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This past year was easily one of the worst in my entire life. Without even going into the hellscape that is the current political climate I was also forced to deal with many far more personal concerns that made sure my mental fortitude was being only kept intact by the narrowest string at times. Irrespective of the time or seasons that the hardships of life decided to unfurl before me, 2017 in gaming brightly illuminated even amongst the darkest moments of my life. If anything, it's one of the very few things that kept me sane with reasoning to look forward to each new day. Maybe that intro was a bit too much of a downer, but what I am trying to say is that if 2017 was not such a strong year for gaming I would very likely still be in a terrible mental state. People have been arguing that 2017 is on the level of being on the caliber of 1998 in gaming -- and I'd be inclined to agree with them for the most part. You may notice a recurring theme as my 2017 list goes on where I'm actually putting a bigger emphasis on storytelling than gameplay like I would normally in previous years. Because there is no shortage of excellent games with great gameplay in 2017, the ones that also hit an emotional focal point through either their storytelling or writing were more likely to click with me. Without further ado, here are my personal favorite games of 2017. 10) Super Mario Odyssey Super Mario Odyssey is probably the closest thing in my mind to 3D platforming perfection. Masterful controls, top-notch level design, a constant satisfying loop with collectibles, a dapper-looking Bowser, and even the catchy "Jump Up, Super Star!" theme is sung by none other than the seemingly long-forgotten Pauline. Perhaps the biggest criticism I could truly level against Mario Odyssey is that it simply did not stick in my memory quite as much as other games this year after the initial credits rolled despite how much I enjoyed playing it in the heat of the moment. 9) Nier Automata Like most Yoko Taro games I find myself strongly respecting but am also equally frustrated at what Nier Automata attempts to achieve. Part of that was the unfair expectation was thinking it'd be a Platinum game with a Nier touch. And let me tell ya, I LOVE Platinum character-action games (Bayonetta 2 <3). What I got, however, was a Nier game with a Platinum touch, which conceives of all of the bizarre, yet fascinating quirks of a Yoko Taro game without the shoe-string budget and generally terrible gameplay he was known to be saddled with back at Square-Enix (*cough* the entire Drakengard series *cough*). Because of this, I was fighting between conflicting emotions of it not quite grabbing me as the storytelling/cast of characters in the original Nier did, nor the gameplay of Platinum in their prime. But like any game by the eccentric director, it likes to play upon expectations over time. Everything from a Metal Gear Solid 2-styled mantle pass, phenomenal dynamic soundtrack, twisted storytelling, and a highly evocative ending sequence that could only be executed within the medium of video games made the whole experience better than the sum of its clunky parts for myself. 8) Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn continues to be far and away the best thing bearing the Final Fantasy name in nearly a decade. Unlike the prior expansion that is more noteworthy for its storytelling, Stormblood is generally more impressive for its dramatic gameplay overhaul (not to say the story isn't compelling in Stormblood, though). Apparently, all it took was the noble sacrifice of the PS3 version. In which case I'll just say: why didn't they just throw the PS3 version into the sun earlier? [says this as someone who played FFXIV on PS3 for nearly 2 years] While I hardly consider myself a hardcore player I was more than swept into the fires of war that is Stormblood for months. With a campaign that is better than most RPGs this year (I've played a lot of RPGs this year), it features exciting bosses, creative dungeons, an English story localization that nearly rivals the quality of FFXII, two incredibly fun new classes, and entirely revamped gameplay mechanics that also happened to give my precious Astrologian class lovely buffs to help bring the Ala Mhigan war effort that much closer to home. To justify my occasionally dangerous addiction that much further I even made some new friends in real life during the course of playing it as well. All of this was almost enough to make people like myself forget the nightmare that was the early access launch. Almost... 7) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The 3rd I would've been perfectly okay if Trails in the Sky simply ended with the second entry. I mean, the extremely endearing Estelle Bright had her story arc pretty thoroughly resolved by the end of the Trails in the Sky SC after all. Still, despite initially coming off as a somewhat unnecessary fanservice game, Trails in the Sky: The 3rd tugged at my heartstrings in many surprising ways. I grew to greatly appreciate the distinctly different yet engrossing new lead cast members (Kevin especially) and radically changed-up gameplay structure present in The 3rd. It played the gamut of emotions from giving beloved supporting characters a stronger foundation/resolution, to also revealing deeply unsettling parts of ones you didn't know quite as well as you thought you did, all up until its tear-worthy conclusion that eventually wormed its way overall into being my favorite game in the would-be trilogy. 6) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild It's tempting to make the obvious play on the title like: "The newest Legend of Zelda was a breath of fresh air!" or something like that. But... that's just it. Breath of the Wild truly was a fresh contrast for not only the series becoming notoriously stagnant with its formulaic design but open world games at large. In a year where I dipped my toes into games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn or Assassin's Creed: Origins, I learned that I wasn't actually totally done with the entire open world subgenre, but rather ones that refused to challenge their gameplay norm. So, apparently, I was just bored of open world games not made by Nintendo, I guess. Breath of the Wild brought back a sense of genuine wonderment to not only the once decaying series but its homogenized modern open world contemporaries. It successfully evoked the sense of mystique during exploration and respected the player's own ability at discovering unorthodox solutions at nearly every turn we haven't seen since basically the very first Zelda game. I may not adore every facet of its design, such as weapon degradation, but I could not be more pleased with how Nintendo (of all companies) deliberately chose to be so fascinatingly different in a time where every other company tried to stay the course with open world games. 5) Night in the Woods It seems to me that Night in the Woods is highly likely to resonate with a very specific age demographic than others. As it turns out, I happen to be one of them within that age group. So I saw more than a bit of myself in Mae and her group of friends with their day to day troubles even if they were all animal... people... that stood on two feet. Shelving the existential animal question for now, both the writing and characters really struck a chord with me. The fact that I also happened to unintentionally play the game mostly concurrent with the late October themed narrative helped it be that much more immersive. Admittedly there are some elements that don't entirely ring with me in the game; predominately the weird psychedelic/supernatural elements that seep their way into what should've otherwise felt like a surprisingly grounded main narrative. But the moments where it felt so very human made me forgive such shortcomings the game had... even though they were technically animals. 4) Yakuza 0 Click here to read GP's official review The Yakuza series has always been one I liked much more conceptually than actually playing. Well, until Yakuza 0 that is. Turns out all they needed was a playable Majima!.. in a game that wasn't Yakuza Dead Souls. But seriously, I extolled the many virtues of Yakuza 0 through the course of my review. But the cliff notes version of my fondness for it had a lot to do with how expertly it balanced very serious, engaging storytelling and hilarious (though, occasionally heartwarming), as well as insanely abundant, side content complemented by the expert localization. Most impressive of all is that it is a prequel that retroactively makes all of its predecessors better by the reverence it pays to them as well as being the best game in the series. 3) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 There have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions towards Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in it simply existing. Some justified, some not. What I will say is that even though Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is likely the least cohesive game in the entire series, it is also far and away the one that I had the most fun actually playing. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 may not be the game that I myself and many others expected, but it was also one I did not know I wanted as much as I did. For as many technical rough spots and unnecessary anime fanservice/trope moments it presents at the forefront, I was also blown by just how much heart and depth it had buried beneath for both its gameplay systems and storytelling. It has been a while since I felt like a game so regularly went "And here's one more cool new thing!" via some gameplay mechanic or an exciting story beat. Couple it further with a masterful soundtrack, an impeccable world design, very rewarding battle system, and a surprisingly endearing main cast made my expansive journey and my absurd current playtime within more than worth it (...100+ hours). I am certainly looking forward to the additions to it via various updates in 2018, such as the added story content too. 2) Persona 5 As someone who would easily put Persona 3 & 4 high in the bracket of my all-time favorite video games, to say that I was hungry for Persona 5's eventual release would be a major understatement. Turns out that "Winter 2014" was much further away than anyone had imagined. So impatient was I to finally play it that I literally bought the game two times just because I could not wait an extra day for my limited edition to arrive via mail. Even though I was frothing at the mouth to finally play it I would say my expectations were actually pretty reasonable for what P5 actually ended up being. I wanted a game to NOT just feel like Persona 4 all over again by assuming a strong identity of its own and, of course, improve upon many enjoyable gameplay systems of prior entries. And it did just that. Actually, it did MUCH more than that. Persona 5 challenges much of the fundamental ideology of its two predecessors from the relationship dynamic between characters to the dark underpinnings of its storytelling, causing it to be rather divisive amongst fans on that front alone. It is also the most Shin Megami Tensei-y the series has felt since the original two Persona games (...technically, three.) with the return of demons, negotiation mechanics, and an oddly high default difficulty. On that pretense, I had a blast playing Persona 5. Its countless quality of life improvements to an already addictive RPG/school life formula, some insane late game narrative twists, jazzy soundtrack, and basically being the most stylish video game in existence (with people still swooning over its UI) more than solidified its place in my mind. It may not be my favorite Persona game (that honor goes to Persona 4 Golden), and I certainly have a criticism or two against specific story elements, but it didn't need to be for me to consider it an amazing RPG experience. 1) Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth Click here to read GP's official review Ever have that one game in which you adore but also can't really recommend it to anyone? Yet, at the same time, you also desperately want to talk to someone about how amazing it was? Yeah, that's kind of how it was for me while playing Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. Unfortunately, most people will be unable to get past either its' odd gameplay hybrid of both visual novel/strategy-RPG OR the basically required-to-enjoy predecessor called Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (released just four months prior), which is not nearly as good as Mask of Truth, and I can't really blame them. Much like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, there are also more than a few problematic "anime" fanservice elements that become a really tough aspect to ask most people to overlook. Again, can't easily recommend it to anyone... But, in a year where everyone is rooting for incredibly depressed robots trying to act like humans (Nier Automata) -- I and maybe like two other people were tested by the plight of the equally, if not possibly more so, emotionally scarred protagonists in the brilliant narrative conclusion to the Utawarerumono trilogy in Mask of Truth. Wrapping up so many story threads through amazing character development and riveting wartime storytelling, a deeply fascinating world/lore with a shockingly stellar localization to punctuate the experience, and perhaps an instance or two of salt flying into my eyes to trigger the waterworks did more than a number on me story-wise alone. Add all of this to my favorite subgenre of role-playing game (good ol' turn-based SRPGs!) and it somehow it snuck its way into my favorite of the year in such fierce competition. It is definitely a game most are unlikely to get around to appreciating, and again, I don't blame them in the slightest, though I know that I could not have been gladder to have played it as my Game of 2017.
2017 has been a huge year for games. I’ve never had so much trouble narrowing my list down to just ten, and even then it still feels like there were so many great games that I didn’t even get a chance to play. On top of that, this year I’ve felt fortunate to find several games that have probably become some of my all-time favorites. With all that said, let’s get started! 10. Destiny 2 Destiny 2 is a game that landed a spot on my list just because of how much fun I had with it. I never played the first Destiny because: a) I heard those voice clip compilations of Peter Dinklage as the Ghost; and I had kind of written it off as “not really my thing”. I gave Destiny 2 a chance mostly because my friends were playing it, and I’m really glad that I did. The game blends elements of an MMO and an FPS in a way that feels pretty unique and captures a lot of the good aspects of both. I played the entire campaign co-op as a Warlock and it was a lot of fun, both because I enjoyed playing with other people, and because I enjoyed the way my class affected the gameplay. Also, the world feels alive in a special way, like how you can run into and join groups of players doing public events while chasing after a quest. And, as a small perk that feeds into my personal interests, there’s great character customization and cool outfits. Another nice perk of Destiny 2 that I wasn’t really expecting is that the world and lore are quite interesting, although I’m somewhat frustrated that you have to do some digging both in and outside the game to understand them. Additionally, the game had a cast of likable characters that added to the experience. Plus the world itself was beautiful and fun to be in. All things considered, Destiny 2 was a pleasant surprise for me which I enjoyed more than I expected to. 9. Yakuza Kiwami Click here to read GP's Official Review In an unexpected turn of events, there are not one but TWO Yakuza games on my list this year (more about this later). As such, it’s kind of tough to write about Kiwami without comparing it to Yakuza 0 so if you want to skip ahead and read that one first I wouldn’t blame you. While a lot of my newfound love for this series comes from it being unabashedly sentimental and ridiculous, Kiwami has something extra special: Haruka, AKA the light of my life. The relationship between Kiryu and Haruka is what really makes this game. It’s just incredibly sweet to see Kiryu, a professional criminal hardened by ten years in jail, spending his first days of freedom looking after an orphaned little girl, helping her feed a puppy, and cheering for her at karaoke. Since Yakuza 0 is the only other Yakuza game I’ve played, I’m really looking forward to seeing Haruka grow up through the rest of the series. In addition to Kiryu being the world’s best dad, Kiwami has so much good melodrama and ridiculous plot twists. I also really appreciate some of the new additions in the remake, like the extra cutscenes explaining what happened to Nishiki and the Majima Anywhere System (which is delightful, if sometimes a little annoying). Kiwami is great, but the reason this one ranked so much lower than Yakuza 0 is because of its relative lack of content. The sidequests felt pretty lackluster and the combat less complex than in 0, which is to be expected. But all things considered they did a nice job with the remake, and it feels natural to jump to it after starting with 0, especially since 0 provides additional context to better inform your understanding of Kiwami’s characters and their relationships. 