Finding a Top 5 in 2017

In a year where I felt as though I played more games than ever before, there are still some glaring omissions from my list. Namely, I have yet to touch NieR:Automata or Tacoma - two games I believe would probably make a strong case for a spot on this list based exclusively on what I've heard from others (plus the developer's track record for the latter). All the same, I'm glad to have the opportunity to talk about the five below, which I've ranked loosely in ascending order.

List items

  • Pacing in a first-person narrative game can be a nightmare. While a chunk of the genre's appeal is in letting the player explore at their own pace, that same virtue can be a massive turn-off to those new to the format. What Remains of Edith Finch manages to cut out the polarization by introducing a steady stream of new characters and settings by the way of vignettes. Even if you don't buy into every character along the way, tight and varied storytelling will keep you enthralled from its beginning to end.

  • Overhyping an upcoming release was my constant downfall growing up. In turn, when a game is announced that I have high hopes for, I try to go in as cold as possible. I failed miserably in avoiding the hype for Persona 5, but it somehow lived up to my expectations and then some. I can't think of any games that scratch the same itch as the Persona series - even if you aren't into JRPG combat or life-sim mechanics, the intersection of the two that Persona explores feels like something wholly different. In my mind, having another title of that makeup in the world is enough, but Persona 5 goes beyond base expectations with a profound sense of style in its art direction and character in its sound and music. The paint is still wet as to where I'll rank it within the series, but it remains a delight to any existing fans of the series and a good launching point for those who have always been curious.

  • "There's nothing I can say about Breath of the Wild that hasn't already been said," is normally my piece on the game; however even that has been overstated in end of year reviews. For me personally, this game caught me off-guard due to a long-standing indifference about the Zelda franchise (aside from Majora's Mask, an all-time favorite) and a love for gobs of responsive narrative. As someone who often found Zelda dungeons to be a necessary chore to enjoy their detailed and colorful locales beyond, Breath of the Wild felt like pure reward. Every design choice in the game feels boiled down to the core of what makes it fun or interesting and a brilliant sense of place as you go about its world allows its story to unfold passively and organically.

  • While I enjoyed Transistor and Bastion, neither of Supergiant's preceding games clicked with me in the same way that Pyre did. Without following any of its development or lead-up to release, I picked it up at launch and was immediately taken with its unexpected mashup of genres. Sports games and Visual Novels (or narrative-centric games at large) often feel as though they're on complete opposite sides of the game fanbase spectrum despite being two of my favorites. Though you can't file Pyre as truly being a part of either of the two genres, it often felt like a game that knew my specific interests strangely well. While the standout art and music will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Supergiant Games's work, the varied cast of superbly realized characters is what steals the show. Furthermore, some unique narrative systems propel the plot, respecting and recognizing what its player chooses to do with said cast. Tackling themes rarely done well in games, it was the first title in quite some time that had me starting a new file immediately after I hit the end credits.

  • Night in the Woods is a game that understands its scale incredibly well. Having grown up in a small town, I often feel they’re an underused setting for games. Night in the Woods does one better and nails the feeling of isolation in one’s hometown while simultaneously telling an authentic story that casually questions the nature of storytelling in all media. The pseudo-platformer presentation feels appropriate with the wonderful art and animation that surrounds some of the best-written dialogue I’ve ever witnessed in a game. Its pacing allows you to live in its space and experience significant slice-of-life fictive time (one of the medium’s greatest narrative strengths in my opinion) without ever feeling as though it’s wasting your time. Elements like the variably scrolling text used to deliver pinpoint emphasis and comedic timing pile onto a heap of small details that testify to the love and care with which its team crafted the experience. More than anything, Night in the Woods brings a level of honesty to its story that I’ve never seen in a game before. Without a doubt, it’s a game I’ll be thinking back on and revisiting for many years to come.