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  1. 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.
  2. HAIL 9000

    Game of the Year 2017: Hailee's Picks

    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.
  3. Jonathan Higgins

    Game of the Year 2017: Jonathan's Picks

    “2017 in video games” is probably the most I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store since I'd actually been one. There’s so much greatness, I didn’t even get to everything I wanted to. Games like Giga Wrecker, Pyre, and Hollow Knight are on my to-do list rather than my Top 10 list. But, c'est la vie! The sheer volume of games I could’ve included absolutely makes up for last year when I stopped at 9. Before I get things rolling, here are my usual precautions and caveats: You won’t find Breath of the Wild on this list. While I’m happy I took a chance on it and saw it through, it absolutely brought me more anxiety than joy. Still, it’s what’s chiefly responsible for me finally beating Majora’s Mask for the first time ever — so, in many ways, I’m grateful. I think this whole “Jonathan feels drained by large-scale games with complex systems” sentiment is what caused me to... not finish every main ending of Nier Automata in time to submit this list, for example. I hereby give every fan of that game permission to publicly shame me, ‘cause I should probably be among you. Related: I didn’t even bother picking up Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and it’s taking me longer than I’d like to mash through Dragon Quest Heroes II — another game that might’ve made this list in some form. Finally: I’m not omitting Pokémon Ultra Sun from my list because of some “rule” like previous years. I enjoyed it — it’s definitely what Sun & Moon should’ve been in the first place, it has its endearing moments, the post-game is phenomenal — but there are a good number of games released this year that are better than it. Is that controversial, coming from me? Without further ado... 10) Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap My first favorite game of 2017... is a remaster of a game from 1989. While some of you may fight me on this, I feel like Lizardcube set a new standard for the “retro remake” fare. Every piece and part of the original release...including cheat codes that are almost thirty years old...is present and accounted for. You can switch between past and present audio and visuals with the press of a button, or adjust individual aspects of these as you see fit in the pause menu. Want a full-blown orchestra behind graphics built for the Master System? That’s your prerogative, friend. The thing that gets me about the “new” Dragon’s Trap is that nothing about the original game was really tampered with. They’ve added a playable lady character and extra flair here and there, but it’s so faithful to the original that mashing that “retro button” would give you the full 1989 experience if you wanted it. Not sure how many remasters out there feel bold enough to have so much faith in the original text that they’d fully include it within modern wrappings. While Lizardcube’s endeavors may not be the first of their kind...they’re definitely a first for a smaller crew, without Scrooge McDuck’s money bin or Square-Enix’s notoriety. See also: - Blaster Master Zero: This is another take on “remaster done right”. It modernizes NES gem Blaster Master in every conceivable way: there are many more types of weapons, less restrictive controls, save points galore, an expanded story, and... gosh, the DLC is great. It's got Shovel Knight, y'all. 9) Slime-san Four colors are all developer Fabraz chose to work with. I think the aesthetic choice might turn a handful of folks away, but...there’s definitely more to this arcade-style platformer than meets the eye. You won’t get any Game Overs, but you’ll die & retry ten-thousand times. There’s never any “death screen” or fade-out to distract from the action. If you mess up, the game just plops you at the last “checkpoint” and the action keeps going. The game’s 100 levels are typically divided into about three very quick-paced sections. Bounce your way to the goal before your timer runs out and...intestinal fluids from the giant worm you’re inside catch up to you. Use your...slime powers...to slow down time and make precise jumps, or slurp up a few carefully placed walls. You’ve definitely seen “trial-and-error” style platforming like this before, but… Slime-san’s world and layers of customization are what set it apart from contemporaries. Entire towns filled with...celebrity bird parodies like 'Macawly Culkin', off-shoot arcade games that you use well-hidden coins to purchase, and more...are all trapped inside the worm with you. You can put a bow on your slime or their bird companion if you like, or handfuls of other innocuous costumes. You can even play as one of Slime-san’s family members that alter mechanics in various ways. One lets you jump a lot higher for more air coverage, but you can’t dash as far. Another lets you dash twice, but you can’t jump. There are numerous options available, and the game doesn’t punish you for choosing to play in a particular way. If you give this one a chance, it’s one endearing, weird adventure. See also: - Kirby Blowout Blast: It’s a modernized Kirby’s Dream Land, but arcadey in a different way. There are no Copy Abilities... just handfuls of levels [directly lifted from 1992] built for Kirby to inhale enemies and spit them out in ways that hit multiple other enemies in front of him to stack combos and get the highest scores possible. 