Given Valkyria Chronicles appeared on the PlayStation 3, many were surprised when Sega announced that the sequel would be instead appearing on the PlayStation Portable. There were fears that Sega would have to make concessions in order for the game to be of the same calibre. But after experiencing the final product, it's easy to say that those fears can be put to rest. Valkyria Chronicles II is a full sequel which offers plenty for fans of the first title.
This time around, players will spend most of their time at the Lanseal Military Academy following the exploits of the underachieving Class G and their class chair, Avan Harding. He only joined up because his brother, Leon Hardings mysteriously disappeared and despite some military jargon about "classified information" he wanted to find out for himself exactly what happened.
It's the classic rags to riches story, which those who played the first game will find all too familiar, as Avan manages to make Class G a formidable outfit. It's a lot less serious this time around though, as the story focusses on students, so the small cutscenes are generally based around humour. There are still some serious undertones though, especially with regards to Zeri, one of the main trio who happens to be a Darcsen. To mix things up, Class G also includes a member of the Imperial Army, the antagonists from the original game.
Gone is the comic-book style of story-telling, although it is still there in the form of the yearbook for those who're interested. Instead, much of the story is just told through cutscenes which are highlighted around the Lanseal Academy. These can either be much smaller, character specific cutscenes. But story cutscenes are also present and players can't progress until they've been seen. On the subject of the actual missions, in some ways, the game feels easier than the original. Obtaining the highest rank doesn't seem as challenging on the majority of missions, but on some missions it can be rather challenging. It suggests some slight pacing issues, but it's not a huge gripe.
The gameplay is still based around the BLiTZ combat system. Players select starting positions for their units before the mission starts, and this is where things differ slightly from the original. The PSP obviously isn't as powerful, but in order to not compromise, battles now take place across various areas, as opposed to one big map. Players can use a set amount of units across all areas, and a smaller amount of units per area. It means that man-management is much more important now, and taking bases (the way to cross different areas) is much more crucial for success.
Players can survey the area from a top-down view, and they can switch between the various areas using the shoulder buttons. Here, they can decide which units they want to use based on where the enemies are situated, and which enemies can be seen. A set amount of Command Points (CP) are assigned at the start of each turn, and using a unit takes one CP, or two CP for certain tank classes. Upon selecting a unit, the game then goes into a third-person perspective, and the game plays out in psuedo-real time. Enemy troops will fire upon the player until they chose an action.
The action will generally be an offensive move, such as using a grenade or lining up a shot, which can be done manually to improve success rates. While units can be used more than once per turn, their role will become more diminished with each usage. Their movement distance will decrease significantly, and certain weapons, such as grenades and lances have finite amounts of ammo (which can be restocked by an Engineer).
The system worked extremely well during the original and it works just as well during the sequel. The changes made to allow the game to work effectively on the PSP also, in some ways, enhance the experience, so players worried about how well the game would translate shouldn't be afraid. If anything, it actually makes the game much more tactical, because initial setup and timing are crucial to achieving success quickly and efficiently.
Many of the classes from the previous game have been retained, but some, like the Engineer, have been slightly modified, or in the case of the Sniper, removed as a starting class. They are now the only class that can heal other units and they have a unique weapon, but they can no longer remove landmines or repair cover. This role falls on the new class, the Armour Tech - a class which is melee based. It certainly spices things up a bit. Valkyria Chronicles II also includes class progressions on a much more personal and advanced level. It's still possible to level up all the characters as a whole through the acquiring of experience, but now individual characters can advance through class trees. For example, if you want to create a Sniper, you need to upgrade a Scout, but this will only affect one unit at a time.
Following the completion of a mission, players are awarded experience and DCT (for upgrading equipment), but they also obtain items which are needed to upgrade, and units who get kills gain commendations which they can use to further their class. It adds some depth to the systems from the original, and it's depth that's a welcome addition. It also encourages players to use the group as a whole, as without getting kills, they won't be able to upgrade these characters fully. Also, it's now possible to further customise your tank. No longer are you restricted to just modifying the attachments, now you can even change the tank shell and use APCs.
What's also impressive is that despite the downsized capabilities of the system, the game looks almost the same as it did on the PS3. Sure, the maps are smaller and there are less units on screen, but the art style has manage to translate effectively. The audio is also pretty good. However, many of the small cutscenes don't have full voice acting, but instead have small quips. Hearing Avan say "Let's Do It" over and over again can become a bit tedious.
What further impresses with Valkyria Chronicles II is firstly the length of the game, but also the mutiplayer modes. The single player campaign alone is more than enough to keep most players busy for a while, but the addition of co-operative play is a masterstroke. On paper, it sounds a bit strange, but actually seeing it in action is extremely impressive. The game still works in psuedo-real time, but all players control their own units in their own time. You can see allied troops running around and offer support, but also observe from the overhead map. It's very surreal after experiencing the game through the eyes of single-player for so long, but it should definitely be checked out - it adds a whole new dimension. The Versus mode is equally fun, although the sides can be quite uneven. Handicaps can be applied, but it's up to users to agree on a suitable handicap.
Valkyria Chronicles II is a sequel that truly thrives in its new environment on the PlayStation Portable. The story takes a slightly lighter tone, but the cast is still just as interesting and the gameplay seems perfectly honed for the system. With the addition of the multiplayer modes and character progression options, Valkyria Chronicles II easily sits as one of the stand-out titles on the PSP.