Guys… We made it! We survived 2017! It was the shortest of years, it was the longest of years… Tests of character waited silently around every corner. People we loved let us down. In many ways, we probably let ourselves down in some regard. To be honest, playing video games didn’t sit well with me with so much going on in, you know, the real world (local and afar). But escapism is a THING! Some of us need a space away from “here” to stay.
As an informal sendoff to the year, I’ll do what needs to be done — formulate a Top 10 list for the games of 2017. As always, an write-up will accompany each pick. This marks the 3rd consecutive year I’ve done this (not including the posthumously written 2014 entry from a couple weeks ago). We’re keeping with the same thirteen awards as last year: 2017’s Game of 2016, You Got Robbed, Most Honorable Mention, and the ten best games of the year.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a one-man team!
The scope of the list is limited to what I got around to this year. If your favorite game didn’t make it, don’t be blowing up my DMs! According to most people I’m weird, so it’s probably for the best if the game DOESN’T show up on my list. If you do feel like writing in — a tactful comment, criticism, or concern would be appreciated!
Gaming in 2017 could be summarized as the year of open world games. For the regular consumer, this trend means more bang for your buck. For someone who tries to beat fifty or more games in a year, this pattern has been… problematic. What do you do when a vast majority of the “must play” games are bigger time investments than you can afford?! Simple — You pick your battles! Setting aside time for hundred hour titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 meant skipping over some of the could be contenders like Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Middle Earth: Shadow of War. The unprecedented number of high quality titles had me ponder on this for a spell, but now it’s time to get down to business. Here are 2017’s best games of the year!
2017’s Game of 2016: Furi
For a hot minute, I couldn’t find a thing I felt good about putting into this spot. Fortunately, a day or two before Christmas, I was reminded of this title and prayed it’d provide me with an experience that I actually felt strongly enough to write about. Lo and behold, my prayers were answered.
In my mental space, Furi can’t be disassociated from Shadow of the Colossus — one of my favorite games of all time. Not many titles fall into the Boss Rush genre of games. Fight the guardians the prison to reclaim your freedom. Even in intermissions between showdowns, I found myself using the auto-walk button; they know. Those strolls are a sight to behold though… Brazenly inspired by the Takashi’s Okazaki’s Afro Samurai, Furi feels like a video game adaptation of a one-shot manga.
Every boss fight is an involved affair, featuring multiple phases that build upon one another. Even a successful run against a boss probably averages around ten minutes. If you lose anywhere between the start and final slash, be mentally prepared to start from the top. Don’t get me wrong: it’s punishing; it’s frustrating… But you feel yourself getting better in real time. On one specific encounter, I went from not being able to land a single hit to completion over the course of thirty minutes. And what a sublime feeling that was!
Furi will test your patience. Furi will make you second guess your skills. Furi will kill you. And every time it will be your fault. That’s just how it is.
You Got Robbed: Fortnite: Battle Royale
I didn’t have a chance to play much of Fortnite: Battle Royale, but in that short amount of time it provided a new experience. Aside from Overwatch, competitive multiplayer has become somewhat of a dead art to me; this 100 man Hunger Games-ian blood feud rekindled a little bit of that dying flame. Yes, Fortnite: BR might ape the core conceit of its sexier, older, more popular brother PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but manages to differentiate itself through its crafting mechanic. Cumbersome at first, you’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief the moment you erect a concrete wall that blocks a stream of incoming bullets at the last moment.
My criteria for listing this game as complete in my personal catalogue was such: finish a match with the much coveted, highly contested chicken dinner — the number one spot. Due to sheer luck (well, mostly cowardice), this victory came faster than expected. Fortnite: BR provides a lifetime apprenticeship; every failure provides a moment of introspection into the flaws of your strategy. Skills can be bested by wits, awareness, and execution. With one attempt and one attempt only, the preciousness of life quickly becomes a lesson players take to heart. Each engagement, no matter how seemingly insignificant, becomes a decision — a fight or a flight. That choice alone separates Fornite: Battle Royale from a vast majority of the genre.
Most Honorable Mention: Yooka-Laylee
Yooka-Laylee, you’ve got a lot of haters. People say you don’t live up to your N64 roots. People say your dialogue tends to be awful more often than not. People say your camera work sucks. People say you try a little too hard at times to recreate a bygone era. But you know what? I think you’re alright. For the most part.
The collect-a-thon delineation of Platformers died well over a decade ago. In that time, games continued to evolve. Yooka-Laylee chooses to ignore that. If you ever missed the days of Banjo-Kazooie, Playtonic Games has got you covered with this one. Roam around a half dozen levels collecting every single useless scrap in sight. Collect new powers along the way to aid you in the process of collecting things. But you know what, it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s fun collecting useless stuff. Better here than in the real world.
10. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
Crash is back! Crash is back! Crash is back! Most assumed him for dead after his extended disappearance, but the Bandicoot somehow managed to stumble onto center stage. For 40 bucks, the N. Sane Trilogy offers remastered editions of his first three outings on the original PlayStation. Vicarious Visions managed to pull off something magnificent with this one. How is it even possible to recreate PS1 titles 1:1 without making them feel or appear dated?! The 90’s style Crash-i-tude also goes a long way in making the world feel alive in this day and age.
Much to my delight, the Crash Trilogy was left untouched for the most part. All three entries will leave the uninitiated bloodied and broken. Checkpoints few and far between, luck won’t be enough to carry you to the exit. Consistency and execution prove to be much more valuable commodities. The experiences offered by the N. Sane Trilogy aren’t new, but they dish out a level of challenge that most modern Platformers are afraid to do. I can’t tell you how relieving it is to get a Game Over screen in 2017! Sometimes it takes a moment of reminiscence to see what we want out of the future.
09. Destiny 2
After 2016’s exposé of exceptional First Person Shooters, Destiny 2 had to lofty hurdles to clear to make it onto this list. It’s no Doom or Titanfall 2, but Bungie proved that they still know how to make a shooter. The gun feel doesn’t get any better than this. Pair those weapons with a half-dozen or so abilities, and you have yourself a full-fledged Guardian! Bobbing, weaving, and dodging colorful arrays of plasma blasts makes you feel like part of the grande ole space ballet. In addition, having a cooperative experience to fall back on in 2017 is clutch!
Prepare yourself for a journey across the galaxy with Cayde-6 and the rest of the Guardian entourage. Theoretically, Destiny 2 should be the dark middle chapter in a trilogy, but the story instead takes a light-hearted tone. Relinquished of the light, their source of power, the Guardians are left to find their purpose in the darkness. In their travels, the warriors will take out a variety of colorful enemies, level up their power, and find a lot of randomized loot! I’m reaching for things to say about this one… If you’ve played the original, Destiny 2 is more of that, but better in every regard.
08. Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn was 2017’s AAA big-budget darling. One look at this game and it’s hard to keep your mind from wondering how much cash Sony threw at Guerilla Games to will it into existence. Keeping with this year’s theme, HZD falls into the open world category of games. In a post-post apocalyptic Earth, the remnants of humanity must carve out their space in the robot-dinosaur infested planet. Yes! It DOES sound like a 4th grader’s pipe dream, but the concept is executed well enough to not embarrass the player.
As seeker, Aloy is granted the freedom to journey away from her home and into the wastelands. In her travels, the red haired archer will scavenge resources, construct weapons, and gain skills to fight dinosaurs ten times her size. Bow in hand, Aloy uses her wits and athleticism to adversaries. Each of the larger than life animatronics have intricate, multi-component designs. It’s up to our heroine to locate exploits in their systems and bring them to their post-historic knees. Witnessing the demise of these beautiful metal giants can prove to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying all the same.
This one had Top 5 potential, but like a lot of good things, it just doesn’t know when to stop! Horizon Zero Dawn would be a great twenty hour game, but decides to go on for well over thirty. Worst of all, they had an opportunity to do exactly that — The stopping point was there… You hit a point they market as the end! But then they keep going. And going. And going. It’s in this post-honeymoon phase where some of the magic begins to degrade into cheap parlor tricks. The world skimps on the meat, the substance it needs for the length of the experience they try to offer.
Despite being a smidge long in the tooth, Horizon Zero Dawn does a vast majority of what it needs to do right. Graphically, HZD marks the apex of visuals on consoles. Ashly Burch’s performance as Aloy should be regarded as one of the best this year. The gameplay has a level of depth that will keep players engaged throughout a sizeable chunk of the experience. Horizon Zero Dawn offers a lot of value for the price of entry, but don’t be surprised if this five star meal ends up getting cold before you take the last bite.
It wouldn’t be a year in games without a Souls style game; leave it to Team Ninja to sneak in with the stealthy release of Nioh, a game heavily influenced from Dark Souls without being Dark Souls. The bloodstains, the traps, the summons — all the rigmarole falls exactly into place. But what if the game was mission based? What if you could fight the bloodstains of other players and gain loot that way? What if there was a demon realm that changes the dynamics of combat? Well, then you have Nioh.