8. Rakuen Rakuen was a pleasant surprise that sort of snuck up on me this year. It’s unique, visually beautiful, and -- as one might expect from Laura Shigihara after her work on To the Moon -- it has a fantastic soundtrack. Taking all that into account, I think the place where Rakuen shines the brightest is with its story and characters, and the way that it presents them to you. In the game, you play as a boy in a hospital, who is accompanied by his mother for most of the game. Through top-down adventure gameplay, you get to know the other residents of the hospital both through your interactions with them in the real world and a beautiful fantasy world which stands in stark contrast to the drab interior of the hospital. Rakuen also features no combat and largely no sense of immediate peril, which allows the player to focus on what the game wants to share through its characters. Rakuen deals with some heavy themes and is quite sad at times, but it handles them in a way that is heartfelt and thoughtful. And despite that sadness, there’s a strong focus on the importance of being kind, gentle, and caring for others. All in all, Rakuen is an earnest and lovely experience, and I hope it doesn’t get buried in the wave of releases this year. 7. Tacoma As a big fan of Gone Home, Tacoma was a game I was really anticipating this year. Although its basis is more or less the same as Gone Home - walk around an abandoned space and piece together the fragments of someone else’s story - Tacoma manages to be an experience that feels unique and different. The scope of the story in Tacoma feels bigger, and it’s not so much about the personal journey of one person, but about how people interact with each other. This is reflected not just in the writing, but also in the AR mechanic the player uses to uncover the story of the Tacoma crew. Rather than just uncovering a recording to experience once, the player must move through parts of a scene, rewinding and fast forwarding to capture everyone’s role in the event. However, even with the focus on more people, the recordings feel intimate and personal. There’s something special about getting to see how someone deals with a situation through multiple lenses, such as what they write home about, what they say to their loved ones, and what they do when they’re alone. These sequences feel very intimate even though the player is only a passive observer of them, and it’s refreshing to discover a story through the little details of how it impacts the people it’s happening to. The scope feels bigger not only because it deals with a whole cast as opposed to just one person, but also because Tacoma tackles some interesting sociological issues, and does so in part by exploring their impact on the lives of individuals. While it maybe didn’t impact me in the same way that Gone Home did, I still really enjoyed my time with Tacoma and its cast. 6. Pyre Supergiant Games is a developer that has carved out a pretty big space in my heart over the last couple years, so naturally I was pretty excited for their latest game. Even though I was a little wary of what looked like “sports” gameplay, they definitely didn’t let me down. As I expected, I loved the art direction, music, characters, and worldbuilding of Pyre. I’m always impressed with the way that Supergiant crafts worlds that are interesting, fully fleshed out, and unique. Pyre is especially great in this respect in that it gives you the freedom to revisit the lore at any time, both by collecting it all in an easily accessible tome and allowing you to hover over names and terms in spoken dialogue to get a brief refresher on who or what they are. The world is only improved by the fact that it’s populated with a lovely cast of characters who you get to know in all sorts of ways over the course of the game, including through the enjoyable banter between characters. In a slightly unexpected turn of events, I loved the gameplay of Pyre as well. To progress the story, the player must complete Rites which are sports-match-like challenges where you assemble a team of characters with a diverse set of skills to face off against another team. I got so into the Rites I was even doing the extra challenges and turning on difficulty modifiers, which is a bit out of character for me. Ultimately, the sports-like gameplay in Pyre wound up being just as unique and delightful as everything else. 5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild When I found out Breath of the Wild was going to be an open world game, I was definitely a little worried. In recent years there’s been a trend of tacking open worlds onto games that don’t really benefit from them simply because “that’s what the kids want these days”. For me, open world games have all been feeling similar to each other, and the exploration they offer is starting to feel more and more like a chore. However, Breath of the Wild managed to buck this trend entirely. The way the world was done felt both unique and consistent with the Legend of Zelda series. It was carefully considered and meticulously designed, and just walking around the landscape was a joy and a goal in itself rather than a means to an end. It was beautiful and had such a strong sense of place that I often found myself avoiding key places and events just to keep wandering. It was really exciting to see the series that initially got me into video games take such a big step forward and succeed so well. And even though it was such a big change of pace for the series, it still felt familiar to me, and still had the elements of the series that I’ve come to know and love for the past twenty years. With all that said, I do still love the more guided, linear Zelda experience, and I hope that Nintendo continues to try new things with the series rather than stick exclusively to the open world approach they took with this one. 4. Yakuza 0 Click here to read GP's Official Review I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the Yakuza series, but after being introduced to the series with Yakuza 0 I’m a true believer. Who knew a game about beating up goons as a tough-as-nails Yakuza with a bunch of goofy mini-games would actually tell a sweet heartfelt story? The soft side of Yakuza 0 is the core reason why I loved it so much. I found Majima’s half of the game in particular so touching that I even shed real grown-up tears about it in the epilogue. It was really refreshing to see a