Clagnaught's Games Of The Year, 2017 Edition

2017! What a shitshow! But also what a season, what a season! Thankfully there were a lot of great games that came out this year (and just as many I haven't finished or haven't had the chance to play yet). But last year my GOTY list was like five months late, so it's perhaps best I get this one out at least on time. There's a lot to cover, so I'm just going to jump in.

As always, first some housekeeping:

Honorary Awards:

Old Game of the Year:

Overwatch / Deadly Premonition

Best Game I Like Watching Other People Play More Than Playing Myself:

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Best Game That Didn't Grab Me (But Hey That Plateau Was Cool):

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Best Game I Just Didn't Have A Ton Of Fun With:

Super Mario Odyssey

Best Game I Wish I Had Other People To Play With:

Gang Beasts / Nidhogg II

Best Game I Stopped Playing Because I Got Tired Of Dying To That Stupid Dragon:

Cuphead

Best Game That Will Probably Take Me Thirteen Years To Beat At This Rate:

Tales of Berseria

Best "No, This Isn't A Joke; I Legitimately Play And Enjoy This Game" Game:

Love Nikki-Dress UP Queen

Honorary "Yo, You Should Check These Games Out" Award:

Hidden my game by mom 2 / My brother ate my pudding

2017's Unofficial Eleventh Best Game Of The Year (That I Bumped Off The Top 10 List At The Last Second):

Nex Machina: Death Machine

Overwatch is still better than most of the games on this list.
Overwatch is still better than most of the games on this list.

Best Games I Didn't Play This Year:

  1. Gang Beasts
  2. Gravity Rush 2
  3. Horizon Zero Dawn
  4. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
  5. Nidhogg II
  6. Resident Evil 7 biohazard
  7. Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
  8. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
  9. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
  10. Yakuza Kiwami
I sincerely regret not playing Horizon: Zero Dawn yet
I sincerely regret not playing Horizon: Zero Dawn yet

Games I Would Have Played More Or Finished If I Had Infinite Time:

  1. Battle Chef Brigade
  2. Divinity: Original Sin II
  3. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone
  4. Nioh
  5. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
  6. Pyre
  7. Tales of Berseria
This is not a screenshot from Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone
This is not a screenshot from Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone

Runners Up (Unranked):

  1. Cuphead
  2. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
  3. Hidden my game by mom 2 / My brother ate my pudding
  4. Late Shift
  5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  6. Love Nikki-Dress UP Queen
  7. Nex Machina: Death Machine
  8. Sonic Mania
  9. SteamWorld Dig 2
  10. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
You almost made it Nex Machina.
You almost made it Nex Machina.

Game Of The Year:

#10) Doki Doki Literature Club

<Me>
<Me>

Ok, real talk, Doki Doki Literature Club is amazing. It is just the right type of horror for me, along with other games like Silent Hill 2 and Detention. It ain’t fun! It is unsettling as hell to the point where I wish the game would be over so I could no longer endure what was happening! But it’s still an amazing game that does things (and makes you player do things) I have never seen before. Also, Monika is one of the most evil characters I have ever seen in a videogame? So that’s something.

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#9) Detention

Detention's roots as a game developed by Red Candle Games, a studio based in Taiwan, shows when you look at just how different and unique this game is, especially when compared to what is released in the West. The art direction, graphical effects, historical context, mythology, and the central themes in the story are completely refreshing and unlike anything I’ve ever played. As a videogame, the point and click adventure elements create clever puzzles and surreal experiences. The psychological horror elements create a tense and haunting atmosphere that relies only on a handful of jump scares. Even when those jump scares happen, they don’t feel like a cheap gotcha moment, but rather a punctuation on a sequence that was built up over time. Overall, Detention is one of this year’s best examples of executing on a vision. Whether it's the game’s setting, story, mechanics, or scares, Detention just about checks off every box.

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#8) What Remains of Edith Finch

When I think about Giant Sparrow, I think about a studio that is devoted to creating unique vignettes. While The Unfinished Swan did this more towards the end of the game, this is the core of What Remains of Edith Finch. Each of the dozen or so stories are told in imaginative ways. You have everything from a shark rolling down a hill, to a pulpy horror comic book, to a straightforward recreation of an accident that took someone's life. For me, Lewis's story is the game at its best and is one of the most memorable gameplay experiences I've had all year. While there is a larger narrative that is revealed over time, the strength of What Remains of Edith Finch is how these different, self contained vignettes tell compelling character stories in a way that only videogames can.