8) Yono & the Celestial Elephants I’ve called this one “Elephant Zelda” since I first saw it. Instead of a sword and shield, Yono is armed with just his trunk... and whatever quirky objects he can pick up, drink up, or spit out on his foes. Mechanically, this Switch exclusive is cut from the simplest cloth. Puzzles are tried and true, if not a bit repetitive, and no singular aspect is built for anyone above entry-level to video games as a medium. In terms of its engine and execution, Yono’s journey is short, sweet and relaxed. Despite my five-hour-long run-time, though... there’s plenty of extra stuff to do and find. You can change up Yono’s looks, or dig into the lore of a complex world hidden underneath such a simple game. Niklas Hallin’s writing should not be underestimated. Some of the lines NPCs just casually drop, because Yono comes from a line of creatures celebrated as deities, will definitely make you think. If the cute aesthetics and sense of whimsy don’t reel you in, the depth of the game’s characters and plot absolutely should. For not knowing this game even existed until close to the end of this year, Yono’s journey sure did everything it possibly could to stay fresh in my mind. Plus... I mean, who doesn’t like carrying around a cute hedgehog on your back through an entire dungeon, just because you can? See also: - Blossom Tales: Coming to the Nintendo Switch before this year is over, this Zelda-like from the creators of Rex Rocket is the closest thing you’ll get to A Link to the Past on the newest Nintendo system. While the script isn’t as strong as Yono, the ambiance definitely is — and it’s much closer to traditional Zelda fare. 7) Finding Paradise Both To the Moon and its newly released sequel are story-driven experiences that focus on two doctors... traveling through a dying man's memories, with intent to artificially fulfill his last wish. The former... absolutely wrecked me, like the first ten minutes of Disney Pixar’s Up, or the very end of WALL-E. Soon as I found out Finding Paradise was coming out just days before I was meant to submit my list, I insisted on delaying until I’d played through to the credits. I’m very glad I did. As far as its premise, make no mistake: this is absolutely “To the Moon 2”. But the execution this time around is very different. Tip-toeing around such tiny scripts [this one lasted me no more than five hours] without spoiling is difficult, so pardon my vagueness. To the Moon resonated with me because it made me think critically about the important ways my most cherished loved ones influenced my life, particularly when navigating trauma. Finding Paradise resonates with me because I’m still thinking critically about myself, how I shape my own memories, and the profound ways an active imagination and isolation can play tricks on the mind. You’re still playing as the same two doctors from the first game — but the folks who’ve enlisted them, Johnny and Colin, are two completely different types of people. The strength of both scripts will appeal to different players in many completely different ways. See also: - Rakuen: Bring your tissues, if you’re down for an emotional journey that blends the harsh reality of being a hospital-bound young boy with a world of fantasy, like from a story you might read your own kids. Rakuen was created entirely in RPG Maker, like Finding Paradise. There isn’t any combat to speak of — the primary focus here is on exploration, solving puzzles, and storytelling. The plot expands upon real-world problems of the people around the boy and his mom, through vignettes told in a fantasy world the two can freely travel to and from. Everything is colorful, charming, and... eventually impactful, even heart-breaking. Rakuen is absolutely the most emotional experience I’ve had this year in games. 6) Persona 5 In terms of style, Persona 5 is without peer. You’re not going to find a user-interface quite like it. Menus, scripts, battle animations — everything is wonderfully woven to create the ultimate campy comic book aesthetic that resonated with millions and made this particular Persona title the most successful yet. While I wasn’t so much a fan of being a “Phantom Thief”— the 80 hours I spent absorbing the world was a wholly worthwhile endeavor. And hey — ATLUS continues to be “God-tier” about delivering the best kinds of difficulty options. Safety Mode made the entire game feel the closest to a simple visual novel as it’s ever been, rewarding heaps upon heaps of extra experience points and money, removing all sense of “difficulty” from my journey. But, I had a lot of problems with the game’s writing, particularly regarding both pacing and