As mentioned in my other reviews, I recently became the proud owner of a PlayStation Vita. Although the handheld's software library, in Europe, is rather sparse I am not regretting my purchase one bit. I never owned a Sony PSP so the Vita has given me the opportunity of sampling some of the gems that were released on that system. One such example is Valkyria Chronicles 2, the follow-up to one of my favorite PlayStation 3 games. What a pity then that Sega decided to transfer the series from the popular PS3 to the more obscure PSP. The resultant drop in sales has denied European fans from ever seeing Valkyria Chronicles 3 on these shores.
The game is set in the fictional continent of Europa, which is modeled off World War II Europe. The tiny nation of Gallia lies sandwiched between two warring superpowers - The Imperial Alliance and The Federation (not to be confused with the organization employing Spock.) Although Gallia has remained neutral in the larger conflict it is presently suffering from a civil war as rebel forces strive to depose Archduchess Cordelia, after events from the original game revealed that her heritage links the monarch to the reviled Darcsen race. The game's story follows the exploits of Avan Hardins, a plucky cadet, who has recently enrolled at the Lanseal military academy. Over the course of a year it is up to our teenage protagonist to turn his class of misfits into a capable fighting force, maintain the peace in Southern Gallia as well as investigate the mysterious circumstances that surround the death of his older brother.
Like its predecessor, Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a strategy RPG that meshes turn based planning with real time combat. The player and opposing computer forces take it in turns to move their units, presented on a map, by exhausting the limited number of combat points at their disposal. One command point allows you to move a trooper, two points is the cost for moving your tank and there's also a range of orders (used to heal units, rescue downed soldiers etc) that can be activated by expending a variable amount of CP. When selecting a unit the player takes direct control of the soldier, which is accomplished by switching the action from a map to a third person view of the battlefield. From there you get to maneuver the trooper as he/she weaves out of enemy fire, takes cover behind sandbags and attacks the rebel forces baying for your blood.
One difference between Valkyria Chronicles 2 and the original is that levels are made up of several small maps as opposed to one big battlefield. In order to succeed budding generals will have to order their subordinates to capture enemy camps. This is required not only to stem the flow of enemy reinforcements that spawn from them, but also because camps act as gateways for moving troops from one mini-map to the other. As you would expect, the outcome of combat relies on strategy, specifically on selecting the best combination of soldiers to counter whatever threat you come up against. During a mission you are limited to using a squad of six soldiers who each have a specialized role. Scouts excel at traversing large distances thanks to their mobility, shock troopers are experts in mowing down enemies with their machine guns, lancers specialize in using bazookas to take out armored vehicles, engineers can heal allies and repair your tank whilst technicians can disarm mines and repair damaged fortifications.
Although sacrifices had to be made to condense Valkyria Chronicles for a handheld system, there are some areas in which the sequel surpasses the original. The main one would have to be the improved character customization that allows players to tweak the composition of their battalion to their liking. Coming away victorious from a battle rewards the player with experience points, materials and commendations. Experience points act as the currency used to increase the effectiveness of soldiers via training. Materials on the other hand are used at the Research and Development center to create new weapons and armaments for your squad's sole tank. The best new feature however is the introduction of commendations that can be traded away to promote units to an advanced class. Using this mechanic a scout can be converted into a deadly sniper, shock troopers can morph into commandoes who torch foes with flamethrowers and technicians can swap their oversized spanners for spears to become fencers who revel in close combat.
Graphically speaking, Valkyria Chronicles cannot compete with the first game, due to hardware limitations, but it is by no means an ugly game. The in-game character models are acceptable as are the level designs. Throughout the story you get to battle in varied locales including woods, cities, a mine, the desert and on a battleship. Each area has a distinct aesthetic design and unique obstacles for the player to overcome. Sadly the game is guilty of reusing maps and presenting them as new levels simply by altering the stage's mission objectives and changing the position of enemy forces. For the story segments the game uses still pictures and text boxes to bring to life the cut scenes that play in-between missions. Despite the storage restrictions of a UMD the creators were also able to squeeze in well-drawn anime clips that cover key story events.
If you enjoyed the original Valkyria Chronicles I can highly recommend the sequel. Even though it was released on a technically inferior system the gameplay's quality has not dipped. The only negatives I can think of is that the enemy A.I could be tighter as it sometimes makes odd decisions when moving its forces. Fans of the first game may also not care for the lighter tone of the second game's narrative. Avan is an energetic dimwit who some may find grating whilst the decision to set the story at an academy has seen the franchise's wartime tale turn into a high school comedy of sorts. Thankfully the story doesn't shy away from showing the grim ramifications of war, when it needs to, and if Avan isn't a hit with you it's still possible to find characters you like, as all the soldiers under your command have distinct personalities that are fleshed out in optional missions.
At the time of writing you can download Valkyria Chronicles for a mere £5.49 (or less if you are a PSN subscriber) which is tremendous value. It took me fifty hours to beat the campaign and there is plenty of post-game content left for me to tackle. It's a crying shame that the third game isn't going to be localized. Please Sega, have a heart and release VC3 in Europe. I bought all those awful Sonic games you put out, so you owe me one.
Although this may be one of the last games to come out on the psp it doesn't by any means suggest that it is lackluster for the sequel to the under-rated ps3 game valyrie chronicles has it all. Whether you like first person shooters,rpg's or strategy games this game tailors for them all and doesn't favor one element over the other to create what i believe is a instant classic that everyone should play. But i have to say honestly the story is far below par and you may find yourself skipping cut scenes to get to the next battlefield. The game play is a mixture of stat boosting rpg at the base camp after and before battles and the battle system is a thing of beauty you select up to 8 units ranging from riflemen to lancets(bazookas) and control them 1 at a time moving across a battlefield to either take all the checkpoints from the enemy or simply annihilate them. The graphics also stand out as they are all cell shaded which adds another depth to a game that excels at most other areas.