Joseph’s Top 10 Games of 2017
2017 was the year of the Japanese game developer. At least, it was if my own top ten is anything to go by. Securing a resounding eight out of the ten spots on my list, Japanese games highlighted what was arguably one of the greatest years in gaming. Horror, visual novels, platformers, action-adventure, and role playing games, Japan had everything you – meaning, me – could want. Of course, there were several Western titles worthy of note, including my #3 ranked game. But, yeah, Japan totally killed it this year. Led by Nintendo, whom launched their newest console, the Nintendo Switch and came out swinging with some big-name titles; several more niche Japanese games also came Stateside this year, along with the long awaited fifth entry in my favorite video game franchise of all time.
If you don’t believe me that Japan had a great year, read my list first and then decide for yourself. Ironically enough, though, this list does start with a non-Japanese game.
10. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
I haven’t played Shadow of War as much as I would have liked, but I’ve enjoyed what I have played enough to the point of I’m willing to find a place in my top ten for it over several other games that I have spent countless more hours playing.
While the story and characters are nothing to write about, the gameplay is all around solid and the Nemesis system is one of a kind. Controlling Talion at times may be a bit unwieldy, but being able to traverse the large open worlds at such a fast pace is immensely satisfying. Not to mention a lot of the side quests available to you feel reminiscent of those found in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although, I’m currently still playing the game and there is a lot left to see and do, so these are far from my final thoughts.
9. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Shadow of Valentia is not only a remake of the 1992 game Fire Emblem Gaiden, but also a virtual apology letter to old school fans Fire Emblem fans who’ve been turned off by the franchises latest entries (Awakening and Fates). Placing less emphasis on relationship building by offering only a limited amount of Support conversations, Shadows of Valentia is also Intelligent Systems’s most difficult game in years. As a big fan of the newer games myself, I still enjoyed Shadows of Valentia not only for its reliably engrossing tactical strategy gameplay, but for some of the experimental changes they introduced as well, such as the visual novel segments.
Shadow of Valentia is vastly more plot driven game too; featuring a bevy of dialogue, voice work, and cutscenes, this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s good because this kind of hands on storytelling is something I hope they carry over into the next entry in the series, but it’s also a bad thing because this particular game’s plot becomes quite hackneyed down the stretch, and not to mention Alm and Celica’s love story is a tad overbearing. The rest of the characters, though, are a likeable bunch. Although some of characters are underdeveloped and given very little to do – something that having more Supports would have certainly subsided.
8. Super Mario Odyssey
I’ll be honest, in my opinion Super Mario Odyssey was not all it’s cracked up to be. I found the game to be woefully short and remarkably easy. Yeah, I know the game offers tons of collectibles and hidden secrets, but being the goal oriented person I am, I found little reason to stick around in a Kingdom after the surpassing the necessary Moon quota to advance to the next one. And taking in account just how forgiving the game is and how simple the boss fights are, my playthrough was already over before I knew it. Regardless, I did have fun with Super Mario Odyssey and will still give it its due for being a well put together platformer.
Almost all the Kingdom’s in Super Mario Odyssey are colorful and imaginative places that are a feast for the eyes; New Donk City in particular was an absolute joy to explore. Cappy is a noteworthy traveling companion for Mario, and the ability he offers Mario to take control of enemies and inanimate object alike is a fun tool (even if a bit overpowered). Nintendo also does a good job of injecting a healthy dose of nostalgia through brief bouts of 2D platforming and a secret Kingdom that is only unlocked after finishing the story.
7. Fire Emblem Warriors
Fire Emblem’s characters and systems lend themselves much better to the Dynasty Warrior gameplay than Zelda ever did, which is what helps Fire Emblem Warriors succeeded in areas that Hyrule Warriors, Omega Force’s last attempt of mixing a Nintendo franchise with their own successful series, failed. The gameplay might not be anything special, but button mashing your way through massive armies as your favorite Fire Emblem characters just equals a fun time. Being able to switch between four different characters on the fly while also commanding them using an easy to grasp map of the battlefield is just the icing on the cake.
The story might be all over the place and feel a bit rushed at times, but it does its job of getting Fire Emblem characters from three different games to interact with each other; featuring plenty of entertaining character interactions and amusing dialogue. Plus seeing all these characters in 3D just makes me that much more excited for the impending core Fire Emblem game on the Switch .
