Valkyria Chronicles II - Staff Review  

Valkyria Tactics Advance
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Valkyria Chronicles II
40-60 Hours
+ Gameplay is still addictive.
+ Addition of fencer class is awesome.
+ Much more content than the first game...
- ...too much of which is just filler.
- Avan's "Ha ha ha ha" laugh.
- Too much reuse of maps.
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   Once in a while a game comes along that does something different, something unique. It breaks the mold, creating something completely new in the process. That's exactly what happened with 2008's Valkyria Chronicles. Sega forged a unique take on the tactical RPG genre with this title, so it was no surprise that the company would want to continue the series in some way. Now two years later we're met with Valkyria Chronicles II on the PlayStation Portable, a game that refines a lot of what was wrong with the original. At the same time, unfortunately, it drops parts of what the first game did right.

   What the game does right is in the battle system. Combat in Valkyria Chronicles II is as solid as the original's, fusing turn-based combat with real-time movement in an engaging and active way. Maps are smaller and broken into pieces this time around, and each mission allows for more flexibility to complete. For those unfamiliar with the series, players can create a squad from scouts, shocktroopers, lancers, engineers, and the new armored tech class. There is also a tank available which can be modified into a powerful tank or a mobile armored personnel carrier. During each turn, players and opponents are each given command points (CP) used to order troops to move (tanks use up two CP) or to issue special orders. Each unit can move differing distances and have their own weapon ranges based on what class they are and what weapon is equipped. It's up to the player to decide how best to play, whether to push a lancer forward once more despite the reduced movement distance of a third turn or to bring a light-weight scout into a dangerous area. Lots of strategy is involved and it will keep players on their toes deciding what's best for the mission.

   Units are managed differently in Valkyria II. For each of the five unit types, there are seven subclasses available. For examples, scouts have an advanced scout path or a sniper path. Those characters who follow the sniper route can then become an advanced sniper with more firepower or an AT sniper capable of taking out armored vehicles. While unit groups level as a whole, it's the individual characters that are upgraded, but only when the correct requirements are met. Characters earn items called credits when used in combat and a specific combination of credits must be obtained in order to change class. The only issue with this is the randomness to which credits are earned, as there is no real successful method to getting a specific credit for a certain character. Sega must have figured this would encourage players to take the time to complete all of the optional missions to get these credits, but it ends up just adding a level of randomness that annoys more than anything.

Fencers rock. Fencers are the boss killers.

   The way the game progresses is also much different than before, as Valkyria Chronicles II is broken up into months instead of chapters. Each month offers a handful of filler missions, and a set number of those must be completed before the story mission becomes available. This padding wouldn't be so bad if the extra missions offered some sort of variety, but most recycle the same maps and objectives over and over with the only change being unit and enemy placements. Only monthly events open up new areas, though not all do. This more than doubles the length of the game from the original, jumping from around twenty-five hours in the first game to over forty hours this time around. Despite these issues, the gameplay is still as solid as ever and the quicker missions help create a "just one more mission" feeling that will keep most playing. Those who enjoyed the challenging, almost puzzle-like, battles from the first game will find this lacking in difficulty. It's a fine line to walk when balancing a game between being too tough or too easy and this one falls on the easy side.

   One forgettable part of the game is the story. While war is still a key theme, gone is the serious war story from the original. Now players take on the role of Avan Hardins, a youth who joined the military academy in order to find out what happened to his older soldier brother. The plot is much less mature than the prior game, focusing more around high school antics and childishness now, as the cast is much younger and less serious. The whole plot is fairly predictable and Avan's attitude toward most everything that happens is just silly, often being more concerned about food than war. Some of the other characters help to balance out his ridiculousness, but the cast just isn't that deep overall. The most interesting part of the story is the little side stories of Avan's squadmates. Each gives a little more insight into the character's reason for joining the army or what drives them, but not enough to really create a story to itself. In order to experience most of these side stories, players will have to complete a decent number of optional missions using those specific characters.

Tanky! I didn't use Tanky unless forced to.

   The visuals of Valkyria Chronicles II are very detailed, from the maps down to the squad characters. During dialogue scenes, most interaction takes place via character portraits instead of fully animated cut scenes. Those scenes still exist, but are much fewer than in the original. The artwork is still quite lovely though, so the only major detraction from the visual quality is the lack of variety. Enemy units are mostly recycled and too many maps are reused too often. That doesn't mean to discount the quality of the graphics, just that there could have been more variety. The audio on the other hand is a mix of good and bad. The soundtrack is decent, though also lacking in diversity. However, the voice acting is harder to judge. During the few fully voiced scenes, the acting is not horrible, but for some reason Sega thought it was a good idea to cram in a handful of audio snippets such as Avan annoyingly laughing or cheering triumphantly that repeat over and over. It gets old very quickly and should have been left out completely.

   Valkyria Chronicles II does gameplay right, but lacks polish in other areas. It's not a bad game by any means; in fact it is very addictive and fun to play, but is lacking in a few key areas. It's not really a problem with the series being moved to the PSP, as the portable system is more than capable of handling what the game throws at it. The problem is in the fundamental change in focus. The original was a straightforward affair with a strong narrative while this is more a mission focused, segmented game with a shallow plot trying to hold things together. What could have been a great portable follow-up is instead a game which attempts to carry itself on gameplay alone, but falls beneath the weight of Avan's annoying laughter.

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