The combat is honestly unlike any other game on the market. Equipped with not one, not two, but THREE stances, William ravages demon hoards in style! Skillful play awards bonuses, encouraging the player to experiment. Each style of weapons is customizable, providing players the leeway to craft a moveset unique to their style of play. Additionally, elemental properties also play a role in how you handle certain enemies. Ultimately, it’s like playing an advanced game of dress up with your digital katana. Factor in ninjutsu and magic, and you become the number one ninja on the block!
Nioh happens to be my biggest surprise of 2017. Team Ninja has failed to produce a solid action game since Ninja Gaiden Black on the original Xbox. Fortunately, they seem to have found a way to drain the water out of their sinking ship. Cuphead aside, no other 2017 game provided the level of challenge I’ve come to love. Nioh will provide a lengthy, enjoyable Samurai Souls experience for those who don’t mind getting tossed around for a spell.
06. Super Mario Odyssey
For the avid fans of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Odyssey is Nintendo’s open love letter to you. Taking a similar route to its barely older sibling, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Odyssey expands the play space. Mario’s newest adventure may still be broken into levels, but each one features a host of asymmetrical activities to perform. The game offers freedom of choice; after retrieving a handful of moons, Mario can immediately hop over to the next venue. 124 moons are required to reach credits, but you’ll need to collect more of the 836 (not including the ones you can buy!) if you want to see everything.
Sentient hat in hand, Mario literally takes control of his destiny. Capturing enemies (… and non-enemies… AND inanimate objects) with a swift throw of the hat allows the plumber to possess their bodies and utilize their abilities. This nifty mechanic broadens the realm of possibilities for how Mario interacts with the world around him. Whether he’s a tiny frog, a surge on an electric wire, or a Tyrannosaurus Rex stranded on a random planet, our hero will find a way to steal any moon just out of his reach.
Repeating a sentiment heard over at Giant Bomb, Mario Odyssey is pure joy. And God only knows how much we need that in 2017. There’s just so much life oozing out of every corner of this package. One of the best examples of this is New Donk City, a town inhabited by actual, realistic (human-proportioned) people. In NDC, mayor Pauline (the same Pauline Mario rescues in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong) recruits Mario to investigate why the city’s power has gone kaput. *spoilers* After possessing a tank or two and taking down Mecha Wiggler, Mario fixes the problem. Shortly thereafter, a literal Mario festival is held in his honor. Only Nintendo could organize this disarray of stuff and market it as a singular, cohesive Super Mario… World.
Technically speaking, Super Mario Odyssey is without a doubt the most polished experience on the list. There is zero down time to the fun. As soon as one moon comes to a close, the next is in sight. This philosophy continues from start to finish without a hitch. Honestly, I want Odyssey to be higher on the list, but the overall experience didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hope it would. While enjoyable, I suspect the lack of challenge played a large role in this regard. Nonetheless, Super Mario Odyssey is a game that should be experienced by everyone.
05. Nier: Automata
Nier: Automata was the game I intentionally slept on for a vast majority of the year. A weird, story driven title with PlatinumGames backing the combat mechanics has my name written all over it. When it released in late February, I was knee deep in the two longest games of the year. It was only natural for Nier to get pushed further down the “to get to” list. After word came out that I’d need to play through the game at least THREE TIMES to get the true ending, I pushed it back even further. And then I looked up and it was December.
To say that explaining Nier: Automata is a tricky task would be the understatement of the year. To be frank, there’s A LOT to unpack. You assume the role of 2B, a blindfolded android dressed in maid’s clothing, who, directed by her commander who’s being directed by the last of humanity (who fled to the moon to avoid the alien invasion of Earth), undertake a quest to destroy the machine threat on Earth — For the glory of mankind. On the way you’ll run into Adam and Eve, robots appropriating human culture, robots making love, and a flurry of other nonsense that fits PERFECTLY into this game. Joking aside, this game has a story to tell and a lesson to teach. And, BOY, does it do a masterful job of both.
In regards to the gameplay loop, Nier:Automata could be better. The combat, while enjoyable, doesn’t have the depth most player’s have come to expect from PlatinumGames. Most of the errands you’re tasked with doing feel like fetch quests, but fortunately the story tidbits makes the vast majority worth doing. Like the original Nier, one can only assume that someone at Square Enix’s sound design performed some nasty blood pact to conjure the audio; seriously, the soundtrack is worth the price of admission by itself. All in all, Nier: Automata dangles more than enough carrots on sticks to keep the player engaged through all three playthroughs.
And now I need to talk about the ending without talking about the ending (no spoilers). As I mentioned before, Nier: Automata requires more than one playthrough to get the full story. To even label them as “playthroughs” does a disservice to what’s at play. Each scenario places you on a staggeringly different path than the last. And upon reaching the finale of the last road —the end of ends — there’s an an ask, an ask magnitudes higher than anything else I’ve experienced from an entertainment medium. It wants something of you — no, not of the player, of you. Nier: Automata may not be a title I revisit, but promises to be an experience I hold close to the heart for years to come.
