When I’ve sat down to write these year-end lists in the past, I’ve usually done so with a sense of urgency that belies my intentions for them. Inspired by the industry-wide personal best of lists Giant Bomb publishes to celebrate the year that was, I envisioned mine having the same panache. In reality, my procrastination leaves me with little time to revisit my previous sentiments, and the best I can muster is maybe a cursory thought and a link to any applicable reviews (SEO!). The last couple of years, I’ve kept a thorough log of what I played, simultaneously maintaining a top ten list all the while. As such, compiling my favorite games come December isn’t hard; I just don’t leave myself enough time. But this year I’ve got a secret weapon – I’m starting early.
As always, it’s worth clarifying that these are my favorite games that I played this year, regardless of their release. If it wasn’t apparent from my intermittent posting, I don’t have a career in games media and like anyone reading this, I have limited resources available to me, chief amongst them time. As such, the games I do sit down to play are already pretty curated. Now, that doesn’t mean the games themselves are universally regarded, or that I even come to like them, but I’m usually pulling from a list of only about fifty titles. And I try not to include repeat entries, because otherwise Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Go would ALWAYS be present. With those caveats out of the way, let’s get to it!
As someone who browses the video game section nearly every time I enter a Walmart or Target (sorry honey), I know from experience that the former never really puts games on clearance. Heck, in the year of our lord 2021, the closest Walmart to me STILL has a few licensed PlayStation 2 games. And they have the GALL to charge a ten spot for them! Listen, Walmart, I don’t think anyone is going to drop ten bucks on The Naked Brothers Band: The Video Game at this point. That game came out in 2008 – 13 years ago! The developer has gone out of business in the years since; THQ, the publisher, went bankrupt and has even come back in the intervening years! Just discount those games, or trash them, there’s no point in having them take up shelf space!
This is all to say I was surprised to actually see Walmart put a handful of games on clearance. And no, not THOSE games for some reason, but actual good games, like Indivisible. Being slightly familiar with the game’s Valkyrie Profile inspired battle system, and the prospect of a couch co-op RPG, the nine dollars practically flew out of my wallet. Unfortunately, the co-op didn’t wind up being as much of a draw as I had hoped; just as with the SNES Final Fantasy games, the second player really only participates in battles, so the non-combat sections leave them… waiting to play. BUT! It’s an otherwise enjoyable, refreshingly brief-for-an-RPG, video game.
I’m going to approach this article a little differently than I usually do. The above is a link to a Joystiq article by Kat Bailey wherein she discusses her love for Valkyrie Profile. Coincidentally, I had quit playing Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, the PSP remake, only a few days before she posted this article. After spending about thirteen hours with the game, I decided it wasn’t for me. Today, I’m going to riff off her article and try to get the core of what exactly it was about this game that didn’t appeal to me.
What Kat really dives into first is the combat system. She describes it as it is – “fun, fast, and interesting to look at” and I agree, but more so when she considers it serviceable. She doesn’t linger on it long and neither does the game. It’s a combat system that lacks much depth. In my time with the game I kept waiting for combat to expand and it never really did.
Towards the end of my tryst with the game, I began to see promise in the form of new skills. These augmented my roster of characters in many ways, but why didn’t I see more of these in the first third of the game? It would’ve given me more desire to customize my crew and maybe look forward to battles. There were many passive skills that increased stats with many more that seemed to only impact my ranking for sending characters to Asgard – a concept that’s barely discussed. The combat and support skills that began appearing after a dozen hours, I wish, would’ve appeared sooner.
As she continues, Kat begins discussing the role of the plot in the game and the dueling narratives. In regards to the overall story of Ragnarok, it’s very straightforward. Lenneth is on a quest to recruit einherjar to defend Asgard in the impending end of days. The subplots of Lenneth’s past and deeper truths of other important concepts in the game are present, and intentionally obtuse. Kat describes this subplot information as “bad game design” as it’s there for the player to experience but the main narrative misleads the player. I highly agree and would add that the game really doesn’t explain much about the subplot.
I do like the concept of the game misleading the player to believe an untruth, but I find it curious that these subplots are present, but there isn’t anyone advocating these paths to the player. I guess the player is expected to stumble upon these encounters, which isn’t guaranteed because of the game’s structure. Granted, in my time spent I only had a few encounters that were related, but they explained nothing! I suppose that’s to be expected in the first third of the game – questions, not answers – but, honestly, barely anything is explained in this game.
Perhaps, the biggest detractor to Valkyrie Profile was its lack of explanations in regards to pretty much anything be it a gameplay mechanic or story beat. That being said, I was dissatisfied with the lack of attention devoted to the, admittedly, large roster of characters. Besides the initial recruitment cutscene, there was little attention paid to them again. I also felt limited by the game’s structure. Divided into chapters and further into periods, entering towns and dungeons became a commodity as I did cost benefit analysis to determine whether or not to take a certain action. After a few hours though, I didn’t really want to explore because towns offered me nothing and dungeons were hardly any better. The combat was unimpressive in the first third of the game as well. So ultimately it was a combination of EVERYTHING that left me ambivalent towards seeing how Ragnarok played out.