33 - Valkyrie Profile (Playstation)

Valkyrie Profile was a game I came very late to, years after it debuted and years after I'd grown tired of console RPGs in general. 30-some hours of play later it had cemented its position in my all-time favourites.

It's so completely different to anything I'd played before in the genre, being more a platform adventure with a combat system akin to a beat 'em up. In fact the combat is so much fun this is the only RPG I'd played up to Final Fantasy XII where I would actively seek out every single battle I could. The overarching structure of the game is very unique too, with no world map as such to wander around, and an ever-ticking clock counting down to the end of the game. You might think that this puts an undue pressure on the player, but the nature of the game means that there's no wasted time, and the progression of it is such that power-levelling simply isn't necessary - your characters will grow naturally in abilities as the game goes on, and will be adequately prepared for the final challenge.

Really what stands out in Valkyrie Profile apart from the excellent combat system is the story and overall theme, and the luscious artwork. There's a superb attention to detail in everything... animations, character portraits, environments. The presentation is superlative on every level - even the voice acting is commendable, if a little melodramatic.

Special mention has to go to the simply stunning soundtrack. Motoi Sakuraba's battle themes are unsurpassed, possibly only equalled by Hitoshi Sakimoto's work on Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. It's the slower, more sombre pieces that give the game it's true weight though. Valkyrie Profile has a great sadness to it, and the pieces accompanying the scenes where characters meet their fate are hauntingly beautiful. It's this theme of destiny, fate, lives cut cruelly short and the impassive attitude of the gods that raises Valkyrie Profile way above the usual genre clichés.

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