Valkyria Chronicles & Rethinking My List
I'd forgotten how much I liked Valkyria Chronicles. I first played it back in early 2009, but that's ages ago and my memory isn't what it used to be.
Back in September, at Tokyo Game Show, I played a demo for the latest Valkyria, Azure Revolution. It was unspectacular but served to rekindle my interest in the series. A few days later, I picked up the Chronicles remaster on sale; I finally got around to playing it this month and I'm very happy that I did.
VC still looks lovely. The beautiful, soft pencil-drawn-effect visuals are the perfect contrast to the far darker narrative themes: imperialist aggression, weapons of mass destruction, expansionism, racism and lost youth. The setting is a fictionalised version of 1930s Europe, but it's different enough that the more fantastical elements do not seem entirely out of place. The soundtrack is memorable and I genuinely cared about the members of Squad 7, working hard to ensure that not a single one perished on the battlefield.
Difficulty is well balanced and there is little need for grinding, unlike many other strategy RPGs. In most instances, strategy is more important than increased firepower; a tactical rethink is often the answer to a tricky battle, rather than mindless grinding. There are a few larger battles that are overwhelming at first, where victory or defeat may be decided within the first two turns. It's quite possible to lose before a single shot is fired, by deploying the wrong types of troops or moving them to the wrong area. Fortunately, you can save at any point, which negates a great deal of potential frustration.
Valkyria Chronicles is wonderful, and it got me thinking about my favourite games of the last generation. I wrote a whole series of posts about this three years ago, including a top twenty countdown. With the seventh generation now very much behind us, now seems like a good time to revisit the topic and give my list a final tweak.
To recap, my top twenty covered seventh generation consoles and portables (PS3, 360, Wii, DS and PSP) and excluded re-releases and remasters. My list now looks like this (the original is here)
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
2. Mass Effect 2
3. Red Dead Redemption
5. Metal Gear Solid 4
6. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
7. Burnout Paradise
8. Assassin's Creed II
9. Yakuza 4
10. Dark Souls (NEW)
11. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
12. Mass Effect 3
13. Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare
14. Grand Theft Auto IV
15. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
16. Dragon Age Origins
17. Valkyria Chronicles (NEW)
19. Wii Sports
20. No More Heroes
Dark Souls and Valkyria Chronicles are in; Grand Theft Auto V and DJ Hero are out. After countless aborted attempts, I fell head-over-heels for Dark Souls' unique brand of misery in 2014. I have lapped up every sequel, direct or spiritual, since: Dark Souls 2 was my GOTY in 2014, Bloodborne is still the best game on PS4, and DS3 is one of this year's standouts.
Valkyria Chronicles should have been on my original list. I considered it, but other games were fresher in my mind, so it missed the cut. Making way for DS and VC are DJ Hero and Grand Theft Auto V. DJ Hero, originally my no.20, was a very tough omission. I spent ten minutes agonising over whether to cut this or No More Heroes before remembering that I'm writing a games blog and no one cares, so I just picked one. Sorry DJ Hero.
Back in 2013, when I originally compiled my list, I was unsure about putting Grand Theft Auto V at no. 15. I'd only just finished it and wasn't yet sure how I felt. I assumed I'd continue to dip in and out of the single player and that GTA Online would keep me interested for months to come. That didn't happen, and I quickly forgot about Trevor and the other guys, whoever they were. Keeping GTA Four over Five is an entirely sentimental pick, as I realise that more recent GTA is hands-down a better experience, gameplay-wise. However, GTA IV stayed with me long after I'd finished and very few games have impressed me as completely as it did back in 2008. So it keeps its spot in my twenty.
I also bumped Shatter up a spot. Of all the games on this list, it's the only one that I still return to once every year or so, without the incentive of a remaster. Give it another three years and it might just be my number one! Actually, no. Uncharted 2 has that spot for life.