PSP Preview – Valkyria Chronicles 2

Valkyria Chronicles 2 is Sega’s PSP-based sequel to the PS3 strategy RPG that surprised a lot of people in 2008. This sequel has a heck of a lot in common with its predecessor, with most similarities lying in the battle system that proved so innovative the first time we saw it. Saying it’s the same game, however, would be a mistake.

Valkyria veterans will immediately feel at ease when handling the troops in combat. The flow is exactly the same as it was in Valkyria Chronicles, with the player and enemy alternating turns, taking actions by way of their Command Points. Special “Orders” are once again available, granting a wide range of buffs and advantages, coming at the cost of Command Points as well. While there are some tweaks to the classes, their roles haven’t changed much overall. Scouts are still the kings of movement range, stormtroopers are still the best for mid-range combat (especially defense), while snipers, supports, and anti-tanks are still must-have soldiers for their special purposes.

There are some combat differences, though. The biggest fundamental change is the seemingly magical teleportation between bases. In order to take the Valkyria style from PS3 to PSP, some changes had to be made, first among them being that the huge battlefields were now broken up into several smaller sections. This means a battle will usually take place over two or three battlefields — sometimes more. Depending on the battle, the player will either start with multiple bases spread throughout the maps, or with just one base on one map. In order to reach a map on which the player has no bases (and therefore can’t summon new fighters), claiming bases on the starting battlefield will change the color of a flag on another map.

This sounds confusing because it is, on paper. Somehow, claiming base in the corner of Area 1 can mean the blue team now also gains control of the base in the central part of Area 3, for example. Remember the rule about not being able to claim a base if there is an enemy in it? That still applies in Valkyria 2, but not for bases that end up being claimed by proxy in this newfangled way. So in the example above, if there are two enemies sitting right in that base in Area 3, that base is now blue, regardless, because its attached base was claimed on another map.

On the next turn, the red army can then claim the base right back, tug-of-war style, if there are no blue team members in their Area 3 location. Here’s where another big change to the battle system gets magnified: the taking of one base leading to the immediate wipeout and taking of another. In the first game, when players summoned reinforcements from bases, they wouldn’t show up until the next turn, which made logical sense. Now, as soon as the player spends that command point to bring in a new soldier, boom, he/she is right there and ready for action. This means a player can (going back to the previous example) claim that base in Area 1, then scroll to Area 3 from the map overview, select that base and summon a character to immediately, magically show up right there in the middle of a guarded base to drop some firepower and take it over. Sometimes it pretty much makes a mockery of what would normally be considered great base defense.

This is an odd quirk, to be sure, but it doesn’t ruin the game. Valkyria Chronicles 2 is definitely still fun; it just has some markedly different winning tactics than the original game. Once you accept the new teleportation physics, it’s easy to roll with.

A definite positive change is that VC2 doesn’t reward simple base rushing as much as the first game did. In some missions of the original, making a one-turn blitz toward the enemy’s base was the only way to get an S-rank in a mission. But in part 2, the turn limits seem a little bit more lenient, which allows the player to fight a smarter, more strategic fight without worrying too much about sacrificing precious experience points.

Fortunately for strategy RPG fans, VC2’s battles are, at the end of all these similarities and differences, very fun to play. The game is once again a highly strategic, interesting, enjoyable affair for those who like strategy RPGs.

New additions to the class system have given Valkyria 2 some more army customization options that its daddy. Class level-ups are done the same way as they were before, with the player spending EXP on a certain class, then every member of that class getting the level increase. The difference is that individuals can now make independent progress in the form of Advanced Classes. By participating in battles and performing well, individual characters will receive items. Collect the required amounts of certain ones, and the given character will be allowed to change to a different type of combatant, if the player wants him/her to.

Each class has its own development tree that players can guide a character down. There are two immediate branches, each of which also has two more path branching off of it. For example, the first two branches of a Support character’s growth tree are the options to either become a stronger (more HP, perhaps a little more accuracy, and so on) version of a Support trooper, or a music-playing buff machine. The first options for a Stormtrooper are to either become a simply stronger version of the same class, or to tote a more powerful machinegun that doesn’t allow direct fire, but instead sprays all over the friggin’ place. Also of note is that Snipers now fall under the Scout classification, available when a Scout earns a few badges in battle.

Rather than storybook presentation, the player’s central control center is now an overview of the Gallian Royal Military Academy this time around. Progress goes month by month, with each month containing various optional story bits as well as at east one mandatory scene and at least one story battle. The player can repeat the optional missions as many times as desired, without the month moving forward; only when the story mission is cleared will in-game time pass.

The story of Valkyria Chronicles 2 is far less serious than its elder’s (I say this having played through July). While the original told the story of a young man unexpectedly swept into the middle of a heated war, the second has the conflict taking a back seat to the goings on of distinctly anime teenagers. I say that because they are not acting Western, they are not even acting Japanese — they are acting in that particular way that is only ever seen in anime. I’m not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong with it, I’m just calling it what it is. There’s lots of slapstick, enough sweatdrops to hydrate the Sahara, and cheek-reddening socially awkward moments aplenty. It’s fine for what it is, but the contrast from its elder is noteworthy.

Like the game before it, the graphics in this game are a real standout, with the animation looking remarkable and the art direction being tops. It’s not as groundbreaking as the first game’s look by default, and obviously the PSP isn’t going to outshine the PS3 in a category like graphics, but as a PSP game, it looks quite good. Hitoshi Sakimoto is back on the soundtrack. As was said about the visuals, it’s not quite what was delivered in the first game, but it’s very solid on its own.

One thing that might upset gamers is Valkyria Chronicles 2’s slight lack of portability. The player can only make one save file per playthrough, and can’t save in mid battle either. This means that a player can’t make some certain level-up or customization decisions and create an alternate save file just in case things go awry. Since some battle can take quite a bit of time, no mid-battle saving is especially something of a downer. Considering that the PSP is also a music player, photo viewer, Skype phone, and internet browser, not being able to just switch functions in the middle of the game is sometimes inconvenient for gamers on the go. Making the switch might come at the cost of one’s well-executed strategy being erased. This will of course matter far less to those who don’t use the PSP’s other functions or who don’t often use it while traveling.

What’s important to reiterate about Valkyria Chronicles 2 is that it’s so far been a good, fun game. The battle system was the best part of the original, and while there are some differences, it’s still the star attraction in what is proving to be a second great strategy RPG in what will hopefully become a long-running series. The North American release date has not yet been specified, but Sega seems to be looking at a summer release.