Valkyria Chronicles 2 Review
Strategy RPGs are big business these days, especially with hardcore gamers. They are also the genre that I swear off most often. After Final Fantasy Tactics Advance I was never going to play another SRPG. After the amazing Crokett!! DS Japanese import I was never going to play another SRPG. After Disgaea, Jeanne D'Arc, Yggdra Union, Blue Dragon Plus … you get the idea. The genre always ends up eating up more of my gaming time than I would like, and I, like clockwork, claim "never again" after each one I finish. And so we come to Valkyria Chronicles 2 on Sony's PSP, the latest SRPG to make me into a total liar. With its refreshing twist on the SRPG battle system and crazy amount of content, I won't be cutting ties with the genre again for at least a couple more months.
I never got the chance to play the lauded Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3 (I was probably fresh off another SRPG and attempting to stay strong), but from what I've read and played, the lack of background didn't seem to matter much. I do get the impression, though, that if you've played the first, you'll get more out of the story than I might have. The whole tale in this sequel revolves around Avan Hardins, a rather unlikable slacker who joins a military academy following his hero brother's death. Once at the academy, he is placed in the class with the losers and misfits and wouldn't you know it, eventually they save the day. All this happens against the backdrop of an alternate reality Europe, with two fictional countries pitched in a long, brutal war. The story is a little "been there, done that," but you can really choose to either follow it closely or ignore it completely. Following it, through optional dialogue exchanges and missions, opens up its own rewards, but you can finish the whole game and barely know the soldiers at all. It's a weird design choice, but it works.
Why? Because in Valkyria Chronicles 2, the real draw is the gameplay. And this isn't like any other SRPG you've played before. Instead of moving your team around a grid and using menus to attack, defend, etc., you move – and attack – with all your units in real time. You place your units on a map at the start of the mission and select them one by one during your turn. Command points govern how many moves you can make per turn, and once they are gone your turn is up. It works a lot like other SRPGs in this way, and those who know the genre will feel right at home. The system changes from the familiar when specific units are selected; you get a Resident Evil 4-style behind-the-back view of your unit and you have full control over it as you run, crawl, shoot, lob grenades and capture bases. You'll also have full control over tanks and other vehicles of war as you unlock them. I can't put my finger on why, but this system tricked my brain into thinking I was playing a rather sophisticated action game, rather than a stodgy, numbers-based SRPG, and I fell in love with it. As a side note, things can be a little confusing when you first start playing, but by mission three or four, you'll be right in the swing of things.
Valkyria Chronicles 2's presentation is almost as impressive as the gameplay. The in-game graphics look fairly nice on the PSP, and the watercolor-esque style of the cutscenes make them something to look forward to between missions. The sound design is well done, too, with lots of voice work for cutscenes and during in-game battles. My only complaint is that a lot of the voice work during said battles seems to have little to do with what is going on. I routinely found instances where enemies announced one of my unit's presence despite them not being in my line of sight, or having units call for medics or ammo despite everyone being healthy and well-armed. Hearing this for the first time sent me into a panic, wondering which of my team members when in trouble. Once I learned to disregard the chatter, things fell back into place.
In the nearly 100 hours I've put into the game (I've finished the main story, working on side quest stuff and building all the weapons), the only real fault I've found in the game is that some of the battlefields get used over and over and over and over again. The first 30+ missions happen on the same three maps, and once you begin to feel comfortable with a map, victory is all but assured. When the scenery does change, its like coming up from underwater and gasping for breath. The game also suffers from what I call "Monster Hunter Syndrome," where there is so much to do and see that only the most dedicated fans will ever even come close to that perfect, 100% save file. Games usually get knocked for being too short, but there is such a thing as too long as well.
So that's it: I'm a liar. Valkyria Chronicles 2 sucked me back to the SRPG genre. The difference between this SRPG and most others is a true feeling of control and a steady stream of action packed moments to keep the player going. Note: Crokett!! DS is the only SRPG with more action than Valkyria Chronicles 2, with battles decided in a 2D, Smash Bros.-style throwdown. Even if you aren't into the genre, this game is worth a look. I'll stop short of saying it should be in every PSP owner's library, but it is one of the better games on the system and it impresses on almost every level. First Borderlands combined the FPS and the loot grab RPG, now Valkyria Chronicles 2 has combined a third person shooter and an SRPG. It really makes me wonder which two genres will be mixed next. With results this successful, I say bring on the music survival horror or the driving JRPG.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 89%.