Redhotchilimist's Top 10 games of 2017

I've never been the kind of person that can buy more than 10 new games a year and finish them all, so take this list for what it's worth. I cheated and put some old games on here that I also played this year, and I liked them more than most of the new ones. Sorry about the length, I wanted to get it all off my chest and ended up writing a ton about most of them. I've tried to spice it up with images like @marino did, my own where I had them. I might have gone overboard.

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Honorable mention to Dark Souls 3, which had DLC this year that I played and basically enjoyed, but that I didn't feel strongly enough about to actually put it on the list. It's a good sendoff for the series, and I think it's way better than Dark Souls 2. But honestly I'm too burned out on the franchise right now, and most of Dark Souls 3 feels like going through the motions of the series rather than trying anything new and exciting. It still lacks atmosphere, and despite the gameplay being a lot more refined at this point, it doesn't feel special anymore. As good as Dark Souls is, and as tall as it stands above most other action RPGs, I think it was past time to put it to rest.

10. Sonic Mania

It was nice to relive the nostalgia for a few wonderful levels, the added animations and music making it even better than it used to be. But by the time I drowned in Hydrocity I'd had enough.

9. Nier Automata

The runnin' around is good though
The runnin' around is good though

This game was a frustrating experience for me. I went in expecting the storytelling chops of Yoko Taro to mix with Platinum Games' outstanding combat design and result in a slick action-RPG that I'd love to play. I thought 2B looked cool. I'd heard Nier 1 was awesome, and I just never got around to it.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I got a game I thought was incredibly boring to play. My problems with the action are well-documented, suffice to say I think it's one of the weaker systems Platinum Games have done, and you're forced to stick with it for longer than in any of their other games. Instead of testing my skill, it tested my patience. It's poorly balanced and mindless, and while it reuses a lot of mechanics from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance and Bayonetta, it's nowhere near as fun to play as either of them are. There are additional top-down/sidescrolling shooter bits, but they're terribly shallow. I've been told this is miles better than the original Nier's combat, but for me, that's not enough. It needs to actually be enjoyable gameplay for more than three hours.

But even the story didn't do that much for me. The actual plot of Nier Automata I thought was pretty bad. The androids fight the robots and shit just happens. If there's any reason, it's that the robots where programmed that way, or somehow removed themselves from the network at this point but were back in the network at this other point, changing behavior whenever it's convenient to the story. Some robots just go crazy, or there's a mind control virus or something similar, rather than anyone having agency. Other times a giant robot will attack at random, and the main characters have no comment to offer other than "Oh alright we better fight it then", and off they go, no insight required.

While Horizon Zero Dawn is oversaturated, Nier Automata barely has any strong colors at all. This is about the most vibrant it gets, and it'll often go near black & white during distressing scenes. You'll see some pretty intense pink, red and green color filters in the different areas, though.
While Horizon Zero Dawn is oversaturated, Nier Automata barely has any strong colors at all. This is about the most vibrant it gets, and it'll often go near black & white during distressing scenes. You'll see some pretty intense pink, red and green color filters in the different areas, though.

This all meshes well with the themes of the game, of finding meaning in life and struggling with the meaninglessness of existence, and is represented the strongest through the central conflict between androids and robots. They're locked in an endless war with no resolution in sight, fighting on behalf of creators that have long since abandoned them. There's no meaning to the conflict anymore, but the vicious spiral of revenge won't stop no matter what anyone does. Almost every sidequest and character reflects this theme, with all the machines(both robots and androids) imitating humans in different ways to try and find meaning in life and failing miserably. There's no clear parallel to a real human conflict, it's just hitting at the themes from every angle possible in order to try to find a weak spot where it gets to you.

But as far as a story goes, that just doesn't make for an interesting tale. It's so aimless and pointless and boring. There are a lot of secrets and reveals about the nature of robots, androids and humanity, but barely any of them came as surprises to me, and the ones that did usually happened when it was no longer relevant to the plot. As I mentioned, a lot of shit just happens. It doesn't feel like either the androids nor the robots have a big plan - the robots are just acting on their random obsessions and the androids are sent in to deal with them, and that's basically it for most of the story. When things get personal later on, the way it happens is kinda hard to wrap your head around. You can't ask why or how and get a decent answer out of anybody. There is no way for the involved characters to ask proper questions of each other, act reasonable and work things out, because that'd go against the theme and the tragedy of the whole ordeal. That's part what makes it feel more like emotional manipulation than coherent story to me.

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At one point a likeable character gets everything taken away from him, including his morals and ideals, and that's very sad. But it only happens because the author arbitrarily decided that it would be sad if it happened, with no reason or motivation on behalf of the characters in the story. The robots just go mad and attack this person all at once, despite many of them having been established as robots that I thought couldn't go mad because of what the story told me earlier. That's frustrating writing. It's certainly emotional, and I can't say it absolutely doesn't make sense because I don't hold all the cards to the lore or whatever, but it feels like the equivalent of a random car just hitting a nice character at the end of a drama.

This is not helped by the way the whole thing is paced, either. You're forced to play through the same story twice from only a slightly different perspective to get a few new story beats, when those revelations could have easily been spliced into the first time you play through it, which would've helped somewhat with the tedium of the game. (I'm not even sure whether to blame Yoko Taro or Platinum for this. Yoko Taro did this replay business in his older games too, but Platinum also did essentially the same thing in their brawler Anarchy Reigns). And while the third, final act after all that got me invested with all the dramatic shit that happens immediately, it mostly failed to deliver any kind of character interaction and resolution I wanted.

I won't say the story is not effective at points. Yoko Taro is the kind of writer that knows that you don't burn the main character's village at the beginning of a story, it's much more effective if you burn it later when we're all attached to it. I think hardly any area or character makes it out the same as they went in, and a lot just don't make it out at all. In one part of the world they even replace the friendly regular robots with friendly robots pretending to be zombies for no discernable reason other than to keep up a consistent miserable mood.

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When bad stuff happens to characters I had spent 30(repetitive, dull) hours with, it did hit me right in the heart. Some of the(dull, fetch quest-y) sidequests do involve funny characters. I especially liked one with a robot inventor. Pascal is wonderful. Emil's shop theme is hilarious. 9S goes on a journey, and is the most interesting main character by far, a fair trade for being both the least attractive playable character and the one with the least fun gameplay(9S literally does topdown, twinstick shooter minigames instead of heavy attacks). Occasionally the game will do something unexpected with the UI, or have interesting asides like a funny one-off scene of the robots acting out their take on Romeo and Juliet.

I'm not trying to sit here and say that there's nothing good in Nier Automata, I'm saying it's full of filler and unnecessary repetition to pad out its length into something neither the system nor the environments could support, and that the story is way more interested in tugging at your heartstrings and making its themes worm into your skull than making sense on a basic plot level. The final experience is one where you run around for a long time just for your commute to the mission, around dreary looking environments, only to arrive somewhere where you can fight similar, dull enemies with mindless combat and get a cutscene that goes nowhere.

