Valkyria Chronicles 2 Review
To this day, Valkyria Chronicles remains one of the most under-appreciated PlayStation 3 exclusives out there, regardless of how often the avid fans sing its praises. Some of those same fans were a little disappointed when the sequel came exclusively to the PSP, and it doesn’t help that the third installment also seems to be leaving PS3 owners out in the cold. That being said, strategy/RPG aficionados will most certainly want to dive into this sequel; it’s very much like the original, and although I’m not the biggest fan of the new school sim feature, Valkyria Chronicles 2 manages to retain much of its charm and intricate appeal. The depth is here, the storyline suffers only a bit due to extra emphasis on the aforementioned school feature, and above all else, that unique and oddly addicting gameplay is as good as ever. Honestly, if you were a super huge fan of the first title and you don’t yet own a PSP, VC2 might be enough of a reason to snag Sony’s portable.
As you might expect, we have to make allowances for the graphics, which obviously can’t be as accomplished or polished on the PSP. Even so, the cut-scenes are still super pretty and the in-game visuals are more than competent. I was actually surprised at how well detailed many of the characters were, the effects enhance the experience as always, and there’s only the anticipated lack of clarity and sharpness. If you can handle the latter and accept you’re playing this sequel on a lesser machine, you’ll be good to go. I do think there could’ve been more diversity in the environments, though, as there were three or four battles in a row where I began to get a little tired of my surroundings. I don’t remember this drawback being evident in the original on the PS3, which is why I mention it here. That aside, VC2 looks just fine and really, the story-driven scenes are pretty darn impressive for a handheld.
Concerning the sound, both the voice acting and soundtrack are definite highlights, although I might call the effects into question (due to an occasional lack of balance and intensity). Some of you probably know my favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy Tactics, so maybe I’m unfairly biased towards the musical talents of Hitoshi Sakimoto, but the quality and emotion of the tracks in VC2 is undeniable. I’m most thankful this one particular element of the first PS3 presentation carried over; it really gives the game that extra “oomph.” To me, the voiceovers in this sequel are solid, but a bit more hit-or-miss in comparison to the original. There are also less voices overall – again, to be expected – and like I just said, the effects don’t always do it for me. But man, the music is just so perfect and the complete sound package fits the style, theme, and structure of the game. So we definitely shouldn’t nitpick.
First and foremost, I want to make one thing very clear: if you liked Valkyria Chronicles, there’s little chance you won’t enjoy the sequel. The gameplay is almost exactly the same in terms of basic control and strategy; you still consume CP to move single or multiple units, you learn a large variety of new abilities and fresh tactics, and there’s that pseudo-third-person shooter view. It’s all here. Sega didn’t gimp VC2 just because they put it on the PSP, so don’t think for a second that we’ve received a watered-down, dissatisfying adventure. Personally, I’ve always loved the turn-based aspect of the game, which allows you to take as much time as you need to plan your strategy. The controls are straightforward and accessible, and the longer you play, the more depth you uncover. It’s actually quite mind-boggling, especially if you’re expecting some sort of strategy wannabe in a third-person shooter’s clothing.
Some of the uninitiated may get that impression from some of the screenshots and media. But the familiar know better. This being established, I should mention that Sega did make one significant concession to the PSP’s limited hardware: the battle sizes are smaller. There aren’t as many units involved in even the large-scale battles, and the battlegrounds are separated into different sections. You can also only deploy 6 units at a time this time around. Besides that, though, this is clearly Chronicles at its core. Everything works just about as well as it did before, and we even get a few new classes with which to experiment. The combination of massive amounts of micromanagement and the new school sim makes the game quite dynamic, even if I’ve long since grown tired of that distinctly Japanese schoolroom element. It was still cool to be able to control some of the school events by utilizing certain characters in battle; the two gameplay facets are tied together.
When VC2 was first announced, we found out the developers wanted to address the balancing issues some attentive fans spotted in the original. I’m not entirely sure Sega did everything they could do to fix the issue, though, because while there seems to be better balance on your side, the AI isn’t very bright. In fact, it can be downright stupid. Early on in the game, it might be understandable for the sake of difficulty purposes, but your foes never seem to get smarter. This drags the whole production down but thankfully, it can’t possibly destroy the inherent entertainment. Offering 35 unique classes and increasingly deeper upgrade systems for your weapons, there’s actually more to think about. If you’re a big fan of customization and micromanagement, you’ll probably lose hours to VC2; tweaking your characters and preparing for battle has never been so engrossing.
Then you’ve got the multiplayer, which lets you pick a leader and attack missions with up to four friends at your side. That’s a lot of fun – if you can find multiple people to team up with you – and Versus should be a big draw…although I still believe strategy/RPG is best played alone, I freely admit to wishing for a Versus mode in FFT, just to see how my team stacked up against human competitors. And it’s especially great for VC2 because, as I just mentioned, the AI isn’t exactly top-notch and it won’t be overly difficult to get the upper hand. Against a human opponent, however, all that changes. And even if multiplayer isn’t your bag, there’s no doubt that the single-player campaign will deliver the goods. How long might it take to complete over 100 different missions…? I have no idea, but I’m pretty damn certain you’ll get your money’s worth, and it’s nice to have the new multiplayer to add another dimension to the experience.
I’m still not sure about the whole school feature, the smaller battles may chafe, and I wasn’t as big a fan of the storyline. But even so, Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a more than worthy sequel: extra depth, more classes, more missions, more customization, the same gameplay the fans fell in love with back in 2008, and attractive multiplayer options make it a must for those who…well, you know who you are. If you never played the first game but own a PSP and consider yourself a strat/RPG follower, you’ll love it. I would dissuade those who have never sampled any sort of strategy game, but even if you’re just looking for something fresh and wildly in-depth, it’s right here. Just in a slightly smaller and more condensed package.
9/20/2010 Ben Dutka