In an alternate-reality, World War II was called the Second Europan War, and its tide was turned by a scrappy group of conscripted soldiers known as Squad 7. If you’ve ever listened to the critically-acclaimed Co-Opticast, you will have heard me talk up the original Valkyria Chronicles, which in my eyes was the finest Strategy RPG to be released since Final Fantasy Tactics popularized the genre. The sequel almost meets my absurdly high expectations, and brings along some sweet co-op action.
Rather than follow the further exploits of the original game’s Squad 7, Valkyria Chronicles 2 instead focuses on a young soldier named Avan as he experiences life at the Lanseal Military Academy. Gallia is in a period of civil war, and as a rule the Army cannot deploy to squash internal matters, so it’s up to the militia & academy students to do all of the fighting. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end up being nearly as touching as its predecessor’s, instead choosing to stock itself with your standard anime archetypes and spending approximately two thirds of the narrative focusing on life at the academy rather than the larger conflict at hand.
So while the story is slightly disappointing, the gameplay has been improved in many ways. The BLiTZ combat system of the original returns in all it’s glory, which made me a very happy man. You see, rather than move your units on a set grid, like in most games of this type, you take direct control over your units, third-person shooter style on their turn. They can move a set distance each turn and only stop to fire/use an ability once (unless they have an Potential that breaks that rule), and a good part of the strategy comes from being able to position yourself for a shot, then get out of site to avoid return fire.
The large maps of the original are gone, most likely due to the limitations of the PSP hardware. Instead, each mission is split up into several zones that you can deploy to & travel between by way of capturing enemy camps. It’s actually a really slick system and if properly exploited, you can rush the map and take down your opponent quickly. Maps tend to be reused from mission to mission, but the objectives usually change enough that it doesn’t matter. One of the problems in the original game was that you could deploy a really bad squad and lose quickly, but the new system allows for fast redeployment of your resources. You’re also not required to take your tank to each battle, which lets you save valuable command points to deploy it further into a mission to clean up the remnants or take on a boss.
Attacking near allies lets them join in. Co-Op killing is fun!
The biggest improvement the sequel offers is the ability to change/improve the class of your soldiers. Avan can take on any of the game’s core classes, so if you’re not set on him being a Scout, you can certainly change that. In addition, once your soldiers earn enough post-mission credits (kills, movement, support, etc.), they can change to several variations on their base class. Do you want to keep their normal skills, but make them an elite version with better physical attributes, or do you want to branch them down a separate tree, eschewing old abilities for new ones. Players missing the original’s Sniper can rest assured that they’re not gone- you just have to convert a Scout.
So how’s the co-op? You can bring up to three other players into any mission (after the tutorials end) and all play simultaneously. Moving one of your units near a co-op partners’ unit while they’re attacking will let you join in on the attack without taking up the action for your turn. With only two players, you can essentially get four attacks per turn. Imagine this with four players and you can see what kind of strategies may evolve. Additionally, you may give up some of your command points to other players if their squad is in a more advantageous position. The system works fairly well, but it’s possible to play a match without seeing your co-op partner (especially with only two players), and in order to join in on a co-op attack, you have to be positioned very specifically and the timing to join in is short.
As far as I’ve experienced, you can only join in on missions you have access to, so a more experienced player won’t be able to drag someone through a particularly late mission and give a disproportionate amount of experience to their partner. Progress is saved for all players, however, so I’d recommend polishing the tutorial missions off, then grouping up to take on the story. You’re also not restricted to one of each individual soldier, so you can run through a mission with four Avans if you’d like. It’s kind of lame that you have to set up a separate multiplayer session each time you start a mission, but with all of the things you can do at the academy between missions, it makes a little bit of sense.
If you liked the original game, and you also own a PSP, do yourself a favor and pick this game up. If you didn’t play the original, trust me when I say you don’t need to in order to enjoy Valkyria Chronicles 2. It has been a pretty good year for quality PSP titles, and this is no exception. I just hope the recently revealed third game in the series keeps the momentum going.