My top 10 games of 2017.

2017 was a good year for video games. Here are some of my favourites. As always, spoilers will be touched upon so read with caution.

10. Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)

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Yakuza Kiwami is the first of two Yakuza games on this list and definitely the weaker one. Despite this, it still presents a dense crime drama full of the twists and turns you would expect from Yakuza. The game is at its best when centred on Kazuma and his estranged former best friend, Nishkiyama – Nishiki in particular is developed fantastically through Kiwami exclusive scenes. It’s hurt not by its own faults, albeit the balancing with regards to combat especially health-wise is the worst I’ve ever played but by the fact that it’s a budget priced sequel to 0 – it has less to do, the characters and motivations aren’t as interesting and there was only an 8-month gap between the two. I’d still recommend it for anyone who enjoyed 0 and the peaks it did have were as exciting as anything on this list

9. Blazblue Central Fiction 2.0 (PC)

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Blazblue Central Fiction actually released last year on consoles but there are two reasons I can put it here. Firstly, the PC release came out this year. Secondly, the 2.0 update which released here is as much of an update as Rev 2 and Season 2 are for Guilty Gear Xrd and Street fighter V respectively. Blazblue clicked well for me – it’s arguably not as hard to get to grips with as Guilty Gear is and the character movement in particular is a joy to play around with. The game is, thankfully, reasonably well populated on PC assuming you go out of your way to find players besides match-making. I can’t really say much else besides it’s another good fighting game.

8. Sonic Mania (PS4)

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I’ve played 2D Sonic games as long as I can remember playing video games. Whilst I’m sure Super Mario 64 was the first game I ever played, Sonic 1 was definitely at least the second. Sonic 3 and Sonic CD are two of my all-time favourite 2D platformers. Sonic Mania follows right on from them, it’s Sonic 4 in all but name. Momentum and control-wise it just feels right. Thankfully, the level design and actual platforming elements are well designed – Sonic isn’t all about speed despite what Sega’s recent games would have you believe. If you’ve ever enjoyed 2D Sonic or even have a nostalgia for early Sega as a whole, play Sonic Mania.

7. Cuphead (PC)

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I really can’t praise the design of this game enough. It looks incredible, especially in motion – pictures don’t do it justice. Weirdly, the last game to impress me in the same way was South Park: The Stick of Truth – they’re some of the only games I’ve played where it literally looks like a cartoon. Cuphead is more than just style though and this is important: I’ve played a number of games where the aesthetic is the predominant part of the game and the mechanics are half-hearted and uninteresting. Cuphead is a game first and foremost – you really need to master the options, simple as they are, that you are given to best the bosses and you need to at least grasp them quickly – I can’t think of any boss, besides the very first vegetable farm, where I didn’t require at least 10 tries to beat it. The decision to limit the game to short-bursts, whether they’re 5-10 minute levels or a boss, is fantastic and helps to limit the potential frustration. At 7-10 hours, it doesn’t overstay its welcome either. The soundtrack… well, I’ll leave it at that. What a great little game.

6. Hollow Knight (PC)

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Onto another smaller game, at least from a development point of view – I feel like Cuphead and Hollow Knight really brought smaller games back in a big way, similar in quality to the initial explosion with games like Castle Crashers and Braid. Hollow Knight is a deep, dense metroidvania. The game is filled to the brim with areas that are both hauntingly beautiful and with an atmosphere that imposes a constant threat of danger. Mechanically, the game is relatively simple – jump and slash, but uses almost a souls-esque type of progression in terms of how you recover but also the need to find and reclaim your ghost after deaths. The music is beautiful and I do it more justice by linking it rather than orating.

This game is long, too – a full playthrough to the true ending took 20-25 hours of my time, completing around 75%. Like Cuphead and Ori before it, Hollow Knight uses its visual quality to enhance what is already a fantastic game, rather than allow the game to ride on the quality of the visuals.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

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I really wasn’t bothered about this – I didn’t buy it on release, I only got around to playing it a few months ago as I purchased a Switch in order to buy a different game. Well, thankfully I did get Breath of the Wild, because it’s spellbinding at its best. As someone who absolutely adores Majora’s Mask and Link between World because of the way they move away from the standard Zelda formula, Breath of the Wild ticks nearly every one of my personal boxes. Hyrule is alive in this game in a way it has NEVER been. EVER. Not in Ocarina of Time, not in Wind Waker, not in Twilight Princess. Hyrule and the citizens within it are as integral to BOTW as Termina and its inhabitants were to Majora’s Mask. The game also manages to circumvent many of the standard open world issues – no movement constraints as long as you have stamina (you don’t need to glitch up the side of mountains!) – fast travel is convenient, horse riding is useful but not necessary beyond the initial trip – Nintendo has taken on board almost all the criticisms that have been made about open world games and as someone who is really done with them, this was so important for me. Breath of the Wild has the unique ability to feel fresh and new but still feel very familiar – the old Zora’s domain music from OoT, the dragon roost island music from WW are particular highlights. Gameplay wise, Combat is as good here as it has ever been in Zelda.

That’s not to say it’s perfect – please make weapon durability more lenient, Nintendo, it isn’t fun. Also add some real dungeons, it would really make this game complete.

