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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: Omega Force Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform: PlayStation 4, PS Vita, PC Release Date: March 21, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game After the Monster Hunter series jumped from the PSP to the 3DS as the franchise“s platform of choice, several companies tried their hands at the format to fill in the hunting gap on the Vita. One such game was Koei Tecmo“s Toukiden: The Age of Demons -- a game that, while it held very close to the gameplay structure of Monster Hunter, distinguished itself with a creative historical setting and gameplay elements that made it more than a simple clone. After following the initial release with an enhanced PS4 version in Toukiden Kiwami, the developer Omega Force has brought about its first true sequel in Toukiden 2. Set after the events of the first game, Toukiden 2 returns to the Midlands; the last remaining region of what was once Meiji-era Japan where humans live in a world overrun with demons, or oni. As in the first game, the player takes on the role of a slayer whose name and appearance can be customized, and whose job is to leave the confines of Mahoroba Village and protect it from the relentless hordes. There are a few callbacks to the original game, as well as returning faces, but the story doesn“t require knowledge of the first Toukiden in order to follow along. The storyline is surprisingly strong, with characters that start off as one-note showing more depth over time. A stark factional split keeps the village divided politically to a seemingly irreparable degree, which at times leads to some surprising but effective moments of drama and tragedy. The conflict is exacerbated by both human faults and oni attacks, but the narrative is kept light enough with plenty of humorous moments, as well. As a hunting game, Toukiden 2 strays from the first game“s formula in a significant way with the introduction of an open world. Unlike the first game, which used Monster Hunter-style maps of segmented zones, the map in Toukiden 2 is one large landmass populated with oni, side quests, and hidden secrets. What“s more, the world can be explored freely at will without a time limit; instead, a restriction is placed on the player in the form of the miasma gauge, which measures the player“s exposure to a toxic atmosphere created by oni. In regions of the map where miasma is thicker, the gauge will fill at a faster clip, though making progress in the story and by clearing map waypoints will reduce the miasma and make it easier to explore more of the map over time. The new map indeed goes a long way in giving the game“s world a sense of place. In the original game, the player visited different maps referred to as ages, such as the Age of Grace, Age of War, or Age of Chaos. Each of these maps was thematically based on an era of Japanese history, but there wasn“t anything to link them, other than they“re all accessible by leaving the village through its lone gate. Toukiden 2 reintroduces the ages as regions of the map, interconnected with each other and the outskirts of Mahoroba. In sum, the world feels vast, with a lot to explore, and only a small portion is seen while sticking close to the main story. The combat in Toukiden 2 also receives an upgrade in the Demon Hand. This new tool, which is essentially a spectral grappling arm, lets the player grab on to oni from a distance to close the gap or trip them up. When a special gauge is filled, using the arm on a giant oni will instantly tear off one of its limbs, weakening the demon while dealing heavy damage. The Demon Hand also has its uses outside of combat, allowing for some light traversal as well as destroying barriers that blockade select routes. It“s a little unwieldy to use at first, as it takes some time to get used to aiming, and in single-player, the AI partners tend to be much faster in using their own Demon Hands, getting into the fray before the player. It doesn“t take long to get used to, however. Toukiden 2 offers multiplayer that lets four players team up on oni-slaying missions together. These missions, also available in single-player, are analogous to the missions that the first game was structured around. In general, they“re short, sweet, and quick to jump into. After accepting a mission and heading for the gate, the game will take the players straight to a portion of the world map that has been cordoned off as the mission area. And once the target oni are slain, the mission ends, and it“s easy enough to jump right into another. The Mitama system from the original game also returns with some upgrades, allowing the player to equip Mitama for offense, defense, and the Demon Hand, with effects that vary based on the type of Mitama equipped. The Mitama equipped also determine what skills can be activated during battle, which can have a major effect on your play style and your role in a group, whether that be as an offense-focused attacker or a more support-oriented slayer with team-healing abilities. The system is of limited use in single-player (I made it through the story largely with the earliest acquired Mitama), but it offers more key significance in multiplayer. The vast majority of the game“s Mitama are based on figures from Japanese history and folklore, dating from the nation“s prehistoric era through the Meiji era and early twentieth century. Collecting these Mitama is one of the game“s more prominent side-tasks, and it“s worth it, not only for the varying abilities provided by them, but in learning their historical context, as each Mitama has its own accompanying biographical text. Certain Mitama that are historically associated, such as spouses, also provide extra boosts when equipped together. In terms of presentation, Toukiden 2 is on par with Kiwami in a technical sense, and shares the same art style, but with a greater sense of cohesion to its unified map. Many of the oni are distinctive and diverse in their design as well, with the giant oni standing out in particular. On the audio side, the game features well-done Japanese voice acting, though there aren“t any subtitles for incidental flavor dialogue party members may chatter in the field. The music, largely reminiscent of the original game, is of high quality and fits the mood and setting. But beyond those presentation checkmarks, Toukiden 2 is very much a sea-change in terms of being a sequel. While the original Toukiden and similar titles have been referred to as Monster Hunter clones for their not-too-subtle attempts at mimicking that franchise“s formula, the sequel takes great strides in furthering its own identity and creating a more unique experience as a result. It“s refreshing, and it makes for an easy recommendation. Pros + Open world structure gives the sequel a fresh take over the original + An entertaining story with fun characters + A great range of weapon types, as well as tutorials for each + Gameplay styles can be customized through equipping Mitama Cons - The camera can be obstructed at times when fighting giant oni in tight spaces - The game doesn“t do a perfect job of teaching all of its mechanics up front - The number of quests available in the open world feels somewhat sparse compared to the map“s size Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Toukiden 2 takes great strides in furthering its own identity and creating a more unique experience as a result, making it a refreshing and easy recommendation. Disclosure: A downloadable PS4 code was provided by the publisher for this review