Valkyria Chronicles II
PlayStation Portable
Reviewed: 8/19/2010

Valkyria Chronicles stunned a good many with its fresh take on the tactical RPG subgenre. Valkyria Chronicles II takes the formula from the TV set to a handheld, holding onto the key components while making some tweaks to fit different system limitations. Despite initial concern, it ends up being a very good game.

The flesh of this sequel — its awesome battle system — is in many ways the same as the original game’s, and players of the first will feel right at home in combat. There are some considerable differences, perhaps the biggest being the use of seemingly magical teleportation. In the first Valkyria, calling reinforcements from an ally base would cost a command point, and then the player had to wait until next turn for the soldier to arrive. But in VC2, new members appear immediately. This means a player can take a sniper, cap someone, retire into base #1 in the bottom left corner of the map, then take that same guy to the base in the top right corner — all the damn way across the battlefield — just by selecting the base and calling that character. It’s not always available as such a huge exploit, but at times, it can almost feel like cheating — or in the reverse, like being beaten cheaply. Nonetheless, it remains crucial to acing some missions, so players will eventually have to make use of this nonsensical system. The battles are still plenty of fun though, and that’s what matters most.

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What might trip some players up is just how “video game” this…um…video game is at times. When dealing with realistically proportioned characters dealing (mostly) with realistic weapons, it’s easy to get caught up and say “Hey, that couldn’t happen!” or some such thing. So if throwing a grenade right next to a guy and seeing it do 1 HP of damage simply because he’s kneeling bothers you, be wary of Valkyria Chronicles II. Lying in grass and being next to sandbags helped in the original, but man, in this game, the defensive advantage or those positions is a lot bigger. But hey, at least anti-tanks don’t miss broad sides of barns anymore.

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The soldier level-up/progression system remains largely the same as the previous game’s; after a successful mission, the player gets experience points and can spend them on level-ups for one specific class. As players may remember, choosing to upgrade the storm troopers meant a level increase for every soldier of that class, and the cost would vary depending on the class in question and what level was being reached. The same is still true in the sequel, though there is now greater focus on individual progress as well. Each participating character gains badges after a successful mission, and after collecting the right ones, he/she can advance in class.

New classes add quite a bit to Valkyria Chronicles II, particularly in how they open up various new strategic possibilities. New variations of snipers, scouts, storm troopers, and medics spice things up, and the addition of melee units make it possible to come at any given battle a number of different ways, even moreso than in the original.

With all the many paths the player can take a character down, it’d be nice to have multiple save slots, but VC2 confines the player to one save slot per playthrough. This means, whenever a player selects “Save” from the menu, the game just plain starts saving, rather than offering a slot to choose. This can get kind of annoying for those who want to try a few experiments with their soldiers.

Time progression goes along by the month. Each new month comes with several “free” missions and a few other special battles, and at least one battle necessary for plot progression. The player’s trips around campus talking to schoolmates and being sure to hit up big red exclamation points will make story missions available. When the story battles are cleared, the next month will begin. Previous missions can however be redone an infinite number of times, allowing grindaholics to do their thing, or for players to retroactively grab the advancement items for an undeveloped character.

Make no mistake, Valkyria Chronicles II is a long game. Players are looking at anywhere from 80-200 hours, depending on how many side missions and what amount of grinding they do. There are also several optional interactions with the members of the cast, which individually are fairly short. After the sotry’s end, players will be met with a truckload of new missions, new characters, and other bonus content. The amount of hours one can put into this game is pretty scary, in a good way.

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About midway through, Valkyria Chronicles II runs into problems. The story spends about 50-60 hours being about teenagers at the military academy who constantly high-five, giggle, and display all the social awkwardness of high school kids; but then suddenly, it takes a turn for the serious. The problem is that this 180 is rather jarring, as the player has to that point spent dozens of hours (presumably over several days or weeks) viewing these characters as little more than slapstick anime kids. And that’s what they are — Japanese people don’t act like these characters, North Americans don’t act like these characters, Europeans don’t act like these characters, no one acts like these characters. VC2‘s cast is purely anime. They’ve got those special types of personalities found nowhere in the world, but instead the most cliche archetypes of Japanese animation. (I say this even as a guy who likes anime.) Yes, there’s military tension and battlefield drama the whole time, but it’s initially still lighthearted. So when it jumps from that into a serious war story — from 50 hours of blushing and giggling and trying to get a good peek at panties to suddenly someone screaming for a medic while people cough up blood and having to talk seriously about battle strategy, yeah, it’s a little odd. And no, it’s not done well like in good war movies; it’s just too polar of a difference, like if the Ninja Turtles suddenly got swept into Band of Brothers. So play this one for the gameplay vieiwng the story as merely a bonus, and you’ll be fine.

With a 2 in the title, comparisons will inevitably be made to the original, be they justified or not. The graphics, for example, are once again impressive, but right after seeing the incredible PS3 version of the Canvas engine, the PSP’s effort doesn’t hold up. It shouldn’t be expected to, but at least subconciously, a lot of people will make that comparison and perhaps wish this game was on PS3 again. Music is once again enjoyable, though there are less tracks of standout awesomeness this time around.

Amid the minor frustrations, VC2 is a worthy sequel. The battle system was the best part of the original, and while there are some differences, it’s still the star attraction in Valkyria Chronicles 2. It’s a fun game to play, and that’s what matters most.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Below Average
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Excellent
The Verdict: Very Good