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Overall, making me feel depressed and doing something subversive with the UI once every 20 hours just isn't enough to make me enjoy Nier Automata. I put the game down for months during the first playthrough with 2B because it was just so exhaustingly uninteresting. When what I liked the most in the game is 2B's butt, something has clearly gone wrong. (Granted, it's a spectacular butt, and if I was ranking games based on booty then Nier Automata is up there for my Game Of All Time award.)

Nier Automata is weird, unusual and has a strong focus on its themes. It's got heart, which is more than you can say for a lot of games, and I think the developers did their best with the sort of budget and development time they must've had. And with the skills and experience they have, for that matter. Nier Automata was supposedly mostly made by the studio's younger talent, and if these are the kids at Platinum responsible for The Legend of Korra and Transformers Devastation, they've improved. While the graphics are often sort of plain and poor compared to phenomenal lookers like Horizon Zero Dawn, the main characters are animated well and effort has gone in to make the game as pretty as possible with interesting lighting and framing. I'm not a fan of most of the music, and I think it's a real bad fit for Bayonetta-style, joyful combat, but it's a unique and unsettling score for a game all the same.

There is totally some additional depth to the combat system that I just never found during my playthroughs, moves I've later seen in combo videos, which could've made me have more fun with the fighting even if the difficulty balancing is out of whack. Maybe I could've made my own fun - restricting myself by keeping the limitless healing items in the stores and practiced more combos despite not being required to do so at any point. Though I'll say Bayo and Metal Gear Rising managed to just be fun while I was just playing through them without mastering the mechanics.

The themes and crucial scenes of the game have a way of sneaking themselves into my head and stay there. I've actually spent a long time thinking about Nier Automata after I finished it, which I can't say about a lot of other games on this list. Part of that's just because it contains a ton of references to older Yoko Taro games that don't explain themselves very well, which I wanted to look up. Part of it is just 2B's butt. But the emotional journey itself has stuck with me, despite its contrivances.

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When it comes to the experience of playing it, however, I just had an awful time. More power to you if it spoke to you on a personal level, or if the combat is somehow just your jam, but I appreciate Nier Automata more when I don't have to interact with it. It's a breath of fresh, unusual air that looked like it was gonna be everything I wanted, but came up short in every aspect for me. I respect it more than I like it.

Both Nier Automata and Sonic Mania can be happy that I didn't get to play much Nioh, Yakuza 0, Cuphead or Super Mario Odyssey this year. I doubt they would have stayed on.

8. Horizon Zero Dawn

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Horizon Zero Dawn(Which takes home this year's coveted Worst Title Award) is a fun game held back by some really generic design decisions, lifeless characters and a world that's way too serious. It's the opposite of Nier Automata, which is a title with a lot of heart suffering from budget constraints and some bizarre auteur design decisions. Horizon is more solid gameplay wise and looks absolutely beautiful, but takes the safer option at every route, managing to feel like every other open world game despite featuring robot T-rexes.

An open world game where you hunt giant robot animals that all have specific weak points to hit and parts you can knock off to disable their attacks? That's a cool premise. It takes some heart to make a postapocalyptic robot dinosaur hunting game when every popular mainstream AAA game is the most mundane stuff in the world. They succeeded in a lot of it, with a believable world, beautiful graphics, environments that are easily recognizable at a glance etc. But I don't think their focus was entirely right.

The only image here where you're actually gonna see a robot animal
The only image here where you're actually gonna see a robot animal

The combat gameplay is largely good, and I don't have much to complain about. It feels pretty good to move around, the slide is cool, the time-slowing is a lifesaver and every weapon, perhaps besides the primitive shrapnel gun, feels useful. The stealth, shooting armor off of enemies, disabling enemies' attacks by shooting their weapons off, ailing them with status effects, that all works pretty well. I should've turned it up a notch, because apparently the higher difficulty changes enemy behavior in a way that makes the combat more fun, for instance by making the whistle ability weaker. On normal difficulties, the simplistic stealth is just way too powerful by making you hard to detect and able to draw any enemy to you instantly. Besides that, my only big complaint about machine combat is a lack of unique encounters. Some enemies will put in the effort to be "boss fights", but since it's an open world with an ecosystem you're naturally gonna run into these guys out in the open pretty often. That makes it hard for any individual enemy to feel like a boss, and even the final boss is just one particularly powerful enemy you've fought at least three times already, only this time it is summoning other robots to help it out.

You also fight a lot of regular old humans besides the robots, which is a bummer, because humans in this game are shit to fight. I suppose you had to have them in here because of the story focus, but it's a shame since the human combat is so dull. They don't even react to shots the way they might a decade ago in RE4, they just tank it like champs until they're dead. On top of that the only difference between them all is that some are melee, some are longer range and some carry a machinegun/rocket launcher. You don't often fight them in areas that have a specific flow or setpiece feel to the encounter either, you just drop into a big room or a bandit fort that feels the same wherever it is placed and have a shootout/stealth-out. You're stuck with only two melee attacks, a light one and a heavy one, so if you wanna try and go that route it gets very old very fast. It's boring, especially compared to how cool the machine fights are.

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The same can be said for the systems around you. There is a ton of crafting to do and plants to pick up, and it just feels like busywork. Adding to that is a ton of collectibles and landmarks to find that just makes it feel like a Ubisoft open world game checklist. I can't be inspired to say much about it - this aspect of the game is similar to the tons of other sandboxes we've seen in recent years, and it's a big part of what makes Horizon less exciting than it could have been. Robot dinosaurs? Pretty sweet. Hunting boars for pelts and doing in bandit camps? Super played out. I don't feel like the developers asked themselves whether it was more fun to loot a room of 30 cultists after finishing them off or not have to loot them, or the same for having to craft all your ammo. This isn't helped by your only options for traversal being walking, riding one of the smaller robots or climbing in predetermined paths up the mountainside. It's a far cry from the Just Cause hookshot or the Breath of the Wild climbing and gliding, and it feels dull and restrictive. My exciting robot hunting expedition keeps getting bogged down by having to get off my robot horse to collect healing herbs(And I have to hold down the button to pick them up instead of just pressing it, natch).

