A few weeks ago, I wrote a review on Valhalla Knights, a game that was good in concept, but failed miserably in execution. While I appreciated the idea of a six person party dungeon crawler complete with stellar graphics, numerous sidequests, and almost infinite customization, the game ultimately fell short with its lackluster narrative, flawed camera, and run of the mill dungeon design. Now, K2 and XSEED games are back with Valhalla Knights 2. What is the verdict? After spending more than forty hours with Valhalla Knights 2, it is clear that it is far superior to the original in almost every way possible, and is a worthy addition to most gamers’ PSP libraries.
The game opens with an absolutely gorgeous CGI sequence and a tale written by FFXII scenario writer Miwa Shoda. The story begins on “The Day of Judgment” when a goddess condemns mankind with despair and almost wipes out all of humanity. Just when it begins to look hopeless, a mysterious cloaked woman appears and defeats the goddess. While she remains a mystery to the player until deep into the game, her statement of “Trust the gods no more” is one to take seriously.
The game fast forwards to 1724 Annus Sanctus when the main character is an orphan, and some of the kingdom’s troops, in the search for heretics (ones who still worship the goddess), attack and burn her/his orphanage. I found this reversal of standard storytelling (heretics beings ones who worship a god, instead of people who don’t worship God) engaging. Anyway, the character escapes with her/his life and is eventually saved by a woman.
When the game resumes in the late spring of 1729, the main character has a Latroci Exam Certificate test in order to prove her/his worth as a knight or adventurer. This exam represents the conclusion of the very interesting introductory story, and I was very happy with the writing from beginning to end. While Valhalla Knights suffered from a boilerplate tale that was never engaging, VK2 has a story that is up to snuff with other solid titles on the PSP.
The improvements over the original don’t just end with the better story, as the gameplay of VK2 is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. For those who don’t know, Valhalla Knights 2 features a dungeon-crawler style of gameplay that allows the player to create a main character with either gender and then assign them with a race (human, halfling, dwarf, etc.) and then a class (fighter, mage, thief, etc.). Certain races receive bonuses in certain classes, i.e. an elf is more adept at magic use, and a halfling is more fit to be a thief than a fighter. As the game progresses, you can even assign bonus points during level ups and there are subclasses that fall within each class. In summation, as I mentioned in my review of the original Valhalla Knights, imagine the customization options of a game like the Elder Scrolls series, and you’ll get a good idea of what you’re able to do. Even though all of these options are in the original, VK2 advances it one step forward with multiple face styles and hair styles that allow you to make each player unique. Kudos to the developers for this small, yet very nice improvement.
After you create your character, you can recruit vis-à-vis a guild system. By spending a little dough, various members can join your party (up to 6 at a time). The game revolves around the completion of quests, which range from finding a lost dog to the collection of a certain amount of insect parts (similar to the Etrian Odyssey series). While the original game contained this same dynamic, VK2 does a much better job of furthering the narrative, even while you continue on each quest. After completing certain quests, you’ll get small pieces of background information that helps put the whole game in perspective. Suffice it to say, this is a huge improvement.
Other things to quickly mention: the camera has been much improved. Instead of being lost on the map and not knowing which way I was facing, VK2 is as clear as could be with directions. Battles are a lot smoother and it’s much easier to see your proximity to the monsters when fighting. There is now a grid to position your characters pre-battle (similar to Star Ocean) and they have added magic shortcuts into the game that made my hack-n-slash experience much easier and more enjoyable. Throw in a better interface between battles, better menus, and better town organization and the gameplay makes the previous game look like a joke.
Graphically, this game was also better than the original mostly because of its more intricate dungeon design and better spell animations. In contrast to the mundane underground that the first game implored, this game is alive with bright colors through its outdoor town mazes and forests. In battle, the monsters utilize better color schemes and the magic animations are solid. While the game does not stand in line with games like FFVII: Crisis Core, it is more than adequate for the portable hardware.
The control system is not the best I’ve seen on the PSP hardware, but it is definitely adequate. Moving equipment around between characters is extremely fluid and intuitive, and it allows for a quicker check of equipment than VK1. I was also happy that the developers decided to use the buttons more effectively in battle (especially the magic shortcut keys I mentioned earlier). All in all, there isn’t too much to say about control, and that’s a good thing.
While the audio is fine, it’s often underwhelming, especially when compared to the beauty of the graphics. There are no tunes that stand out as memorable and you will have forgotten all of the music by the time you’ve turned off your PSP. I will say that like the previous installment, the clanking of swords, the blaze of fire, and other sound effects stand out as crisp and dynamic.
Overall, Valhalla Knights 2 is a very good game. While I think there are better options available for PSP RPG fans, there are going to be people who absolutely love it. Even though it’s not my style of game, I was very impressed by its incorporation of sidequests into the large narrative in addition to its consistently fresh customization options.”. With more than forty hours of gameplay, a “versus” mode for you to battle friends, and a difficulty that is stout, Valhalla Knights 2 is one of the best buys you’re likely to find on the PSP for quite some time.