game that on the surface appears to be a punch fest steeped in absurd masculinity turn out to tell a story that’s actually sweet and sentimental. Of course, the game still has plenty of absurdity, and that’s the other big reason I love it. Yakuza 0 is absolutely ridiculous. Between the melodrama, outrageous fights and action sequences, and hilarious side quests and mini-games, the game is totally unafraid to be campy. In an era where it feels like there’s a push for big-budget, story-focused games to be deadly serious to prove just how artistic they can be, this absurdity felt refreshing. I think there’s a place for artistic seriousness, but I think there’s also a place for recruiting a chicken to work at your real estate agency and breakdance fighting. And to be honest, if the karaoke sequences in Yakuza 0 don’t prove video games are art than I don’t know what does. My only complaint about the game is that the combat can be quite repetitive, especially towards the end of the game, which I’ve come to understand is an issue with the series in general. But all things considered, Yakuza 0 seems like a great jumping off point for those new to the series, as it’s polished and fun and actually provides some pretty meaningful background for the first game. 3. Persona 5 Persona 5 was a shoo-in for my favorite game of 2017 just by virtue of it being the next entry in one of my favorite series, and the fact that I’ve waited for it for almost a decade. In a lot of ways it exceeded my expectations, but in some ways, it didn’t. To start off with the good: the combat and dungeon crawling are hugely improved. The combat mechanics are streamlined and feel more fun and the randomly generated floors have been replaced with handcrafted dungeons, which eliminate the tedium that was still lingering in Persona 3 and 4. As far as aesthetic and style go it’s absolutely fantastic, maybe my favorite in the series, and it has the most gorgeous UI ever. Additionally, it features my favorite premise and themes of any game in the series. Despite being my first Persona game since leaving teendom behind, the “screw you corrupt adults” theme still resonated with me. A game about bringing down corrupt teachers, businessmen, and politicians felt pretty darn topical this year. And while I utterly enjoyed myself playing Persona 5, and while the characters do have a special place in my heart, in several ways I think Persona 5 fumbled a bit with its writing, which is disappointing since that’s a huge part of why I love the series so much. The story occasionally felt poorly paced and poorly crafted, some of the main characters got sidelined and didn’t get the development they deserved for the sake of developing one-off throwaway villains, and the game seems to unwittingly contradict some of the points it’s trying to make. Despite all my complaints, I still enjoyed the plot quite a bit, and I may hold the writing to an unfair standard given my opinion of the rest of the series. But for me, the Persona series really rides on its story and characters, and while they were great in Persona 5, they were not fantastic, which is ultimately what held it back from becoming my game of the year. 2. Night in the Woods When I played Night in the Woods, I quickly proclaimed it my game of the year, and although it was dethroned it’s still very dear to me. It’s a game I’ve been anticipating since it was Kickstarted and I was so grateful that it did not let me down. With Night in the Woods, in a way, I came for the aesthetic and stayed for the social commentary and its thoughts and questions about life. It’s the only game that I’ve ever immediately played again after beating it once. Pretty much every part of the game resonated with me on a personal level, which I guess is no surprise since it’s being called “Millennial Animals: the Game”. The game and its themes are grounded in reality, nihilistic and sometimes tragic, but still hopeful. It takes on a lot of heavy, topical subjects, but in a way that feels realistic and avoids being pretentious. Not to mention it does so with some absolutely lovely writing that deftly weaves humor and seriousness in a way that feels unique but also authentic. All of this is conveyed through a wonderful cast of characters, all of whom are lovable, but not without their own faults and struggles. In addition to the main cast, Possum Springs is also full of side characters who you can talk to every day to string together meaningful little vignettes about their lives and the history of the town. And while I said I came for the aesthetic and stayed for the writing, the aesthetic is pretty killer too. Visually, the game is gorgeous. It feels like every screenshot could be printed and framed as its own work of art, and the soundtrack is fantastic, which makes exploring Possum Springs and finding all its secrets that much more enjoyable. 1. Nier: Automata In a turn of events that will not surprise a single person who’s ever spoken to me, my game of the year is Nier: Automata. I’ve had tempered enthusiasm for Automata ever since it was announced. Nier Gestalt had some fantastic writing, world-building, and my favorite game soundtrack of all time, yet I found the gameplay a little lacking. When I found out Platinum was going to be working on Automata, I was pretty darn excited. When the game finally came out though, it exceeded all my expectations. Nier: Automata has some of the most fun action gameplay in recent memory. This, coupled with a beautiful open world that’s fleshed out with meaningful sidequests make for a consistently great gameplay experience all the way through. I’m often compelled to turn the game back on just for the sake of being in that world again. Automata also has a fantastic score, a worthy follow-up to Gestalt (which I think still remains my favorite soundtrack of all time). However, where Automata really shines is in its writing -- in the profound questions it asks as well as the way in which it asks those questions and the way that it uses the medium of video games to lend to the story it wants to tell. I’m being deliberately vague because I’d hate to spoil this experience for anyone, and everyone should play Nier: Automata. I’d also like to give a special thank you here to all my dear friends who still speak to me after I’ve forced this game on them repeatedly all year. Nier: Automata is a profoundly sad game, but it’s not without hope. I’ve never found myself so deeply moved by a game before and it is hard for me to remember the last time I loved a game this much. And so, naturally, it’s my game of the year, and has certainly earned its place as one of my favorite games of all time.