6. Tokyo Xanadu
Tokyo Xanadu is essentially the mashup of Atlus’ Persona and Falcom’s own Trails of Cold Steel, which are arguably among the best JRPG’s around. Combining two great yet different things isn’t always a sure-fire thing, but, much like chocolate and peanut butter, sometimes it does work. And though it lacks the political intrigue and complex storylines that Falcom is known for, and nor it will it engross you in the same way that Persona can, it’s action-focused combat offers a nice change of pace to a familiar gameplay loop, while its story offers a wealth of worldbuilding and introduces several characters worth getting to know.
5. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Danganronpa has always been an out of control roller coaster ride of screwball, craziness, but the latest entry, V3: Killing Harmony, takes the series’ latest Killing Game to new a height of delicious absurdity with each of the murders you must investigate being more elaborate and complex (and not to mention demand a greater suspension of belief) than ever before, essentially making the murders of the original Danganronpa’s Killing Game look like child’s play.
While it might not the most inventive game – the premise and gameplay are virtually identical to its predecessors in almost every way – it does show that the franchise’s already proven formula still has legs. Containing everything you expect out of a Danganronpa game – colorful and eccentric characters, intriguing mysteries, brutal deaths, and shocking twists – V3: Killing Harmony delivers in spades.
4. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
It’s easy for a would-be horror game to lose its scariness factor by giving the player too many means to fight back, but at the same time it can become frustrating by leaving the player with no option but to run from everything. Resident Evil 7, however, strikes the perfect balance; forcing the player to figure out when to fight or flee. The standard enemies, which are more terrifying than the zombies of past games, you encounter can be killed, but your ammo is limited, while at the same time there are certain enemies that are best to be avoided at all costs.
Although you play as a man named Ethan, the real stars of the game are the Baker family. Grotesque and frightening, this deranged southern family that hunts you throughout the game still somehow manages to come off as charming and comical. The Bakers are without doubt the most likeable horror villains ever. I’m not sure there is any game, movie, or book, that had me going from being utterly terrified to laughing, and vice versa, as often as I did in Resident Evil 7. And it’s all thanks to the Bakers. I mean, Jack “Daddy” Baker breaking through a wall to attack you is horrifying, but crouch walking circles around a counter, while Jack unknowingly trails behind you saying that he knows you are close because he can smell you, left a grin plastered on my face – until something similarly terrifying happened, of course.
Each of the boss fights in Resident Evil 7 got my adrenaline pumping, and, although looking back they are easy to figure out, the tension during the fights are so strong that it easy to get a cloudy head in the moment and panic. The puzzles are less abstract than the original Resident Evil yet remain just as clever, including several that are clear homages to its predecessor. To top it all off, the environments you explore are chilling and well-designed, while the character and enemy designs are beautifully, disturbing. Resident Evil 7 truly is an atmospheric, albeit short, game worth experiencing.
3. For Honor
Over the past few years, online multiplayer games and I have had a sort of falling out. I used to play them all the time, but now I mainly stick to single player or local co-op games. For Honor, however, rekindled this love affair. Although For Honor didn’t just revitalize my interest in online multiplayer games, but the fighting genre as well. Visceral battlefields and strategic rock–paper–scissors style combat, For Honor is a game where skill wins out over having better gear. Competing in 1v1 duals allows for slower, more precise battles, whereas 4v4 melees quickly become wild and chaotic as a real battlefield would. Featuring a mix of vikings, samurai, and knights, each character has its own distinct playstyle, strengths, and weaknesses, with no one character playing the same way.
I also must give Ubisoft props for its constant support of the game. Continuing to roll out new characters, maps, game modes, and ease of play mechanics the entire year, and doing it all free of charge. For Honor is undeniably the game I spent the most hours playing this year.
2. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Stop me if you’ve heard this before – Breath of the Wild is great.
