Valkyria Chronicles 2, the Sequel of Disappointment
Valkyria Chronicles’ sequel is a very confused game, one which completely misunderstands what made the first game so good and instead tries to chase a market that didn’t even really care. Although problems start with its development, seeing as the first game on PS3 was good, but didn’t really sell, it was decided to cut costs by putting the PSP, it only really gets worse.Not surprisingly, a tactical turn-based game (with third person movement and first-person aiming, and this is the problem attempting to describe it) that relied on big battlefields and dozens of characters in play at once… just does not fit in the small box provided by the PSP. Actual small boxes, as the areas have been cut up into actual smaller zones which have linked deployment points between them. The headcount is even reduced from about twelve to a total of six, including the tank, but you can’t even put them all in one zone at a time. Which rather cuts off a bunch of options and more elaborate scenarios.
However, this isn’t really the biggest issue, technical limitations are far more minor than strange swerve in tone. The first game was very much about Not-World-War-II in Not-Europe and a small neutral country which is a strange cross between Poland and Switzerland, with a fondness for Dutch windmills for some reason, being invaded by “‘The Empire”. Yes, they’re actually called that, they’re even fighting “The Federation” for bonus points. Although the game puts a stress on the fact your squad is made up of very ordinary people as they are a trained militia rather than strictly military folk. The main face of the game, Welkin, is a university student wanting to be a teacher with a overwhelming fascination with nature of all kinds, whereas the second main character, Alicia, may be helping run the local town guard, but she’s working to be a baker. The rest of the squad have similarly rather mundane-sounding day-to-day lives. Overall, it bounces between generally light-hearted interactions between the main cast and taking sudden swerves into realities of war. The game even goes as far as to have a stand-in for the Jewish population and the discrimination they suffered during the time, which eventually actually gets to the subject of concentration camps, still making one of the few, if only, games that even come near talking about it. Sometimes its more anime-style leaning clash with the main plot, but mostly they accentuate each other.
Conversely, the sequel instead starts off after the first in the midst of a civil war, with teenager Avan being informed his brother has died in confidential circumstances (okaaay), is convinced he isn’t dead and loudly decides to join the same military academy to find out more (uh-oh). Turns up at the academy which turns out to be pretty every high-school setting ever made, (oh dear) and upon being assigned a class according to ability, ends up in Class G which is being mocked by a resident ‘mean girl’ from the highest-seeded Class A (really?) This causes Avan takes up the leader (sorry, ‘class chair’) role due to the mockery about how no-one else in G ever wants to do anything, and fairly soon it’s revealed there’s a class tournament settled by practice battles (because of course there is). The main trio of characters are also filled out by the cheerful and slighty-ditzy Cosette, and serious Zeri, who is constantly wondering how he got stuck with these people. It’s so incredibly formulaic for high-school dramatics it does nothing but make me sad. Most of the rest of the cast round out the setting, but there are a couple of standouts already, like the 30-year-old diplomatic ‘hostage’ from the Empire, none too happy about his situation and detached from everything else. It helps that at least it seems to go further into detail characterising the supporting cast with their own little arcs, something the first game did not really have as a consequence of having the possibly of said non-main characters permanently dying, an aspect completely absent from the sequel.
All of this combines together to give the impression of something designed to take advantage of existing popular formats and not do a whole lot of things unique to itself. Simply chasing a popular trend that’s often over-saturated. Completely missing the elements that made the first game what it was, because it didn’t sell enough. It just saddens me it could have been a whole lot more than it is, and instead tried to ‘play it safe’ much like many big-budget games have a tendency to all look similar. I could be pleasantly surprised, as I’m only several hours in, but it feels like I’m just seeing them check things off a list.
The trademark artstyle of the first game is also constrained here, simply as the hardware’s not there, even though it keeps some of the nice touches like the edges of the screen fading out into pencil-like drawings, it can’t quite manage it. Plus it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense anymore, as the first game was presented as a sort-of history book, tying together the watercolour and comic-book onomatopoeic visuals. This also means they’ve had to ditch the ‘talking-head’ style dialogue scenes which used their actual in-game models as they’re no longer up to scratch, instead using more traditional variants of static portraits. This also means all the cutscenes, rather than being pre-rendered from in-game stuff (the opening is a prime example of this) are brief fully animated ones instead. It’s a real shame, mostly as Valkyria Chronicles still looks great, as the recent PC port has shown, and it was released early into the PS3’s lifetime. I feel sorry for the localisation team when attempting to fit English names into the compact UI, with such word crimes like Shocktrpr frequently peppering the menus.
It’s not a complete disaster though, as well as expanding more on supporting characters, they’ve tuned up some of the balance issues the first had (scouts aren’t as good for bypassing everything), and reduced the range of everything to fit the cut-down arenas, which feels a bit strange at first; the fact grenades are now thrown a maximum of about six feet seems incredibly dangerous. The classes on offer have also been refined too, allowing class switching, and with more options split out, some to take advantage of the smaller scale (melee weapons!) or to reinforce niches (engineers are now the only who can heal, rather than just being a bit better at it, and can do so at range). Plus the single tank can be customised to different types, including an APC, which only takes up one your actions instead of two and can obviously carry multiple people at once to a destination. Only typical brash teenage hero Avan gives extra actions when deployed means you don’t feel as obligated to bring the whole main cast along to every battle, taking up slots; with the caveat you have to really dance around constantly deploying and pulling people off the map due to the unit cap.
It’s not like anything else quite plays like a Valkyria Chronicles game anyway, so I’ll still play it. It’s just disappointingly predictable and seemingly baffled by its predecessor’s qualities. Then we never got the third internationally due to the PSP market lying somewhere on the seabed by then.
I just hope it tries to do something with its very common appearances later down the line.