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#7) Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

I wasn’t too pessimistic about this release, but let’s be honest: this shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. It’s a prequel that didn’t need to exist, featuring characters you already know the fate of, made by a different studio, starring different voices actors as a result of the SAG-AFTRA strike. Life Is Strange: Before The Storm overcame the sheer logic against itself and delivered a compelling story worthy of the Life Is Strange name. The relationship between Chloe and Rachel is touching, grounded, and quietly tragic. Some of their scenes and several other noteworthy moments like Chloe playing a tabletop RPG and acting in The Tempest make Life Is Strange: Before The Storm feel even better than its predecessor. For a number of reasons, I overall like the first Life Is Strange more, but that is not because I have any real knock against this game. I am sincerely happy Life Is Strange: Before The Storm turned out the way it did and I look forward to playing the prologue episode that’s coming next year.

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#6) Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods captures so many different things with an honesty that is rarely seen. There's a warmness to the conversations between Mae and her mom. There's a comfort between her sitting down and watching some bad TV with her dad. There's a sharpness to Selmer's "There's No Reception In Possum Springs" poem. It captures the good and the awkward times you encounter when you come back home and see old friends and acquaintances. It also captures a town where the jobs are going away and may never be coming back and people who have no idea what they want to do with their lives. Walking around Possum Springs and bumping into various side characters and the stories and character arcs that are explored through the game's various vignettes captures all of this and more. The game does take a turn towards the third act, which kind of worked, but not as well as I wanted. Regardless, this is a special game I can't wait to revisit to see the encounters I missed out on during my first play through and to see the recently added Weird Autumn content.

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#5) Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

Overall Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is perhaps my least favorite of the mainline Danganronpa games (Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair were my second and third favorite games from 2014). It has perhaps the weakest trial in the series and some of the character dynamics, while ultimately important for the story, got tiring after a while. That aside, Killing Harmony is still a great continuation of the Danganronpa story. The narrative spirals all over the place, with so many unexpected twists and bits of foreshadowing you don’t know what to do with them all. Most of the trials are also well executed, with the first trial being among the series best with perhaps the biggest emotional gut punches in the franchise.

And then you have that ending. The mother of all endings. An ending so good, an ending that goes for it so hard, Spike Chunsoft can’t make another Danganronpa game. Ever! It’s that simple! We're done! In a series built upon games that have crazy, left field conclusions, I was still not prepared for what actually happened during those final three hours. Of course a game being “crazy” alone doesn’t automatically make it good, but I’m also a sucker for seeing something nuts like that executed so well.

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#4) XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

A lot of what I have to say about XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is in my review for the game. Since I came to this game only after the expansion was released, I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed vanilla XCOM 2 if I were to play it during launch week. That aside, War of the Chosen is better than XCOM: Enemy Unknown in just about every way. ‘Nuff said.

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And now ladies and gentlemen it’s time for my overall Game of the Year. Yes, I know I still have three more games to talk about, but the thing is anyone of them could actually be my GOTY. Usually my #1 spot is a slam dunk. When I love games as much as I love Mass Effect 2, The Last Of Us, or Overwatch, I don’t really need to compare it to whatever else came out that year. On the other hand, 2017 is without a doubt the most contentious year I've ever experienced. Simply put it, I could draft an argument for why each of the following games is worthy of being my #1 favorite game and walk away happy. So congratulations everyone, you are all the Game of the Year! (But here they are ranked in order anyways)

#3) Yakuza 0

This is the game wearing the most hats. Whether you are waist deep in a yakuza family drama, running a cabaret club, following an intriguing mystery surround a land development project, or training a dominatrix, just about everything in Yakuza 0 is fantastic. These tonal shifts on paper shouldn’t work, but they do thanks to exceptional characterization and second to none writing. If you were to rip out the quirky side stories or the crime drama and ship the game with whatever was left, this would still be one of my favorite videogames of the year. The fact that Yakuza 0 has all that and more, including a lively recreation of Tokyo and Osaka, is a testament to this game’s strengths. Although I have never played a Yakuza game before, seeing this story unfold and meeting all of those characters makes me want to play through the entire series in chronological order.