Before I got my hands the on the game myself I was skeptical of the universal acclaim and perfect review scores the game was racking up. Nintendo was clearly going all in on the open-world aspects of the game, which was part of the reason I thought the game couldn’t live up to the hype and had me thinking that maybe, just maybe, everyone was overselling Breath of the Wild. I enjoy open-world games, but it seems like every other major developer these days are releasing a game that boasts a wide open-world filled with hours-upon-hours of non-essential activities to get lost in. It has gotten to the point that when I hear a game’s main selling point is it’s huge open-world, I’m not becoming as interested as I once did. Despite all this, Breath of the Wild seemingly cured me of my open-world fatigue and hooked me into spending hours upon hours exploring Nintendo’s newest iteration of Hyrule. The characters that dwell in the world are all quirky and unique, while the differences in the geographical layout of the world made it so I never felt like I was just exploring the same old place over and over again. The game’s simpler take on leveling up engaged me more than most game’s use of various skill trees and experience grinding ever has. I was even interested in item crafting, which is something I’m never interested in.
Whereas every open-world game says you can go anywhere you want, Breath of the Wild is one of the few where that isn’t a lie. And it’s all thanks to Link’s newfound climbing abilities that allow him to scale almost any tangible surface. I cannot express enough how amazing it is to be able to go anywhere I want without having to worry about trying to find a way around yet another mountain. I also must give mention to Link’s paraglider, which is great tool that makes traveling long distance a breeze and allows you take in the sights of Hyrule from breathtaking heights.
Another aspect of the game that I wasn’t so sure about coming in was the degradation of weapons and how this would affect the combat. But, just as Breath of the Wild surprised me with its mastery of creating an engaging open world, the combat does not disappoint. In fact, I would go as far to say it’s the best combat system in the series to date. The mechanics themselves don’t differ that much from past games, but the added element of having a large arsenal of breakable weapons at your disposal adds and dealing with the responsibility of managing them effectively adds a layer of strategy to the combat that the series has been lacking. Link’s bow is the most influential it has ever been in combat, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Breath of the Wild is the most unconventional Legend of Zelda in recent memory. And though I subscribe to the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” most of the changes they made to the classic Zelda formula are alright in my book. I can’t say this is my personal favorite Legend of Zelda game, but I like I might have mentioned before – Breath of the Wild is great.
1. Persona 5
Persona 5 retains almost everything I loved about the past entries in the series – likeable characters, interesting story, addicting social sim elements, fun combat, awesome dungeon crawling, and great music – but also makes enough revisions to the core gameplay that the experience still feels fresh despite its fundamental similarities.
There is so much great stuff to say about Persona 5, but the heart of the series has always been the characters and the bonds they shared. If you didn’t already know, I believe the characters of Persona are some of the best to be found in any medium. While I can’t say they are on the same level of the Persona 4 characters, this mix-matched gang of troubled misfits that make up the cast of Persona 5 lives up to the series reputation admirably, and I believe even surpass Persona 3’s SEES team in likeability and development.
The story of Persona 5 manages to expertly straddle the line between the darker and depressing tale of Persona 3 and the more upbeat, lighthearted Persona 4. There are some rather serious topics being tackled in Persona 5, but instead of allowing all the fun to be crushed under the weight of it all, there are numerous moments of jovial humor and fun dialogue to balance it out, while the thieves gimmick pieces the entire plot together nicely and is used to great effect.
As much as I loved past Persona games, if I had to voice a criticism with them I’d say they did feel a little grindy at times. However, that’s not the case with Persona 5. Your actions are now mapped to individual buttons streamlining the entire combat process, and thus results in faster paced battles and less time spent digging through menus, while the introduction of the baton toss ability, which can trigger a barrage of chain attacks, helps cuts down on wasted turns. The fact that dungeons are no-longer randomized and now feature set designs with more puzzles and interactive environments probably helps as well; they are also much more fun to explore than the empty corridors of past.
While you can plainly see the game was originally designed for the PS3, Persona 5’s graphical inferiority is suppressed by the excessive amount of pure style that can be found in every aspect of the game. I may not be the upmost authority on what is stylish, but I do know enough to tell that Persona 5 captures the essence of the word perfectly. Seriously, the game is just oozing in artistic flavor. Persona 5 touts it fantastic and dynamic art designs everywhere. The dungeons themselves are visual treats and so is getting to see the recognizable Personas from past games in HD. Every screen and menu – plus the screen transitions themselves – in the game are aesthetically pleasing and embrace the outlandish side of Japanese pop culture with elegance.
And those are just some of the many, many reasons why Persona 5 is my 2017 Game of the Year.