Good: Interesting execution of turn based gaming, rewards tactics, RPG elements.
Bad: Anime cut scenes can be off putting, it is only for PSP.
Verdict: The best tactical game available on a non-PC platform, including consoles.
Buy it?: Yes, if you own a PSP.
The portable game systems have a number of games that promise tactical play, but fail to deliver any meaningful challenge. I don’t want to name names, but I find that some of the tactical RPGs available for the handhelds leave me cold. They tend to be heavy on the RPG and light on the tactics, which doesn’t suit my grognard side. Any tactical game where maneuver is not important is not worth my time.
Valkyria Chronicles 2 is a breath of fresh air in the stale tactical RPG market. The original, released on the PS3, was excellent. This sequel may actually improve on the original, despite its move to the less powerful PSP. For those who are unfamiliar, the Valkyria Chronicles games tell the story of a war between nations in Europa. The war, with obvious parallels to the Second World War, embroils the small but feisty nation of Gallia. In Valkryia Chronicles 2 you play Avan Hardins, a young student at Gallia’s elite Lanseal Military Academy. As the game progresses, you engage in missions that occur both on the Academy’s training fields and in the larger outside world.
When you begin a mission in Valkyria Chonicles 2, you first select your squad. You can choose between fast and observant scouts, heavily armed shock troopers, anti tank infantry (lancers), engineers (who serve as medics and repair vehicles), the shield carrying armored soldiers (who disarm mines), and your customizable tank (which can also function as an APC). Generally you take out a squad of six soldiers, and you can swap out squad members during the mission. You have one or more maps on which you can enter, and are generally required to capture points that allow your units to move to the other maps, where the enemy’s main strength is located. Missions vary in objective, but the most common appears to be capture a specific enemy point, followed by kill a specific enemy leader.
What is unique about Valkyria Chronicles is the way you move your units. Each mission opens with a command screen, where you units are displayed as icons on a map. You have a set number of command points each turn, which you can spend to activate a squad member. When you activate a unit, the view shifts to a third-person view of the unit, and you control their movement. When you want to fire at an enemy, the game pauses and you get to line up your shot. This is not a twitch issue – you just pick the location that you want to target. Headshots do more damage (and rear shots on tanks), but as far as I can tell there is no other directional damage. You can also take cover, hide in the grass, climb to higher ground, etc.
Tactics actually matter in Valkyria Chronicles 2, unlike some other “tactical” RPGs. Force composition is extremely important. Taking out a tank without using a lancer or your own tank is incredibly difficult. Waltzing into a minefield without any armored infantry to clear it can be deadly. Beyond force composition, cover and positioning are also very important. Cover dramatically reduces the number of times you will be hit by enemy fire, as one would expect, and is vital to survive in some encounters. Positioning is also important. Flanking enemies allows you to get a bonus to accuracy and damage. Having multiple squad members near each other allows them to pool their fire against enemies. Placing squad members intelligently along fire lanes allows them to have effective opportunity fire. All of these considerations go into planning a good turn.
Stringing together a good set of turns is important, because at the end of each mission you are graded on your performance. Speed and casualties seem to be the prime determinate of scoring. A good score gets you experience that you can distribute among your squad (on a by-class basis), money, and parts. The money and parts are used for R&D, to develop new weapons and armor for your squads and new components for your tanks. Defeating certain elite enemy units can get you schematics that you can use to create special weapons for your squads.
Valkyria Chronicles 2 is an enjoyable light tactical game. If (and this is a big if) you are a grognard who also happens to own a PSP, this can give you at least a little wargaming fix while on the go. I wouldn’t recommend buying a PSP for the purpose of playing Valkyria Chronicles 2, but if you have one already, it is definitely worth a purchase. If you have a PS3, you should also consider the original Valkyria Chronicles, which is an excellent game in its own right.
I purchased and downloaded my copy of Valkyria Chronicles 2 from the Playstation Store. I spent between 10 and 15 hours playing the game prior to this review. I have not completed the game at this time, but intend to do so. This review, as promised contained no terrible fruit similes or metaphors.