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#2) NieR: Automata

If Game of the Year was determined based on the amount of time you thought about a game after you finished it, then my GOTY is NieR: Automata. I bought this game based on the demo and thinking about how this is the next true videogame from PlatinumGames following Bayonetta 2. And NieR: Automata does have good combat, with an interesting chip RPG system. There's the occasional boss or set piece that blew me away. One of the final combat encounters in particular--swapping between A2 and 9S as they ascend The Tower--is one of the more exhilarating gameplay moments I've had all year. But that's not really why this game is so high on this list.

Early on, you start to see where NieR: Automata is going and it only builds and builds and builds. This happens through the different character perspectives, those shocking reveals, the weapon stories, and various side quests. There are plenty of games that set out to try and communicate a theme to the player, but I don't think I have ever seen a videogame so committed and successful at executing on that vision as NieR: Automata. It has dissected the question "What does it mean to be human?" so thoroughly and in a way that has stuck with me ever since I have finished the game over five months ago. It makes other stories that try to tackle the human versus robot tropes, especially something like Detroit: Become Human, look awful in comparison. Even beyond all that, there is just straight up good ass drama in this game. In particular, the opening to Route C is left me speechless.

One of the (many) misconceptions I have heard about NieR: Automata is how some people think the ending is the good part. On the contrary, I enjoyed just about every part of the game. Well alright, the backtracking can get old and it breaks up the pacing. That aside, over the course of the game NieR: Automata excels from start to finish. It is successful at being an action game, as a game about the human condition, as a personal drama between a few key characters, and as a bonkers sci-fi story that makes you want to pick up all of the supplemental materials. But then you do get to that ending, which wraps up that story perfectly. It's ending punctuates the game's themes, ideas, and the overall adventure. It makes you reflect on everything that has happened beforehand and provides closure like few games ever do.

I have laid in bed multiple times over the past few months, listening to the game's final credits song, and would become emotional just thinking back on all of the things this game has to say. In all honesty, your mileage may vary. It is understandable if somebody were to tell me this game didn't grab them. Speaking for myself, NieR: Automata is a deeply personal videogame and it is an experience I will never forget about.

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#1) Persona 5

Early on in 2017, I was hesitant about playing too many games. I didn't buy Horizon: Zero Dawn. I waited on buying a Switch. In April, I went to work on a Monday and then took the rest of the week off. All of this was because (finally!!) Persona 5 was going to be released in the United States. If I were to write a Top 10 list of my favorite games of all time, both Persona 3 and Persona 4 would be on that list. I still need to do my New Game+ to really determine where that game lands, but when the credits rolled, I thought about how Persona 5 is just as good as the previous entries in the series.

The Confidant system, the Personas, the RPG mechanics have all been refined and expanded. It is both one of my favorite playing JRPGs and such a good evolution of the series it would be insane to imagine any future Persona games not having these improvements. The art direction, UI design, and use of color are impeccable. The music is not only an amazing Persona soundtrack, but also incredibly cohesive. I can listen through most of the album and picture the same band composing all of those great songs together.

There's a lot to unpack with Persona 5's story, plot twists, characters, and Confidants. Without going too deep, I was really invested in the game's narrative and what it was trying to do. At times it felt like the game was more of a sequel to Persona 3's dark and dreadful story than Persona 4's more upbeat, "We'll be friends forever!" story. Before I somehow write five thousand words on this topic alone, all I'll say is I was really impressed with Persona 5's story and like how different this game was compared to the previous entries in the series.

Yeah, the ending is a little long. Yeah, that explanation for that one thing towards the end is a little convoluted. Yeah, the localization is not great (especially when compared to, say, NieR: Automata and Yakuza 0). There are a handful of lessons that can be learned and applied to whatever P Studio and Atlus does next with Persona. Those complaints aside, Persona 5 is a great game. To me, the modern Persona games have three main pillars: 1) There's the main narrative and themes; 2) There's the Persona collecting and JRPG battle mechanics; and 3) There's the social links and everyday life activities. For me, Persona 5 succeeds at all three of those. As someone who has played and thought a lot about Persona over the past nine years, Persona 5 easily joins the ranks of Persona 3 and 4, if not outright surpassing those games.

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