The postmodern steampunk anime express
Presented through a combination of character portraits, emoticons, and fully-voiced anime-style cutscenes, the storyline may not be breaking any boundaries, but its presentation and solid localization get the job done. Granted, most of us have seen these character archetypes and story devices before, but Valkyira Chronicles II remains charming. Even the optional, slice-of-life interactions between classmates at the academy are written well enough to sneak some truly enjoyable backstory into some of the side characters.
Both the academy and the combat system work well together within the game’s fiction. Set in a slightly steampunk-y version of WWII Europe, Valkyria Chronicles II maintains the unique style, artful design, and allure established by the first game. The aesthetic that is created through creative use of its gameplay mechanics and fiction helps to make Valkyria Chronicles II a wholly excellent experience.
Introduced in the original Valkyria Chronicles for the Playstation 3, the BLiTZ system frees players from the bounds of tile-based combat. As a well-tuned hybrid of turned-based and real-time tactical combat, Valkyria Chronicles II remains just as engaging as the original. Its method of streamlining movement with combat is perhaps the main reason why it succeeds in terms of pacing, precision, and overall aesthetic.
Not stuck on tiles
Without a doubt, combat is the meat of the gameplay. Battles scenarios are initially presented on high-level maps, where each friendly unit is represented by an icon corresponding to its character class. Once selected, the viewpoint seamlessly transitions into a third-person perspective of the chosen unit, allowing a limited amount of movement around the map. As the selected unit moves around the map, it can be susceptible to intercepting fire, depending on factors such as distance and line-of-sight. Valkyria Chronicles II builds upon its own mechanics as the story progresses, introducing dynamics such as area effects, vehicular combat, and situation-specific character bonuses named ‘potentials.’
The BLiTZ system feels as if it was built to evolve, and while the progressions made in Valkyria Chronicles II are quite welcome, it becomes apparent that the focus lies in transitioning the series to its new platform. For instance, the larger, more sprawling maps of the original have been scrapped in favor of a new system which segments the map into defined areas interlocked by checkpoints. The focus on capturing checkpoints and using them to float between the areas grants the player more opportunities to rotate new units into battle, launch pincer attacks on enemy camps, and call reinforcements.
There is no longer a wait time for newly deployed units, which effectively improves the flow of battle. Also new to Valkyria Chronicles II is the ability to withdraw a unit from anywhere on the map; this addition becomes especially important given the fact that only six units are deployable at a time. With such a low unit count, flexibility becomes increasingly important, and you’ll frequently need to get your entire squadron involved.
A little bit of downsizing
The tag-in-tag-out necessity that these changes have forced usually feels fluid and clean; sometimes, however, a sense of disjointedness fills the air, leaving the battlefield in disorganized state. With such a low unit count, there’s no longer an opportunity to set up small camp defenses or multi-unit operatives, effectively disseminating the scales of grandeur of the first game.
A few unpolished points still remain, mainly the lack of thoughtful and dynamic enemy AI. The bullish enemy troops show little regard for their own personal safety, often acting with a swarm-like mentality (even in the absence of an actual swarm). The AI is overly friendly to the overzealous, not often capitalizing on the player’s mistakes.
Nuances of ineptitude often creep to the forefront, such as the AI’s unwillingness to use multiple command points (CP) on a single unit to finish off a wounded soldier. The player is never forced to be excessively tactical or calculating due to witty AI. As difficulty increases, enemies become beefier and more numerous, but their behavior remains unchanged. The robotic behavior of the AI is far from a game-breaking detractor; the main story missions are still challenging by design, but an opportunity to overhaul the way enemies function was missed.
Class warfare, or, pimp my tank
Valkyria Chronicles II grants the ability to control the development of your team, unit by unit. Upgradable weapons, vehicle modifications, and a new, three-tiered branching class system ensure that no two players’ squadrons will turn out the same. The Scout, Shocktrooper, Engineer, and Lancer units return and are joined by the new short range, sandbag-fixing, mine-clearing, shield wielding Armored Techs.
Progression through the class system is based on the merits and accomplishments of an individual character, not the unit class as a whole. For example, a Shocktrooper can opt to become a Gunner ot a Veteran Shocktrooper. This individual focus on character building creates a whole new dynamic to the management of the squadron, garnering a more complete feeling of ownership over one’s army. This is likely important in the ad hoc multiplayer, but this feature was not tested for this review. (ed: I have no cool friends and the majority of my play time was done prior the release date.)
Collecting specific items, weapon plans, change-class requirements, and certificates through side missions tends to tip toward the grindy side of the spectrum, but the rewards are plentiful. With even more modifications available for the tank (which can also be converted into an APC), more weapons to distribute amongst your comrades, and a boatload of extra missions to tackle, Valkyria Chronicles II sports more engaging gameplay and customization options than its predecessor.