Continuing my personal picks of the best of 2008, at number four we find Sega's heartfelt reinvention of the strategy RPG...4. Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
Sega supplied 2008's most unexpectedly pleasant surprise. I'd barely even heard of it, let alone understood what type of game is was, when a former editor offered it to me to review. A few hours in the company of Welkin, Alicia, Isara and the rest of its charming cast, however, and I knew this was going to be something very special.
The way new concepts are gradually introduced is a lesson in the delicate balance of game design. Each mission adds a new layer of complexity (from the importance of cover to saving your command points; from morale to reinforcements to the personality quirks of each character). But it builds each one without forcing you to grasp it instantly, allowing you time to test the waters, play around with it until it feels natural.
The visual quality is breathtaking throughout, making the sheer quantity of cut-scenes a blessing rather than a burden. With echoes of Otomo and Miyazaki, the style and atmosphere of the art direction help craft a world and characters you care deeply about. There's a degree of intimacy and emotional attachment here that many SRPGs strive for yet rarely attain.
Valkyria Chronicles is a game of rare beauty.