They past few years I have struggled to pick five games for my game of the year article, but while 2015 and 2016 I had to stretch what I would define as GOTY material, 2017 had the opposite problem. Too many good games came out. I don’t think there was a month where something amazing didn’t come out. The biggest news is, of course, the return of Japan to prominence in the videogame market. It feels almost hard to remember now, but recently as 2016 we were talking about how the Japanese developers were running out steam. But that changed in 2017. Of course, the actual change did not happen last year. The development cycle of most games does not allow for the agility that would be needed to quickly do such drastic changes of direction. This is the result of a market adapting to a new way of doing business, perhaps developing their releases less with a Japanese domestic market in mind, and more with a world wide appeal in mind. We saw the fruits of decisions made during times of crisis where the Japanese video game market seemed in dire straits in 2017.
There is no company that illustrates this better than Nintendo. Fresh from the failure of the Wii U, they have in some subtle ways changed the ways they do business, albeit while still being very much Nintendo. The Switch is a machine that is made for games only. It doesn’t want to be the multi-media center of the home like the Playstation 4 or the Xbox One. They have made steps to appeal to indie developers and third parties, but more importantly, they have updated their own games as well to great critical success. A huge reason we say that Japan had an amazing year, it is simply because Nintendo had an amazing year.
That is not to say Western developers didn’t have an amazing year either. While on the home front the news I’ve relished the most was Karma catching up to micro-transactions in multiplayer games, both Indies and AAA developers released great games that, had they come out any other time, would be in the running for game of the year, and as I can’t hold all these games in my list I feel compelled to add an honorable mentions list.
2018 will have a difficult task living up to its predecessor. We should be happy if it is half as good.
Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
If there was a company that can claim 2017 as its year, it’s Nintendo. The Switch is selling well, third parties seem to be finally coming back after an absence of two console generations, and Nintendo itself has been releasing some amazing games. You are likely to see Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in a lot of lists this year, and for good reason. It almost seems too easy to forget that Metroid, the apparently unloved child of Nintendo’s franchises also had a proper release this year. Relegated to the 3DS, a hand-held on the end of its cycle that was completely overshadowed by the Switch, it is no surprise that Metroid: Samus Returns did not light up the public’s imagination like its sister franchises did, but the truth is that Samus: Returns is really, really good.
Metroid: Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, a game which has also relegated to obscurity somewhat, by virtue of being released solely on a handheld device. But while the small and monochrome screen of the original Gameboy was unable to convey the glory of Metroid, the 3DS hardware is most certainly up to the task. While the game does try to stay faithful to its roots, Nintendo has made important changes to try to make it palatable for modern sensibilities. The move set has been greatly expanded, to include 360 degree aiming, parrying, a ledge grab, and a slew of classic powers from Super Metroid, as well as powers that are new to the series. The map, while roughly the same, has some many additions and improvements that it is nearly impossible to tell it is the based on the same map. While it is not perfect, most of its flaws come from being a remake of Metroid II and are small enough that the can be easily ignored. I’ve said before that I was willing to buy a Switch for a new Metroid game. Nintendo has been kind enough to release it on the 3DS instead, and if you still own one, you owe it to yourself to play Metroid: Samus Returns.
Divinity Original Sin II (PC)
Have you ever been playing a table top RPG, and hilariously outwitted your Game Master’s clever designs by using lateral thinking? Are you the kind of person that would sneak with your rogue and steal the Macguffin while the party’s paladin is trying to reason with the evil lich? Then have I got a game for you!
Divinity: Original Sin II is a good computer RPG with a good story, elevated by the flexibility of its mechanics. It is the kind of game that does reward lateral thinking and creative problem solving, as long as your stats support said thinking, of course. At its core, Divinity: Original Sin II is a tool designed to let game masters craft campaigns for others to play, similarly to Hare Brained Schemes’ original plans for Shadowrun Returns, but with a system that is far more powerful and better executed, and with a far more ambitious campaign that is definitely worth playing even if you don’t want to use the game creation tools (and trust me I didn’t). Divinity: Original Sin II also introduces the possibility of using pre-made characters with their own stories, personalities, and plots as the main character instead of the standard player created character (this is available too, but I strongly feel this is not what was intended by the developers). I was initially very skeptical of this use of pre-made characters, but it works. It makes the story more integrated, as the pre-made characters have a history with many of the players and factions that they will encounter on their adventure, and the party interactions between them are richer. If you are a fan of CRPGs, you owe it to yourself to play Divinity: Original Sin II.
