Back to School in Gallia.
For the past week or so, once again, I found myself neglecting the big ol’ PS3 and Xbox360 in favor of Sony’s handheld. The game in my sights is Valkyria Chronicles 2, the sequel to the under-appreciated classic on PS3.
The game is set once again in that anime-fantasy version of post WW1 Europe, in the Ragnite-rich but tiny state of Gallia. It’s a couple of years since the end of the big war with the Empire portrayed in the first Valkyria Chronicles, and things seem fine on the macro-scale. Unfortunately while the scrapes with outside threats have quieted down, internal conflicts are beginning to sprout like evil weeds. A rebellion has erupted in the southern regions, threatening to spread out and engulf the whole country if the current reigning ruler doesn’t step down. With Gallia’s standing army still in tatters, the militia unable to act due to legal technicalities, it’s up to the armed academe of Gallia’s Lanseal Academy to protect the civilian populace and put down the extremists. And they have to do it in between Math classes at that!
Ah, Lanseal Academy. You just have to love a school with its own munitions factory.
Man, now that I’m thinking about it, how dumb is the Empire to get on the Gallians’ bad side- I mean, these guys are probably the Israelis of Europa… they send their kids to school to become killing machines… I would NOT want to take on a country where schoolkids are armed with rocket launchers and state-of-the-art main battle tanks, would you?
Anyway, players now have a new main character in the form of Avan Hardins, a country lad and somewhat exceptional underachiever who suddenly finds himself following the steps of his late brother. Soon enrolling in Lanseal, he finds himself at the head of the school’s most troublesome class and headed into some fierce skirmishes. Will the intellectually-challenged but always-optimistic Avan be able to mold his classmates into the deadliest company of warmongers Gallia has ever seen? That’s up to you!
Like the first game, VC2 is mainly about sending your squad into combat, which is a combination of turn-based maneuvering/positioning on a set number of battlezones, with actual shot-by-shot fighting being handled by you actually moving a soldier’s sights on a target and then letting ‘er rip. In addition to the Scouts, Shocktroopers and Lancers from the first game, you also get to use handy Engineers and rather hardy Armored Techs in your squads. As you fight and level up, your can unlock new skills and even advanced classes to switch into, such as deadly Snipers, close-combat Fencers or anti-personnel Mortarers, or even the dreaded musical Anthem Corps!
Fans of the first game will be happy to know that some familiar faces will show up in VC2, and not just in simple cameos.
In between missions, you’ll also interact with Avan’s classmates- an unruly lot to be sure, consisting of all the troublemakers in Lanseal. You have everything from bullies to prima donnas, closet otaku, control freaks, outcasts and the odd blue-blood. But the more you use them in combat and get to know these problem kids, the more they’ll open up and be all that they can be- all the better soldiers to defend Gallia’s freedom from the rebel menace.
It’s all told in some entertaining cutscenes with anime-style talking heads and rudimentarily-animated character art which will either endear you or have you pressing the Start button to skip ’em. Personally, I found these little interludes quite entertaining, and now I’m addicted to unlocking every single one of my classmates’ stories. Gotta befriend ’em all!
It’s not all high school drama of course- you also have to juggle training your troops (raising levels), managing rosters to see who goes into combat and even developing new weapons and equipment for both your soldiers and your company’s lone but formidable tank. Your vehicle is customizable, able to be configured from turret to body to paint jobs, to fit missions from search-and-destroy to escort services. What a fun place Lanseal seems to be- it’s like Blackwater the School!
The game looks great on PSP, though purists of the original game will surely take issue with the degradation of the ‘watercolor’ style from before. Regardless, the game looks fantastic, both in the art and the in-game assets. For me the light-hearted art style is fine, and the tone of the game, mixing often comedic high school antics with war and politics is perfect for anime fans. Platoon this ain’t, but then, could you really expect realistic, gritty warfare in a world with big-eyed anime soldier babes complete with school crushes? The replay value also seems to be high as there are tons of options and stuff to unlock in the course of the game (including characters from the previous game) which you may miss the first time around.
The game wouldn’t be complete without some silver-haired, overpowered Valkyria babe in there somewhere…
In any case already well over 30 hours into this game, which is a lot more than I can say for the original. This is already quite the hit, and the sequel, Valkyria Chronicles 3, is already on the way. Perhaps, once I finish this I may just go back and revisit the original PS3 VC. This is a title that’s perfect for taking along on your PSP for a nice, long, addicting and satisfying strategy RPG/school-and-war sim. HIGHLY recommended!