'Valkyria Chronicles 4' Aims to Go 'Back to the Roots of the Series'

War is hell. Yet, in the case of Sega's cult-fave tactical RPG series, Valkyria Chronicles, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's pretty darn gorgeous, too. Set in a fictionalized fantasy riff on Second World War Europe, Valkyria Chronicles 4 puts you in the shoes of Commander Claude Wallace of the Atlantic Federation, a soldier determined to bring down the Eastern Imperial Alliance. At first glance, the game's distinctive anime-meets-WWII watercolor art style is deceptively sweet and charming. Add an adorable cap-clad shiba inu medic to the mix, and it's tempting to assume the strategic combat on offer will be a walk in the park. That would be a mistake.

For all their superficial loveliness, the Valkyria Chronicles games demand complex strategy and a well-honed knack for changing tactics on the fly. Left your sniper out of cover when you finish your turn? She's toast. Attempted to plow straight toward your objective using a tank? You've left your flank exposed: game over.

This latest installment aims to enrich the series' hallmark combat by adding a new troop class and last-ditch heroics for units on the brink of death, as well as allowing the relationships between soldiers to exert greater influence on the battlefield. Newsweek spoke with Sega of America Associate Localization Producer Andrew Davis about the game's story, new enhancements to combat and the process of bringing the title to Western audiences.

The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

How does Valkyria Chronicles 4 build upon the previous installments of the series?

There hasn't been a mainline Valkyria Chronicles game on consoles since the original premiered in 2008, so getting back to the roots of the series was one of the explicit design goals—this is why the classes and map sizes reflect the first game rather than the handheld PSP sequels. However, there are a number of significant advances introduced in Valkyria Chronicles 4, not least of which is the new Grenadier class. The mortars these soldiers carry give you a new option for long-range attacks, but since the Empire has their own Grenadiers as well, you'll have to watch for their defensive fire. It's now a lot more difficult to, say, rush the enemy with a Scout when Grenadiers are raining explosions down on you from all sides.

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The charming aesthetics of "Valkyria Chronicles 4" belie the series' challenging, strategy-driven gameplay. Sega

How closely related is the story to the original Valkyria Chronicles? Six of the first game's characters are playable through DLC, but do the connections extend beyond that?

The new game's story takes place at the same time as the original Valkyria Chronicles, so it's the same war and the same continent, but set hundreds of miles apart. It's a self-contained story, so you don't need to know anything about the first game's story—all the required background info on the war is explained early on. There are a few moments in the storyline fans of the original will recognize as references to VC1 events, which helps tie the two games together. And of course, as you mentioned, there is an optional crossover DLC chapter where the VC4 heroes take a train back to Gallia and meet a familiar ragtag crew...

Ragnarok the shibe medic has been featured pretty prominently in the game's promotional materials—and he's so darn cute! How does he fit in with the rest of the cast, and is there a reason he has such a dramatic mythological name?

Isn't he such a good boy? (Yes, he is.) We created animal mascots for the older titles, but they ended up kind of weird and high-concept—a pig with wings, because why not? This time around, we went with something a little simpler. "Dogs are actually part of war in real life, so maybe just ... a dog?" It turned out that's just what we needed. Sometimes simple is best.Ragnarok, or "Rags" as the cast calls him, is a loyal friend to all of Squad E, and while he may not contribute much to the dialogue, he's present in a few key scenes in the story, especially those involving certain characters who've particularly bonded with him. His striking name is actually of a piece with a number of other names in the game drawn from Norse mythology, including a mysterious wolf called Fenrir.

Could you tell me a bit about the Brave system and how it impacts the gameplay experience?

The Brave system, or "Last Stand," as it's called in the English version, is another one of the new tweaks added to the BLiTZ battle system in Valkyria Chronicles 4. As in the previous games, if a unit's health is reduced to zero, they collapse in critical condition, and will permanently die if they're not quickly evacuated. However, now there's a certain random chance that they pull themselves to their feet for one last action, giving you a couple seconds to pick an option. You might "Stand Up" and take one last move, staggering closer to your comrades for easier evac. You might "Counterattack," taking revenge on your killer before you fall. Or you might "Inspire" your comrades with your sacrifice, giving a stat boost to the nearest comrade and an extra Command Point to your squad.It's a nicely dramatic way to take the edge off the loss of a unit—you're still doomed, but you at least get one last choice to make before you fall.