plot. I’d have put this game a bit higher on the list, for how much I enjoyed the characters, soundtrack, and other things it’s done incredibly well. Constantly flashing back from the point that happens at the game’s opening got tired very quickly. The script didn’t respect players’ intelligence as much as the previous game — whose true ending and villains were hidden underneath a mystery that was up to the player to solve, rather than automatically executed (or painfully obvious). I just think the writing — which is what made me fall in love with Persona 4 Golden when I finally gave it proper time and attention — wasn’t nearly as strong as it could’ve been. If you’re willing to overlook things I’m hesitant to, however, Persona 5 comes highly recommended from me. 5) Chicken Wiggle Official GP Review Of all the games Jools Watsham has his name on, this one’s the most criminally underrated. I feel like the folks at Atooi put everything they’d learned from Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and every other gem in their library into creating what is single-handedly their most refined work. I’ve said it time and time again: Mutant Mudds is one of my favorite games ever. While the mechanics felt a little samey to some, I never had a dull moment. Chicken Wiggle could’ve easily chosen to follow that same philosophy across its 54 story levels, but...instead, it’s chocked full of as many power-ups and level-bending options as anything in Super Mario’s early outings. I’d say a strong argument could be made for every two levels introducing a new type of challenge — whether that takes the form of a suit for the titular chicken-worm duo to wear, something for them to ride in, or some obstacle to overcome. Watsham definitely addressed my one main criticism of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, that things felt like “more of the same.” This experience is anything but. And there are hundreds of user-made levels to prove it. I think crafting an experience with user-creation in mind actually helped Atooi to stay on its proverbial toes, making sure there was always an opportunity to teach players to look at the creative process of level design in new ways. Having spent hours with Super Mario Maker on Wii U, I can absolutely argue that Chicken Wiggle dares to be comparable. There are a handful of different ways to play, and infinite value in doing so as long as Atooi continues to check up on the community from time to time. The game might not be a huge commercial success for Atooi. But to me, it’s their finest hour. 4) Miitopia Official GP Review This one definitely reminds me of my inclusion of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on my list last year. Miitopia is absolutely not a game I can recommend to everyone. It’s got its fair share of flaws (best discussed in my review), but...I’m still playing through it trying for the last handful of particularly cruel achievements. At 103:34 according to my 3DS Activity Log, it bests my total time spent with Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, and Pokémon Ultra Sun so far. Even after I’m done, I’m still going to remember it as one of my most positive experiences on Nintendo 3DS, simply because I got to see a very long story -- with its share of humor, twists, and turns -- play out while starring people I like a whole lot. The value you’ll draw from Miitopia correlates with how personal you decide to make the experience. It is truly the ultimate realization of what the Mii “brand” is capable of—telling a story where the identity of every character, major or minor, is entirely up to the player’s whim. I shared many endearing moments or twists from the plot with my friends in real life, whose Miis I’d cast in various roles. Everyone does this with new games as they all play through them together, on Social Media or otherwise. But few will feel as personal to me... as my fictional journey with friends I don’t get to see too often in the real world. 3) Night in the Woods I know a text has influenced me in profound ways when I find it more difficult to talk about than the rest. When certain emotions swell in me, it's easy for me to reconcile with and transfer to the page: Kirby games make me feel as colorful and bright as they are; a game like Axiom Verge makes me feel pretty unsettled. Night in the Woods... kind of punched me in the gut. I never expected to feel such real emotions from a surreal cast, like this. Everyone involved with the creation of Possum Springs and the vibrant folks that populate it is... so absolutely in-tune with what life is like for small-town folks. This is a story that highlights the almost mundane simplicity of everyday life in a place that doesn't move much, that almost feels isolated from the rest of the world. It's a story that stresses the importance of friendships — every shared moment or shared slices of pizza can have meaning, if you let it. But most importantly: as the story unfolds, and you get to know Mae and everyone around her as each day passes... you start to see how broken everyone is, or feels. And that not everything in such a