If in the last year had I difficulties in choosing five exceptionally good games, this year the situation is completely opposite. There was an abundance of excellent games pushing through, especially the first quarter was loaded with worthy titles. I had to leave out some awesome games which in any other year would have easily made into the top five. You won’t see holiday season big-sellers in this list because I’m really not into annual updates of hit game franchises. Big production values never impress me as much as heart and soul put into the game. That’s why indie games are continuously so important, bringing back the joy of gaming and presenting new ideas when the overall talk in gaming is about micro transactions and other dubious means of coaxing the players into mass-marketed corporate products. I was happy to notice that 2017 also saw the return of big Japanese games back to form as both critical and commercial successes.
Favorite Game Released Before 2017, Played in 2017: Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
It would have been too trivial to go either with Fallout 4 or Skyrim here. Both games still keep me entertained, as I have taken a laid-back approach to them; play them regularly but never exhaust them because I don’t want either of them ever end (and toying with mods is another story!). Instead, I take one narrative game that I already have played through multiple times. I first played Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter when I borrowed it from the library for PS4 (the game received lukewarm reception upon its release so I hadn’t bought it). I ended up liking it so much that when I saw Xbox One version for sale, I grabbed it immediately. Meanwhile, I played through the predecessor, Crimes and Punishments, as it had been resting in my games library. While it’s an enjoyable whodunnit as well, The Devil’s Daughter improves on all aspects. Some clumsy arcade sequences could go but the core gameplay and the deduction process in unmasking the murderers are exciting. For an added replay value, you can come up with wrong culprits but it’s never awkward as it’s all plausibly narrated into the context. Also, the production, set and costume designs are extraordinary, making the game so photogenic I just kept on snapping screen shots.
2017 Honorable Mentions
Hand of Fate 2, NieR: Automata, Tekken 7 (PC), Ghost Recon: Wildlands, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Top 5 Games of 2017
5. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
It could be just as well The Legend of Heroes: Trails of the Sky the 3rd or The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel here instead of Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. They all represent Nihon Falcom excellence in JRPG genre but I chose Zwei because it’s a stand-alone game. It too bears all the trademarks of Nihon Falcom’s user-friendliness and immediacy. Whether battling in dungeons, traversing the world or managing the game, the player comes first. Distinctive characterization is also very much their staple. Zwei’s heroic duo of an unfortunate pilot boy and a spunky vampire princess is downright lovable. Their banter carries the story through its twists and turns, and elevates the action whenever it’s about to drag into yet-another dungeon crawler. As usual, XSEED’s localization is stellar, from the translation and script editing to the voice acting.
Taiwanese horror adventure Detention was one of the first games I reviewed this year and it held its appeal to this point. As a big fan of Asian horror, I was expecting some cool representation of the genre. Boy I was wrong. Instead I got a deep and tragic story about lust, caution, disillusionment, revenge and regret set in the 1960's Taiwan under martial law. The story is told as a point-and-click adventure within frames of Eastern Asian folklore, so there are obligatory horror and thrills, but all effectively symbolic in nature. The tale in the center is a deeply personal one. Considering Detention is the first narrative game for the developers, I can never emphasis enough how mature the writing and dramaturgy is. In my review I said I could easily imagine Detention as a movie and hear this, apparently there's a movie planned based on the game. Would it be cool if someone took that note from my review!
3. Mass Effect: Andromeda
People loved to hate this long-awaited successor to BioWare's sci-fi series - some even without playing it! Let's be honest here: imagine if the original Mass Effects were a big-budget sci-fi movie trilogy, Andromeda feels like a low-budget TV version in comparison. But it's this rough charisma that gives the game its likable personality. I know some people hit the wall with the sheer volume of things to do in Andromeda. Not me! I would have gladly done twice the amount of what I did, as I found most quests - even the most mundane - properly motivated. The best thing though is the game's comradely and humane spirit, as opposed to almost nihilistic overtones of the original trilogy. Ryder's team is a bunch of lovable misfits and the overarching storyline binds them heartily together in the midst of the epic exodus. These ambassadors of the humankind teach the openness and companionship, something the world today would desperately need.
2. Okami HD
I had written my top 5 games list well in advance, but then came along Ōkami HD... I had never played Ōkami before, as strange as it sounds for someone who’s a fan of East Asian culture and art. Maybe that was for the better. As I had no burden from its past glory, the game had a chance to blow me away. And it did just that. Presented in a lush and unique art style mimicking East Asian ink paintings, Ōkami HD is not only a competent action-JRPG but also a mischievous take on Japanese mythology. For every praise for nature, the game makes you smirk for its goofy characters and cheeky humor. The creative gameplay with a celestial brush to paint your way out of trouble is a creative stroke of genius. The game also looks better than ever in new high-definition resolutions. For those who, like me, skipped Ōkami two console generations ago, there’s no excuse to miss it again!
1. Thimbleweed Park
Before Thimbleweed Park was even released, I just knew it would be my Game of the Year. There wasn’t going to be any other way. And there wasn't. Thimbleweed Park, bought to you by the point and click legends Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, along with their talented team of coders and artists, is everything why I love adventure games. What can I say about it I haven't already said in my preview and review? That it's a clever, ingenuous, twisted and funny graphic adventure that's been done in the spirit of classic LucasArts games.
All the while Thimbleweed Park has its own ironic and self-conscious voice and doesn’t resort just to rekindle the old flame for the sake of rose-tinted nostalgy. Thimbleweed Park is as relevant today as it would have been in the year it takes place, 1987, something the game is keen to point out. It’s almost as if Gilbert & co. created this meta-time loop, making anything in the game scene during the last 30 years superfluous. Perhaps the best way to summarize the game is something I saw on Twitter soon after its release: "Thimbleweed Park is a perfect marriage between the 1987 ingenuity and the 2017 awareness of the medium."
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.