Valkyria Chronicles 2

The RPG Valkyria Chronicles 2 is everything a PSP player could hope for but it has its flaws

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Pros

  • Deep strategic gameplay, hours of content, hidden characters from the first game

Cons

  • Fluffy schoolgirl drama, temperamental in-battle controls can get you killed, the musical engineer sub-class (who needs a tuba on the battlefield?!)

Bottom Line

Valkyria Chronicles 2 boasts the same brand of deep, strategic combat as it's console-based predecessor, but occasionally falls victim to a lacklustre narrative and temperamental control scheme.

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It's hard enough for sequels to live up to their predecessors, but Valkyria Chronicles 2 faces the extra responsibility of introducing the franchise to a new platform. The combination strategy/role-playing game attempts to repackage its unique blend of stylised artwork and gameplay complexity for PlayStation Portable, while adding new elements to the formula its PlayStation 3 parent made famous.

As a portable game, Valkyria Chronicles 2 is everything a PSP player could hope for, even if they didn't play the original. There are hours and hours of content and battles packaged into convenient chunks that don't eat up more than half an hour at the most. The tutorials, while long, are easily skippable and can be reviewed after the fact with an in-game system that also keeps track of cutscenes, in case you skipped those, too. You could, in fact, play through the whole game without ever watching a cutscene or paying any attention to the plot and have an enjoyable strategy-RPG experience.

And that's why Valkyria Chronicles 2 fails at being a sequel -- players can skip the whole story, and many might be sorely tempted to when they find out the game is basically a Japanese schoolgirl anime. Instead of picking up where the original game left off with the same squad in a neutral country surrounded by war, the game invents a civil war within the country that students in a military academy have to fight as part of their daily lessons. The game is broken up into months of the school year, and while there is a deeper plot going on, the vast majority of cutscenes and dialogue are all between student characters with various crushes, prejudices, and angst.

In this way, the game feels like it has a split personality. While in battle, it's all business: stats, risk calculations, capture-the-flag. Between battles, it's almost all fluff with overblown monologues and the occasional fully-drawn cutscene that looks straight out of an anime. Finding a balance between these two is difficult, especially if you're patient enough to sit through each cutscene and explore every orange exclamation point marked on the campus map instead of just the red ones that denote main story cutscenes. Or, you could just skip every cutscene and focus solely on the battles.

Players control a small squad of fighters that they can edit to include different classes, which are then deployed into a multi-tiered map controlled by the enemy. Players can activate the units by spending Command Points, which changes the game from a bird's-eye Command view into a third person Action view where the unit works like any character in a third-person action game. Each unit has specific abilities and a set amount of movement per Command Point, dependent on their class (Scout, Shocktrooper, etc.) and on a set of latent traits unique to that specific character that activate during battle for a stat buff or debuff.

If you played the original, you know all this -- but you'll be surprised to find that the class system is quite different. Instead of a static class set there are now several new classes in the line-up, each with sub-classes that you can evolve specific characters into depending on what rewards or resources they win during battle. For example, a Scout with the right number of collected scrap metals, plus several critical attacks to their name in various battles, can evolve into a Sniper. On the other hand, a melee-oriented Armored Soldier (a new class) can evolve into a Fencer with higher movement stats. Also, you can change vehicles throughout the game instead of remaining in the same tank for nearly every battle.

The biggest changes are the multi-area maps and the Morale system. At the start of each battle, players have to deploy different units into different areas of a map and then fight their way to gateway camps that connect the areas together. This raises Morale and unlocks more areas where the main objective waits, or areas where the rest of the squad waits for some kind of backup. Each area can only have a certain number of units deployed in it at a time and it takes a lot of Command Point juggling to place the right classes in the right areas on the map to complete the main objective. Losing camps or having players fall in combat decreases Morale. The lower the Morale meter, the worse a character performs -- shots miss, negative traits activate, and they forget to duck when the enemy shoots at them during the defense phase.

Valkyria Chronicles 2 isn't at all a bad game, but it is frustrating, both for newcomers that need to master the combat system and for fans that have to unlearn habits formed around the first game. What makes it truly frustrating, though, is the lack of depth to the story. To be fair, there are some interesting plot points about experimental research and artificial Valkyrur that aim for the depth of the original game's narrative. But with the schoolgirl whining and the anime tropes hogging the spotlight, it's hard to connect Valkyria Chronicles 2 to Valkyria Chronicles in a way that makes you want to finish the game -- or find out what happens in a possible Valkyria Chronicles 3.

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