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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, PC Release Date: August 29, 2017 ESRB: T 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the development studio Omega Force, as well as the studio’s first and longest-running franchise: the 'Warriors' series. A lot has happened in the two decades since the studio’s founding; larger historical highlights include its parent company Koei completed a merger with Tecmo, and the combined Koei Tecmo later took in the RPG studio 'Gust.' To mark Omega Force’s twenty years, the studio has produced Warriors All-Stars; a Warriors title that highlights not just the developer's history, but that of Koei Tecmo as a whole. People familiar with the Warriors franchise may recall the Warriors Orochi series. This trilogy began as a crossover between the Three Kingdoms-themed Dynasty Warriors and feudal Japan-themed Samurai Warriors series, but Warriors Orochi 3, through subsequent iterative releases, expanded the crossover idea by including more and more characters from outside of the Warriors franchise. By the time Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate released on the PS4, the game included characters from Koei, Tecmo, and Gust’s combined library. Warriors All-Stars takes this idea and runs with it, focusing less on the Warriors franchise specifically and more on Koei Tecmo’s full history. The crossover is structured around a narrative involving a kingdom and world in peril. Requiring the power of heroes from other worlds to restore the power of the world’s spring before it runs completely dry, a summoning ceremony is conducted, but fails, causing those pulled across the dimensional barrier to be scattered far and wide. The heroes become divided into three factions, each allied with a different member of royalty; Tamaki, her older brother Shiki, and their cousin Setsuna, each of whom vies to bring life back to the world in the manner they deem best, even if that means fighting one another. As a narrative in a crossover, the basic storyline is simple, but paths branch based on characters the player has recruited and which battles they choose to engage. There’s a large host of endings to uncover across the three factions, which range from relatively cut-and-dried “the world is saved” to characters going rogue and turning those efforts at saving the world sideways. In that sense, the replayability of the story mode is very high. On the surface, the game’s set of features appears sparse. For example, unlike most Warriors titles, there’s no Free Mode that lets you take any character into any battle. Instead, the game’s Story Mode features an open-ended structure with its world map. Markers scattered across the map feature a variety of battle types that include the core story and character-recruitment battles, special “dramatic battles” that play upon similarities between cast members, as well as side battles that emphasize offense, defense, treasure hunting, survival, and more. The variety is good, though those that primarily play Warriors games in multiplayer will be disappointed to find no such option available here. The combat system in Warriors All-Stars plays very similarly to most entries in the franchise, with every character having light attacks, heavy, or charge attacks, and a unique special attack. Where it differentiates is in its team-based approach. In addition to a leading player-character, up to four additional characters can be assigned as teammates, each with their own assisting special abilities that can be triggered at any time, barring cooldown. Teammates can also be called in to temporarily fight side-by-side with the leader, effectively giving the player control of more than one character simultaneously. And then, in perhaps the game’s most overt nod to its own celebratory nature, there is the Musou Rush. When triggered, Musou Rush puts the player in an invincible state and fills the screen with enemies, challenging the player to take out as many as possible under a timer. As the player performs well, the other party members will appear on the edges of the screen to cheer on the player-character while confetti flies about. Limited in use (the player begins every battle with one Rush Star and only earns more with every 1000 non-Rush K.O.s), they can help turn the tide when facing powerful officers. One of the game’s best mechanics is Bravery. A replacement for the morale systems seen in other Warriors titles, Bravery is a power-scaling mechanic. Every officer in each battle has a Bravery rating, and the player always starts off with a Bravery of 1. The greater in difference between two officers, the harder it is for the officer with the lower Bravery to do damage to the opponent. Completing side-missions and other tasks will raise Bravery over time, so there’s value in attempting to complete every mission given instead of attempting to rush the stage boss ASAP. Of course, as a crossover, one of the most intriguing aspects of Warriors All-Stars is its roster. While the game does feature a few of the more popular characters from the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors series, as well as returnees from the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games that previously appeared in Warriors Orochi 3, the vast majority of the roster is new to the Warriors format, and some come from games that never received an English localization or western release. Some of the new franchises represented include the action-RPG Nights of Azure, the trap-focused action/puzzle Deception series, and the otome romance adventure series Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time. Oh! And this dashing guy: Many games that don’t feature playable characters are referenced through material items that the player can collect during battle. Callbacks range from the relatively recent (Bladestorm), to the old school (Mighty Bomb Jack and Rygar). Though it is inevitable that what some may see as obvious candidates for any sort of inclusion, playable or otherwise, have been left out. The game isn’t quite Super Smash Warriors, but it gets close. The variety of franchise representation carries over into other aspects of the game’s presentation. Many of the game’s stages are themed after the franchises the roster members come from, whether that be Toukiden, Nioh, or the pachislot Rio series. Additionally, the soundtrack features songs from across the board, most if not all of which have been remixed with new instrumentation. And on the voice side of the audio, the game uses the original Japanese voice talent for all of the included characters with one notable exception. William, the Irish protagonist of Nioh, retains his English-language voice actor, and all of his voiced dialogue is in English. Warriors All-Stars is, above all, a very solid entry in the Warriors franchise. As something of a successor to the Warriors Orochi series, the playable roster isn’t nearly as large, but the diversity of its cast and willingness to poke fun at itself makes it feel like more of the proper celebratory title it was meant to be. If you enjoy Warriors games and you have a fondness for Koei Tecmo titles in general, Warriors All-Stars is the game for you. Pros + Includes a fun, diverse roster representing the combined history of Koei Tecmo + Smart gameplay tweaks to the Warriors formula + Branching story paths and numerous endings add a lot of incentive to replay + Numerous fun callbacks and references to characters, events, and oddities within the represented games Cons - Some well-regarded Koei Tecmo franchises are conspicuously missing - No way to replay story and dramatic battles outside of new game cycles - Optional character requests wildly fluctuate in difficulty, time commitment, and RNG chance requirements Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic If you enjoy Warriors games and have a fondness for Koei Tecmo titles in general, Warriors All-Stars is the game for you.