04. Sonic Mania
When it comes to new Sonic games, I’m a skeptic. The relationship between Sega and fans could only be labeled as abusive at this point. Somehow, that status has held strong for more than a decade now. Any time Sega puts food on the table, I wait for others to test it… make sure it’s free of cyanide before digging in.
Sonic Mania marks the second major attempt to bring Sonic back to his roots. The first, the travesty known as Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, focused so hard on capturing the body of Sonic, it completely forgot about the soul. Sonic Mania, the second try, takes a different approach. Instead of doing it themselves and failing again, Sega hired a dream team of fans who ostensibly have their Ph.D in Hedgehog. With a sigh of relief, I can say they’ve surpassed anything Sega’s very own Sonic Team has output in eons. If you want to see my full thoughts on Sonic Mania, check out the review I wrote earlier this year.
As with Sonic, my thoughts on this game have already been publicized, so I’ll keep this one brief. A Cuphead only comes around once every decade or so, a work that forces the greater gaming audience to reconsider the visual capability of the medium as a whole. Even with only a sliver of insight into what it takes to animate a game, one can appreciate the wizardry Studio MDHR shoveled into Cuphead to reenact the 30’s era Fleischer art style.
All the talk about Cuphead’s art might lead you to believe that nobody has anything good to say about the gameplay — not the case, comrade. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand. The run & gun nature of the combat play directly into the art style; intricate, hand-drawn animations provide the player with tells for when to dodge. A healthy number of punishing-but-fair challenges await players willing to learn from their mistakes. And if you have a friend (I don’t), this game can be enjoyed cooperatively.
Do. Not. Sleep. On. Cuphead.
02. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Internally, I suspect that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild held a symbolic value at Nintendo; the time finally came for the old game developer regime to the new. Ever since its debut in 1986, The Legend of Zelda never strayed far from the path it paved for itself; yes, the games transitioned to 3D and tried out motion controls for a spell, but the general formula of traversing dungeon to dungeon, picking up items, rupees, and heart pieces along the way has always been there. In my mind, I envision the Breath of the Wild team huddled around a single whiteboard with one lone sentence scrawled on its surface: Nothing is precious.
Breath of the Wild does away with most traditions, but doesn’t forget the essence of what makes Zelda Zelda: exploration; in that regard, it eclipses its predecessors. To do this, Nintendo did away with any semblance of structure in the game. Though it may sound pejorative at first, the liberation granted from this decision come to light immediately. The shackles are off. Shrines, bite sized puzzles scattered about the land, replace the iconic dungeons of the series. It’s strange… By designing a larger world, they’ve managed to make Breath of the Wild the most accommodating Zelda for short play sessions. I’d venture to say even in the most miniscule of play sessions it’s impossible to say you’ve accomplished nothing.
Unsurprisingly, Breath of the Wild has plenty to keep the player occupied. An hour of gameplay or so unlocks the final quest: Destroy Ganon. And, believe it or not, it’s completely possible to go right up to Hyrule Castle and do exactly that, granted it’ll be a much, much, MUCH better experience if you power Link up some before taking back the keep. Turns out the overwhelming majority of Hyrule doesn’t like Calamity Gannon, and are willing to help you get rid of him if you seek them out. But whether on foot, on horseback, or paragliding, expect to spend to take a lot of time taking detours. Hidden within every nook and cranny contains some commodity to make Link’s journey just a little bit easier.
Perhaps the second biggest change to the formula is Link’s inventory. The classic “go to a dungeon get new item” days are done. Within the first two hours of Breath of the Wild, the player has every resource they need to solve any puzzle in the game. The number of puzzle solving items has also drastically been reduced. While it seems restricting at first, the benefit comes from the fact that all bets are off for every puzzle; any thing can be thrown your way at any time. For the first time franchise history, physics play a large role in puzzle solving; classic Zelda delved into logic, whereas Breath of the Wild challenges players to think outside the box. Multiple mechanics are always in play at the same time, leading to some of the most awe-inspiring dynamic moments I’ve ever had in gaming.
Breath of the Wild represents a new direction for the series. The game feels larger than life in a lot of ways; nobody uses a guide for this because it just doesn’t make sense. You’re going to find treasure regardless. You’re always missing out and you’re never missing out. There’s not much of a story, and yet everything is a story. You carve out your own legend.