If nothing else, 2017 was an absolute bonanza when it came to quality games. No matter what kind of game you like or what platforms you own, chances are there were at least a few high-quality games that could tickle your fancy. Some years have made it difficult for me to pick out ten games in total that I felt would fit on my list, but in this case, the issue was all about trying to whittle down a long, long list of contenders. And this isn’t even taking into account games I haven’t had a chance to start yet, like Super Mario Odyssey. One can only wonder if 2018 will be able to keep up the pace. Honorable Mention: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 As of this writing, I’m less than halfway through Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It wouldn’t be fair to put it in my top ten in that regard, but from what I’ve played, the game has many of the things I’d want from a proper sequel. Its world and themes evoke much of what made the first game special, while the presentation takes on its own stylistic approach with a more obviously anime-influenced aesthetic. The gameplay carries many of the same core principles, but with some new elements and streamlined returning features, which make it challenging but rewarding, and the story is building toward something that feels as rewarding as the original. Maybe I’ll put the game on next year’s Top 10 list when things are said and done, but for now, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 deserves at the very least an honorable mention. And now, on to my top ten games for 2017! 10. Kamiko The shortest and simplest game on my list, Kamiko probably wouldn’t have caught my attention had it not been for a couple of factors. In particular, the game launched not long after the Switch went on sale, and it was one of the first indie games to appear in the console’s eShop. It also didn’t hurt that the game is priced at only five dollars. There are a lot of arguments about how game price and the breadth of content should or shouldn’t be a point of comparison, but in Kamiko’s case, the price is a perfect fit. A simple adventure with retro Zelda-style qualities, three playable characters, and a completion time of just a few hours, it’s one of the best bargains on the Switch or any other platform to see a release this year. 9. Toukiden 2 For me, the time I spent with Koei Tecmo’s Toukiden 2 were the most fun I’ve ever had in the monster-hunting genre. While the original game borrowed more of its design from the Monster Hunter series, the sequel exudes more confidence in going its own way, most notably with its expansive open world. The refinements made to the core hunting mechanics and other systems also help the game stand out as a title worthy of standing on its own, rather than being labeled as a simple clone of the games that obviously inspired it. 8. Splatoon 2 The sequel to one of the Wii U’s few honest-to-squidness breakout hits, Splatoon 2 doesn’t stray too far from what made the original game so good. But while the sequel in some ways feels like a slight upgrade or a minimal expansion, it still carries that fresh feeling. The mechanical improvements, additional modes, and continued free content updates have helped elevate what was a slim game at launch into a game that’s remarkably better than the original in almost every way. 7. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone Future Tone is easily the most content-rich and challenging release in the Project Diva series, and if you’re a fan of Vocaloid music like I am, there’s really no better game to get. With its massive track list comprised of songs taken from both the Project Diva and Project Mirai rhythm series spanning numerous artists and genres, Future Tone ‘s collection of classic songs featuring the Crypton Vocaloids is unparalleled. Also, any game that features Hatsune Miku is guaranteed to make me happy, if only because of her presence! 6. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Count me among the many that never saw this coming. When Nintendo announced a Fire Emblem-specific Nintendo Direct early this year, I, like most people, assumed that it would focus mostly on Fire Emblem Warriors and the previously announced mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes. So color me surprised when the Direct began with, of all things, a trailer for a full remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden! Shadows of Valentia is both a complete modernization of Gaiden, as well as a love letter to everything that made the original so unique and sometimes unfairly maligned as a black sheep. It doubles down on its dungeon and town exploration, ignores the weapon triangle in combat, ties magic usages to unit health, and puts a premium on environmental cover. The new modern touches like Mila’s Turnwheel, which allows the player to rewind time and take back actions and whole turns, just add to the fact that Shadows of Valentia isn’t afraid to be different in a post-Awakening-and-Fates world. 5. Yakuza 0 Sega’s cult hit Yakuza series took on new life in the west this year, and Yakuza 0 led the charge. With dual narratives featuring series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and loveable lunatic Goro Majima in late 1980s Japan, the game still carries the series trademark melodramatic storytelling mixed with comically absurd asides. One minute, Kiryu is on the streets of Kamurocho, beating up thugs and staving off betrayals, and the next, he’s at a bowling alley, having won a chicken that he intends to recruit as a real estate manager. And every second is glorious. 