Released in 2008; Valkyria Chronicles was a rare Playstation 3 exclusive from Sega which, despite high hopes, took the much-contested mantle of ‘AGNP(Awesome Game Nobody Played) of the year’. There are plenty of logical reasons for its apparent lack of appeal on the shelves; it may have been the anime-style presentation or the fact that it presented potential buyers with something they weren’t familiar with. Needless to say it didn’t sell spectacularly well in the west, which makes it even more surprising that a sequel was commissioned, however much less surprising that it appears on the PSP. Clearly the downsizing of the franchise represents lower aims for the developers; one could then quite reasonably suggest that lower standards would follow; thankfully if you did suggest this you would be woefully wrong.
Valkyria Chronicles II is set two years after its predecessor and quite a few things have changed. For the uninitiated, the world of Valkyria Chronicles is the world of 1930’s Europe, war torn and fiercely divided. The glaring difference is that all the place names and specifics seem lost in a haze of editorial switches and alterations. The game takes place in 1935 in Europa; the East Europan Imperial Alliance (read: bad guys) is engaged in a war with the Atlantic Federation (read: good guys). In truth this pseudo-impressionist narrative feels wrong. Like buying non-branded merchandise in foreign countries, you can tell yourself that those Nikke trainers will do the job just the same but something just doesn’t feel right.
Luckily the action of Valkyria Chronicles II is much more concerned with the nation of Gallia. In fact the action picks up just as Gallia finds itself embroiled in a civil war between a band of rebels called the Darcsen and the Gallian people. Players adopt the role of Avan Hardings, a precocious young teen eager to join the Lanseal Military Academy. Spoiler alert; you join the academy! Upon arriving at Lanseal you will be charged with choosing your squad for an upcoming battle. One massive problem with this opening portion of the game is lack of sufficient information; players are bombarded with new characters to meet and greet but no statistics are put forward. The game clearly advocates forming personal attachments to characters who will eventually become part of your team but it’s meaningless when charged with choosing favourable battle partners. The whole experience can leave players new to the franchise non-plussed and, quite frankly, lost.
It is difficult to pin down precisely what category of game Valkyria Chronicles II falls under; what we are sure is that it takes some of the best elements of RPGs, Third-person shooters and Turn-based battles and blends them seamlessly into a single title. On the surface this may seem incredibly complex, however that couldn’t be further from the truth. When the battle commences you will be presented with an aerial view of the proceedings, players can then choose which troop to move by clicking on the character. The camera will then zoom to a third-person-shooter view and you will be in full control of where he or she moves. There is a catch however, as players can only move a predetermined distance before they must stop and perform an action, such as shooting an enemy or lobbing a grenade. It all feels tremendously natural and it’s one of the few elements of the game that won’t require much explanation, a few minutes and players will think they’ve been playing turn-based shooters in this way their whole lives.
Despite its ease of use it soon becomes apparent that a major problem with the game is the limited number of choices one has; or rather needs. Until the more difficult latter levels, battles pose no challenge to seasoned gamers and as the game progresses this approach of move to target and shoot target does tend to be all that is needed. This soon becomes very dull and it is only when the later levels push up the difficulty that real strategic guile is needed. I should stress that the options for tactical nuance are there, players have the option to use the variety of different classes for set purposes but it’s not needed to win so players generally won’t take up the option.
This rigidity in the gameplay is unfortunate as it can have the affect of negating all other actions on the field. For example, as you approach an enemy solider they will attempt to fire at you until you end your turn, wherin they will stop. This means that if you are feet from said enemy and end your turn to control another member of your squad, the enemy soldier will utterly ignore the man breathing down his neck until his turn. It’s a trivial gripe and doesn’t alter the enjoyment of the game but it does dilute the authenticity of the battle itself, which is less than welcome especially in a particularly tense battle.
Thankfully the game maintains satisfying RPG elements which add an extra level of enjoyment and a compelling reason to keep playing. After successfully completing missions, players are rewarded with experience points and gold. The amount given depends largely on the amount of damage you were able to do, the time you completed the mission within and any subsequent bonuses you managed to unlock during battle. Using these rewards soon becomes a crucial aspect of Valkyira Chronicles 2 as using experience can let you upgrade the stats of your squad and using gold can update the weaponry you wield in battle. As the game progresses and your squad develops it’s difficult not to get sucked into proceedings, pouring over stats and altering combat gear soon becomes as natural as the battle system.
When not slugging it out on the battlefield players will return to the Lanseal campus wherein you can choose from a variety of different options. Just like the introduction of a battle you’ll be presented with an aerial top view of the campus ground and you can choose from different departments of the academy to visit for various options. This particular aspect was an interesting choice and a nice departure from the over the top serious nature of the original game.
You can visit the briefing room when ready for battle; here you will also be able to choose your troops (choices include scouts, troopers, engineers, lancers and technicians) to join your squad. Each type has varying skills but there’s nothing new in this area, engineers are the healers of the game, while lancers can take out larger obstacles such as tanks and the rest are offensive roles, scouts preferring close up action and troopers long range.
The campus also allows players to visit Avan’s room to save or sleep. Sleeping, it turns out, is crucial in progressing the game as in each month of the school year you will have a number of special missions to take part in which upon completion progress the story onwards. Aside from these story-based missions players can progress their skills and experience by taking part in a vast array of training missions.
There is never a shortage of things to do in this title and when the main campaign clocks in at around 30 hours there can be little room for complaint but VC 2 doesn’t rest on its laurels. Players can purchase extra missions using money they’ve collected throughout the game or even unlock further battles by talking to classmates around campus.
Let’s talk graphics; aesthetically Valkyria Chronicles II can stand proudly alongside its PS3 predecessor. The in-game cut scenes are played out in an anime/manga style which fits the narrative of the game well and mirrors the source material. It’s clear that the graphical power of the PSP is utilised effectively as battles boast smooth textures and superb character animations, at times it is just like watching the television series.
The original Valkyria Chronicles was plagued by a truly dreadful menu system; players were bombarded with a torrent of different options, all of which were mind-numbingly frustrating to traverse. Thankfully the menus in this successor are much tidier, encompassing the same amount of options and information but in a way that allows players more flexible and manageable control of what they care about. In the same way the game has improved in the cut scene department. Whilst no better graphically, the player can now skip scenes if he/she wishes which is an important distinction considering the amount of cut scene footage there is in this game.
When bored of the rigmarole of battling alone players can enter the multiplayer modes. Thanks to the joys of online gaming players can team up with others and enjoy the experience together, or if that camaraderie isn’t your thing try out versus mode and deal some strategic pain to your pals one-on-one.
- Valkyria Chronicles II belies the size of its platform, it’s a game with tons of options and many hours of replay value
- The game looks beautiful, plays wonderfully and adds enough tweaks and new content to satisfy hardcore fans and new players alike
- Inconsistent difficulty can cause some major frustrations as the campaign unfolds
- Early portions of the game can be simplified to move, point and shoot thus diluting the tactical nuance of the game
The initial scepticism which I brought to the game was soon dashed away and very soon I found myself genuinely having fun, revelling in the decisions of battle. The mix of commander and foot soldier is an intriguing one, and a combination which is masterfully executed throughout the game. This is a game that benefits from time, as players dig deeper they will find that those simplistic battles change to complex and intricate set-pieces requiring tactics and intricate movements. It does take a while for the action to really heat up and draw in the player but if you stick with it you’ll find 50 plus hours of fun and a truly original gaming experience.