Top 5 of 2017 from 2017

It's six hours before 2018 as a write this, and I figured I would contribute to the end of year shenanigans and write a thing about my favorite games from this year. I played a decent amount of stuff from not-2017, so I decided to just restrict this to the five 2017 games that I finished and felt like writing about. I was gonna write more, but it was pretty long, and I was kinda lazy, so here's a top 5!

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

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My experience with Final Fantasy is a bit limited. Prior to this, my only experience with the series was about 6 hours of VI, about half of VII, all of Tactics (which I love), and then XV earlier this year. Also a bit of XIV, but whatever. Anyway, since I fell down the JRPG hole within the past couple years, I figured I would give the XII remake a shot, especially since I love Tactics so much. Turns out, I really liked it! I love the dry political shit going on, and while it took me a bit to warm up to how… theatric, or dramatic it seems, that very much adds to the charm. The combat does kind of play itself at a point with the gambit system, but that’s rewarding in and of itself. I had a ton of fun leveling up and working through the license boards, going after endgame gear, and taking down some of the superbosses. I get the sense it’s maybe a bit divisive, and it’s possible I wouldn’t have liked it as much if not for some of the improvements in the Zodiac Age (that 4x speed thing is pretty crazy, and there’s definitely some RNG BS that seemed to be smoothed out with this version), but I think FFXII is pretty swell.

NieR: Automata

Before jumping into Automata, I decided to up my cred and play the first NieR, as in NieR: Gestalt… or maybe Replicant, I don’t remember. Anyway, I mention this because in some weird way, I feel like I maybe like the first NieR more? Mechanically, Automata is certainly a better game, (and if I really think about it, I think the story and themes are, too) and it’s entirely possible my preference comes just from playing it first in a back-to-back stretch. Still a lot of the music, characters, and events of the first NieR stuck with me more than those of Automata. There’s also something very endearing and charming about the first NieR’s rough, janky, no budget presentation. Not to disparage Automata in any way, though, as it’s certainly a very wonderful game.

The sweetest child
The sweetest child

Something that struck me was how much Automata felt like its predecessor. There’s a bit of je ne sais quoi to it, but other than the combat feeling better, Automata very much feels like NieR in terms structure, atmosphere, tone, and general feel. It very much still feels like the niche Japanese RPG thing the first game (and I imagine Drakengard) is, which I imagine is where some of the backlash comes from.

A ton had been said about both games already, so I don’t feel the need to explain why Automata is good, but I’ll go a slight step further and say that both NieR and NieR: Automata are very special games, and I’m very glad I played both of them.

Now to play Drakengard at some point. Then maybe Drakengard 3? But not Drakengard 2, ‘cause it’s bad and not canon, or something? I dunno.

Persona 5

As I’ve looked back on Persona 5, I feel like there are a lot of little things about it I wish were better. I wish the last few arcs and palaces were better, I wish Haru was introduced better, I wish the school event was better, I wish some twists weren’t so obvious, etc., etc. I actually had to look back and try and actively remember the good stuff about it, which sounds a bit damning, but on the whole, I still think Persona 5 is a pretty fantastic game.

It looks and sounds amazing, the mechanical improvements are great (although I kinda wish they would just adopt the Press Turn combat from the mainline SMT games), I think the first few arcs, like the Kamoshida stuff and Futaba’s arc, are incredibly strong, a lot of the social links are really good, and one might even say it has the best styyyyle of 2017. Also, bonus points for some of the subjects in the game maybe accidentally being a bit more relevant than expected in the Year of our Lord two thousand-seventeen. Small qualms aside, I think Persona 5 is pretty great. One of the greatest of the year, in fact!

Yakuza 0

I will admit to being a complete Yakuza scrub. Other than occasionally seeing it mentioned in the various corners of the internet, I had basically no idea as to what the series was about. After having played 0, though, I feel like a big dummy for not getting into it sooner. The blend of serious crime drama, martial arts beatdowns, and goofy side shenanigans is totally up my alley.