The photo mode is impeccable
The photo mode is impeccable

The story is honestly a hindrance. The background stuff is solid! They hired the Fallout New Vegas guy to do the heavy lifting on the writing, and it feels like they asked him to write a Fallout world that makes sense. So instead of everywhere being desert and all the local cultures being based on dumb American 50s stuff despite it being hundreds of years after the fact, he wrote about a beautiful green world with vaults and cultures and tribes in a way that actually checks out. And while the setting is Fallout But Sensible(And Also Robot Animals), the actual story is more remniscent of Disney. It starts out like any Disney princess flick, with main character Aloy that has to figure out her place in the world and stops just short of singing her "I want" song over a montage of her training. It's easy to think of Merida because she's the ginge archer, but eventually it turns out that the ginger she's most similar to is Disney's Hercules, only with all the fantasy terms traded out for science fiction terms. Instead of a wave of evil demons and monsters ravaging the land, it's a gray goo scenario with machines. Instead of being a child of the gods, it's cloning. Instead of gods, you get AI and the old humanity. Instead of corruption, you get... well, corruption, but it's a different kind of corruption(though it's totally just fantasy corruption, really). It's nice how the game starts you out thinking all the tribes are superstitous dumbasses, which they are, but then reveals slowly how all their beliefs have a strong root in the sci-fi technology. My favorite story parts of the game are all either about the old world, or about how parts of the old world have become the religion and myths of today.

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That stuff is all fun, but the minute to minute-storytelling is a lot of milquetoast characters talking at each other Bioware-style. Uncanny faces with what I can only assume are procedurally generated animations. People standing completely still. Character personalities that are all dry and lifeless. Just in general, I'd describe this game as sexless, and not just because there isn't any boning in it(Aloy is flirted with by a number of NPCs, but she herself has zero apparent interest in any of them. That part of the Bioware games is not present). Every person is serious. Nobody is funny. There is more personality in a single character from Zelda or Yakuza 0 this year. Someone like Kazuma Kiryu would stand out like a sore thumb just because he knows how to have fun, and the cinematography on him would be better. Maybe this type of "cinematic" Bioware storytelling just isn't what I prefer, but I think there has to be a more fitting tone for a game where you hunt robot wolves and dinosaurs than straightfaced seriousness. That's Metal Gear Rising Revengeance levels of camp.

The night is a litle bit too
The night is a litle bit too "green color filter" for my tastes, but it's alright. The game also transitions from day to night in a manner of seconds, which can feel a bit sudden.

I don't want Borderlands 2, and I definitely do not want Joss Whedon-style quipping, but there's gotta be something better than this, a mixture of tragedy and comedy that's better at gripping one's heart. It's only been six months since I beat it and I can barely remember the names of about four characters. Characters in Yakuza aren't funny all the time, they treat serious situations seriously and funny situations like they're funny, and they're able to balance a variety of moods without making the player lose faith in the world. It makes the characters in Yakuza feel human, and relatable, like they're people like you and me. Instead of having interesting people doing fun things with the setting, a lot of what I remember most about Horizon are common genre tropes(like Detective Vision) that are just explained and written into the story more than normal. I think that's why the staff on this site in particular just aren't passionate about it, there's nothing meaty to latch onto. It's hard to care. Everything fits together, tonally, but it's just one note. It's a generic blockbuster in everything but setting, and it can't make most of the characters feel like either funny caricatures of real life or realistic, believable, interesting people.

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People are mean to Aloy and she loses some stuff dear to her early on in the story, but that doesn't make me like her, it makes me feel sorry for her. While being the underdog is a good start, pity alone isn't enough. Nier is clever enough to save burning the village for the dramatic finale, but Horizon does that within the opening act and it just falls flat.

Aloy lacks the charisma and characterization that could make her likeable outside of just having a sad backstory and a clear goal. An example: Throughout the entire game, does Aloy make a single friend? She certainly gets a lot of allies, that all turn up for the final battle, which is pretty great - but does she ever drink with one of them, fool around with one of them, have a sleepover or something, go out eating with one of them, ever act like she cares about them as anything more than allies, like they're friends? No, not in any quest or mission I encountered. Are there worse video game protagonists? Totally, she's not the worst by a mile. Watching her as a baby and playing her as a kid goes a long way to making me feel for her shitty situation, immerse myself in the setting, and appreciate her caretakers. Her goals and dreams align enough with my own desires as a player to explore the setting, hunt interesting robots and figure out the truth about the world that she was never in the way of me having fun with the game, and she's nice enough of a person that it fits my basic RPG do-gooder persona.

Nil is one of the more interesting characters, as a crazed warrior who loves killing but has realized attacking outlaws is the best way of doing that without being hunted himself. He's just in here as a partner character for the bandit camp sidequests, though.
Nil is one of the more interesting characters, as a crazed warrior who loves killing but has realized attacking outlaws is the best way of doing that without being hunted himself. He's just in here as a partner character for the bandit camp sidequests, though.

But she's got a lot of story screentime for only being alright, and she lacks both the swagger, style and sex appeal of 2B and the lovable goofy personality and relatable humanity of Yakuza 0's Kiryu. There's no relatable inner struggle and friendships like with Night in the Woods' Mae Borowski, no strong character arc like 9S in Nier Automata. She only comes alive in sections where you get an option to pick her dialogue from nice, clever and angry responses. The clever ones are well written and made me appreciate her, snappy stuff that hits right where it aims. But there are only like 5 of them in the entire game. Similar to the rest of the game, Aloy is just too flavourless for me. She's perfectly adequate, and it's nice to see a Ubisoft style open world adventure game with a revenge plot where you play as a redheaded young woman rather than a grizzled brownhaired white dude for once, but nothing about her made me care the way other characters made me care this year.

Horizon tries to balance RPG elements like dialogue wheels with action-adventure elements, and I think their balance is a bit out of whack, and doesn't make the most of it. You can have a great gamey open world game about hunting monsters, you can have a great RPG with hundreds of NPCs and minor stories, character-defining opportunities and interesting builds, or a tight, strong, narrative-focused action-adventure full of hand-animated cutscenes and scripted events. But is Horizon the best possible mix of all of those? I can't think of anyone else off the top of my head that's tried to be all three, but there is probably a reason there haven't been many attempts. Horizon is a bit shallow in every aspect besides the beautiful graphics, the lore and the combat system. It might be worthwhile to either narrow down that focus or just getting another iteration out to make the individual bits more interesting or mesh better.

The story focus gets in the way of the open world exploration. Going out of my way to explore before doing story missions was a bad idea, because I'd find dozens of large areas with nothing much in them, only to be sent there hours later for a story mission. At one point I went to the final boss arena just by looking for the most suspicious landmark, making it a bit awkward when the bad guy only showed up there twenty hours later.

I don't think the characters and tribal politics of the present day warrant this level of dialogue trees and cutscenes. It's all justified within the lore, but it just boils down to evil cultists that used to own the empire and are a bit pissed about having been chased out. It's not interesting. How the world of yesterday turned into the robot apocalypse of today is quite interesting, but honestly they spend too much time on that, too. I'm able to infer a lot from how all the old buildings are destroyed and the world is now covered in robot monsters, you know. You don't have to walk me through every step of doomsday with audio logs and holograms, in like 6 separate vaults during story missions. That's not the most exciting way this story could've been told.

