The word on the proverbial street is that 2017 was a good year for video games. I'm inclined to agree. It was tough to narrow down my Top 5 this year as most of my Top 5 could have been interchanged with anything in my honorable mentions list. I'd like to keep my intro short and just jump in, so let's do that, onto the list!
Favorite Game Released Before 2017, Played in 2017: Danganronpa 1-2 Reload
How did I miss these games? I feel as though I heard someone whisper the name of this series in some conspicuously trendy back-alley a few years ago, but who can say. Regardless, I recently picked up the collection of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair and eagerly tore through Trigger Happy Havoc over the course of a week. I just started Goodbye Despair a few days ago, so this paragraph will be devoted to the first game.
Danganronpa is a visual novel, whodunit affair that pits you against your own peers in a life and death game concocted by a wisecracking mechanical bear. Students are suspiciously murdered and it's your job to gather evidence and use your powers of deductive reasoning in a mock trial situation to figure out who the killer is. The oddball cast and the fantastic writing are the real stars of this game. Each cast member is distinct and memorable. Some are stoic and reserved, some are loud and brash, and then there are some you just pray get murdered before the games finale (Toko is the worst).
I also have to acknowledge the translation team and how much work they had to have put into making the English version a reality. Anyways, I'm loving this series and hopefully I'll be diving back into Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair in the near future.
2017 Honorable Mentions
Gravity Rush 2, Tales of Berseria, The Evil Within 2, NieR: Automata, Resident Evil 7
Top 5 Games of 2017
Have we started using the term "Souls-like" in the same breath as terms like Metroidvania or Roguelike? Regardless of your position on the proper verbiage, Nioh is very much a Souls-like game. Team Ninja successfully married the precise, frantic, timing focused combat of their previous Ninja Gaiden games with the more deliberate, patient battle system of a Souls game. There's a nice variety of weapons to choose from and each one has its own unique feel and skill set. Honestly, I don't remember much of the narrative, but I dove into this game hard when it came out and loved every minute of it.
It's strange to look back on a game that purposely tried its best to illicit rage through its demanding bosses, traps, and a variety of surprisingly difficult normal enemies (I'm looking at you Tengu's) and yet have it make such a great lasting impression on me. After playing through Bloodborne last year and now Nioh this year, I get it. I get the allure of these games. I'm out of elixirs, the boss is doing pirouettes around the arena, and I risk it all on a risky overhead charge attack that probably has a five percent chance of actually connecting. It lands and an adrenaline burst ejects me from my chair. There's only a handful of games I have ever had an experience like that with, and Nioh can now count itself on that list.
4. Assassin's Creed Origins
Yes, I am an unabashed Assassin's Creed fan. The premise alone was enough to get me hooked. Stealth gameplay, alternate history, and wacky conspiracy theory plots were all buzzwords that drew my attention. The series has hit peaks and valleys along the way and while I ended up enjoying Assassin's Creed Syndicate more than I anticipated, I was ready for some more momentous changes to the formula.
Assassin's Creed Origins isn't necessarily a huge departure from the staples of the AC lineage, but the combat has undergone some serious alterations. Gone are the days of standing stock still amidst a sea of enemies and counter killing everything that sneezes at you; replaced with a more engaging, calculated system that rewards persistence and punishes button mashing. The actual combat itself is difficult enough that taking on more than a handful of enemies at once can prove counterproductive. Thus, stealth takes the reins again (as it should in a game based around assassins) and the more bombastic melee combat becomes a last resort in most scenarios.
The writing is also surprisingly adept and I found myself fully engaged in Bayek's plight. It's fabulous to see this series return to form and I have to admit, this might be one of my favorite AC games, although it is hard to top Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.
3. Super Mario Odyssey
I haven't played a Mario game since Super Mario 64; and I only played Super Mario 64 for about two hours. There, I admitted it. Something about the portly plumber just never appealed to me. But my Switch was feeling largely neglected and I was looking for an excuse to finally exhume my copy of Breath of the Wild from the residence it had taken up in my Switch for the past eight months; so I took a chance on Super Mario Odyssey. The reviews got it right, this game is phenomenal.
Each world in Super Mario Odyssey is optimized to perfection. The games main collectible, moons, are scattered liberally throughout each world. Most of the moons require either a small mini-game or an inventive platforming section to obtain, and only a handful are simple "butt-stomp here" affairs. I was consistently amazed at how much mileage they got out of each world. However, I am the type of person to obsessively collect every collectible possible, so your mileage may vary.
The way you can string together various jumps, rolls, and dives to get to areas in ways the game didn't necessarily intend you to was a blast. I know that Nintendo was trying to balance this game in a way that let children play it and yet also appeal to the older crowd who wanted something to test their Mario mettle. Super Mario Odyssey largely succeeds on this front but the one exception is that the boss battles feel overly simplistic. That small caveat aside, this game is childlike wonder and joy personified. I mean hell, even the villains are charming.
2. What Remains of Edith Finch
My last three games made the list primarily due to their stellar gameplay mechanics. None of them were exactly lauded for their narratives. What Remains of Edith Finch is almost their antithesis. It's a somber first-person experience that follows the titular character Edith on her visit to the Finch house which has been in the family for a number of generations. The attention to detail, both in the house's architecture and plot points, is astonishing.
As Edith, you spend the majority of your time discovering how each member of the Finch lineage met their demise. Each of these seemingly disparate stories can have unique control schemes or light puzzles to unravel as you delve into the history of these charismatic characters. This is the type of game you play through once and then immediately want to watch a friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, some random streamer play. It's a game that can spark discussion and introspection. There are two scenes in this game that I will probably never forget and without wanting to spoil anything, I'll just say that one involves a cannery and the other, a baby.
I would encourage anyone who's a fan of just... storytelling in general to give this game a fair shake. Developer Giant Sparrow has two superb games to their credit and I'll be eagerly anticipating their next outing.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I fully expect this game to be on anyone's list who owns a Switch. Having said that, I'm sure other reviewers will explain why this game is so universally praised far more eloquently than I ever could, but there's a reason why it's graced so many lists and winning so many Game of the Year awards. Is it the story? Not really. Is it the combat system? Probably not. Or is it the expansive open world? A little. I think the main reason this game has found so much success is the feeling you get when playing it. I know that sounds pretty vague and nebulous but Nintendo has forged a world that feels lived in. The quaint villages, the rolling plains, the stifling atmosphere of Death Mountain, each area feels so distinct and unique.
The moment to moment gameplay is equal parts exploration and varied combat. The simple act of running through Hyrule, discovering shrines, clearing out nests of Bokoblins, and farming Lynels for drops has been some of the most fun I've had with a game in years. This game has become my favorite Zelda and has edged its way into my personal Top 5 games of all time. Well, enough gushing, I'm sure anyone reading this has been inundated with Game of the Year lists citing Breath of the Wild in their Top 5. Despite your outlook on Zelda and what a Zelda experience looks like, this game is more than deserving of all the perfect scores it's received.