Highly recommended. (9/10)

R-Type Dimensions EX — Tozai and Southend Interactive have done extremely well in bringing the shoot-em-up compilation to the Switch. Essentially an enhancement of the port on previous-generation consoles PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the latest release boasts of faithful representations of the 1987 and 1989 arcade originals and their updated three-dimensional versions. In either case, gamers will relish the polished and, yes, timeless gameplay. Its premise is simple; upgradable ships must shoot and dodge their way through diverse layouts and to imposing bosses at the end of levels, requiring excellent hand-eye coordination from their pilots en route.

As far as shmups go, R-Type Dimensions EX comes up with nothing new. Then again, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It’s simply out to be itself, and, in this regard, it thrives. Even after 30 years, its idiosyncratic interface and roster of weapons coupled with maddening but never unfair challenges manage to engross. For gamers with infinite lives and inclined to slow down the pace accordingly, its 14 levels all told won’t take long to master. Of course, the real test is in beating it exactly as the classic mode was set up in coin-op machines. (8/10)

Defense Grid 2 — The popular tower defense game developed by Hidden Path Entertainment following a crowd-funding campaign in 2012 finally makes its way to the Switch. For all the time it took from conception to conversion, it’s right at home in the hybrid console. Your top-down perspective as commander of mankind’s forces tasked to protect various installations against invading aliens dead set on claiming all-important power cores is encompassing at worst. The solid interface likewise allows you to properly strategize on the nature and locations of towers you build in order to combat specific sets of enemies.

Parenthetically, Defense Grid 2 compels you to add to and manage the resources at your disposal wisely amid changing objectives. Included in your continuing assessments are the types and extents of upgrades over over the course of a given scenario. The Switch version likewise contains the five-mission expansion “Aftermath” and allows for collocated competitive or cooperative gameplay in the Story and Defense Modes. It may be long in the tooth and just one in a sea of titles available in the genre, but it has kept its place among the best, and with reason. (9/10)