Valkyria Chronicles 4: A Story about Friendship & Genocide Apologetics
Spoilers for the plot of VC4, which is fine by me since I don’t think you should play it.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a game about a fictional version of WWII on the continent of Europa. The Empire (i.e. Nazi Germany) launches an aggressive campaign westward to conquer Europa. The protagonist, Claude Wallace, fights the Empire as a Commander in the Atlantic Federation (NATO). Most of VC4 takes place aboard the Centurion, one of three titanic warships used in Operation Cygnus. The op’s objective is to lead these ships to the Empire’s capital and force a surrender.
The Empire is meant to represent Nazi Germany. Their Emperor is a fascist, megalomaniac dictator obsessed with the idea of a superior race, the Valkyria. The Valkyria are capable of harnessing Ragnite Ore to perform superhuman feats. The Empire subjects those suspected of Valkyrian descent to painful Ragnite experiments to turn them into unstoppable super-soldiers. They even create concentration camps of Europa’s minority race and work them to death mining Ragnite. By all accounts, it should be very very easy to get the player wanting them to lose and the Atlantic Federation to win.
By the end of the game, I did not want the Atlantic Federation to win. Instead, I wanted every single person in the Atlantic Federation, Claude and his squad included, to go to jail. The reason? They were attempting to kill a civilian child in order to annihilate an entire Empire city. In real life, this is called a war crime. For Valkyria Chronicles 4, it’s a “morally ambiguous situation,” and they want you to agree with that.
As mentioned before, the empire conducted experiments on Valkyrians to create super soldiers. The Atlantic Federation conducted similar experiments as well. They found that by exposing Valkyrians to higher concentrations of Ragnite, it greatly amplifies the energy produced. The Federation used this process to power the ships used in Operation Cygnus. Oh, and instead of using adults, the Federation used children, since they would need less food and could fit in tighter quarters. One such child is Angie, who powers the Centurion.
Now we get into the real shit. Sure, using children engines might be “ethically dubious,” but so long as the child’s safety is prioritized, then is it really that bad? Well, that hypothetical quandary won’t be a problem, since in order for the ships to run, the engine, and by extension the children, need to be aboard, putting them well into enemy lines. Two of the three ships are destroyed en route, the latter of which self-destructs when it’s Valkyrian ward is forced to use all her power at once. It is only because of that explosion that Brian, Claude’s Commanding Officer reveals that Operation Cygnus’s true objective. They don’t want to capture the capital, they want to destroy it.
Brian tells the player that Angie volunteered for the mission, and that on paper, she is a civilian contractor. She even signed a waiver stating her life “belonged to the military”. When Claude questions the legality of this waver, Brian tells him that it’s no different than the one he signed when he enlisted.
One thing Brian fails to mention is that hundreds of Valkyrian children were forcibly taken from their homes across Europa, all on the order of the Atlantic Federation for the sake of this mission. The experiments to prepare them for being in the engine caused great emotional and physical trauma, to the point where many of them committed suicide before the mission even began.
So, our heroes now know the sinister truth behind what the Atlantic Federation allowed, and what they intend to do. Their mission is to wipe out an entire city, full of civilians. And for all the civilians know, the Federation army is just there to occupy the capital, and so long as they don’t fight back, no harm will come to them. None of the party agrees with it, and one member is even willing to stage a mutiny to protect Angie. However, they ultimately decide against it and continue the mission. The reason? “Angie said it was okay.”
Throughout the game, the little girl charms everyone on the squad with her upbeat and kind nature. However, when she’s alone, the player learns that she harbors deep guilt. Seeing her friends risk their lives every day while she stays on the ship, she sees herself as useless, and desperately wants to be useful. And so, she re-enters the engine of her own volition.
In a letter to the squad, Angie tells them about the family. Back home, she has a dad, a sister, and two little brothers. The contract she signed said that the government would take care of them once she was gone. She goes on to say that, in truth, she wanted to stay with her family, but changed her mind when the Federation agents told her that a lot of other families might get hurt if she didn’t go. They told her it was her duty to help. After reading this, the squad decides that Angie is no different from them. They’re all fighting this war to protect what’s important to them.
This was the point where I got mad enough to want to write this damn article. At no point do any of the characters even try to think of a third option. To them, the only options are to “follow the mission to the letter” or “betray your homeland for the moral high-ground.” The only Federation soldier that does abandon the army out of principle ends up being a primary antagonist so hell-bent on saving the Valkyrian children that he’s willing to wipe out a totally unrelated town earlier in the game. Why? Because he’s the bad guy now, apparently.
Right before Claude detonates Angie, a siren calling for a ceasefire blares across the capital. This is good, I thought, the game has literally handed us that mythical third option. Angie would be saved, the innocent civilians would be saved, and a peaceful end to the war now possible. Surely, our heroes must be elated! Nope. Instead, Claude throws a fit. He eventually calms down and concludes that killing the capital civilians would be genocide. Of course, it would have been genocide regardless of the ceasefire, but the game conveniently brushes that aside.
Quick sidenote: in the first Valkyria Chronicles, there was a similar dilemma for the main characters, except instead of blowing up a comatose child, it was an adult soldier choosing for herself, and instead of committing genocide, she wanted to destroy a doomsday machine piloted by the Emperor himself. Even then, her squad talks her out of it, and kill the Emperor with the power of teamwork and friendship. It’s the complete opposite of VC4, which makes it all the more baffling to me.
Because this is still a video game, you still need a good final boss, so who will it be? Is it Brian, the CO who was complicit in the Federation’s schemes the entire time? Or how about Minerva, a fellow Commander who seeks revenge against the Empire for wiping out her entire squad? Or maybe the ceasefire was just a trick, and you really do need to fight the Empire? The final boss turns out to be the comically evil Empire scientist Belgar. He takes advantage of the ceasefire to hijack the Centurion, taking it out to sea, and begins the detonation sequence. His motivation? He’s the bad guy, and he thinks blowing up children is neat.
Ultimately, the squad saves Angie and gives the Centurion one final salute as it sinks into the sea. The public never learns of the Federation’s child bombs. Angie gets to go back home, and everything gets tied up in a nice little bow. What a wonderful ending that none of the protagonists deserve because they deserve to go to jail because they were all complicit in A WAR CRIME.
Now, as a young white male, I’m biologically compelled to play devil’s advocate and say that I understand what VC4 was trying to do. It’s going for the classic war is hell story, where the hero learns that there is no such thing as a truly “just” war, that maybe neither side is truly good. I think they were trying to revisit the choice from the first game, and evaluate the circumstances where sacrificing someone might be a necessary evil.
On the other hand, sometimes things are truly bad, such as using a child as a nuclear weapon to wipe out hundreds of unaware civilians. No matter the circumstances, that will always be an unnecessary evil, to put it lightly. It’s something that even the Empire (i.e. NAZIS) wouldn’t do. In order to keep the player from realizing that they’re roleplaying someone worse than Nazis, they have the player fight cartoonishly insane villains whose motivations don’t even make sense.
If, at the very least, the ending had the Atlantic Federation facing justice for abducting hundreds of children, experimenting on them, and using them in a war against their will, then I might not have been as mad. If VC4 had tried to revisit VC1’s ethical dilemma of kamikaze tactics in a meaningful way, I may have even been impressed. However, that’s not what happened. The reality is, Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a game that asks you to be a genocide apologist, and that pisses me off.