Checking Out Valhalla Knights 2, A Grind-Fan's Dream?

Publisher XSeed admits that the first Valhalla Knights was just a wee bit of a hardcore grind, targeted squarely at that sector of the Japanese audience - and the non-Japanese fans who share their tastes.

So will Valhalla Knights 2 change things up a bit? Make things a little bit easier, more accessible? Add some simple modes, some auto-leveling, some easy outs?

Not so much.

"This one's actually a little bit harder," the Xseed rep told me when I went to go see Valhalla Knights 2 today. And, I'm told, that's exactly how the core JRPG fanbase wants things. In fact, the entire game's been built to accommodate the fanbase's feedback, and is shaping up to be a veritable wishlist of JRPG elements that could conceivably blow some minds when it hits PSP, likely in September.

Valhalla Knights 2 will be a sequel to the first only as much as, say, the Final Fantasy titles are sequels - incorporating some of the same magic systems and thematic elements, but existing in its own new world. More of a successor than a sequel, then.

Though VH2 adds more cinematic cutscenes than the previous Valhalla Knights, story takes somewhat of a back seat to quest-based gameplay, it seems. "There's more stuff to do, and more is better," said the rep.

I'm not done mentioning Final Fantasy, either. VK2's story's being written by Miwa Shoda, scenario designer for FFXII as well as Sword of Mana and SaGa Frontier, while the music's done by Advent Children soundtracker Shojiro Nakaoka.

The basic premise for VH2 involves a Goddess of Judgment, who appears every thousand years to evaluate the world and see how humans are doing. Oops, I'm showing my race bias - there are dwarves, halflings and robots, too. Anyway, this time, the Goddess determines that there's just too much war going on, and decides, in a Biblical Flood-type scenario, to eradicate all life as we know it. A witch with just a little more faith in mankind (and dwarfkind, and halflingkind, et cetera) decides to wound the Goddess to stay her hand, and yes, now it's up to you to save the world.

We know that VH2 will add three new job classes not seen in its predecessor, and two new races - in the demo I saw, you can play as one of various breeds of dog. Dogs using tennis rackets, statues and giant mallets as weapons. The rep told me that the franchise's hallmark is its character customizations; in addition to being able to select your characters' race and job class and customize their look and ability with armor and accessories, VH2 now adds the ability for you to customize faces and hair, too.

There are significantly more options across the board for VH2 - its predecessor had some 200 weapons and armor altogether, and this one's got 300. There are now over 100 items and over 70 spells, and from where I sat, the possibilities looked virtually endless. You can have up to six characters active in your party at a time, and can switch out the leader in realtime, and their entire outfit and equipment on the fly.

You can also change a character's job class at any time. Let's say you're a level 10 Priest. You can switch to being a Level 1 fighter - and keep all of your leveled-up Priest spells and your stats, too. In fact, the rep told me it'll be necessary to switch classes periodically to develop well-rounded characters. At any given time, you occupy one primary class and two sub-classes.

A grid in your menu lets you decide your battle formation - i.e., who stands in front and who stands in back. VH2's battles aren't random - all enemies are visible in the game world. If they see you, they'll try to engage you, but you can stealth-sneak past them by crouching down while you walk if you're hoping to avoid a fight. A small map on the upper right corner of the screen shows you where enemies are in relation to you, so that they don't sneak up on you, too.

If you do happen to get attacked from the back, your back row becomes your front row - but you can rapidly switch your team around in real time too, to get the mages behind the fighters and so forth. And as the battle progresses, each character builds up a gauge to use a special attack (think Limit Breaks) , and the type of attack depends on the type of weapon equipped.

Right now, said the rep, gameplay stands at a hefty 80 hours, but I was told this may be reduced somewhat for the U.S. audience. The length and intensity, said the rep, was aimed more at the Monster Hunter type of fan, so some edits might get made to suit the specifics of North American taste.