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(4.5/5) Short on Story, Big on Gameplay
on September 12, 2010
+Much of the gameplay in the first game has been expanded upon
+There are a ton of missions for you to tackle and enjoy
+A large cast of characters the game really tries to develop
+A very good soundtrack
+Despite being watered down for the PSP, the visuals are still pretty good
-The difficulty is, at times, unbalanced
-The Voice Acting can be annoying
-There isn't much attention put into the story, and it's probably because so much of the focus was put into the gameplay. It's very easy to be distracted from the story.
When the first Valkyria Chronicles came out in 2008 it crept into the gaming market quietly while other games were breaking down the door. As a result, Valkyria Chronicles didn't make a big splash at first. In spite of this, however, good critical reception and word of mouth helped Valkyria Chronicles gain a small cult following and become a successful game. Enough to allow for a sequel on the PSP. Valkyria Chronicles 2 is finally here. And while it isn't quite as good as the first in some respects, it's better in others.
The second game focuses on Avan, a young man who has just discovered that his brother Leon, who was attending a military academy, has been killed. But the messenger doesn't want to tell him why. So he decides to enroll in the academy himself to find out. As Avan is discovering what has happened to his brother there is a rebel faction rising in Gallia because the Archduchess has just revealed she's a Darcsen. And Darcsen's aren't looked upon fondly by the rebels. This is bad because it means there could be a civil war soon if these rebels aren't stopped. Gallia has enjoyed two years of piece since Squad 7 pushed the Empire out, and now it seems like the country is on the brink of civil war.
The good news about Valkyria Chronicles 2's story is that you can jump right in. You don't have to play or know the story of the first game in order to grasp Valkyria Chronicles 2. While it has an interesting premise it's unfortunate you're not likely to get sucked into Valkyria Chronicles 2's story. The story doesn't have the same kind of pull or intrigue of the first game. You're stuck in the shoes of Avan for the game, but it's hard to want to care that strongly about him or his squad. The game spends a lot of time reminding you that he and his squad are a bunch of slackers and it's just too easy to be distracted from the story. What Valkyria Chronicles 2 lacks in story it more than makes up for in gameplay. That is where Valkyria Chronicles 2 shines the most.
Unlike the first game, Valkyria Chronicles 2 isn't completely linear. Instead of following the story with each new mission, you're given a list to choose from. And the story missions aren't always available until you do certain key missions first. This explains just why story isn't that important in Valkyria Chronicles 2. There is too much to do outside of the story that it's easy to be distracted from it. When you have to do two or three missions before a story mission... but also have six or seven optional ones to choose from, it's easy to put the story on the back burner. Even then, you'll find that you can buy missions and that you can also do character specific missions. There's A LOT to do outside of the story this time around. Valkyria Chronicles 2 clearly wants to showcase its gameplay.
The mechanics of the gameplay haven't changed much from the first to the second. You'll send a series of units into the field. There is a 2D map where you can select any unit you want before it goes to a 3D view where you can freely roam so long as you have the AP in your AP gauge to do so. When you find an enemy you can stop and shoot. The closer you are the better your chances of hitting. Valkyria Chronicles 2 adds a couple of things to the mix of all this. The first and most obvious of which is that missions take place on more than one map for any given mission. You'll have to capture bases to go to other maps. Another addition it morale. As you play you'll notice that your morale increases whenever you do something good such as take down enemy troops or capture bases. Higher morale increases the chances of character potentials coming out. But it'll decrease if one of your bases gets captured or if your troops go down. If your morale drops to zero the mission ends, regardless of whether or not you have troops on the map. Unfortunately... that's the thing about morale, aside from that it doesn't really add a lot to the experience. In fact, it's quite easy to forget about it.
Each mission has its own kinds of objectives. Sometimes the objective is to take out all the units, sometimes it's to get to a marching point (Or escorting someone to a specific point) or to gather supplies. Sometimes it's to take out the supreme commander... but most times the mission is just to capture the enemy base and get it over with. There are also lesser bases to capture so that you can call in and dismiss units as you see fit. It's a fairly good system. And still manages to be unique because there are still not that many games (if any) like it.
There are other new things added to the game. You can still show you're strategic chops by sending in swift Scouts, machine gun toting Shocktroopers, tank blasting Lancers, health restoring Engineers and mine disarming technicians, but each character in each class can also upgrade to become something bigger by gaining specific credits in battle. Such as how many enemies you dispatch or something like that. If you do that, you can eventually use your credits to upgrade each class. For example, you can upgrade a Scout to being a Veteran Scout or you can make him a Sniper. From Veteran Scout or Sniper you can go up another tier. It adds a bit of variety and customization to the game. But there is also still a squad focus. Characters can raise in tiers of a specific class individually, but each class still levels up together. If you upgrade a scout to level 5, for instance... EVERY Scout (and any tier related to Scout) will be level 5. It actually works out rather well. There's a focus on characters as individuals (upgrading classes and unlocking potentials) and then there's as a class (upgrading all your Scouts levels together). The game works in such a way that you actually can afford to pick favorites if you like.