4. Warriors All-Stars As a fan of Koei Tecmo’s Warriors games, I was blessed with more than one title that fit on my personal Top 10 for the year. It was honestly difficult determining how to rank them, but at Number 4, I’m placing Warriors All-Stars. As a successor to the Warriors Orochi series, All-Stars takes the crossover concept and runs with it, creating a game that celebrates the combined libraries of Koei, Tecmo, and Gust. Like I noted in my review earlier this year, it’s not quite Super Smash Warriors, but it comes very close to fulfilling that idea. And there’s just something special about wracking up thousands of K.O.s with an otome game protagonist. 3. Fire Emblem Warriors While Warriors All-Stars is a fun celebration of Koei Tecmo, Fire Emblem Warriors does for Fire Emblem what Hyrule Warriors did for The Legend of Zelda. And in many ways, Fire Emblem Warriors outdoes its predecessor in presentation, gameplay, and content. The Warriors format just seems like a more natural fit for Fire Emblem, and the game has been designed with the franchise’s strategy RPG roots in mind. While it is a little disappointing that the roster is predominantly made up of Fates, Awakening, and Shadow Dragon characters, each of them are brought to life with an incredible touch of detail, remaining true to their personalities and bringing about a level of expressiveness in their combat styles that the core strategy titles couldn’t bring across. 2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Breath of the Wild is largely what I’ve wanted from 3D Zelda games for a while now. In many ways, it feels like a modern reimagining of the very first NES game. The game allows the freedom to just go where I want to go, do what I want to do, and always feel rewarded in ways large and small for exploring off the beaten path. It contains qualities that beg for experimentation, whether that involve messing with the game’s physics and chemistry systems to pull off ridiculous stunts, finding inventive ways to approach combat encounters, or more simply seeing how long I can survive making a bee-line for Hyrule Castle from the start of the game. (SPOILERS: I wouldn’t get very far at all.) 1. Nier: Automata I cannot think of a game that has left an emotional impact on me as powerful as the one left by Nier: Automata. At once dismal and beautiful, hopeless and hopeful, bearing witness to the trials and tortures that the game’s android protagonists live through in one playthrough after another, it’s left me in tears of both anguished hurt and determined exultation. I wish I could point to any one moment that defines this experience for me, but I’m afraid to say anything in specifics out of fear of spoiling too much. All I can say in that regard is that if you play Nier: Automata (and you should!), you absolutely should not stop until you’ve achieved Endings A, B, C, D, and most importantly of all, E. Nier: Automata is hands down my favorite game of 2017, and the debate in my mind was never even close.
Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: January 24, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature As a certain character would put it: "The Yakuza game, it's not like boxing. The man who gets beat down isn't the loser. The guy who can't tough it out to the end, he's the loser." This statement somewhat describes the tenacity that overseas Yakuza fans have needed over the years. Years of getting their hopes pummeled out of them after many commercial failures and the business reality of localization simply being too high to justify bringing more Yakuza games over. Yet, slowly but surely, the series kept getting back up again and again due to fervent fandom. And bless them and Sega, really. Because English speakers are now fortunate enough to play what is secretly a quintessential Yakuza entry for series fans and at the same time a fantastic starting point for would-be newcomers through the newest release of Yakuza 0 on PS4. Once you truly step into the criminal underworld it becomes pretty much impossible to leave it. And in the case of Yakuza 0, you won't really want to. In a lot of ways Yakuza 0 is a blast from the past. Disco is not dead just yet, pagers are the main means of portable electronic communication, and money is anything but difficult to come by in 1988 Japan. More than just the times, however, the title does a wonderful job of showing the contrasts in familiar characters as well with their distinctly different younger selves. Kazama Kiryu, for example, is not exactly the well-natured man we've come to know in later entries. He's a fresh and upcoming Yakuza with a naive outlook of the criminal underground. Which, well, frankly gets him into the mess he quickly finds himself upon starting out when Kiryu is framed for the murder of a guy he beat up just hours before on shady loan shark's payroll. Now, Yakuza 0's main narrative is far more complicated than that, especially when the perspective of the other playable main character Majima Goro comes into play. What I will say though is that it is pretty much without a doubt the best, as well as the darkest, story in the series. It is truly impressive how much Yakuza 0 retroactively makes its source material significantly better because of how brilliantly it tells an independent story while also cleverly making plenty of throwbacks to its would-be "sequels". I really enjoyed seeing the character development that Majima in particular sees because of how radically different he is in latter entries. Those that get a kick out of crime-based thrillers should be more than pleased with the exciting storytelling present in Yakuza 0. The series is far more than a crime-based narrative, however. If