01. Persona 5
I never saw it coming. I love Persona 4, but I thought the age of JRPGs ending up as Game of the Year had long passed. As fun as they can be, a lot of the modern ones end up feeling… similar… in a lot of regards. Simply finding a JRPG that could be regarded as surprising in this day and age is a challenge. But all it took was a change in presentation. During the ONE HUNDRED FORTY hours I lovingly put into this game, Persona 5 kept me engaged throughout the entire ride.
Persona 5 is a story of misfits. After being (unjustly) convicted of assault, the protagonist is forced to transfer to Shujin Academy. During his time at the new school, he learns of the Metaverse — an otherworldly space where he gains the ability to summon Personas, manifestations his personality. In the Metaverse exist Palaces, spaces manifested by the distorted perceptions of highly corrupt individuals. Palaces host a number of Shadows to guard against intruders.
The first person you meet with one of these spaces is Kamoshida, the gym teacher of Shujin Academy. In his Palace, athletes are viewed as slaves. Within the depths of each Palace lies a Treasure — a manifestation of their ego. If the Treasure is stolen, the Palace crumbles and the individual is forced to face their false perception of reality. As a Phantom Thief, you attempt to reform society by forcing these Palace-toting individuals into having a change of heart.
As the name implies, The Phantom Thieves of Hearts features more than just one member. A healthy band of misfits join your cause throughout the game: a punk ex-athlete, a cat, a foreign model, an aloof artist, a Mary Sue, a shut in, and the daughter of a fast food conglomerate. Together, the Phantom Thieves will summon Personas to fend off the shadows that stand in between them and the hearts of their targets. All the while, they must hide in plain sight as they attend Shujin Academy.
Yes, cliché anime nonsense, but the game has a lot of interesting things to say about society. Persona 5 hosts a lot of interesting takes on the ongoings of the world. To be honest though, the main story isn’t the focus of Persona games. It’s the sub-plots, the peripheral character where P5 really shines. The people who you meet along the way make the experience, but before I can get into them, I have to explain how the game works.
Persona 5 doesn’t play out like your typical RPG. The game runs on a calendar. For each of the primary goals exists a deadline. If the player fails to reach complete the goal within the deadline, it’s game over –they’re warped back to the start of that calendar sequence. In a JRPG where dozens of gameplay hours exists between the start and end date, that probably seems terrifying. But don’t worry — The reset isn’t something to worry about. The game gives you more that enough time to prepare. Here’s where the actual pressure comes in; there’s a limit to how you spend your time until then. Each day has a daytime section and a nighttime section. Only one major action can be taken during each phase. Do you hang out with Makoto, or do you try to make progress in the Palace? Do you watch a movie to gain Guts, or do you help the local politician so that you can better negotiate with demons? Every action has an immediate benefit, but you have to make hard decisions as to what you value at any given time.
Confidants, the people who you can forge bonds with, play a large role in strengthening your party. While Persona 5 features the typical leveling system, certain special abilities can only be unlocked by hanging out with friends. During these bonding sequences, your responses to dialogue play directly into how fast your bond grows. Each Confidant has a significant story arc that fleshes out their character, adding to the overall lore of Persona 5. As I said earlier, there’s an actual link that you, the player, establish with these individuals. Their problems become your problems.
In regards to the combat, Persona isn’t too different from Pokèmon. To make a long story short, the protagonist keeps an entourage of Personas on hand to fight shadows. Each Persona has a set of strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. The Protagonist takes three other Phantom Thieves to fight alongside him. In the fight, defeated Shadows can be recruited as new Personas for the protagonist.
Persona 5 takes a lot of precautions to accommodate the player. Fights are fast and smooth. Once an enemy’s weakness has been established, the game has a feature to automatically exploit it. If that’s not fast enough for you, there’s an auto-attack button! Fast-forward through mindless encounters. Combat features enough variation to promote experimentation, and the Persona fusion system encourages the player to swap out his or her lineup.
One thing I can’t stress enough about Persona 5 is the style. Every character, every animation, and every menu has an aesthetic that links it cohesively to the rest of the world. Battles transition from the Overworld map to the the combat scene without a hitch! Sexy isn’t a word that I’d often use to describe video games, but P5 is worthy of that moniker. Even with a literal hundred plus hours, I rarely skipped past an animation the game was willing to throw my way. In Persona 5, even navigating shop menus became brief cathartic escapes.
In a year with so many amazing games, it felt strange handing the number one spot to a JRPG. But Persona 5 resonated with me. It made me feel some sort of way. The personal stories kept me engaged, longing for more time in that world. Even with the insane amount of hours I’ve poured into the game, I eagerly await more. Little did I know it was my heart that was stolen.