If I had one overriding thought heading into Valkyria Chronicles II, it was a thought about the choice of platform the game, the PSP. The original Valkyria Chronicles was something of a cult classic on the PS3, and tons of fans were sorely disappointed to hear that the series was moving to Sony's handheld, which is popular in Japan but has always struggled against the might of the DS in the West.
If there's one thing I need to get out of the way right off the bat, then, it's the clear expression that the move to PSP hasn't damaged Valkyria Chronicles beyond all recognition, and while the team at Sega have had to make some sacrifices to fit the action down onto the smaller PSP screen, the game is still very reminiscent and just as fun as its predecessor.
The key way that Sega has managed to slim the massive scale of Valkyria Chronicles down onto a handheld comes in the form of how the maps are presented. Rather than one massive gigantic open-world battlefield, you'll be provided with a battlefield that is split into several chunks which can be traversed throughout the mission.
This change sounds a lot worse than it is, as I found switching between the various fronts on the battlefield to be largely non-intrusive and simple to handle. In many ways, it adds a new way to 'measure' your success in battle, as you can now see exactly how many 'segments' of the battlefield you safely control.
One thing the game is sometimes guilty of is recycling assets from one area of the map over to another, but even that is something that is mostly forgivable considering the platform switch. A lot of effort has clearly been put into keeping everything varied, and not all those efforts succeed but its good enough so that the repetition doesn't become utterly distracting.
In terms of gameplay, the way combat plays out is very similar to the PS3 title; you'll start out on the command map, which shows you an overview of the entire battlefield, and then you head onto the battlefield with characters to fight from the third-person perspective. Valkyria Chronicles was an interesting mix of strategy war games, third person action games and RPGs, and that tradition is carried on here.
While Valkyria Chronicles 2 slims down the number of characters you can bring into battle, the combat itself is also slimmed down for the PSP, made less grand in scale. This time it's more about smaller skirmishes rather than massive battles, and that's something that can sometimes be disappointing but mostly fits the tone of this game, which has also changed significantly.
While Valkyria Chronicles was a fairly serious story that shoved anime stereotypes into this weird version of World War I, Valkyria Chronicles II now puts the classic "high school" archetypes into a similar situation, complete with school uniforms and all.
It's symbolic of an overall change, as even the art style has shifted towards traditional anime tropes a little more thanks to the reduced power of the PSP, but at the same time this still looks and feels like it's cut from the same cloth as the first game, and I didn't find myself as disappointed with the story or the narrative as I expected to be.
The squad that you're given is, as mentioned above, full of anime stereotypes, but I felt that they're well flashed out and fairly human characters for such a weird and wonderful universe. Characters feel unique thanks to their personalities, but also thanks to the way the character progression system has been overhauled, giving the units who perform best in a battle an edge on the amount of experience earned.
The team at Sega clearly thought about this hard, as the units at your disposal still progress and level up as a group, but if individuals progress well they will get bonuses at each level. This ensures less-liked characters aren't left in the dust and at a low level, but favourites still fare better.
In addition to the single player adventures there's a local multiplayer mode where you can play co-operatively or competitively. So, while there's been a loss in scale, there definitely hasn't overall been a loss in the feature set or what's on offer here.
The story should see a seasoned RPG gamer through for around forty hours, and there's an exhaustive tutorial for those of you who aren't familiar with the original, or strategy RPGs in general.
When it comes down to it, Valkyria Chronicles is, overall, not as good a game as the original. The original is a true modern classic, though, and this is still an amazing game, and one of the best games on the PSP.
The team at Sega clearly set out to slim down the Valkyria Chronicles experience for a handheld while compromising it as little as possible - and they've succeeded. What they've delivered here is a smaller-scale experience that, while not as epic, is still hugely enjoyable and one of the best strategy RPGs not only on the PSP, but in general.
Best of all, it's still different. When I think strategy RPG, I think of chess grids, stacking attacks, level 500 characters and exploding Penguins (thanks, Disgaea) - but this is more open, more free-form, more action packed- and it's still refreshing, even in the sequel. That alone makes it well worth your time.