There are still a few hiccups with the enemy AI. Some missions CAN be tough... if there's a boss on the map. On the other hand in those missions where there aren't, the AI can be ridiculously stupid. You'll see enemy units run into... well... nothing and just stop for no reason at all. Enemies never take advantage of most of your own shortcomings. In moments when they have a chance to capture a base, for instance, they'll stop just outside of it. They'll end their turns prematurely. Normal grunts pose almost no threat because they rarely want to become one. That doesn't mean there is no challenge to Valkyria Chronicles 2. Some missions are quite challenging because there's so much thrown at you. In particular, missions with boss enemies (or other special units) can be challenging. If the grunts are too dumb, the boss enemies can sometimes be relentless and overpowered. They'll dodge attacks without hesitation, they do enormous damage and you'll find some of them can move all over the place. It gives Valkyria Chronicles 2 a challenge, though sometimes it makes the difficulty unbalanced. You'll go into really easy missions that are quickly followed by missions that can be relentless because there's a boss character on the map you didn't plan for. It can reduce some missions to trial and error.
There are SEVERAL characters in Valkyria Chronicles 2. You don't simply find nameless "Scouts". Every character actually has a name and a personality. And yes, their personality actually plays a part in battle. Every character has "potentials". Some of them do things for you like increase their attack or accuracy etc. They're not all positive, however. Sometimes you have characters whose potential is that they get nervous in battle and thus get scared and so their defense may drop or they may not like a certain environment. It's actually pretty cool stuff. Likewise, characters actually like other characters too, and if you send them in battle together there is a bigger chance that they'll help those nearby allies whenever they decide to attack an enemy.
The game also tries to develop them outside of battle. As you roam the academy there will be short snippets that are there for no other reason than to give you a better clue of who some of your characters are. It's nice that Valkyria Chronicles 2 wants to develop ALL of its cast, but there are just too many characters. The game gives you over twenty right off the bat. And more recruits keep coming in throughout the game. It's great that they have different personalities, but it also explains more why the story is in the background. That's part of what makes the story so empty. The game doesn't even opt to pay much attention to it, even when you have exchanges with other characters in it. For the most part some characters get some nice personality and development through it, but they're moments that almost never add anything to the main story. The story isn't bad, it just doesn't want to reach. Valkyria Chronicles 2 never wants to dig deep... even in moments when it can.
In terms of visuals, Valkyria Chronicles 2 is probably one of the best looking PSP games you can find. It's got some beautiful cel-shading. There are also a few anime cutscenes thrown in there. In moments that aren't anime you can see portraits of characters talking to one another. Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a good looking game and seems to know it. It obviously can't look as good as its older brother... but it keeps the art in tact. The voice acting is a bit of a different story. The voice acting isn't terrible, it can just be annoying. Especially in the moments where you hear a blurb. You might be reading something that Avan is saying, for example, but he'll strike a pose and say something like, "I'll do it!" or something like that. This happens throughout the entire game, actually. Where you'll be reading something but the characters will grumble or something or say a little blurb. At first it wasn't so bad. But from time to time it gets annoying (In particular it seems like most characters favorite word is "Yo!"). For the most part, at least, there's a lot of nicely written dialog in the exchanges. Although, the game opts to be a bit more juvenile and immature than the first game in some moments. This is what makes the game feel like a step backwards. The aspects of the first Valkyria Chronicles that made the story and the characters so interesting... has been left on the cutting room floor. There's hardly any drama or anything to ensure an attachment to much of the cast. You may come to like some characters personalities, but it's a shame that even the main characters don't do much to draw you into the story at hand.
It's actually not as bad as it sounds. It's a fun game to play. And I'm more than willing to deal with the short comings in storytelling so long as the game remains fun. You probably won't care much for the story that Valkyria Chronicles 2 tells, but the gameplay will keep you coming back time and time again. There's a lot to do and a ton of different missions across several different maps. The game sacrifices story to give you a more fun experience through this and it's something that gamers who value gameplay can accept. The game might be better with a better story, but I can't imagine the gameplay would be enhanced by a better story. If gameplay is the focus of Valkyria Chronicles 2, they've done a brilliant job.
Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a worthwhile PSP game. Probably one of the best you can play on the hand-held console. It's easy to be sucked into the gameplay even if it's hard to be sucked into the story. You can lose hours on the gameplay just because it's so much fun to play and because a lot of it still feels fresh despite the first game (not to mention there's just a lot to do). It may be a on a smaller scale, but the expansion in gameplay is enormous and that makes the game worthwhile.