A Refinement and a Misstep
Valkyria Chronicles II is enjoyable, as long as you are not opposed to skipping story. Don’t go through what I did. Ignore the completionist in you and just press start. The long winded dialogue that spews out of anime cliché’s is agonizing. Every time the character’s mouths would finally shut and I’d start a new mission, my sleepy eyes would widen and I’d find a smile back on my face.
Valkyria Chronicles II, for the PSP, is set in an alternate 19II0’s Europe and takes place two years after the original. The 19II0’s time period is used to ground the technology, not for its historical settings. This allows the game to utilize guns and short range artillery for combat. Avan, the main protagonist, joins the military academy in order to find out how his brother died while training at the same academy. The cover-up of his brother’s death quickly escapes Avan’s attention and most of his time is spent helping his fellow classmates through issues of adolescence and overt route character arcs.
Avan is a spunky go-getter trying to live up to his brother’s high reputation. His best friends are a brooding loner with a tragic past and a clumsy girl with a heart of gold. From the start, you know where these characters are going. There is a deeper plot about civil war brought on by racial discrimination but that’s only addressed in between learning how to talk to girls, practicing dance routines, and teaching the school bully a lesson. These adolescent antics are emphasized much more than larger issues of race, war, and violence the game occasionally addresses. The story seems perfectly fine with playing it safe and using bland templates for every single character in the game. The anime cutscenes that told the majority of the story in the original are still present but come few and far between. In its place are drawn stills of various characters accompanied by text with the occasional voiceover. If you are willing to looks past the talkative story, or ignore it completely, a rewarding and challenging combat system awaits.
Valkyria Chronicles II is a third-person turn-based tactical RPG with moments of real-time action. It’s a blended smoothie of genres. You control a small group of individualized characters. Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 presented the player with large single mapped battlefields. Valkyria Chronicles II breaks up levels into several connected sections. This was most likely due to memory constraints brought on by the PSP. These maps are strung together by camps. Camps allow units to be brought in, retreat, and move between maps. Capturing camps not only helps you shuffle around squad members, it also stops the enemy from calling in reinforcements.
Until a unit is selected, the game is paused. Upon selecting a unit, the game begins to move in real-time. All other units during this time cannot move, but enemy units are able to fire at the player’s selected unit. Each squad member has their own movement bar that depicts how many steps they can take in a single turn. When the player decides to fire at an enemy, they enter an aiming mode. While aiming, the opposing units stop firing. The size of the aiming reticule, or their accuracy, is dependent on the unit’s class and weapon. Dice rolls determine where within the reticule the attack will hit. Units like snipers have a small aiming reticule, but they only fire one shot. Gunners, on the other hand, have low accuracy but fire multiple times. I was bothered in games like Fallout 3 because of the prominence of dice rolls in an FPS. Valkyria Chronicles II avoids the disconnect brought on by aiming reticules and dice rolls because of its already abstract turn-based nature and by presetting the player with where the shots may land.
When attacking, nearby allied units will provide support fire. This gives incentive to keep your squad close together. If the opposing unit doesn’t fall they get to fire back. Each round, both sides are allotted medals that dictate the number of turns they can take. You can use all of your metals on one unit. Due to the diverse unit classes, it is unlikely that a single unit could defeat the opposing squad.
Classes include sniper, scout, engineer, and several others. Each of these classes have upgradable equipment that when purchased, carries over to the majority of the squad. Unlike the original, individual squad members can also be upgraded to advance versions of their class. There are 35 class variations available.
The real time element makes planning attacks crucial. A character can be killed just trying to move into position. You are given a large roster of squad mates for reserves. While you can only have less than a dozen units on the battlefield at once, it is easy to retreat and call in new squad members. Failure isn’t decided on a single unit’s death. Completing a mission without a squad member being sent to the hospital is rare. I even found myself sacrificing certain members for tactical victories.
The layout of multiple sectioned battles does have its drawbacks. I found myself starting missions only to instantly quit them upon finding out what enemy units had been deployed. Having to split up nine characters into several groups leaves little room for misstep. If you wind up facing heavy artillery without any anti-tank weaponry, you are better off starting over.
Mission structure revolves around Avan’s time at the academy. Each month, you will be required to complete a certain number of missions. Once this quota is met, you will gain access to a main story quest that will progress the game into the next month. This allows the player to pick and choose missions and skip the ones that are giving them a hard time. Sadly, some missions are unlocked by seeking out side quests where the worst and most talkative parts of the game’s narrative reside. Remember that with the press of the start button, all that pain goes away. There is a bit of a level grid, due to its high difficulty, but most failed missions are a result of poor tactics, not unit imbalances.
I've spent much of this review just explaining the combat of Valkyria Chronicles II. There is a lot to it. It’s rare to get a turn-based RPG that doesn’t play it safe. Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 took more chances than the sequel, but II still feels ambitious despite its safe story and middling graphics. The game even has a large multiplayer element that I unfortunately couldn’t find anyone else to try it with. The game requires planed out strategies but uses the real-time element to get players to think on their feet. The story fails and the game would have been better off without it, but the combat makes up for that mistake. So, unless the start button on your PSP is broken, Valkyria Chronicles II shouldn’t be missed.