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It really feels like Mass Effect 1, all interesting worldbuilding with dead boring characters. I can imagine a Horizon One Noon where a new writer is handed the reins and instantly shits over the worldbuilding but manages to deliver a lot more exciting character moments, like in Mass Effect 2. Maybe some of the evil cultists could be convinced to cyborg it up with parts taken from the robot animals, giving them both weakpoints and interesting movesets. Perhaps some of the robots could be given AI's that are humanlike instead of AIs, meaning you can now tell the story without focusing so much on human cultists and add some unique personality to the beasts, as well as have some unique bosses in there. And given a bigger focus, the characters might show more of their humanity and make me care more about them. Maybe the melee combat could be expanded upon. Maybe the human bad guy could be Sylens this time instead of a jobber like Helis - he actually has a little more going on, as far as personality goes, and his understanding of the history of the world is on Aloy's level. However, in this game he just helps her explore tombs and pisses off for the post-credits teaser. There's so much room for improvement. That game could be the Horizon I love.

Horizon is an amazing game for being Guerrilla's first try at this sort of thing. If they're just gonna keep focusing on justifying every trope instead of going for the things that might make it a more fun experience, it's not gonna be for me. But they've already managed to make a solid game that's fun to play for many hours, I just got tired of what it had to offer long before it was over(both the framework and content of the open world are too generic at this point to impress)and I thought that parts of it were too weak to be effective. I feel bad for picking on a what's totally a fine game so much, but something about Horizon as a full package just doesn't manage to pull me all the way in, and I keep trying to figure out where exactly it falls apart for me. It's a game I feel like I should like a lot more than I actually do.

This power armor made me dream of dressing Aloy up as Samus. The outfit you get by obtaining it is game-breakingly good, but nowhere near as cool-looking.
This power armor made me dream of dressing Aloy up as Samus. The outfit you get by obtaining it is game-breakingly good, but nowhere near as cool-looking.

Personal pet peeve: Aloy's face. The actress they modeled Aloy's face on, Hannah Hoekstra, is about 10 years older than the character is supposed to be, and it shows. It seems they didn't think she looked appropriately rugged and changed here face after the fact, but to me it just looks like they enlarged her cheeks and jaw, giving the impression of, uhm, a woman someone enlarged the cheeks and jaw off. It reminds me more of a mess-up in a character creator than a real person.

Adding to that, the animations seem to go through an automatic program, a method brought to the forefront in the wake of Andromeda this year,. While Horizon isn't nearly as bad as that, most of the cast still emote in dull, uncanny, odd, stock ways. Both face capture and these procedural/stock animation systems are a problem to get right, and I don't think they nailed it this time. Sometimes the emotions come through well enough, especially in the big cutscenes. But it's not a plus when characters are trapped between expressions and you can't even tell what they're supposed to be feeling, or when they're smiling oddly while saying serious lines.

Vanasha's face: Pretty great. Aloy's, on the other hand...
Vanasha's face: Pretty great. Aloy's, on the other hand...

It's not just Aloy, obviously, this goes for a lot of the characters in the game, and is especially apparent on the sidequest characters. However, she's the one I'm stuck looking at the most, and she just looks weird. This is one part of Mass Effect I could do without. Do the animation by hand and make sure the faces look good, or don't stick the camera right up in people's ugly mugs all the time for the dialogue wheels for every minor sidequest. Nobody requires you to put every conversation as part of a dialogue wheel and a shot-reverse shot just because it's what Bioware did. I'd prefer if Bioware didn't do it themselves in the first place, honestly. The faces in Nier Automata probably animate a hundred times worse, but the camera wisely stays away from them unless it's a prerendered cutscene. Faces in Dark Souls don't even animate, but nobody minds, 'cause most of them are hidden behind helmets and the camera never gets close to them unless you make it. Sure, show off the good faces. Just don't show me the ones you didn't have the time to touch up by hand.

Finally, as a ginger, I'd regret it if I didn't add that Aloy somehow has no issue with the sun at all when I can't spend five minutes outside during the summer without turning bright red. I wonder if there's an audio log in there somewhere that explains this, because this one was straining my suspension of disbelief harder than any other conceit of the setting.

I wasn't kidding when I called Horizon
I wasn't kidding when I called Horizon "absolutely beautiful". Despite my gripes with a lot of the character models' faces, the environments are incredibly good looking. I took all of these images on my own, and I have a ton more.

7. What Remains of Edith Finch

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To say I was positively surprised is an understatement. This game has one of the most pretentious-sounding game titles I can think of, and is theoretically a Walking Sim, a genre I've steered away from for the most part because of how boring it seems. Then along came Edith Finch and turned into a shark that rolled down a hill, across a road and into the sea, before starting to hunt for seals and fishermen.

The tradition in this genre is to go through an area like an investigator after the fact, rummaging through people's stuff or watching their ghosts have conversations with each other. And while Edith Finch absolutely does that a little bit, it does it in an amazing way. The location is a madhouse with a room dedicated to each family member that's ever lived there. In each room you find a document of some sort that tells the story of how they died tragically, theoretically because of some kind of family curse. And each of these stories is represented as a sort of tall tale, an interpretation of the story that makes it more bearable to stomach. And all of them are playable. And all of them look great.

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The first one, where a young girl ate stuff she really shouldn't, involves becoming a cat and a sea monster. In a later story you play as a drowning child, imagined as a fantastical scenario where his toys come alive and he transforms into a frog. It's morbid, but it's contextualized by being what his father tells his mother to comfort her. Another is a Tales From The Crypt sequence where one woman's murder on Halloween is retold as a horror story, complete with comic book panels and Borderlands-style cel shading. One flashback involves a paranoid man stuck in a bunker for decades, as you play through the routine of his days. It's a really good way to use the framework of the genre in a more interesting manner than normal, while still being able to avoid animating people too much.

I was a little disappointed by the ending. In the mid-game I really felt the paranoia of the characters, their fear of the curse and the monster that chased them. That stops after the most intense sequence in the bunker, and you start to get the idea that the curse might be entirely imagined, and all the deaths were just from a mixture of parental negligence and accidents.

Nothing after the monster sequences really got under my skin. While I've heard people describe it as a touching game, nothing in here made me cry or particularly care, since I'm only given brief, abstract glimpses of people's life rather than a long look at their character. Facing that truth rather than disguise it with a "curse" is all fair and good as far as morals go, but I don't really want to be teased with the promise of magic for half a game only to be let down with regular old family drama.

I give it props for making me so scared and engaged, however. And for letting me play so many scenarios I've never played before. First time I've ever played a drowning baby, for one thing.

