Valkyria Chronicles II Review «

 

OK, so I don’t know why they decided to take an awesome PlayStation 3 game and stick it on the PSP, but — apart from somewhat de-resolution-ified graphics — Valkyria Chronicles II brings back all the fantastic elements of the first game, and adds a helluva lot on top of that. PSP fans, rejoice: This is one of the best tactical role-playing games ever made, for any system. Again.

What makes VC2 so amazing is its fusion of multiple genres, while still remaining true to the tenets of a small-squad tactics game. Your basic activities consist, as you’d expect, of choosing a group of up to six individuals and/or vehicles, placing them on a tactical map, and then having at the enemy. Unlike most tactical games, VC2 doesn’t have hexes or squares; you move your characters around the tactical map just as you would in a third-person shooter, using the analog nub to travel in real-time. All characters have an action bar, and they can only move to an extent that is consummate with the action bar’s current charge. Once the bar runs dry, your characters are stuck where they’re standing, though they can still aim, crouch, hide in tall grass, throw grenades, and the like. This whole process is done via a first-person shooter interface, where you actually aim a reticule and pull a trigger. And what you aim at matters: Weak points, explosives, etc., are all viable targets. You’ll want to keep your FPS eyes peeled to notice these things as you play.

The game is really good about feeding you the information that you need to make important decisions, but it also locks you into a course of action with the ever-depleting action bar — requiring you to truly own your tactical choices. Since enemies return fire in real-time, if you choose to run one of your peeps way ahead of the rest of his or her formation, he or she is liable to get ventilated before you get the chance to aim and shoot. More importantly, characters with affinities for one another have a chance to fire together if one of them starts shooting (a la Fire Emblem), so it’s important to take advantage of formational maneuvering.

The maps are generally well-made, and the way the game rewards you for success cleverly pits different gaming styles against one another. To wit: The fewer turns it takes you to clear a map or complete a primary objective, the more bonus experience (and, consequently, levels) you earn. On the other hand, the more thorough you get when it comes to killing bad guys, the more gold and bonus items you earn (particularly if you kill said foes with the same unit over and over). The items are critical for upgrading your weaponry and armor between missions, which becomes increasingly necessary as the game unfolds. You can, of course, take a balanced approach during missions and try to get it all… but the way the game forces you to choose between methodical and balls-to-the-wall tactics in such an organic, subtle way is a truly impressive feat.

Between missions, though, you have the option to experience little story vignettes that tell you a bit about the individual characters, give you some insight into their situations, and occasionally open up new missions, items, and skills. These are very quirky and definitely aimed at a Japanese audience; much of the game’s plot takes place at a military academy that bears a striking resemblance to every Japanese high school you’ve ever seen in an anime. And it doesn’t help that you can’t switch the in-game voices to Japanese — both because the dialogue is translated in that awkward English-but-Japanese-diction way and because the voice-acting is pretty wack. Not Castlevania: Symphony of the Night wack, but wack-enough-to-call-attention-to-the-wackness wack.

But really, apart from the wooden voiceovers and the somewhat-blocky graphics, VC2 has everything going for it. The developers have even added multiplayer co-op and versus modes via ad hoc connections (i.e., the other player has to be in the same room as you with his own PSP and copy of the game). Some of the story missions actually require you to play co-op with another live meat sack — but don’t worry, these are all skippable if you (like me) have no real-life friends.

Basically, if you have $40 that isn’t going toward a drug addiction or loan shark debt, you should pretty much buy this game. Also, please be my friend. So lonely.

 

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