Valkyria Chronicles II

When Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles came out for the PlayStation 3 in 2008, it received numerous awards, consequentially prompting its developer to turn the game into a franchise. However, rather than continue the series on the PS3, Sega instead shifted it to the PlayStation Portable, irritating some fans. However, the sequel largely outclasses its predecessor in virtually every aspect.

Like its predecessor, Valkyria II features a tactical battle system combining turn-based and real-time elements. In between battles, the player performs functions such as upgrading equipment for characters at the Academy, and must go to the briefing room to take on a mission. Each month of the year during which the game occurs has a certain number of Free, Key, and Story missions, with the last two being necessary to advance the main storyline. The player can also purchase Paid Missions with money at the store (in addition to using experience points to acquire new Orders for use in battle), and unlock Character Missions by using certain characters enough times in battle.

Upon selecting a mission, the player receives an overview and a view of the multiple maps upon which the battle occurs (a change from the singular maps of its predecessor), and can set up units (and in most instances, one vehicle) from up to five classes in certain starting positions. The five base classes include Scouts, which specialize in good movement ranges and rifles for attack; Shocktroopers, with more limited movement but decent machine gun attack power; Lancers, specializing in anti-tank missiles; Engineers, specializing in replenishing ammunition and repairing tanks; and Techs, which carry large shields deflecting small ammunition and attack with giant wrenches, and can disarm mines.

As mentioned, the player can place a vehicle into battle alongside foot soldiers, with the player having greater customization of their vehicle in the sequel. Aside from light, medium, or heavy tanks, the player can choose to bring an APC that can transport units into battle, though these are more vulnerable than tanks. Players can customize their vehicle with an array of ammunition, parts that can perform functions such as breaking boulders and nullifying environmental factors such as fog and darkness, and so forth, with each of these having a certain amount of weight, and each vehicle having their own weight limit.

When placing units, players are unable to see ahead of time what kind of units the enemy has near the player’s starting points, although the player can easily retreat from battle with no rewards retained if the units they placed aren’t satisfactory. However, since units tend to start within the one of the player’s base camps, the player can have them retreat at the cost of no Command Points so that they can replace the units from their chosen party of up to twenty units (with a maximum on all maps of six units, and a maximum of five on each individual map).

The player and the enemy have separate turn sessions, with both having a certain amount of Command Points to expend to use Orders that can have effects such as revealing all enemy units on a single map, or take control of individual units, which costs one command point (though controlling the player’s vehicle costs more). Once the player has chosen a unit, the game shifts to an actual view of the battlefield, with the unit able to move around, although the player cannot undo movement, and enemies are able to fire at the unit while they’re moving around.

Once a character is close to an enemy unit, they’re able to perform actions such as firing their weapon, throwing a grenade, healing, or ending their turn. While a character is aiming their weapon, the game goes into targeting mode, and attacking an enemy’s head yields better results than shooting at their body. While characters have unlimited ammunition for certain weapons, there are some instances where they can run out, in which case an Engineer can approach them to restock their ammo. Once a player starts to deplete an enemy’s health, it’s usually a good idea to finish them off by the time the player runs out of Command Points, since both player and enemy units recover a fixed amount of health at the end of each turn.

As the player advances across the battlefield, they can capture enemy camps if they’re empty, with the player able to summon additional units from these camps, although foes can do the same with camps under their control. Some camps are linked to other camps on other maps, so in these cases capturing one of these connected camps means capturing the other. If the enemy captures one of the player’s base camps (indicated by a star), twenty turns pass, or the player’s morale reaches zero (a new feature, with this value increasing and decreasing respectively with player successes and failures) star, they automatically lose the battle, and they retain nothing from the fight.

If the enemy downs one of the player’s character, then they have three turns to rescue the character by sending a live unit to them, before the game hospitalizes them (a change from the permanent death system of the first game) for three battles; rescued units can fight again when a certain number of turns have passed. Once the player completes a mission’s objectives, they win the battle, of course, and receive a certain amount of experience and money depending upon how they performed. The player can use experience to level up classes (as opposed to individual characters), and money to purchase equipment upgrades for units.

New to the sequel are branching classes for each character, with the protagonist, Avan, able to change his base class freely. Depending upon actions performed in battle, characters receive special medals that the player can use to upgrade their class up to two times (for four total ending classes for each base class), with Scouts, for instance, able to become Snipers, and Techs able to become sword-wielding fencers. However, it can generally be a crapshoot as to how and which medals a character will obtain at the end of battle, but otherwise, combat is a step in the right direction from the first game.

Control is all-around solid, with easy menu navigation and a linear structure keeping players moving in the right direction and preventing them from ever losing themselves, and while in-battle saving is gone, the PlayStation Portable does have a built-in sleep mode. The only real negative points are the localization team’s contractions of some class names (although the localization doesn’t affect the story dialogue at all), and that the player has to quit the game and go to the load screen to view their playing time. Otherwise, a very user-friendly title.

The sequel’s story focuses on a civil war that erupts in Gallia stemming from a plot twist in the first game, with the rebel’s scapegoats being the Darcsens, the Jews of the Valkyria universe, and the students at a military academy helping to stop their intended ethnic cleansing. That the rebels are the enemy is a nice break from the plots where the renegades are typically trying to overthrow an unjust government, and the narrative is generally well-told, with the game providing incentive to use specific characters, which consequentially unlocks extra cutscenes and even character-specific battles. Overall, the story is a definite reason to play the game.

Hitoshi Sakimoto returns to compose the sequel’s music, which is pretty much on par with his other work, and never out of place. The voice acting is also surprisingly good, especially given Sega’s somewhat-checkered record in this area, with stock voice clips during certain cutscenes not fully-voiced that also sound good. Overall, an excellent-sounding game.

Being a sequel to a PlayStation 3 game on a system with inferior graphical capabilities, Valkyria II naturally had to make some sacrifices in the visual department, namely by dropping its predecessor’s cel-shaded graphics in favor of visuals neither realistic nor cartoony, with character models and the environs having blurry textures at times. However, the sequel largely compensates for this with plenty of static anime art narrating cutscenes that is very much aesthetically pleasing. In the end, the graphics are pretty much the only aspect in which the sequel is inferior to the original, but are by no means bad.

Finally, the sequel is a long game like its predecessor, especially if the player goes through every mission, with plenty of post-game and New Game+ content, to boot. Ultimately, Valkyria Chronicles II is a superb sequel that outclasses its predecessor in just about every aspect but its visuals. Lamentably, non-Japanese sales for the game and its predecessor haven’t exactly been great, causing Sega America to forgo a localization for the third game in the franchise for the PlayStation Portable, although Anglophone gamers can nonetheless rejoice in the first improved sequel.

The Good:
+Fun battle system and solid control.
+Excellent story and localization.
+Great music and graphics.

The Bad:
-No way to see enemy units before setting up player units.
-Obtaining medals for specific class changes can be difficult
-Graphics are a slight step down from the first game.

The Bottom Line:
A superb sequel, and one of the best, if not the best, strategy RPGs on the PlayStation Portable.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 10/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 40-60 Hours

Overall: 9.5/10

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