6. Night in the Woods

Just a nice little story game about how soul-crushingly depressive it is to fail college and return home to your old town, which is frankly too close to home for me. I can see myself very clearly in the main character Mae in particular, but there's shades of people I know in all the characters. The writing is pretty grounded, and all the characters sound natural, at least so long as you can accept chat room dialogue as "natural". It all works out to a beliveable setting that I enjoyed being in despite(because?) a lot of the people there are dumbasses, dropouts and fuckups. It's not the exact same as my own life or anything, expecially when Mae's crimes and violence, religion or the mining community starts being a factor, but it definitely feels true to life in a way I appreciate. That sort of realism means that I could live with even the characters I thought were annoying, like Gregg.

Presentation counts for a lot. NitW is just a modern point & click adventure game(you walk around and talk to people and don't have to combine any items together), but it's got this fairly unique perspective and movement from the 2D platformer genre, so it actually feels good to play on a controller. The game is framed in days: You wake up(when the sun has started setting, natch), walk around on the streets talking to people and eventually hang out with a person from your friend group, which ends the day. Occasionally you'll have a dream at night, or hang out with some other person during the day without ending it. A lot of times you get to choose which best friend to hang out with, Bea or Gregg, and they have completely different scenes for their hangouts.

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The artstyle is nice, clean 2D art that's got a lot of personality to it and is easily readable no matter how far the camera zooms out, unlike Oxenfree. The characters are all animal people, which works out fine. The art is flat, clean and asexual enough that it's not gonna set off the "This artist clearly draws furry porn in his spare time" alert in people the same way Dust: An Elysian Tail's artwork did. While you spend a lot of time going through the same locales, there are enough weather changes and unique locations for plot-specific trips that it doesn't get old to look at, at least for me. There's even a complete, cheap-looking pixel art roguelite action game included as a bonus on Mae's computer, and the option toplay Guitar Hero-style minigames on her guitar. While I'm not gonna bother with that, it's sorta neat that they're there.

The story gets supernatural after many hours of that not being the case, which is a bit of an odd direction and the opposite of how Edith Finch went, but I'd say it all basically works out. Because the story is very written, every piece of dialogue seems like it ties into the themes, so even when things get supernatural or you go on odd hangout tangents with a character, it's still at least thematically appropriate. It's often really on the nose, I guess. Many characters just tell you a moral lesson, no justification besides a "Lemme tell ya about life, kid" lead-in. I don't agree with people that say every game has a message or politics or whatever that's worth analyzing, but NitW in particular has a lot on its heart. It talks about small American towns, nostalgia, families, depression and that sense of existential dread everyone my age gets around 3 AM each night at the very least. it's all tied into the struggles of realized characters, which is why it worked so well for me. I cared about the characters and mysteries enough to work my way through the boring bits, like the awful dream sequences and having to search every square inch of the map for new dialogue when another day rolled around.

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Having said that, the ending did almost lose me. The story suddenly gets completely linear, locking you into plot scenes instead of letting you run around int he town, and ignores a lot of grounded logic. While I was happy to not have to chase down conversations anymore, this switch gave me a bit of whiplash. You can't ask why the characters don't do this, or this: They do it because that's what's convenient for the story, like in Nier Automata. I felt like the last act was not only out of my control, but kinda disconnected from the rest of the game because they failed to have a natural setup, and the tone flip-flops pretty crazily between dead serious tragedy and wacky hijinks.

Wishing not to spoil, suffice to say I don't think the fallout from those events and how the characters deal with them really felt relatable to me anymore. It might work metaphorically, but I'd like it to just work in-universe too. I care about plot and characters, not just the metaphors and themes. I'd still say it was worth it, overall, but I enjoyed the setup much more than the payoff. Or maybe that should be: I enjoyed the slice of life aspects more than the plot aspects. Maybe try looking more to something like Persona next time. They integrate the supernatural and the mundane really well in those games, and a major part of it is letting the supernatural out of the bag within the first hour so we all know what we're dealing with. They even manage to resolve their conflict in a gradually gentrified small town plagued by disappearances without the local kids murdering a ton of old pensioners!

The advantage of short, story-focused games like this or Edith Finch is that there isn't enough time to make a lot of mistakes that turn the experience into a slog. NitW ends wisely not long after I got tired of tracking down conversations in the town. It's a spot over Edith Finch partly because I like the story and presentation more, but also because I'm just more of a sucker for characters, dialogue and jokes than I am for long, self-serious voiceover monologues. The ending doesn't ruin what's overall a very enjoyable experience, and despite its miserable themes, the message is uplifting. Night in the Woods didn't make me more depressed.

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My biggest pet peeve is that the characters all hang out in the woods and lie between train tracks and whatever instead of just playing Pokemon or something. While the game is set in 2017, I kinda doubt that the writer is my age. Hello, fellow twentysomethings, says the 40-year old man in disguise.

Well, I don't know if that's the case, so my apologies if he's 25.

5. Street Fighter V(Season 2)

At least this game had DLC released this year, unlike the other old games on the list.

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Street Fighter V had one of the rockiest launches I can remember. They pushed it out early for their tournament plans, and it ended up lacking in features, being a mess online, having the DLC characters be delayed for ages and patching in the main Story Mode months later. That's not even mentioning the microtransactions, the weird PC patch that broke the game for people, the terribly boring Survival Mode, and an unusually high frame delay.

All of that shit is not a good look for any game, but especially not for the follow-up to the games that practically invented the genre in the first place with Street Fighter 2 and then revitalized it with Street Fighter 4 nine years ago.

None of which changes the fact that I've been playing and enjoying Street Fighter V every week since launch day, playing with both friends and randoms online. If I was rating games based on time spent with them, Street Fighter V would be my number 1 game of 2017. I think some of this is just particular to my situation. I was way into Street Fighter 2 and 3 and also played a little Alpha 3 here and there, but I never got into Street Fighter 4 all that much. Fighting games have diversified to the extent that everyone is doing their own thing now. If I want the Street Fighter type of gameplay, and I do, then the only place I can get that from a game made this decade is Street Fighter V(And possibly Fighting Layer EX, whenever that game comes out).

They brought back Mika, who's an old favorite of mine, and they revamped her and characters like Birdie and Balrog into characters that actually look good and that I want to play, giving them entirely new attacks or drastic redesigns. Birdie is a really funny character now, a much better comic relief than Dan, El Fuerte or Rufus ever were. The old Street Fighter Alpha series Birdie was kinda gross looking, a mixture of lanky legs with Wario shoes and huge arms, all hunched over and odd. Fat Birdie not only has a more unique body type for the roster now and is waaay better animated, but thanks to the extra pounds he actually looks like a person with more balanced proportions. It's not as flattering as Hakan or E. Honda's extra weight, but it works well.

