Valkyria Chronicles 4 Interview - Developing the true sequel to the first Valkyria Chronicles
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is coming in hot sometime this year. We’re all looking forward to the next mainline installment after years and years of waiting for its return to consoles. It’s looking to be the true sequel to the first Valkyria Chronicles that many of us fell in love with.
We sat down with Kei Mikami, the producer of Valkyria Chronicles 4, at E3 2018 and had a lengthy chat about its development, its newly announced Steam version, and the future of the Valkyria series. Read what Mikami had to say in this group interview of Valkyria Chronicles 4.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is now out in Japan for PlayStation 4. It’s heading west to PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC in fall 2018.
RPG Site: Valkyria Chronicles 4 is very reminiscent of the first Valkyria Chronicles game but it’s been awhile since a new traditional Valkyria Chronicles game was built for consoles. What have you been able to do with the CANVAS Engine that was not possible in the past generation of consoles and handhelds?
Kei Mikami: There are two things that we were able to implement in VC4. First, we’ve been using the CANVAS shader since the first title but we haven’t been able to realize its full potential until we utilized the power of the PS4. Its beauty is more fully realized on the PS4 platform.
Second, we added the new unit called the Grenadier. This is something we wanted to incorporate in previous titles as well, so we were trying to do the best we could at the time but it didn’t make it. In VC4, this unit carries a sort of mortar around and uses a parabolic arch to line up missiles shot in the air to rain down on the enemy with explosions that inflict splash damage.
RPG Site: How have Grenadiers changed the philosophy of map design to accomodate for them? As I understand, Grenadiers can actually fire over obstacles too.
Kei Mikami: One of the main aspects in VC4 is that it’s very specific about what you can and cannot target when you’re attacking. That’s always been an inherent part of the map - if the sniper could go and shoot everything, it wouldn’t really make much sense. It’s the same for the Grenadier; there are specific parts of the map where the unit can and cannot shoot over.
RPG Site: In the first Valkyria Chronicles, you were able to recruit more characters at the main camp over the course of the game while in Valkyria Chronicles 3, additional characters would join you overtime. How does Valkyria Chronicles 4 approach the recruitment of new characters?
Kei Mikami: So in VC4, more characters join Claude (the main character) at certain points in the story. It’s similar to VC1 in that everyone has different Potentials - some characters are more comfortable being around specific people more than others. Characters will come into the game within each new chapter.
RPG Site: I have an important question. Can you tell us a little about the inclusion of Ragnarok the dog?
Kei Mikami: Ragnarok is actually a rare character that you only get to see at random basically. There’s a random 10% chance that he’ll come running ahead of the medic when a unit is in danger.
Ragnarok does have a certain relationship with the main characters. They see Ragnarok as a good boy - kind of like a funny little dog character, but Ragnarok actually sees himself as a level above humans.
RPG Site: One thing I liked in Valkyria Chronicles 3 is that I was able to change the class of any character. For example, it allowed me to make a Shocktrooper into a Scout, unlock an ability to travel farther under that Scout specialization, and then change back into a Shocktrooper retaining that ability to travel farther. Is there anything like that in Valkyria Chronicles 4?
Kei Mikami: That level of customization is actually not available in VC4 because of the sheer number of characters that join you - there’s about 50 of them. That depth of customization you speak of was possible because there was a more limited number of characters available to you, so the goal there was to have a system flexible enough to make up for the limited quantity.
Journalist: Of those characters that join you in Valkyria Chronicles 4, will there be any recognizable faces from other Sega properties? For instance, the first Valkyria Chronicles had Vyse and Aika from Skies of Arcadia.
Kei Mikami: All the characters in VC4 are all original characters; there’s no other characters that have appeared in other titles. This is because when we start involving characters from other series, we have to be careful because there’s other teams that have to get involved in making sure that certain character is “right” in their implementation into the game. Some of the team members involved may also no longer be with the company as well. We wanted to focus on the creation of all-new characters.
RPG Site: In Valkyria Chronicles 3, you could develop two different relationships depending on if you chose Riela or Imca, so it developed two different stories leading to two different endings. Does something like that exist in Valkyria Chronicles 4?
Kei Mikami: With VC4, there’s only one main relationship because we felt that having two separate stories would divide fans into debating which one is the true route or story. We wanted to avoid that kind of debate this time around with having one clear story.
RPG Site: There’s a lot more of a snow theme going on in Valkyria Chronicles 4 with a lot of snowy environments. It’s the first Valkyria Chronicles that delves deep into that territory. Can you share with us some of the interesting challenges you faced when developing these much more harsher environments?
Kei Mikami: There was a lot of trial and error with the snow-covered environments. In the beginning, we tried making it snow a little bit and then realized once it snows and someone runs on it, we need footprints. So we had to find a way to make sure that footprints were being left. Now that enemies left behind footprints, players can now strategize around the tracks they leave behind. They can spot if an enemy was in a specific spot previously during battle. From then on, it was all about taking into consideration on how changes in the environment can dynamically alter a player’s strategy.
It was also pretty difficult how hi-def we wanted to make the snow because it could take up a lot of a system’s resources - it could slow down the game if they were too detailed just with how snow forms, how snow moves, how defined snow crystals should be, and the footprints being made. There was a lot of balance and fine-tuning in making the snow look pretty but also functional so VC4 would remain running smooth.
RPG Site: With Valkyria Chronicles 1, there was a certain slow burn in its popularity. It performed decently at launch but at some point, it really exploded in popularity thanks to word-of-mouth. What do you think makes Valkyria Chronicles so special compared to other RPGs in the west?
Kei Mikami: There’s two parts to this - the first is that we feel that its systems are really unique. It’s just that you really need to play it to get how fun it is. To your point on how it expanded through word-of-mouth to gradually getting popular, it was thanks people trying the game and releasing it on multiple platforms - especially Steam. It did a great job making the game more accessible to a larger audience so even more people got a chance to finally play it.
The second point I wanted to mention is how unique this game’s world is. It’s surrounded by the concept of war, but it’s not realistic or gritty in its military depiction; it has more of a fantasy element to it. That’s not something you see in a lot of games so I think this mix makes it stand out.
RPG Site: There were some odd bugs with the Steam release of Valkyria Chronicles 1 concerning the high framerate. This led to the tank expending more fuel than it should and an increased rate of interception fire as you were running around. Will there be any consideration of that with the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4 on Steam to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Kei Mikami: Yes, we’re currently aware of the bugs you’ve mentioned. With the release of VC1 on Steam, it forced what was originally a 30fps game into 60fps so that led to some unintentional behavior. But for VC4, we’re actually not in a situation where we’re forced into a certain framerate at the start and making it into a higher framerate so there shouldn’t be any bugs like that in the Steam release of VC4.
RPG Site: It seems like you’re positioning Valkyria Chronicles 4 as the “rebirth” of the Valkyria franchise the way it was originally meant to be. What are your hopes going forward for the Valkyria series?
Kei Mikami: VC4 and VC1 are very close in nature. I consider VC4 to be a more evolved version of VC1 since it goes back to the basics. If we do have an opportunity to work on a Valkyria Chronicles 5, we’d like to start with VC4 as the foundation for it. We’d like to hone in on VC4’s systems and expand it much further. We want to focus on what’s good about its systems and make sure we improve upon that.