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen (PC, PS4, XB1)
While XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is an expansion and not a full game, and while it is irregular by The Sacred Testament of Adversarial Slimes, the truth is that War of the Chosen is such a big overhaul, that it makes the game feel more like a sequel than the base game with an expansion. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen fixes a lot of the lingering issues that fans had with the vanilla version of XCOM 2. Timers, while not removed, have been refined to be surgically used in certain scenarios to add tension. You will still see them on most missions, but utilized much better, and sometimes in ways that are not as obvious. Having to save a specific number of civilians, for example, is not an explicit timer but it works the same way, as it spurs you to be aggressive and play offensively, even if not explicitly putting a timer in your HUD. The game loads much faster, performs far better, and in general has a higher quality of life.
But what War of the Chosen adds to XCOM 2 is what makes it worthy of a place on this list. The titular chosen make your insurrection feel far more personal. Each of them also make powerful, genetically modified versions of enemies to haunt you through your play through as well as tormenting their troops themselves. It is nice to see a franchise finally stealing Shadow of Mordor’s excellent Nemesis System, and use it successfully. It is a wonderful proof of concept of how much this system can add to a game, even if it is not the same style or even genre as Shadow of Mordor. There are new factions, and mechanics that come with implementing them. The game now tracks your team’s compatibility based on how they work in the field, and gives you the chance to bond them, which results in bonuses. This is not like Fire Emblem, where they will become romantically involved, but mechanically it is very similar. There are new weapons, enemies, and cosmetic items. Perhaps shamefully, I think my favorite new feature is the ability to take propaganda posters of your soldiers after they achieve a certain milestone, such as winning a battle, being promoted, or forming a new bond. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen makes a great game so much better, I consider it the definitive way to play the game. I can’t see myself going back to vanilla ever again.
Persona 5 (PS4)
I never saw it coming! Ok, that’s a lie. I waited for Persona 5 for the entire lifespan of the PS3, but I just wanted to use that joke. Shut up. Persona 5 exceeded my expectations in many ways. It did not radically change the gameplay loop that made the series popular with Persona 3, but more than its predecessors, it seems to come close to perfecting it, although I personally feel we could have used less compulsory rest from the cat.
Persona 5 does everything right. It runs like a dream. The characters are easy to relate to, despite being flawed. The plot is good, but it is more impressive that Atlus managed to tell a story with some incredibly dark themes and high stakes while still keeping the tone some what light and fun. And the presentation! Persona 5 might be the most stylish game I’ve played in a while. Every aesthetic decision, from the look of the cafe where your main character lives, to the the menu transitions, to the amazing soundtrack, and even the crowded modern day Tokyo setting serves the purpose of complementing the themes of the game. While it has some issues that make the game fall shy of perfection, Persona 5 has become my favorite game in the SMT, and had it been released in any other year it would have easily been my game of the year.
NieR: Automata (PC, PS4)
That NieR: Automata is my game of the year should surprise no one. I have, after all, suffered through every game Yoko Taro has released. But I am surprised of how well this game has been received by almost everyone. Jared and Jay have them on their lists as well. Coworkers who usually only play shooters and sports games have approached me to talk about this game. It is a bit of a strange Cinderella story. The oddball outsider developer gets his game green lit only because golden boy and Dragon Quest developer Yosuke Saito threatened to quit if he did not get to work with his friend. At the same time, Platinum Games, a studio that has recently had a high profile cancellation and has been in what could only be called a losing streak for their past few titles, somehow approved the time and budget for its development team to work on what is essentially a passion project for a director and producer from another company. It seems incredible that it exists, but it does and it became a hit. Maybe its because people couldn’t stop thinking of how much they wanted to **** 2B.
NieR: Automata is finally a game that lets you have your cake and eat it too: Yoko Taro’s unorthodox approach to making games coupled with Platinum Game’s excellent gameplay. The game has amazing bosses, great set pieces, tense battles. But more than anything it is a game with emotional punches that stay with you. This is something that Yoko Taro has always been good for, and with Platinum working its magic on the gameplay, and the incredible dynamic soundtrack, they hit just as hard if not harder than in previous games. And for those who have previously played his games, there are also subtle (and not so subtle) reference to his older games. If you somehow have gone through 2017 and still have not played NieR: Automata, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Super Mario Odyssey
Gravity Rush 2
Vanquish (The PC Port)
Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator 2