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Overweight and ugly characters are never gonna be the most popular, but I for one really love him in this game, despite his new character trait just basically making him the character that's hungry all the time. You can do whatever you feel like with Birdie since not many people like him. You need a black dude for Alpha 1? No worries, we'll just redesign this white punk from Street Fighter 1 that nobody cares about. You need a fat comic relief character for Street Fighter V? No problem, we'll just make Birdie obsessed with junk food this time. I'm not gonna say him throwing down a banana peel that makes people trip is highbrow humor, but the way you can use that to trip an Akuma in the middle of doing his Raging Demon is exceptional.

On the other hand, Balrog is just cool now. They gave him an amazing-looking boxing robe with torn-off sleeves that's like an improved version of an old Street Fighter 4 alternate costume, and it's a great look for him. Coupled with him having adopted a kid since Street Fighter 4 and acting as a weird dad to him, he's never been more likeable.

Several of the completely new characters are cool too, definitely more than the new guys in SF4. Rashid is the standout, being an Aladdin-type Disney hero with a likeable personality and a wild and fast playstyle based around generating wind. I also like Laura, everyone's sexy Brazilian big sis, though she's yet to get an outfit I particularly like. Necalli is fierce and looks amazing. FANG is... He's a weirdo, that's for sure. He's the character I least appreciate, but his design, personality and role in the story is also one of the best thought out of all of them. He's tailor made to make Street Fighter V's story work as the driving force behind the villains' plans, and he does a good job at that, but I'd lie to say I enjoyed his presence. He's also made to annoy so you really wanna kick his ass, and he's good at it. So when Street Fighter 6 rolls around, I'd put FANG up for least likely character to be in there.

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I'm too much of a scrub to accurately assess the systems, but I'll give it a shot. Over my months of playing, I've only managed to crawl up from the slums of Rookie all the way to the towering heights of Ultra Bronze. But I am having fun all the way! I enjoy playing as a good amount of the characters. The system changes are nice, with the V-system in particular giving everyone universal, simple button combinations for powerups or unique attacks.

Your regular V-skill is always available, and do different things for different characters. Some can absorb projectiles, some are special jumps, they're all an added tool that helps differentiate the characters. V-triggers use a meter that fills when you take damage. I think I like them better as a comeback mechanic than the Ultras. The supers and ultras of the previous game have been rolled into Critical Arts(they work like supers, but their damage and animation are more akin to Ultras) and the V-triggers, wich works fine, though I miss having more than one super move per character. Considering the two years it's taken Capcom to roll out alternative V-triggers, I can only assume they'll come eventually.

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The crush counters are neat. Every character has an attack or two that can put the opponent into a vulnerable state where they take more damage if they hit them at the right time. For instance, after Ken does a shoryuken and I block it, I can than kick him on the way down to send him flying and follow up with a combo or a critical art. It's an intuitive way to get someone back for abusing their special moves. Another change is the health system. You can no longer kill an opponent by dealing minor chip damage by attacking them with strong attacks when they're guarding, you need a Critical Art to do that. This leads to a lot of fights ending with one or both opponents with only a single HP left, trying desperately to get a clean opening to finish the other one off, and it's quite exciting. The last leg of the V system is the V-reversal, which I honestly forget exist. By blocking and then hitting three kicks or punches, depending on the character, you'll retaliate with a counter attack. The lack of a universal button combo makes it harder to reach for in emergencies, and as a less skilled player it feels more productive to spend the meter on activating V-trigger instead.

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Capcom always balances a stylized comic-booky look with musculature to make characters that aren't realistic, but are both true enough to life to feel tangible, and exaggerated enough to look appealing. They've reached a compromise here that works for me in this game too, though it's a better look for some characters than other. Everyone has this almost clay- or toy-like texture, lighting and shading that give them a look unique to this game. I'm not sure I would prefer it to some sort of sprites, 2d artwork, cel-shading or other graphical trickery like what the older Street Fighter games, Guilty Gear Xrd or Skullgirls has, and during certain stages their lighting makes the characters appear harsher, with outlines that are distinct in an unappealing way. But it's a big improvement on the sort of design that Street Fighter 4 had, and when the character modelers are on point(Urien looks particularly fantastic), it's a great look for the game. On top of that, they've improved their ink and water effects from 4 and Street Fighter X Tekken and given every character a sort of watery effect colored in a way unique to them that accentuates their critical arts and v-trigger activations, which looks pretty cool. The art style is easily readable, and for the most part, well animated while still feeling good to perform. Rather than having attacks that are based on crushing/piercing the opponent's body or anything remotely realistic, every move in Street Fighter lands with an impact that launches the opponent with not a drop of blood in sight, making everything feel solid and playful. It's definitely anime, but it's late 80's and early 90's anime, when everyone was being influenced by 80's American action hero movies.

A street fighter and a blazbluer
A street fighter and a blazbluer

Every character is thick and muscular, with even the tiniest woman on the roster being more ripped than the largest woman in Guilty Gear. Unlike games like Blazblue or UNIEL, Street Fighter is largely untainted by the anime trends of the last decades, so there are less moe~ maids around and more ripoffs of characters from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Battle Angel Alita and Riki-Oh. And unlike NetherRealm studios, they don't seem to spend hours mocapping real actors' faces to no discernable benefit besides being uncanny and looking dated as quickly as possible. Almost every character being based either on traditional martial arts, national stereotypes or old 80's/90's anime stuff and approaching those influences through the lense of a semi-realistic anime style gives Street Fighter a vibe that I just can't get anywhere else. During Street Fighter 2's development, the developers eventually chose special moves based on which made them laugh, and I feel like that spirit is well and alive 30 years later. It's fun, and genuinely iconic, and colorful, and campy. Given the choice between gritty, angry and gory or fun and sexy, SF will choose the latter every time. They'll go for timeless and simple designs rather than contemporary and trendy. They'll sooner do goofy designs than cool ones. They'd never call a character a "badass". It's all very spot-on my tastes.

The stages and the music are largely neat, not counting the India stage. Someone on the design team is waaaay too into color filters on the backgrounds. At least steer away from yellow if you're gonna do that, it looks like it's drenched in piss. It's my one major complaint about the graphics besides some clipping issues and characters in backgrounds animating at a distractingly lower framerate than the characters up front.

Besides the new stages, the development team have slowly been adapting old stages from the earlier games for 3d, which is hitting my nostalgia like nothing else. Some don't fare well with the color filters I mentioned, for instance Ryu's Street Fighter 2 stage is just way too red and looks odd. You can make stages distinct from the fighters themselves without resorting to just throwing color gradients all over them. But stages like Bison and Balrog's old boss stages, or Guile's stage, have never looked more beautiful. I assume every character is going to have their own stage, eventually, and that's in addition to all the new ones.

