Valthirian Arc 2
In 2010, Lucidrine's Valthirian Arc was an addictive but ultimately simplistic and repetitive action RPG sim game with a great premise... you were in charge of an academy that trained students and sent them off on missions throughout the land at the behest of the king. That is literally everything I have ever wanted and believed I was qualified to do, and yet President Obama still keeps ignoring my e-mails and petitions. (What about our slime monster problem, Mr President?! What about our lack of battlemages?!) Three years later, Valthirian Arc 2 has shown up unexpectedly, and though it keeps the original's premise intact, it also improves on it in almost every possible way, if not quite able to shake the repetitive grinding and simple gameplay entirely.
As before, your goal as principal of your new academy, is to attract and train students over weeks, months, and years into a variety of fantasy classes by not only sending them on missions, but also managing and growing the school itself. Eve, your green-haired assistant, will explain everything, while stern Jeanne is who you'll visit to undertake quests. Errand quests are simple affairs where you simply pick the most qualified student for the job and send them off for a while, allowing you to continue to manage the school as usual while they're gone. For combat missions, you'll select your party of students (making sure not to send anyone too inexperienced!) and embark on an action-RPG sequence where you direct them around the field and they automatically attack anything within range. Provided you survive and win, you'll gain gold and experience, and just as important, fame, which influences how large you can build your facility. You'll also find exploration quests, which ask you to find a specific location on a map, and item quests, where you hunt down the required number of items in the level. And, yes, we have escort quests (I hope you read that line with the most loathing possible) because we're apparently still pretending someone likes those.
The academy itself is where some of the most important stuff happens, from building new rooms that confer different bonuses, to purchasing new weapons and armor, hire mentors to teach your students, and much, much more. Your students will wander the academy freely, and can earn both EXP and skill bonuses as they visit rooms and interact with mentors. When they reach level 11, they're ready to graduate, which grants fame, but if you really want a lot of that, you'll wait until they're both at a higher level and have a class applied to them, which grants unique abilities. Not all students are created equal, of course. Some may have certain qualities that help or hinder them, while others might simply be more powerful. Just don't forget to outfit them with the proper equipment at the armory!
In a lot of ways, Valthirian Arc 2 basically feels like a Kairosoft game, with a bit of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance-style mission management stirred in. It's the sort of game that takes a while to really get going since you have so few options in the beginning, and you'll need to grind a lot of gold to get the upgrades you need to proceed. It does unfortunately still feel like it doesn't play as smoothly as it could, since both combat and missions are still simplistic, and the lack of any sort of fast-forward button means you'll spend a lot of time staring at the screen early on waiting for missions to complete. Since you don't know what a combat mission will contain until you try it, there's no real strategy to preparing it, and the lion's share of battles just consist of your characters wildly swatting at clouds of enemies doing the same thing. If you've ever watched a toddler smack a pair of action figures together going UNF UNF UNF, you know what to expect with Valthirian Arc 2, though as the game progresses and more missions and classes unlock you'll find the difficulty does go up.
That being said, however, Valthirian Arc 2 is a gorgeous, gorgeous little charmer of a game, and the clear effort put into improving it over its predecessor is nothing short of remarkable. Lucidrine has always done quality work, but Valthirian Arc 2 might be their most beautiful and colourful to date, with an amazingly professional look and feel. This game easily could have sold for $40.00-$50.00 on the Gameboy Advance just a few years back, and to be able to play it free still sort of boggles my mind a little. The story is on the scant side, mostly relegated to a few characters popping up now and again to trade a few lines for certain quest tracks, but it adds more personality than the series had before. Gameplay is simple, sure, but it's also casually engaging and addictive, with a lot of secrets to find and things to unlock. Though its combat and general gameplay might not have enough complexity or strategy for some, Valthirian Arc 2 is still an effortlessly charming little game its talented team should be proud of.