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Valkyria Chronicles 2 review: big strategy, war and drama in a handheld package


When fans of Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 heard the series would continue on PSP, it's likely they all asked the same question: How much will the game's epic feel be watered down to fit on a handheld? Valkyria Chronicles 2 may lose some scale in the battlefield gameplay due to the technological limitations of the PSP, but it still delivers a grand sense of everything else that fans expect. This isn't Valkyria "lite," it's Valkyria "light enough to take with you."

VC2's narrative doesn't realize it's supposed to be simplified for on-the-go gaming. There's a lot of story (both personal and political) going on in Valkyria Chronicles 2, as the country of Gallia deals with a bit of Nazi problem. Okay, so they aren't "Nazis" per se, but well-funded, aristocratic bigots from the south of the country set to ignite a Gallian civil war by scapegoating the minority population for the post-war economy. The Gallian militia (of which Squad 7 from the original game was a part) can't be deployed to fight fellow citizens, so members of the Lanseal Military Academy are pressed into service to defend the country.

Gallery: Valkyria Chronicles 2 | 17 Photos

The core concepts of VC1's BLiTZ battle system have been carried over here. The general flow of combat: players station units of various classes on the battlefield and select the units, which drops them into a third-person action mode. In action mode, characters have a limited amount of movement, and need to position themselves well (behind sandbags, on towers, grouped with other squadmates) and possibly launch an attack before the turn ends. VC2 features many, many more classes that consistently used squadmates can evolve into by completing missions.

Due to the tech limitations of the PSP, the biggest change in Valkyria Chronicles 2 is that the battlefield is chopped up into smaller maps. These are connected by "Gateway Camps" that the player's squad (limited to a half-dozen or so characters at any time) must secure. This is really the only facet of the core VC experience that wasn't improved by the sequel -- but, honestly, how does one get around the tech issue? Thankfully, the game takes the constraints and delivers an experience that's different from the first game, but still feels like there's a field of battle instead of just several narrow corridor maps. Actually, if there ever is a VC sequel on the PS3, it would be great to see this multi-tiered map concept implemented there.

This isn't Valkyria "lite," it's Valkyria "light enough to take with you."

One other semi-failing is how new gameplay mechanics are introduced ... or rather, aren't introduced. Sometimes the game will toss out symbols on the map or include bad guys that you don't know what to do with. Don't worry, the game will teach you -- though the lesson might come after you needed the info. Honestly, the instruction book was a big help (crazy, right!?), as was Sega's "Freshman Cadet Guide." Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a huge game and throws a lot at you. There ain't no shame in reading up.

A blessing for all, but especially fans of the original, is that Valkyria Chroncles 2 fixes the way the story is presented. Gone is the "read and watch all this!" from the first game -- so heavy-handed it became fodder for a Penny Arcade strip. This time players can watch a little story, go do a few side missions, watch a little more story, and go to the main mission. It's so much better.

Certainly not to be overlooked is the crucial role squadmates and all their eccentricities play in the feeling of a VC game. Much was learned from the first iteration, as this time the focus isn't just on five or six squad mates. VC2 is an ensemble piece with every member of Class G (the seventh letter of the alphabet, likely an homage to VC's Squad 7) playing a part. The game takes its school setting seriously: teen drama abounds, with issues of breast size, suicide, stalking, abuse, racism and a bunch of other problems. None of it clearly affects the gameplay, but it does deliver a lot of flavor that players of the first game had to fill in with their imaginations.

As I don't actually own a PSP (it's a loaner), I can't say that this is one of the best PSP games in years. What I can say is that the original Valkyria Chronicles was one of the freshest Japanese strategy role-playing games ever, and this handheld sequel delivers all it can, while fixing several issues from the original game along the way. Valkyria Chronicles 2 is smart, fun and -- although I do hope the series does make its way back to consoles someday -- gives fans more of what they want. Hopefully, it also gives new folks a reason to pick up the overlooked original.

This review is based on 15+ hours with a review copy provided by Sega. Valkyria Chronicles 2 is available at retail and on PSN.

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