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On the music side, the remix of Juri's theme is just plain bad, and can easily be joined by Menat and Kolin's themes, all of which are less melodic than their peers. But most of the themes? Great! The ones for the Christmas stage, the Temple Hideout stage and Abigail's stage are standouts, and there are beautiful themes for many of the characters, including Zeku, Alex, Karin and Ibuki. I have no idea why Capcom doesn't hire their old composer for these things, though. I'm pretty sure she's a freelancer, and personally there's no contest for me between the Street Fighter 2 themes and the ones from the rest of the series. I'd much rather have them hire her to do the new themes for Menat and Kolin than make these oppressive, no melody at all-kinda tracks. I'm very obviously not a big music nerd, but most of the classic tracks have this strong melody to them that's instantly recognizable and memorable, and the new ones that stand out have it too. I couldn't hum a second of Kolin or Menat's themes, and Juri's theme is unrecognizable stuff that doesn't even sound a little like her cooler original SF4 theme until a minute in. How long do you think fights take in Street Fighter, anyway?

Speaking of the sound design, you're easily able to set which songs you want to hear in the various multiplayer modes(your character's theme, your opponent's character's theme or the stage theme), which I appreciate. There's a similar option for Japanese or English voices on a per character basis, which is very merciful. You can match the characters from English- and Japanese-speaking countries to their respective languages if you care about that sort of stuff, but either way it's a good method to avoid dodgy performances in one language or the other. Laura Bailey has a ton of experience and can be a great voice actress, but she's bad as Chun-Li. Laura is similarly terribly voiced in English, while Jessica Straus is an awesome Juri. Miyuki Sawashiro uses her amazingly sultry voice for Cammy, and you can't go wrong with either that or Caitlin Glass doing her best British accent. Rashid, Zeku, Abigail and Urien are also great in either language! Norio Wakamoto hams it up as usual for M. Bison and sounds wonderful.

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This year, they rolled out another 6 DLC characters. Season 2's main character for me was Abigail, a man with a face not even a mother could love, but with a playstyle and animations that make me laugh. He's based on an old Final Fight boss, but you'd be hard pressed to tell with the way they've redesigned him. He looks monstrous, and was hated when initially revealed, but public opinion turned around hard when people actually got their hands on him. The others that joined him were old mainstay Akuma(now sporting a ridiculous but great beard and a more beastly build) as well as newcomers Kolin(an ice woman working for Gill from Street Fighter 3), Ed(Balrog's adopted son, a young Eminem-like character who's also a Bison replacement body and combines psycho power with boxing), Guy's old ninja grandmaster Zeku(Here reimagined as the founder of the Striders) and Menat(An egyptian chick that's the pupil of Rose, the fortuneteller from the Street Fighter Alpha games).

They all bring something new to the series. Ed's special moves all use simple commands instead of halfcircles or charges or whatever, and his V-Skill is a sort of harpoon that pulls enemies to him or vice versa. Menat fights long-range with a levitating crystal ball that she can place out on the stage and call back, like a different kind of Dhalsim. Zeku is a ninja stance character with two separate models with entirely different animations and moves, like Zelda/Sheik from the Smash Bros. franchise. Kolin's V-Trigger freezes you, which replaces your stun gauge with one that doesn't deplete until you hit her, and she's got several different special moves that counter attacks. Abigail's towering size, armored moves and pure damage are the most impressive things about him. But he's also got 4 different heavy punches, and his V-Trigger gives him armor on all of them and allows him to charge them up to give them guard-breaking properties. Despite similarities here and there to other characters in the franchise, these guys all manage to feel like they're doing something unique.

Abigail looks absolutely absurd and is perhaps the one character that would benefit from less defined muscles. They must've had a hard time trying to distance his anatomy and outfit from Hugo's. I hope he gets his time to shine again in a game with an even more cartoony artstyle. I totally love how he plays and his whole attitude, and although his muscles are out of control it's great fun controlling such a titanic character.
Abigail looks absolutely absurd and is perhaps the one character that would benefit from less defined muscles. They must've had a hard time trying to distance his anatomy and outfit from Hugo's. I hope he gets his time to shine again in a game with an even more cartoony artstyle. I totally love how he plays and his whole attitude, and although his muscles are out of control it's great fun controlling such a titanic character.

It was a bold choice to go for mostly new characters in season 2(about half having briefly appeared before as NPCs nobody cared about), and it's hard to tell if it's worked out for Capcom. Most of the new characters simply aren't my style of gameplay(as I mentioned, Abigail is closest to my heart), but that's always the case in games with as varied ensemble casts as this, and I don't mind having them around. Some of them are lookers, some have good music, and they all have something new to them in the gameplay department. At the same time, most of them are tied into existing characters in both lore ways and gameplay ways. Abigail is another take on Hugo, owing to their origins as pallette swaps of one another in Final Fight. Menat is a little Rose and a little Dhalsim, Zeku does some of Guy's moves etc. It fits with the existing cast. Nobody in here are anywhere near as disgusting as Rufus or as poor of a fit for the series as Remy, and everything's basically fine as long as we don't approach those two(or the utter dullness of the Street Fighter 1 cast). Season 3's characters have already been revealed and are much more mundane, a couple of newcomers(Falke, a woman who's Ed's comrade, and a character just named G, who I have no freakin' clue about) coached in four old fan favorites(Sagat, Sakura, Cody and Blanka).

I don't really have many complaints about SFV's cast, besides a few old favorites of my own that I wanna see again. The meme is that half the cast are blonde people, and it's not a lie that there are a lot of them. But they're stuck with a the blondes because they specifically went for a number of characters that weren't used in Street Fighter 4, a majority of which are light haired, and I can't say that I mind that. Choosing the older characters that weren't used in 20 years is worthwhile, and they've made major changes to almost all of them that make them feel fresh, like a lot of time did pass since they last appeared.

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Nash came back as a zombie, for one, on account of having died back in Alpha. Birdie got fat and has a V-skill based around eating and littering. Mika has a ton more pro wrestling-inspired moves this time around, including a tag team partner that she can call in like an assist. Combined, the characters that are new and the characters that haven't been used in a Street Fighter game since about 1997 make up more than half the cast. That gives Street Fighter V more of its own separate identity from Street Fighter 4. They might share a lot of the core cast, because I don't think Capcom are ever gonna pull a Street Fighter 3 again and drop the popular Street Fighter 2 characters from the roster, but there are more than enough new faces and systems in here to make it all feel different.

I would like them to do more women per season, rather than the two they did for Season 2 and the two that are planned for Season 3. SFV has a decent number of girls in it, and will have as many as SF4 did in its final iteration once Falke is out(11). Three of them are new characters, too. But the gap between them and the guys is only gonna widen when you do more than twice as many dudes as chicks per season. I get that traditionally this is unavoidable. Only two out of around 15 of the classic characters basically everyone likes from Street Fighter 2 are women, and they've already put in every remotely popular female character besides, perhaps, Poison and Makoto. There are a lot more popular legacy guy characters that aren't in the roster than there are girls. The audience for this sort of game is just predominantly male, and a lot of people wanna play as their own gender. Like how there are a lot more characters from the US and Japan than anywhere else, that's just part of the series DNA and reflective of both its developer and its biggest real world markets. It doesn't help that a number of Street Fighter characters were borrowed from Final Fight, which has a large American and Japanese cast as well.

