The Valkyria Chronicles games know how to make you care about the hordes of characters you can enlist to your cause, and this is perfectly exemplified in Valkyria Chronicles 4. It’s a really simple thing, but just by giving the secondary characters a little development, Valkyria Chronicles 4 manages to make you care about each individual soldier in your squad.
For one thing, there’s the fact that you can choose who to recruit in addition to who you deploy for each operation, which means you’re likely to always be drawing from a pool of characters you like because, let’s face it, that’s how you pick who to recruit. You’re still able to swap and change who’s in the team and who’s in the reserves in between operations though, so it’s not like you miss out on any characters you don’t bring along the first time.
Everything from a character’s design and weapon class down to the traits they have that can activate in battle helps you get an initial feel for a character and decide if you want them to join you. This first impression is then further built up by the fact that each and every unit has their own voiced and varied dialogue and a character profile telling you a little about who they are, where they’re from and – most crucially – what they’re fighting for.
With new details being added at a pleasantly frequent and consistent rate, the Personnel section of Headquarters where all this info is stored, saw a lot of my time in Valkyria Chronicles 4. Whenever it updated, be it due to the story or the addition of new characters, I would be right there to see what new things I’d discovered about my team. Using a character a lot will earn you more info about them too, so it’s easy to learn more about your favourites!
Something that’s always bothered me a little in games with larger casts, especially in more recent years, is that there are plenty of characters who will get one or two lines when they join you and then very little development unless you go out of your way to find it, if any at all. It’s sad to see a character you like the look of get shoved so far away from the story and into obscurity that no one ever really notices if they get offed by an enemy with an axe to grind in their first battle. While it may be reflected in the battle review and perhaps even recalled in brief character epilogues, that’s pretty much that and there’s no more on the matter.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 has had a firm grip on my feelings about its characters from the beginning. Actually, even from before the beginning, as I took a shine to several units in the game’s demo who I knew were going to be on my ‘definitely can’t let you die’ list pretty quickly. Little touches like the Personal Potentials make them all feel more rounded-out as well as making their combat itself more personalised. Your Nature Lovers don’t like being sent into built-up areas, but might get stat boosts from more natural, open ones. That makes sense. Being around people he doesn’t know well gives Curtis a stat debuff owing to his Social Anxiety.
These Personal Potentials make selecting and deploying your team a much more individualised, thought-out processes. If you have a Darcsen Hater, you want to make sure they’re not teamed up with any of your Darcsen. Similarly, you don’t want your more cowardly characters leading the charge into well-defended enemy bases or any easily-distracted Chatty Cathies left defending your camp with their friends. Those small stat changes kicking in could make all the difference in the heat of battle, so it’s best to place each and every unit carefully.
Another example of the subtle battle mechanics building character are the Likes. Every unit has up to 3 other units that they like, and being around each other in battle will give them stat boosts, in a similar fashion to Supports in the Fire Emblem series. It makes sense that people who work together would have more of an opportunity to get to know each other and grow closer, and that’s reflected in the game, with your soldiers’ preferences changing between battles.
So, Valkyria Chronicles 4 successfully makes you care, and then it threatens to take characters away from you. For good. While you do have the ability to rescue units who fall into critical condition in a set number of turns rather than them just instantly dying, the looming threat of permadeath is strong enough that it’s up there with Fire Emblem in its influence on how you strategise and play. A character who goes into critical condition will give a word or two before passing out, possibly a whole lot more should you happen to activate Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s new Last Stand feature, which allows a unit to inspire their allies or have one last shot at the enemy before collapsing.
Should you fail to rescue a unit in Critical Condition in 3 turns – less, if the weather conditions are harsh (which they often are) – or an enemy reaches them first, then that character will die with a touching individual farewell. There are a few exceptions, of course, when it comes to plot important characters, but that only accounts for about a tenth of the amount of characters you can recruit. Even the death message, so-and-so ‘died in the line of duty’ is perfectly phrased to make you feel bad for your mistakes as a commander. It’s pretty effective stuff.
In Valkyria Chronicles 4, you don’t level up individual characters, instead you level up groups by their unit type. If one of your Lancers is level 4, then all your Lancers are level 4. This means all your characters of the same type will learn their class-specific Battle Potentials at once, though there’s some variation between what each person has. Equipment works on a similar system, though you do have the option to dole out the particularly nice things you scavenge in battle or are rewarded with to specific units.
Not only is this approach wonderfully hassle-free, but it gives you the freedom to change up your team whenever you want without having to worry about less-used characters or new recruits being severely under-levelled. While you may find yourself fond enough of particular characters to fall into using a set team, you actually have the opportunity to explore using different characters in a way many other games – especially ones with larger casts – fail to provide.
Finally, Valkyria Chronicles 4 also rounds out its secondary characters with special missions called Squad Stories. These provide opportunities for more minor characters to have some time in the spotlight, and for seeing them interact with each other. The Squad Stories are a lot shorter than many of the plot battles, catered to a few particular units who are the focus of that story. It’s refreshing to have some shorter battles as well as ones that don’t require a full team of different unit types. Examples being a battle that’s tailored to Scouts, or one with plenty of ally tanks you’ll need an Engineer to keep an eye on.
The genuine character development afforded to units by the Squad Stories is of course reflected back in their stats, as characters’ more negative Personal Potentials change or develop in ways that make them more useful as units in the overall story. It’s quite nice to be rewarded in such a way for what are interesting optional story chapters anyway! Additionally, Squad Stories are a great way to earn some sweet, sweet, extra money and EXP.
This approach is something a lot of games could benefit from keeping in mind. It’s always so annoying when great characters are totally glossed over because the overarching plot doesn’t leave any space for them to be explored. Side stories seem like the perfect antidote to that. I know I’ll certainly be looking to Valkyria Chronicles 4 as a standard for seeing it done right!
All these things combined mean that no character, however minor, falls by the wayside, which is really lovely to see. Of course, this is all just one aspect of Valkyria Chronicles 4 too – check out my review for more thoughts on the game as a whole! What’s a game that you think handles its secondary characters well? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter!
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