anything, it's surprising that the storytelling is as noteworthy as it is when the main stay of the series has mostly been within its open-world design and fun beat 'em up gameplay, as with more recent entries. In terms of actual scale the two primary towns are hardly anywhere near as big as many would come to expect from somewhat excessively huge open-world games as of late like The Witcher 3. However, Yakuza 0 compensates for this through the absurd breadth of side activities you can partake in. It is not an overstatement at all to say there is pretty much something unique to do in every block in either towns of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. Money is hardly a subtle theme in Yakuza 0. Whether it be in the grim main story or when punching in the face of random street thugs in a goofy way and having cash quite visibly fly out of them it is pretty obvious about it. Cash, or rather yen, is the life blood of the game and it is a tangible means of progression in more ways than one. For example, Kiryu and Majima use yen on themselves to strengthen their battle prowess -- literally. Speaking of which, the beat 'em up styled combat is quite enjoyable in Yakuza 0. Although it isn't dramatically different from prior entries, it does rather notably change it up with new fighting styles. There are four different fighting styles for each protagonist which can be toggled between mid-battle by tapping the d-pad. For example, Kiryu's "Beast" style is more about crowd-control while ruthlessly swinging heavy objects in the environment and his "Rush" style is better suited for bobbing and weaving singular targets. Other than that, it follows the general beat 'em up rules of prior entries where characters try to accumulate "heat" gained from various means (like landing hits or taunting) to perform over-the-top and context specific actions. Grabbing a salt shaker on the ground and pouring it into some poor goon's eyes or smashing their head with a street sign is all fair game in Yakuza 0. The Yakuza series has always struck a weird balance between being very self-serious with its main storytelling to extremely hokey with lots of the side content. And boy is there a lot of side content. I spent fifty hours taking my time with the title only to have it tell me I only saw about 30% of it after beating the lengthy main story. Both protagonists have lots of optional activities that are specific to them when roaming between the two primary towns (even if Kiryu has a bit more). Sure, there exists some overlap, like how both can participate in sing/dance mini-games, or that they can both spend time at a local Sega arcade playing stuff like Outrun too, but an overwhelming majority of sidequests and their short story lines are not. Some sidequests are oddly heartwarming, like trying to help a mother get her daughter back from a dangerous religious cult, while many more are amusing in concept, like helping "Miracle Johnson" shoot what is basically a Thriller music video as zombies try and attack him. The great, and often witty localization helps sell the exposition regardless of context. Which certainly helps a lot for a game that can be as dialogue and cutscene-heavy as various RPGs at times. What is actually really impressive is how many seemingly self-contained sidequests also feed back into other content as well. After a certain point both leads get control of the own businesses, such as Kiryu with a real estate agency and Majima with a hostess cabaret, each with their own unique and surprisingly nuanced mini-games associated with them. So that rude old lady that cut in front of you to buy takoyaki could be a potential recruitable hostess for Majima's cabaret, or maybe even that chicken you got from bowling more than a few times in a sidequest may just be the perfect real estate manger for certain areas in Kiryu's real estate business. Did I mention that Yakuza 0 gets really weird at times? It is a massive game to say the least and dense with quirky charm. It is weird to reach the end of a game review and feel like one has only just begun describing the title. But that is just it. Yakuza 0 is terrific in the sheer variety of its overall strengths. To say it is the best entry in the series in both gameplay and storytelling honestly feels like it is selling it short. The storytelling is enthralling, gameplay is as crazy as it is fun (it is very, very crazy), and the worthwhile side content is massive to the point of being overwhelming. Without aimlessly rambling for much longer, the last thing that I will say is that if the Yakuza series has ever piqued your interests in the slightest there is literally no better starting point than the excellent PS4 title that is Yakuza 0. And for existing fans -- well, they should pride themselves while basking the richness that is playing the best game in the series. Pros + Thrilling and dark crime-based storytelling that is the best in the series + Phenomenal sense of atmosphere that almost feels tangible + Flashy, vicious combat system that differentiates the fighting styles of both playable leads quite well + Sidequests range wonderfully from being bizarrely touching to downright hilarious in their writing and execution, more so hilarious + To say there is so much worthwhile content to see and do is a severe understatement Cons - Combat gets repetitive over time outside of certain intense scripted story events - Exposition may be overwhelming at times for those not expecting it to be so verbose - Some backtracking problems Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Yakuza 0 is very much a stellar prequel through the lens of the future. But rather than excluding those without an established history, it embraces pretty much anybody with so much as a passing curiosity in the Yakuza series as what is essentially the perfect starting point for it in general. And, arguably, the current best game in the series as well. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.