Valkyria Chronicles II is the sequel that a small but passionate portion of Sega fandom demanded. Or is it? Making the transition from PlayStation 3 to PSP, introducing fashionable four-player co-op and setting the story in a military school, this is no by-the-numbers sequel, and may even alienate some original fans.
In truth, the majority of the changes are fairly harmless. Multiplayer has been subtlety integrated into the gameplay and, much like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker before it, its inclusion enhances the campaign missions without punishing those who choose to go it alone. Likewise, the change of setting, to a military academy full of teenagers, threatens to derail the series into mindless juvenile anime territory, but is handled with the same maturity and wit that made the first game so likeable. More divisive changes, however, arise from the switch to a handheld format.
Either in an attempt to offer greater longevity or simply take up less UMD space, Valkyria Chronicles II pads out its campaign with a series of minor battles, which must be completed before the school calendar moves on and unlocks a story mission. Each of these compulsory side-quests recycles a small handful of maps and tasks the player with the simplest of challenges, making each a monotonous chore that you feel forced into playing. And it’s not like those maps are much fun either; broken down into a series of tiny interconnected sub-maps, they offer little depth and few surprises. You’ll learn every inch of them within one or two battles.
Such flaws seriously hurt Valkyria Chronicles II, but they don’t quite ruin it, as the move to handheld has also forced Sega to inject more depth into the character development side of gameplay, essential for personalising a multiplayer squad and leaning the game further toward an RPG style of play. Getting to know your squad members is just as crucial on the battlefield as it ever was, but you’re now able to shape their future too, making the emotional bond between player and game even greater. New personality traits can be unlocked and equipped as the story develops, while accolades earned in battle now drive individual characters along their own class-trees, unlocking a much wider range of abilities and strategies.
The twin backbones of Valkyria Chronicles, its revolutionary strategy gameplay and wondrously sketchy visuals, thankfully remain in Valkyria Chronicles II, but there are also a lot of changes to accept. A greater emphasis on customisation, multiplayer and side-quests makes for an even more time-consuming game, and begs that you spend just as long tinkering away with your squad as you do directing them in battle. It’s a game that Sega wants to be constantly in your pocket; a sequel for the truly obsessive; one for the fans.