Valkyria Chronicles 4 Interview
Valkyria Chronicles 4 marked the return of the mainline Valkyria series to home consoles, releasing in North America and Europe in September. After a pair of portable entries, our review particularly noted the improved combat, incorporating many new ideas and refinements compared to the previous titles. RPGamer was recently given the opportunity to put a series of questions to Valkyria Chronicles 4 director Kohei Yamashita and producer Kei Mikami about some of the ideas behind the game, with a particular focus how the combat has been tweaked and improved from the past entries.
Joshua Carpenter (RPGamer): What was the motivation behind shifting the setting from the Gallian conflict to the war between the Federation and the Empire?
Kohei Yamashita (Director): We’ve had three games about Gallia at this point, so we thought it would be kind of mean to bring the fires of war to poor Gallia once again (laughs). After all, Welkin, Avan, and Kurt fought so hard to earn some peace and quiet!
With Valkyria Chronicles 4 being a return to console, after two previous releases on handhelds, it offered us an opportunity to give players a look at the later years of the more expansive Second Europan War, since the main conflict between the Federation and Empire was only indirectly mentioned until now.
Kei Mikami (Producer): Gallia’s had to go to war three times so far, so they were SUPPOSED to be at peace (though technically, they’re in the middle of the VC1 war)… but they ended up playing a significant part in this battle anyway.
The broader battlefield of the Second Europan War has been mentioned since the beginning, but there were never any details before now, so we thought that we could depict a conflict on a grander, more spectacular scale with the modern specs of a PS4.
JC: The pacing of the beginning of Valkyria Chronicles 4 was significantly different from the original game, where players saw the beginning of the war with Welkin and Alicia and the maps were simple and slowly ramped up in difficulty and complexity. Valkyria Chronicles 4 instead starts in the middle of the war and the maps scale up very quickly, were there any specific ideas behind that?
KY: Given that this is the fourth entry in the series, we believed that players would be used to the gameplay by now, so a difficulty curve like that of the first game would have been too easy. There are difficulty settings in VC4 that VC1 didn’t have, so you can play on Easy Mode to gradually get used to the game if you are new to the series.
JC: The Grenadiers were a great addition to the mix of units in Valkyria Chronicles 4. Since their method of attack is so different from other units, what were the challenges in designing levels that incorporated them?
KY: We knew that we had to increase the map size for players to take full advantage of longer-ranged units. Kill zones easily form when Grenadiers are present, so we had to consider the areas that would be heavily bombarded and provide ways to overcome such obstacles. That’s one of several concerns we kept in mind during level design.
JC: The classes in Valkyria Chronicles 4 were better balanced and had more clearly defined strengths than the original. For example, there were a number of maps where Engineers could build ladders to open up new routes. How did the team go about creating that balance?
KY: I appreciate that you’ve noticed that. The class balance has been refined over the course of the series. With each game, we’ve been adjusting the mobility and power of each class as well as tweaking the available commands, so that no class would be useless. Ten years after the original game, we think with VC4 we’ve achieved the best balance of classes thus far.
JC: Were any of the unique classes from the PSP Valkyria Chronicles games considered for inclusion in Valkyria Chronicles 4?
KY: We actually did not consider adding classes from the PSP games. The PSP games included many classes for the sake of creating gameplay volume and diversity of squad building, but that resulted in a number of issues. For example, features of the original classes were fragmented across multiple new ones, and there were motifs that did not feel like they belonged in a realistic military, like swords and musical instruments.
In VC4, we streamlined the classes to return to a more military-style motif, and to highlight the increased complexity of the maps. That said, we’ve also carried well-regarded elements from VC2 and VC3 into the new game. For instance, Engineers can revive allies, and units can order other units to follow them. Both of these mechanics are from VC3. So in a sense, VC4 collects the best parts of the previous games.
KM: We examined all the features we expanded on in the PSP games, and decided which to include and which not to include. The PSP classes didn’t make the cut, but some elements carried over in other ways.
For instance, the engineer class didn’t have Revival Ragnaid in VC1, but they do in VC4. This was a feature that came from VC2’s Medic class, and the current limit on the tank CP and armor piercing capabilities are from VC3.
JC: A common player tactic in the first Valkyria Chronicles was taking out a few key enemies and rushing a Scout to capture the enemy base. Was there a focus in the level design to preventing those kinds of tactics from being as effective?
KY: We would never design levels to deliberately cause players grief. In fact, we aimed to create situations where the player can develop their own strategies to efficiently clear missions. The game invites players to find the quickest way to achieve the goal.
The reason for the series’ complex scoring system which rates the player based on the speed of stage completion is to prevent the gameplay goals from becoming too complex, and to discourage unnecessary killing.
After all, present throughout all of the Valkyria games is the message that war is tragic, and that the player isn’t pointing guns at monsters or zombies, but rather fellow human beings. The protagonists fight with the conviction to defend their homeland, not because they enjoy killing people. The same goes for their enemies as well. Their goal is to accomplish their mission, and killing the enemy is a means to that end. Killing is never the goal itself.
JC: One of the things I liked about Valkyria Chronicles 3 was that the extra missions provided a bonus for subsequent story missions. An optional mission to take out an enemy base would mean that the next story mission wouldn’t have mortar fire. With the return of Skirmish missions from the original game, was there a thought to incorporate them into the story as was done in Valkyria Chronicles 3 or was there a limitation that prevented that?
KY: When I designed VC3, I wanted all of those elements to occur within a single level. However, the maps were small in VC3, so they had to be split up over multiple battles instead, and I think this made the cause and effect of the battles difficult to understand.
But in VC4 for example, intense mortar shelling prevents you from advancing, so you have to flank and take out enemy Grenadiers before approaching the base. It’s more direct and easier to understand.
JC: Valkyria Chronicles 4 had a large variety of different types of missions, whether it was identifying tanks in the fog, dealing with paratroopers, or securing and defending an escape route. Was that done to keep players from falling into the rut of capturing enemy bases over and over?
KY: I believe that in war, the battlefield is fluid, as are the conditions that dictate tactical objectives. We included the variety that we did because we wanted players to enjoy and empathize with the experience of Claude and Squad E, as they encounter all the different situations that arise during the story.
JC: While the original Valkyria Chronicles is known for boss battles with tanks the size of buildings, the bosses of Valkyria Chronicles 4 (Nikola, Chiara, and Klauz) focused more on speed and maneuverability. What was behind the different design philosophy for the majority of boss encounters in Valkyria Chronicles 4?
KY: Since the maps are larger in VC4, we decided that it would be more interesting to fight a mobile enemy on an expansive map while struggling to gain a better position, rather than focusing fire on a static target.
JC: Did you have any other big ideas that you didn’t have the ability or time to incorporate?
KY: There were plans to create multiple endings that the player would see depending on how the game was played. Mainly, there would have been different scenarios depending on whether characters lived or died, as well as Claude’s final decision. In hindsight, these could have obscured the themes we wanted to explore, so perhaps they were superfluous anyway.
RPGamer would like to thank Kohei Yamashita and Kei Mikami for taking the time to talk about Valkyria Chronicles 4 and Sega for facilitating the interview. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.