dullsville town is as it seems. The music, the visuals, the strength of the script... because I found so much I could personally relate to, everything grabbed me. And it’s all honestly yet to let go. If you've had a tough year, or if you've ever felt uncertain about where you are in life... maybe this experience will grab you, too. Maybe the right words for me to say are... that the echoes of Mae’s struggles and everyone around her... make me want to hold onto my loved ones even tighter, next time I see them. 2) Super Mario Odyssey “If Breath of the Wild intimidates you so, how the [redacted] is an open-world Mario so friggin’ high on your list?” While the Kingdoms of Mario Odyssey are indeed large in scale... the systems that guide both Mario and Cappy are anything but complex. Mario doesn’t have to eat fresh meat to survive. Rain doesn’t inhibit Mario’s ability to jump or climb. With the exception of the giant dinosaur... Mario’s abilities don’t degrade or run out. The first few hours of “Breath of the Wild” were something I had to overcome to enjoy. Mario, though? Within minutes...I was right at home. The same muscles I’ve trained since Super Mario 64 were getting their usual workout again. Mechanically, Breath of the Wild set out to reinvent and refresh Zelda. But Odyssey wasn’t out to reinvent anything. Even the capture mechanic is just a modernized means of acquiring something like a fire flower or tanooki suit. It all made me feel comfortable and welcome in every Kingdom that came my way, like I was a tourist. Everything about the full package was indeed utterly refreshing — no hub worlds, no being kicked out of a level back to the start with every moon you’ve acquired, sometimes being able to grab hundreds in one go, etc. But one of my favorite parts about Mario Odyssey is its familiarity. Still, the brand new “worlds” brought about emotions I’ve never felt in a Mario game before. The “New Donk City Festival” totally made the room a little dusty. And the entire endgame is probably one of my personal top 10 moments in all of video games, much less Mario as a series. I was messaging friends in all caps, insisting they let me know whenever they reached a particular moment in the story or the post-game so we could all squeal about it. There is so much to love—lots familiar and nostalgic, lots more brand new and exciting. Odyssey proves that Mario doesn’t need to completely “reinvent the wheel” to feel revolutionary. 1) Sonic Mania Official GP Review I still fight myself on whether or not Christian Whitehead and company actually managed to surpass Sonic 3 & Knuckles, my second favorite game of all time. I think they may have — and just the fact that I’m contemplating this speaks to how strongly I feel about Sonic Mania. Since the Dreamcast era, Sega themselves have always been ultra-concerned with trying to reinvent Sonic in ways—appearance, mechanics, whichever. Sonic Mania proves that going back to the basics is what it takes to make Sonic critically and commercially successful as a brand again. And this group of fans, known in the “Sonic fan-game scene” for a good decade or so, have proven that students can surpass those who inspired them. I was initially a bit concerned when SEGA indicated that it’d be filled with more old levels than brand new ones. But Whitehead and company knew exactly how to mess with players' expectations for both types of Zones. Each and every second “Act” of an old level turns familiar environments on their heads. One of my groomsman and I, who met thanks to a Sonic the Hedgehog 2 message board on GameFAQs (methinks I’m showing my age a bit), stayed up until super late when the game came out, exchanging texts back and forth about the various ways the Sonic Mania team masterfully pulled off its first few zones. There’s just so much care and attention put into the idea of not just creating a good Sonic game, but throwing in things that appeal to longtime or lapsed fans finally making a comeback. Within the first week, I went from having no idea what was in Sonic Mania... to playing so much, so often, that I was able to complete a “No Save file” without breaking a sweat. Every old level subverts expectations. Every new level has brand new surprises that long-time fans will find both fun and captivating. Both old and new work together to create the ultimate “modernization of Classic Sonic” — the 'Genesis feel' that’s so fast, you feel like Sonic’s going to break the game he’s confined in, without any need for a “boost” button. Fully completing the new Mario is held back by troublesome Power Moons, like the infamous jump rope challenge... various bits that feel redundant... almost like padding. The reason I chose to marginally place Mania over Odyssey... is because I’m going to wear this game out. Super Mario Odyssey is a game I’ll replay whenever I feel like taking a trip to new and familiar worlds. Sonic Mania is absolutely going to be a part of my routine — something I mash as much, as often, as Mutant Mudds, Shovel Knight, Cave Story, and the other games in the Jonathan “canon”.
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