"It has its warts, but for twenty-five clams, you're still getting what an overall solid package with hours and hours of gameplay."
I'm a big fan of dungeon crawlers. Something about taking a customized band of treasure hunters and scouring the depths of dark, tile-based dungeons really gets my happy brain chemicals flowing. The PSP has attracted tons of these kinds of games, and a crowded market means good things for players. Into the fracas enters Acquire-developed/MonkeyPaw-localized Class of Heroes 2, sequel to the not-so-great Class of Heroes published a few years ago by Atlus. Much ado was made about CoH2's physical Kickstarter, and while that particular effort was unsuccessful, the game still made it here courtesy of the PlayStation Network and a limited, opt-in program for physical copies.
As far as the story goes, you command an up-and-coming band of young adventuring stalwarts freshly enrolled at the Crostini Academy, where you learn the ins-and-outs of how to plumb dungeon depths, avoid fatal stabbings and bludgeonings, and other such tidbits necessary to the up-and-coming adventurer. Along the way, you meet an insane band of teachers and fellow students, as well as plenty of rivals and ne'er-do-wells with whom to cross blades.
I was surprised to find that the game features a fair amount of dialogue and cutscenes, and even more surprised to find that they were quite enjoyable — not something I typically associate with games of this particular subgenre. I suspect this is due in large part to the great localization; it turned what could have been a very trope-heavy, cliché-ridden anime storyline into something with its own flavor and a heaping amount of character. I can't comment on how true it is to the original Japanese, but everything from the banter between the various food-themed NPCs down to the system messages and item descriptions has been lovingly given the Working Designs-style localization treatment, and the game is undoubtedly the better for it. Nothing beats using an Earth Incantation scroll in battle whose description reads, "Soils an enemy's pants."
Aside from the excellent localization, what you have here is a fairly standard dungeon crawler with a robust character-building system. Parties are comprised of six people, and each character's race, gender, and class are under your control. As they gain in levels and meet certain statistical requirements, characters can change to newer, more advanced classes while still retaining the spells of their old one. This made for some oddly but pleasantly multitalented folks in my merry band, and it helped me get more invested in each of my characters.
While in safe zones like towns or the Academy, you can shop, manage your party, and take on quests. Also available in school is the Alchemy shop, which is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating areas of the game. Thanks to rather odd design, you're forced to leaf through several different menus in order to see what a recipe requires, then switch back to the main menu to select the items, hopefully not forgetting any of the components. These problems are compounded by a fairly huge number of synthesis-related items in the game and a relatively meager amount of inventory space to hold them all. Alchemy isn't necessary to succeed, but it is absolutely a powerful tool, so it's a shame that the menus for it are so poorly designed.
Dungeons are first-person affairs in which you navigate a twisty-turny maze full of monsters, traps, and loot. Random encounters occur at a very reasonable rate (although I did run into the occasional one-step-a-battle situation), and battles are lightning-quick: in fact, they're so quick that I found myself missing lots of unique flavor text for the various ways I defeated enemies. The frequency of battles and the quick speed at which they unfold really helps eliminate much of the tedium that comes from wandering around the dungeon. And avoiding tedium is extremely valuable, because some of the dungeons are absolutely massive, and you'll be hard-pressed to not get lost on occasion.
Unfortunately, the game is lacking in some basic navigational and mechanical amenities. You can see where levels of a dungeon connect, but not which area they connect to. Some levels contain up to six exits, and the majority of locations don't feature a first/second/third floor sequence. The main map screen doesn't show walls, so unless you are on a particular level of the dungeon and cast a mini-map spell (which DOES show walls), you can't know if you've fully explored an area without going there. Also, there is absolutely no tutorial or help information. The finer points of alchemy (like how to make use of new recipes), what the requirements are for changing classes, and many other important points are left painfully unexplained and will almost certainly necessitate a hop online to puzzle out.
The graphics aren't particularly impressive. Most areas are simplistic affairs with only a few colors and very little variation in their many floors, though there is at least a good deal of variety in the locales you'll visit. The enemy sprites and character art are colorful and detailed, though, and different gender/race/class combinations feature their own unique portraits. There's also a fairly robust variety of different attack and spell animations, so while the game's graphics aren't going to blow you away, neither will they melt your face off with awfulness.
The aural package is a bit uneven, too. What music exists is actually quite catchy; most importantly, the main battle theme is totally awesome and manages to avoid becoming tedious even after hundreds and hundreds of battles. Unfortunately, the dungeons are completely devoid of music; only the main menu features a song, and it's oddly somber. This means long stretches of dungeon diving accompanied by nothing more than the incredibly strange and ambient sound effects. The sounds are especially low-fidelity, and oftentimes totally unidentifiable. On several occasions, the tranquil silence of a grassy field is rent by the shrill cry of a... pterodactyl or something? In any case, the lack of music in the dungeons seems like a misstep and makes the game feel like it was made on a rather tight budget.
Whether or not Class of Heroes 2 is for you depends almost entirely on how much you enjoy dungeon crawlers. It has its warts, but for twenty-five clams, you're still getting an overall solid package with hours and hours of gameplay. It's got a fun translation into which much love and care was clearly poured, enjoyable music, snappy combat, and a great character customization system — all reasons for crawler fans to get excited. Just be warned that you'll be sacrificing a certain quality of presentation and muddling through some less-than-stellar menus and maps in order to get to the good stuff.