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Valkyria Chronicles II is better, even if it's on the PSP

4:00 PM on 12.01.2010 // Josh Tolentino

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The Tokyo Game Show might now be a distant memory, but for many fans one its highlights would be the long-teased announcement of Valkyria Chronicles III, the third installment in the beloved franchise.

Unfortunately, some peals were delight were replaced with cries of internet rage once the game’s platform was announced. Like Valkyria Chronicles II, it would be a PlayStation Portable game. Declarations were quickly made that, also like Valkyria Chronicles II, would also be “crippled” by Sega's misguided choice of platform. It wouldn't be another "true" sequel, but the second cheap cash-in, made with no regard for the true fans who know better.

And with just a couple of months until Valkyria Chronicles III's Japanese launch, the whining has started again, regardless of the fact that Valkyria Chronicles II was long proven to be every bit the equal of its predecessor, and in many ways even better.

Our review of the game likely wasn’t enough to convince some of those crazy people, so I’ve compiled a list of reasons why the PSP sequel is better, which I will use to casually dismiss some of those complaints, before they distort the perception of the games to come.

1. You’re just jealous

Obviously, the first thing that one must casually dismiss if this feature is to go anywhere is the most apparent one: some of the “concerned” fans and would-be fans are simply *ahem* “butthurt”. Valkyria Chronicles II is not on a platform they own or care to own, and therefore it must suck and no one needs or wants it anyway.

Knowing that the sequel will be on the same platform, the only logical conclusion is that it will be an abomination even more horrible than the previous one that wasn’t on a platform you own or care for, which means that Sega is a dumb company that only makes mistakes. Look, I can’t begrudge anyone for being miffed at not being able to get a game, but I can begrudge those who try to disguise that bitterness as genuine concern for the quality of the product.

2. In fact, you ARE playing it wrong

I’m a firm believer in the idea that a game design structures its reward system in such a way that the player is encouraged to play according to the developer’s intent. This might seem like a given to you, but you’d be surprised how many people ignore that when they make assumptions about a game’s quality. What do I mean, exactly? I mean that certain criticisms of the way Valkyria Chronicles II plays as compared to the original are being misinterpreted, that some critics are wrongly assuming that the smaller platform forced the team at Sega Wow Overworks to compromise its vision, ending up with a product less faithful to the original's formula.

Here goes. Players of Valkyria Chronicles should remember the game’s mission grading system, wherein rewards in cash and XP were adjusted based on several factors, chief among them being speed, i.e. finishing the mission in as few turns as possible. Thus, for many players, getting those A’s and S’s generally meant blitzing the objective with just a few units and doing all sorts of things that generally killed the notion that Valkyria Chronicles was some kind of return to the “glory days” of ponderous, slow-paced tactical games like X-COM and Jagged Alliance. The nine-man squad then, was rendered quite pointless, as moving every unit would simply use up precious command points.

Compare that notion to Valkyria Chronicles II’s design. A six-member ceiling, and an emphasis on making use of the area transition mechanic to switch out units as needed, for greater efficiency and speed. If games are meant to be played with the objective of maximizing the rewards, then VC2 is far closer to the “soul” of the Valkyria Chronicles design philosophy than the original ever was. It was never an anime X-COM, and the expectations that it should have been border on unreasonable.

And if you’re the type to insist that all games must allow for every style of play and still be fun, allow me to use a hypothetical situation from Dead Rising 2. In that game, you can maximize your PP rewards by using combo weapons, which also do much more damage to zombies and open up a lot of special attack options. The impetus to use them over regular weapons should be obvious. But for some reason you, due to childhood trauma, absolutely refuse to use combo weapons. Your alcoholic babysitter used to beat you with Knife Gloves and Spiked Bats and Chainsaw Paddles and make you promise not to tell, and as such you can’t bring yourself to make or use those awful things, even against virtual zombies.

That in mind, are you still going to blame Capcom and Blue Castle games for not making the use of regular bats and non-combo weapons less rewarding or fun? Of course not. If you refuse to play the game according to the designer’s intent, you take your enjoyment into your own hands. It’s the same situation with Valkyria Chronicles II. You simply can’t argue that the original was the truly “faithful” one  when the sequel is much more tailored to match expected behavior to concrete reward.

And if you do play by their rules and end up not having any fun? Well, that’s what bad reviews and nasty comments are for.

3. You just need to look, because it’s all still there

Everyone loved the original’s story. You can’t read a single round of Valkyria Chronicles’ praises without going into it. Yet, when the sequel hit, there seemed to be this perception that due to the handheld’s smaller size, the team was somehow forced to write a lesser tale. For some unfathomable reason, in the era when gamers are most realizing that bigger - bigger budgets, more marketing, more what-have-you - wasn’t necessarily better, with Valkyria Chronicles II, smaller meant worse.

