Valkyria Chronicles II review
A worthy sequel, but a step back in many ways
Refreshing battle system.
Every playable character now has their own story.
Storyline is nowhere near as good as the original
Minimal cut-scenes and voice-acting
As I was watching the ending movie to the originalValkyria Chronicles on the PS3, I was a little sad it was over, but excited at the same time. The reason for this is because the sequel, Valkyria Chronicles 2 (VC:2) for the PSP had arrived a couple of days before. Looking over to my gaming cabinet, I could see a load of games piled up, gathering dust, screaming “PLAY ME”, but I didn’t care. The original was so good that I was instantly sold on the sequel. The question was; does the PSP exclusive sequel have the magic of the first? Yes, it’s addictive, and yes, it has improved in many areas, but that sparkle I had in my eyes when playing through the first was absent, and I’m about to tell you why.
The amazing story of the original was a huge surprise to me as I was not expecting anything even close to the level that it was. Because of this, I assumed VC:2 would follow suit. It didn’t. It wasn’t even close. In fact, I don’t even think it attempted to as the style of storytelling was completely different in the sense that it was very childish at times and followed typical Anime conventions (eg - a constant attempt at humour). The first game had a very serious tone but many of the scenes in VC:2 made it hard to take seriously. I put this down to the target audience being Japanese gamers (as the PSP is huge over there). With that said, it still had its moments and after getting through about half of the game, it did start to pick up a little.
The game is set in Galia a couple of years after the original game. A rebel group calling themselves the Gallian Revolutionary Army begin a civil war to rid the country of those of Darcsan decent. Due to the current weakness in the Galian military and the laws preventing them from fighting their own, the government are forced to deploy cadets from the military academy of Lanseal to defend the country against the rebel attacks. You will play the role of Avan Hardins, a 17 year old who enrolled at Lanseal after the death of his older brother, Leon. Avan believes there’s more surrounding Leons death than what he was told, and much of the game is focused on uncovering this mystery. The story is split into 12 months (Jan to Dec) and each main battle and plot point will take place at the conclusion of the month. As I said before, the first half of the year just seems so shallow and trivial that I actually wanted to slap the writers for destroying what was so awesome in the original. Fortunately, it picks up a little towards the end, but the story exactly what you’ll be playing this game for.
A big focus in VC:2 is searching through the list of cadets and choosing the right ones to fight in your squad, usually based on their class (Some classes include: Scouts [high movement, low attack], Troopers [Low movement, high attack] , Snipers [attack at a range] and Lancers [Tank destroyers] . In the original game, these characters had simply a name and a face. VC2 goes far beyond this and creates a back story for each character. After choosing to interact with a character a few times, (which is entirely optional) you’ll soon be presented with a side quest which will unlock a Potential (Battle ability) for said character. To be honest, many of these side stories are quite boring, but it is still a huge step forward from the simple ‘names on a list’ system present in the original. In addition to the new cast of characters, most of the main characters from the original make an appearance in one way or another. Add this to the plentiful amount of VC references and the feeling of nostalgia will hit in no time.
Now for the meat of the game: the combat system. Just like the original, the focus of each battle is to eliminate the enemy forces. The exact objective varies but it’s usually something along the lines of capturing their base camp, destroying their leader, or eliminating all the enemy troops. These small wars are very enjoyable and I must praise Sega in the way that they retained everything that was awesome about the original, while changing it up enough to ensure things never seem repetitive. It’s going to be very difficult to go into the mechanics so I’ll lay out the basics. There are usually between 2 and 4 areas per battle. Each area can only hold 5 allied troops, and there can only be a total of 6 troops on the field, anywhere, at once. To get to another area, you must capture a base camp that acts like a gateway. Once captured, you can deploy troops at the camp so long as there are 6 or less in battle at a time. Below is an image of Nichol (a Scout) firing at an enemy soldier who is guarding the rebels base camp.
The strategy required with this fantastic battle system is deploying and withdrawing troops at the correct time based on their class, health, remaining movement and potentials. This is always a lot of fun as there are many, many ways to complete each objective. I for one am in favour of scouting out my enemies’ then snipering them from a distance. Others may favour the luxury of blowing everything up with a tank. The possibilities are endless, which makes the battle system so damn enjoyable. However, there is a flaw, and that is the difficulty of the first 70% of the game. I’m going to bet that there are a few apes out there that could get an ‘A’ rank by simply smashing the PSP against the ground. Fortunately, VC2 does eventually provide a challenge and this is when the battle system truly shines.
One of the best things about the new class system is the ability to branch out into sub-classes. Each soldier is given an initial class that cannot be changed (with the exception of Avan). Rather than sticking with that single class the entire game, they can earn rewards from battle which enables them to upgrade their class into something more powerful, often with additional abilities. The image below shows Avan, who has just become a Sniper. From here, he could eventually go on to become an Anti-Tank Sniper or an Elite Sniper. These class progressions are entirely up to you and will be a result of how you wish to play the game. This system is fantastic and the only criticism I can give is that these rewards are random and sometimes getting the correct ones for the intended class upgrade can take a bit of time.
The graphics in VC2 are clean and crisp but it seems every presentational aspect of the original game has been reduced to cater to the PSPs hardware. This is particularly evident in the lack of cutscenes. Unfortunately, most of the story is told with popping up portraits on top of static backgrounds with short, story driven cutscenes appearing occasionally throughout the game. The voice acting has also been cut down a small number of scenes and replaced with short, emotion driven voice loops. For example, when Avan finds something funny, the “Ah HAH HAH HA ha” loop will play. There are only a select number of these for each character and I cannot stress how annoying they soon became. Listening to Avans irritating laugh seventeen times in a conversation almost resulted in a broken window and PSP. On the plus side, there’s a mute button.
Despite all the shortcomings mentioned above, VC:2 is a very enjoyable game that will be enjoyed by any fan of the Strategy RPG genre. While the magic created by the original may not be there anymore, it still manages to capture some of the great qualities that made the series so popular, and revitalise them into something new and completely refreshing. Valkyria Chronicles is an awesome series and I will certainly welcome the third into my gaming cabinet with open arms if it ever makes it out of Japan.