4. Nier: Automata (PC)

Automata is an experience. Is it the best game here? No. The mechanics, whilst enjoyable, are pretty limited and basic which is especially disappointing as it’s from the studio who brought us Bayonetta and MGRising. The game is very pretty with a great UI but some of the areas just don’t look great. It’s a bit too easy.

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But, it’s an incredible experience. Automata uses the video game medium to push its story in a way I haven’t seen since Metal Gear Solid 2 – it’s one of the only game stories that WOULDN’T work as a movie. It has to be played to really get the most out of it. The characters and sound design are top of the class. The ending sequence and the actual consequences surrounding it are something that can only be experienced. Trying to type about this game feels pretty useless. Just buy it, give it a chance, open your heart to it and it’ll give you something.

I do have to draw attention to the PC issues though, they’ve negatively impacted my experience with the game to the point that I have to place it here, I just can’t put it alongside the following three games. Every time I leave this game for a few months and come back to it, it’s crashing for some new reason. Every driver I get seems to break it, it doesn’t like AMD cards. FAR fixes a lot of stuff but needs constant updating. It’s a shame. Please try to look past it if on PC or if on PS4 you’ll be fine.

I've actually had these 10 games more or less listed but couldn't put my blog up until now as I was so conflicted about the order of my top 3. I love all these games. They’re all some of my favourite games of all time and all of them would be number 1 if released in almost any year besides this (only Witcher 3 can really compete from the last few years). So, I cheated a bit. I have three number 1s

1a. Persona 5 (PS4)

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the first of my favourite games of 2017, I need to preface. Persona 4 (and Golden alongside it) is one of my top five favourite games of all time. Easily. I adore that game. On September 24th 2013, I watched the whole of that dumb Persona countdown and saw the 20 second teaser: “You are slave… want emancipation?” I followed every teaser afterwards, scrounged the internet for every piece of news, watched every full trailer multiple times. Persona 5 actually existed! Then it finally came out.

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Persona 5 somehow did it. Three and a half years of hype, a belief that this HAD to be the best game and it somehow delivered. Gameplay wise, this is a better Persona than anything before it. The battle system feels complete, far closer to standard Shin Megami Tensei games than the watered down one we got in 4 and 3. The beautiful UI allows you to keep track of every confidant, every mini-game, every location that you need – it’s a joy to do things in this game. In terms of plot, this is a more mature and adventurous game than either of the two before it. No longer confined to school which really exists in the background in 5, the Phantom Thieves interact with people all over Tokyo and exist on a worldwide stage. The characters are very rag-tag and find themselves drawn to each other due to their inability to fit in anywhere else – it feels far closer to P3 than P4 in that respect.

The soundtrack is excellent as expected, Meguro does it again. The game will dig its claws into you and not let go for another 80-100 hours. I’ve recently started replaying it again to prepare for this piece and it’s just as enthralling a second time around. Thanks, Atlus.

1b. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

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Super Mario Odyssey is a triumph of design and mechanics. I can’t overemphasise just how good the controls are in this game – if I think it, Mario can pretty much do it. Mario thrives as a 3D open world exploration based platformer. The game gave me a weird sense of nostalgia (most likely heightened by the surprise return at the end) – it was almost like I was coming home. I play Mario 64 as a 2 year old and this was just me returning to my roots. I remember running around about five different kingdoms in this game, grinning from ear to ear – the game actively made me happy. It’s hard for me to emphasise exactly why I love this game so much – yes, the mechanics are fantastic, the game has plenty of moons to collect, the worlds on the whole are great, the music if memorable. Yeah, it does everything a platformer needs to do to be great but Odyssey did even more than that. It celebrated the Mario series and reminded me just why I loved these games as a kid and why I’ll continue to love them for the rest of my life.

1c. Yakuza 0 (PS4)

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Yakuza 0 came out all the way back in January and it stuck with me all the way to December. It’s the pinnacle of this series. Much like Persona 5 and Nier, it’s the characters and the experience that drive it. Kiryu, Nishiki, Makoto, Sera, Reina, Sagawa, Kuze, Awano, Shibusawa, Dojima, Tachibana, Nishtani, Oda… some of them have a sense of justice, others are downright evil, a few are unfortunate enough to be dragged along for the ride but they all push this story. Am I forgetting someone? Of course, Goro Majima is the star of the show. Someone who isn’t afraid to show his fears, his insecurity – a perfect counter to the stoic Kazuma Kiryu and the best video game protagonist in… I can’t even think of the last protagonist that I loved as much as Majima. I’m going to list moments so be aware of spoilers, moments that have stayed with me. Majima’s introduction. Nishiki’s decision and subsequent failure to put Kiryu out of his misery. Oda’s betrayal. Kuze’s capture and interrogation of Tachibana. Makoto and Majima’s takoyaki. Kuze’s tunnel battle followed by Awano’s threat. Kuze’s final stand. “There can only be one dragon.” Every cutscene in the ending.

The gameplay is good as well – the battle system is satisfying and Kiryu and Majima play very differently. We haven’t even got into the numerous side activities – the Cabaret Club in particular introduces you to some of the most likeable characters in the game and allows Majima to display the softer side of his character that is so important.

Play this game.

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