Preview: Valkyria Chronicles II
With lengthy battles and no checkpoints, I've always felt the PS3-exclusive Valkyria Chronicles would be better suited for a handheld system. The ability to put the game to sleep without having to stick a battle out or quit in the middle (the cause of many tensions when on a schedule) is a necessary feature for a game that puts the player in battles that often take a minimum of one hour to complete -- not including retries. To my elation, the sequel will be released for the PSP, set for August 31st, and the demo was just put up on the PSN store. The developers claim it has the same gameplay as the first in the series with improvements, despite being put on a less powerful system, and from what the demo exhibits they're right.
Until recently, The Valkyria Chronicles is a name I'd heard plenty of times but knew little to nothing about. However, after completing the several-years-old PS3-exclusive I can confirm that it is a series to be reckoned with, boasting elements of strategy RPGs, third person shooters, and beautiful watercolor anime art rolled into a solid story.
The original Valkyria Chronicles is the story of the small nation of Gallia, who remained neutral in a brutal war between the Imperial Army and the Federation Alliance until the Imperial Army invaded Gallia for a quick claim to their rich soil full of ragnite, a precious power source that was decreasing in availability. This "chronicle" is told chapter by chapter in a book called "On the Gallian Front", about the small nation's clever and epic defeat of the Imperial giant, while discovering living decedents of a powerful race of Valkyria thought to be both mythological and extinct.
Two years after Gallia's victory, however, the nation has broken into civil war. In Valkyria Chronicles II, a group of dissatisfied aristocrats and like-minded soldiers and citizens calling themselves the Gallian Revolutionary Army fences off against the nation's army, still exhausted from its fight against the Imperial Army in the first game, in order to ethnically cleanse the Gallian nation of the Darcsen race. Because of a series of laws against forming a national militia to fight its own people, the government is forced to deploy military academy cadets to try to stop the Revolutionary Army. There are seeds of tensions brewing in the first game, but the sequel throws the player into the game after the war has already begun.
While Valkyria Chronicles II utilizes the same battle engine as the first, there is a noticeable difference in polygon count on the character models, as everyone looks skinnier and lumpier than the characters of the PS3 game -- though you'll quickly get used to it. Another minor gripe is that at first the gun shots from each attack felt more superficial, perhaps due to the lack of vibration, though I quickly got used to this, as well, and neither were a problem for more than ten minutes. The map still zooms in and out of a bird’s-eye-view of the field as in the first game, though the zoomed out map is less detailed and not 2.5D, so the height of an object can be hard to judge from that view. Non-battle character animations and cutscenes have also been reduced in graphics; instead of the in-game engine rendering the characters, they are animated in an anime art style, which works just as well.
As for battle itself, like the PS3 iteration units are chosen before being deployed, and are then moved by selecting their icon from the map. Each ground unit's turn uses one command point, or CP (tanks use two), and when all your CP is depleted your turn ends, though if you end your turn early unused CP carries over to your next turn. When a unit is chosen, you control them in third-person mode until their endurance is used up, nearby enemies automatically attacking as you run by. When you choose to shoot, throw a grenade, or heal, you are put into a turn-based mode where you can take your time and aim and any enemy shot at is given the chance to shoot back.
Your goal in battle is typically to either capture all enemy camps by clearing the camps of soldiers and taking their flags or by killing the enemy's leader, though some battles have more specific goals like moving safely to a key point on the map.
What's new here is the inclusion of a morale meter. Though not explained in the demo, its increase every time an enemy was defeated suggests it may increase your team’s stats, and perhaps decrease them as morale goes down, adding an extra challenge to battle. Some things were made easier in return, like being able to have any unit retreat for CP without it counting as a once-per-round Order, and putting any unit within one of your bases on standby for no cost. "Standby" or “retreat” takes a unit out of the battle, allowing a different unit to take his or her place. This is especially useful if a unit falls too far behind or is severely wounded and surrounded.
One major addition in the sequel is the inclusion of multiple maps per battle. The battle in the demo allows you to explore this feature, in which a "gateway camp" must be taken before being able to move to the next map. This is where "standby" is important, and why it's good it doesn't cost any CP. Once you've taken the gateway camp you must put some units on standby to free up your roster so you can deploy them to the connected gateway camp on the next map. The purpose is most likely more technical than strategic; in the PS3 title it would all be one continuous map with multiple camps, though the PSP probably cannot render as much without adding load times.
Valkyria Chronicles II plays relatively the same on PSP as the first in the series did on PS3. If you don't own a PS3 or don't want to take the time to play the original title, you could try to find the Japanese anime series and manga that were loosely based on the game. Then you'll be ready to take on the PSP sequel head on without missing any information or references. I am very much looking forward to this game, and I urge you to support it, too, as the Valkyria series is fun RPG to play with all the challenges and contemplation a strategy game requires.