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Raz, one of your companions in "Valkyria Chronicles 4," takes on an Imperial Scout. Sega

Why is permadeath an important aspect of the game? Will the overall story change if particular characters die? Do character deaths affect the game's difficulty?

The colorful cast of characters is one of the key assets of the game. Sure, there's the central core group of old friends around whom the main story is centered, but beyond that, there are more than 40 Federation soldiers you can recruit into Squad E, each with a name, face, personality and life history. This actually has an effect on gameplay, as each character comes with their own personal Potentials (quirks) that will give them bonuses or debuffs in certain battle conditions.Because of this, you'll get to know your squad members as more than just statistics, and if you lose one and can't save them in time, you'll just have to mourn them and press onward. Sure, sometimes you can reload and try to save them, but your first time through the game we encourage you to accept the losses and move forward. This is, after all, the cost of war. Characters who are central to the main story cannot permanently die—that would be a bit too chaotic, I'm afraid—but side characters sometimes show up in story scenes, and if they're dead, the game properly reflects that by using a different character. Losing a character means you can no longer depend on their particular stats and perks, but there's a wide roster you can choose from instead, and even if you manage to send most of your squad to their deaths, the Federation will supply you with generic soldiers so that you can still complete the story.

How is localizing for voiceover dialogue different than text? For timed lines, are there instances where you'll sacrifice synchronicity to retain the spirit of the dialogue?

Oh my, yes, voiceover dialogue is a very different concern from unvoiced text. You might have something that looks brilliant on the page, and then when a voice actor stumbles their way through it, you realize it's an awkward jumble of words that needs a total rewrite. Timed lines, where you have to match the timing of the original Japanese, is an even harsher limitation. We generally have to keep strictly to the original timing, since if we go too short, it results in awkward silences, and if we go too long, we risk the characters talking over each other or themselves, which is worse!However, even if we have to rewrite the line, we strive to maintain the same type of drama and characterization as the original script. There's a certain art to it, gracefully padding out a line that's too short, or carving nonessential phrases out of a line that's too long, sometimes leaving certain information implied or moving it to a nearby line. Once you've learned how to do it, the constraints actually become a kind of liberation, as they make a lot of the decisions for you as the editor, letting you focus on the dialogue's key information while keeping everyone acting in character.

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Protagonist Claude and tank driver Miles talk during a cutscene in "Valkyria Chronicles 4." Sega

This game has a FIGS (French / Italian / German / Spanish) localization as well. Is that process handled by your team, or another team elsewhere? Does it happen simultaneously with the English localization or is it entirely separate?

Our office at Atlus USA / SEGA of America is only equipped to handle Japanese-to-English localization, so for anything beyond that, we rely on outside partners. In the case of Valkyria Chronicles 4, we enlisted our handsome friends at SEGA Europe to spearhead the FIGS localizations. These are based off the English scripts, simply because it's much, much easier to find capable translators from English into other European languages than it is to find professionals who specialize in translating directly from Japanese into those. However, this does affect the localization schedule, as you essentially have to plan for two full localization cycles one right after the other. This is one reason it can be challenging to launch a Japan-developed title simultaneously with the Japanese release date, and in this case, we're presenting our EFIGS version to the public about six months after the Japanese PS4 release.

Was anything about the game's story or characters' personalities tweaked in the English localization?

We didn't do anything to overtly alter the story or characterizations in the Western release, but some speech patterns did bend in a slightly different direction. Raz's Japanese voice actor gives him a stereotypical Japanese "juvenile delinquent" affect, while in the English version, his voice is less gravelly; instead, we got the crass nature of his personality across in the way he words things, often four letters at a time. Kai, too, has speech patterns in Japanese that are more commonly associated with men than women. English doesn't really have an explicit equivalent to this, but we kept her gruff, no-nonsense attitude.

Likewise, Imperial general and recurring foe Klaus Walz has a verbal tic we debated for a while. He's a notorious playboy and womanizer, and when he realizes Squad E's Claude Wallace is a worthy opponent, he pursues his military rival as he would a romantic conquest, calling him (in Japanified French) his "femme fatale." The French phrase wound up sounding awkward in English, and it didn't quite convey the excitement Klaus clearly feels about meeting a deserving challenger, so we ultimately localized this as "my soulmate." If you play with the Japanese voiceover (available on all platforms!), you can still hear the Japanese actor say "femme fatale!"

Valkyria Chronicles 4 comes to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam on Sept. 25.