But let’s think about that story, then. Distilled down to its core, it’s a tale about a plucky bunch of youngsters turning back a largely faceless evil to save the land. Most Imperial soldiers literally wear masks to hide their humanity, and the one DLC mission that allows you to play from the other side barely adds a smidgen of that to the jack-booted invaders. It’s still loaded with all the sweet sentimentality and ham-fisted moralizing common to most every anime and JRPG. What’s so praiseworthy about that?

No, Valkyria Chronicles’ strength wasn’t in the core of its plot but in the details and subtexts that made it feel so refreshing next to the endless parade of sci-fi/fantasy amalgams that characterized its peers. The game’s faux-World War II setting allowed to a resonant point of entry into territory that no game set in the actual second World War would dare tread, exploring issues such as genocide and the idea that history is written by the victors.

Where am I going with this? My point is that the accusations of Valkyria Chronicles II had skewed “too anime” are misguided. Sure, the shift to a school setting opened it up to engage more cliches, but the subtexts and tweaks that made the original so refreshing are all still there for anyone willing to look past the surface. If anything, they’re even more intriguing than before, taking the foundations laid before and building on them to end up with something that has even more texture and impact.

Think about it. Gallia is a country so exhausted that it’s forced to send raw cadets into combat against other Gallians. Rather than fighting a dehumanized, external foe, the cast participates in a sectarian civil war, one rooted in the ethnic and social prejudices that were treated as a side-note in the original. The enemy isn’t fighting to capture Gallia’s Ragnite, or to claim its ancient fantasy WMDs. They’re fighting because they don’t like that a lady with black hair is in charge. That doesn’t just resonate with the good-versus-evil tones of World War II, but even with some modern conflicts going on today. All it takes is a little thought.

4. You’re getting more than dossier entries

Perhaps the dumbest complaint I’ve read about Valkyria Chronicles II’s alleged hobbling at the hands of the handheld has been that, due to the PSP’s inferior memory space, characters no longer have the same amount of text in their dossier entries. Squad members are then devolved into mere names on a list, devoid of development and character.

The accusation is both narrow-minded and can only come from willful ignorance or even malice. If anything, the miscellaneous characters of Valkyria Chronicles II are even more well-developed than their first-entry counterparts, and are given many more opportunities to grow. The original certainly did not give anyone else besides the principal cast and a few fan favorites their own sets of cutscenes and special missions.

Valkyria Chronicles II does indeed employ more cliche high-school character archetypes than the first one, but for every Melissa, whose only cutout is a variation on Cover Tom, there’s a Helmut, an “exchange student” who is in all but name a political prisoner, held hostage to preserve the fragile peace. None of these developments could happen (or make sense) as progressively unlocked paragraphs can can be ignored entirely.

5. You know that making games is expensive
Finally, let’s address the main battle tank in the room. Everyone knows it: The PSP is a cheaper platform to develop on. It probably cost Sega a fraction of Valkyria Chronicles’ budget to develop the sequel, and it will cost them a fraction to develop Valkyria Chronicles III as well. Asset creation is by far the most time-consuming and expensive part of high-end game development, and it would be delusional to think that this didn’t play a factor in the decision to shift to handhelds.

Furthermore, the shift does acknowledge one other thing: Japan is calling the shots on this one. Valkyria Chronicles barely sold in North America, even after its post-discount sales spike. In Glorious Nippon though, the game spawned two manga adaptations, a novelization, and an anime series, all before hitting the Greatest Hits lineup. The PSP is doing a lot better in Japan than anywhere else, regularly beating out the home consoles and giving the DS a run for its money. It would be stupid not to think about relocating to the cheaper platform that has a larger install base, if the depth and complexity of the original formula could be preserved. And with Valkyria Chronicles II, it has.

6. You’re right, it isn’t perfect

Of course, the game isn’t perfect. Valkyria Chronicles II’s design may more in line with the reward system, but it still doesn’t satisfy players who expect the game to reward slower, ponderous style. The credit system encourages too much repetitive farming, ultimately undermining the improved class customization that would have encouraged better use of more squadmates. The majority of missions are basically variants on the same two or three basic templates, featuring considerable reuse of maps. Folks who don’t have or want a PSP but still want a Valkyria Chronicles game are entirely justified in being miffed, too. No one enjoys not having the platform a great exclusive is on.

And technology does indeed have its limits. I myself don’t believe the series can advance much farther than what Valkyria Chronicles III promises while still remaining on the PSP, thanks in part to the weaknesses that dampened the impact of its still-unparalleled CANVAS-engine aesthetic. Hardware does matter...eventually.

All things considered, there are definitely valid reasons to criticize Valkyria Chronicles II and project that apprehension onto the next installment. That it will be a lesser game for being on a “lesser” platform just isn't one of them.

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Josh Tolentino, Random Asian Contributor
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When not posting about Japanese games or Star Trek, Josh serves as Managing Editor for Japanator, Dtoid's sister site for the best in anime, manga, and cool news from Glorious Nippon. more   |   staff directory

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