Many fans, myself included, were worried that the transition to PSP from PS3 would be an awkward one for the well-loved original title. We needn’t have worried though as Sega have managed to get the PSP to really stand up to the challenge.
The story for this tactical JRPG once again takes places in Gallia a small country in fictional Europa, after the war that took place in the original. This time around the conflict isn’t based around an invasion, it’s a civil war. You don’t need to have finished or even played the first game to enjoy this one as the story is new and uses a different set of main characters. Fans of the original will enjoy some cameos and will most certainly settle into the combat much easier.
High School Horrors
You are based at a Gallian military academy for cadets. This basically translates as a High School setting, complete with one of gaming’s most irritating casts. It’s Valkyria Chronicles II’s one major flaw that seriously tested my patience throughout. All the typical high-school/young anime stereotypes are in with their annoying nature and sheer ‘just-go-and-f**ing-die-ness’ cranked up to the max. We have the class clown, the nerd, the rude diligent student, the klutz, the ditz, the hot one, the angry artist, nervous-types, opposite siblings, possible lesbians and more anime androgyny than you can shake a lancer at. The story of the actual war is minute compared to the amount of uninteresting, inane chatter going on which is a shame when you compare VCII to the previous game.
There are lots of conversations to trudge through, you can skip most of them, but then you’d lose out on any Potentials (more on those later) to be found. These scenes are ‘animated’ with illustrations that are moved around the screen and supported by text with the odd stock audio term thrown in. They’re really bland and a real let-down. Important scenes are given full voice-overs and proper action cut-scenes are given the full anime treatment. The battlefield animes are really well done, but are usually hours apart.
The Canvas engine that gave the original game its unique visual style has held up well on the PSP, it’s a shame it’s not used for cutscenes anymore though. In-game though, I never found myself lamenting the gorgeousness of the PS3 original.
So what about the game outside of the awful High School setting? Well, it’s pretty damn good. The premise is basically the same as last time. The battles take place on similar-looking maps in turn-based fashion with each side using up a limited number of Command Points (CP) to move around and attack. Once a soldier is selected they can move until their Action Points (AP) bar reaches zero, at any point they can stop and fire a few shots, once per CP. You need to try and make sure you don’t let players get stuck out in the open.
However, you can leave them in wait for the opposition during their turn. Any enemy soldier running across one of your character’s sightlines in-range will suffer a volley of fire. Naturally this works both ways, so every move needs to be planned carefully by studying the map and checking your surroundings for hidden enemies.
Things start to get difficult with the introduction of tanks (don’t worry, you get one too), armoured soldiers and prototype soldiers with Valkyria technology. When lining up a shot you will be told how many shots you will take (some may miss) and how many hits you need for a kill. It’s a bad feeling when the kill number says something nasty like 38 and you’ve got five shots. Planning is everything.
Sometimes it can feel a little tough as the briefing maps don’t tell you where the enemy is positioned and you end up with the wrong type of troops for the task ahead. You can’t bring up the selection map for a better view when you’re moving a character around either. There is a mini-map in the corner, but it’s a bit too small.
A new addition to the series is the linked maps. In most missions you need to capture bases with tunnels that link to another map. Soldiers and vehicles can be transferred between bases for CPs if they’re out in the field or for free if they’re at a base. Many missions will give you the option of splitting your six-man team into small groups for tactical insertions.
The missions themselves get hard pretty quick, but the difficulty slope feels a bit more relaxed than the original game. You might have to put a bit of grinding in though if you want to attempt a mission with your team levelled up to the recommended rating. It’s well worth taking on a mission a couple of notches above your level though just for the excitement and pure elation you’ll feel if you pull off a victory. You can take an absolute pounding but sometimes all it takes is one Lancer to sneak behind a commander for you to snatch a sudden surprise victory.
A lot of missions re-use the same maps which can get a bit on the boring side, but you will at least become a tactical master of them. A little variation is added with mist and night settings and building bridges and ladders with a tank upgrade to open up a few handy shortcuts for some killer flanking moves. The missions can feel a bit samey too as the objectives usually involve capturing bases, defending bases, killing everyone or killing a commander. It’s a game were the main focus is on how you’re creating a perfect team and learning your strategies.
All missions are rated, with experience points and DCT (money) awarded for finishing in a small number of turns and killing specific targets. Not losing team members gets you a bonus too. Unlike the last game, KO’d players that aren’t rescued in time will only be out for a few missions rather than permanently. Most missions can be replayed for extra XP or more importantly, to try and get a clean sweep of A ratings.
Experience points are spent at the academy drill grounds where you level up disciplines rather than individuals. Scouts can move great distances and have rifles, Shocktroopers have machines guns, Lancers take on tanks, Engineers act as medics and repairers, and the new Armour Techs are slow movers but do heavy melee damage.
Later on in the game you’re finally told what all the random items you’re rewarded with are for. Items are awarded to individual characters for their actions in battle; these can eventually be used to upgrade their class. For example a Scout can upgrade to a Veteran (better stats for everything) or a Sniper. These two also branch off into two separate classes, the scout ones being, Elite and Heavy Scout, the later giving then a rifle grenade but reduced mobility.
The introduction of class branching to the series really allows you to create a squad with more depth than before. The only downside is there will be a large number of your squad that are never going to get used as they’ll fall behind the useful ones.
The Potentials system returns and is a bit easier than last time to check on when selecting your team. These potentials are like perks or even quirks that affect different characters. Some will perform better or worse around certain people, others prefer night missions, or like the countryside, or are easily distracted by others and so on. Some of these Potentials can be added manually after you unlock them by plodding through the awful school scenes mentioned earlier. The negative ones can be really annoying; such as your best Scout hating other women and another one randomly refusing to fire her weapon. This is one of the parts of the game that demands your constant attention and requires you to really know your squad. You can’t play this game casually as your team chemistry would be all over the place.
The depth just keeps coming with this sequel as other item rewards can later be used to give Classes ‘Temp Coatings,’ temporary boosts for one mission. You choose a Class then combine two items which will create a booster. You’re given no indication of what the result will be until you try it and there are loads. Valkyria Chronicles has a loyal following with plenty of fansites and Facebook pages set up. I imagine these Temp Coatings will be greatly discussed and shared for a long time.
The series now features local multiplayer with competitive and co-op matches available with the co-op ones featuring their own Potentials and double attack patterns. Shame it’s not online proper though as PSP’s aren’t exactly everywhere in the UK. Still, not bad for a PSP game, not bad at all.
- The PSP handles the battles and graphics well
- Huge depth to tailor your battlefield experience
- Can be tough, but rewardingly so
- One of the worst gaming casts ever
- Cheap conversation illustrations
- Story takes a backseat
The Short Version: A big success for the little PSP. Despite the annoying High School cast list that deserve nothing better than being burnt alive in a maths shed, the depth offered by levelling up, changing classes, Potentials and Coatings make the battle preparation a success. The tactical action on the battlefield utterly dominates the console landscapes once again with the new additions such as linked maps and Class variations making this a sequel the fans deserve and one that allows newcomers to approach with confidence.