I don’t mean this as any kind of insult to the gameplay, but if you took out all the cutscenes and story shit and just put it out as a series or something, I would 100% watch that shit. The main plot is great and incredibly compelling, but what really seals the story end for me are the goofy-ass substories, many of which are genuinely funny and had me laughing out loud, whether it was buying porn for a kid or being accosted by old ladies.

One of many
One of many "OH SHIIIT" moments

I also really enjoyed the combat, which I was not expecting. I sort of assumed it would be something you tolerate, but I had a ton of fun with it. It’s not especially complicated (I actually wish there was more in the way of combos), but it feels incredibly satisfying. I felt like the entire game, combat-wise, was a string of “OH SHIIIIT” moments as a guy got his face smashed or his spine broken or something. And that’s to say nothing of the music, the presentation, or how it nails the 80s Japan thing. If I had to pick a single game as my game of the year, it would probably be Yakuza 0, if only because I was so surprised by how much I loved it. I already have Kiwami, and I fully plan on working my way through it and the rest of the series… at some point.

I think my favorite thing about this game is Mr. Libido’s masturbation euphemisms.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd

I honestly could not tell you why I bought Trails of Cold Steel way back at the tail end of 2016. I love RPGs, but I’m not the most experienced with JRPGs, and the art looked nice, but not especially evocative. Maybe it’s that I was a bit bored with games, and wanted to try something different. Maybe it’s that I saw people mention it in association with things I like, such as ‘good characters’ and ‘good worldbuilding.’ Maybe it’s that it was only twenty bucks. Even as I try to write this out, I really can’t explain why I bought Cold Steel. But buy it I did, and played through it over the course of a few months, finding it an enjoyable, but slow introduction. At some point, though, probably by the end of Cold Steel, something clicked, and I found myself incredibly invested in the setting and had come to grow quite attached to the characters. I bought Cold Steel 2 immediately after finishing 1, and played through all the Trails in the Sky games over the second half of the year. It must have done something right to go from something I’d barely heard of to investing at least 200 hours playing through the entirety of what was localized, including Trails in the Sky the 3rd, which was localized this year. Or maybe I didn’t have much else to do

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I could probably go on for a very long time about why I came to love this series a whole bunch, but there are other articles that go on for much, much longer and say it better than I could (like this one ). In short, though, I love the setting: it feels extremely well thought out, and there’s a lot of interesting lore and politics going on beneath what seems like a pretty “Anime” art style. The localization is fantastic, and the characters (well, most of them) feel and act like actual humans, instead of just anime blobs. I think the combat in Sky is kinda boring, but I actually really liked the combat in Cold Steel: it’s kind of a light tactics thing, and when you combine the fact that many characters have a lot of AoE abilities and that they often put you up against large groups of enemies, it becomes about trying to figure out how to take out everyone in one or two turns. And this is a bit more nebulous, maybe it’s a localization thing, but the games just kinda feel… warm, and human, in a way a lot of other games don’t. Moreso than many other games I’ve played, there’s a lot of heart behind these games, and I’ve come to really love them.

I could go on, but then this would probably be absurdly long. Anyway, I really like these games and think they’re pretty fantastic. They’re definitely JRPG-ass JRPGs, though, and honestly, they’re pretty slow burns (each game is pretty easily around 40 hours, minimum), so they’re definitely not for everyone. Since I played through every localized game in the series over the course of the year, though, I feel like I pretty much have to give my top spot to the game in the series that came out here this year, Trails in the Sky the 3rd. It maybe wouldn’t be number one on its own, but it’s a nice way to give the Trails/Kiseki series my game(s) of the year.

Now I can shill this series to anyone who sounds vaguely interested in it!

The "probably would have written about it had I finished it" tier: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Super Mario Odyssey

The "really wish I had played it" tier: Nioh, Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The "not-2017 games that I liked" tier: Final Fantasy XV, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, VA-11 HALL-A, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

And that's it! 2017 kinda sucked, but at least it was good for video games!