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But we're still at the point where you could reasonably fill a season with characters like Makoto, C. Viper, Poison, Elena, Rose and Maki, and that's besides any new characters the developers are sitting on. I would love for Capcom to even out those numbers a little with both those old characters and newcomers from countries that don't have a representative in the Street Fighter universe yet. US and Japan are fine and all, but there's a big world out there full of untapped potential for refreshing character designs and cool new stages. Diversity isn't normally a big sticking point for me. I don't get a lot personally from some minority or other getting positive representation in a game. It's not something that makes or breaks a game for me. But in the case of Street Fighter, I feel like we've lost the plot on the whole "World Warrior" bit when most of the new characters are from already established countries(or, the most boring, characters from an "unknown" location) instead of new ones.

The only two new countries in here(Menat and Rashid, from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates respectively) are huge breaths of fresh air. Rashid brought with him a cool Dubai stage taking place on the back of a plane flying through the city, and I'm really curious about what they'll do for Menat's stage. While you could fill the remaining seasons with old characters that all have their fans, I hope that Capcom won't stop adding new ones to the roster until the very end. There's always the danger of a dud, but a succesful new character from a place that hasn't been in the series before is really exciting. It's worth the occasional dull or bad character to get an exciting new face that everyone will be happy to see brought forward into the next game, like Juri was in SF4.

The freelancers apparently managed to sneak in the detail that the Kanzuki Beach stage is in Malaysia, so let that place have a try next time. I'm sure they have more of a martial arts tradition than Norway has, although I'd love some local reps. You could make a better Scandinavian character than Tekken did with Lars, that's for sure.

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My final main complaint is less an issue with the game and more with humanity as a whole. Statistics Capcom have released show that about 30% of the userbase refuse to play anything but the shotos, which is why I spend half my time in the online modes fighting Ryu, Ken and Akuma( mostly mixed up with Guile, who's a respectable Number Four Most Played). I often wish there was a separate matching service for those players, some sort of stormy whirlpool where they just do hurricane kicks forever while Guile crouches on the shore. It's really boring to see the similar characters over and over again, especially when the cast is closing in on 30 playable characters with different looks and fighting styles. Sagat and Sakura are coming out next year, so I don't know if I should feel happy that I'm gonna see more different characters as the shotofans diversify or depressed that the only characters that reach more than a 5% in usage rate are the duller ones that share similar moves.

Anyway, that's about as well as I can describe my feelings on it. SFV isn't something I enjoy more than other fighting games because it's got tangible content I can point to and go "it's got objectively more of this or that", like a massive story campaign or a fleshed out Event Match or Tutorial mode. I don't love Capcom for their launch, and there are many design choices in here I don't like. Despite the ridiculous length of this post, I haven't even gone into their story modes and how that all worked out. It's not a game that makes it feel like its developer is in a good place financially, between the lackluster launch content and the microtransactions for stages and costumes. Capcom's gotten into the habit of having a character's default costume be a redesign while nickling and diming people for the old outfit as DLC, which is a practice I'm not a fan of even when the new redesign is great. I would also love to get into all the nitpicks I have about bad character redesigns(Alex looks terrible, for one) and animation bugs, but this list is way too long already.

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Overall though, Capcom's specific style of handling the gameplay, animations, artstyle and tone is just completely my taste, and they've managed to drag me into a genre I wouldn't enjoy at all if it wasn't for their games(Well, their games and Smash). I like watching the big tournaments and cheering for the folks that play the characters that I also play. It's electrifying when I play online and my plan works out, and I'll pump my fist shouting "YES!" when I manage to outsmart an opponent of a higher rank. Frankly, the things I enjoy about Street Fighter V, I just love to such a degree that the things I dislike about it don't matter very much. You can sit me down and ask me what annoys me about the game, and I could probably keep going for quite a while. That doesn't mean I won't play SFV for another hundred hours while having a great time.

Being bad at performing combos, or not having the drive to sit down and learn the frame advantages of different moves, that's not something that should discourage anyone from having fun with a solid fighting game. There are always other people on your level out there, and the online modes of SFV do a decent job of matching you up with them if you haven't got any local players. Some people talk about the audience for a fighting game "Getting so fierce at it that I couldn't keep up", as if everyone in the world is training more than you are. There are always gonna be way more newcomers and casuals than pros. Don't worry about it!

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Despite all of the game's faults and the terrible, premature launch, I still play it more than any other game just because I think it's fun, and I encourage everyone interested to jump in when they finally roll out the Arcade Edition this January.

4. Bloodborne

One of the exclusives I bought a PS4 for in the first place, but only got around to finishing this spring. I love the Souls series! It's often very atmospheric. It's an action-RPG that approaches the genre from an action angle instead of an RPG angle, so the numbers only manage your damage, not your hit percentage, which I find frustrating. It's got a combat system that feels good, and is easier to use but feels tenser than something like Bayonetta's mashy combos, because the movement is deliberate, regulated by stamina and can be punished hard by enemies. It's a series that tells its story in the background instead of letting it get in the way of the gameplay, and instead of drowning you in exposition it makes you work for every little snippet of info and NPC dialogue you can get. It's one of the few game series left where you can expect not only a ton of unique enemies, but a ton of unique and exciting boss fights, too. It seamlessly combines online multiplayer and single player in a cool way, though thankfully, you can always opt out and just play the games offline. When famed director Miyazaki is at the helm, the level design is also gonna be generally stellar, all these intricate labyrinths that turn back on each other in interesting ways.

But still, after the three Dark Souls games plus Demon's Souls I was getting pretty tired of it. Especially when Dark Souls 2 failed to live up to my expectations and Dark Souls 3 felt like the series had already wrung out all it could from the lore and setting. As I mentioned at the start, I played through the Dark Souls 3 DLC this year and basically enjoyed it - But I didn't love it the way I do Dark Souls 1.

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Bloodborne changed all that. New setting! New lore! New gameplay based more around dashing and guns!

The Lovecraftian setting is a perfect fit for the series. Dark Souls already has the reputation of being somewhat more of a horror game than most RPGs, and involves all that mysterious "searching for the lore in item descriptions" business(or if you're a more casual fan, "who cares about the story in Souls???"). Bloodborne is all horror all the time, with awful, disgusting enemies at every corner. The game earns the Lovecraft thing, too: starting out as gothic horror and slowly morphing into full on Cthulhu territory as the truth is slowly revealed. The plot, such as it is, has your character getting a blood transfusion and waking up in a perhaps literal nightmare town. Several evil sects and factions have used rituals to summon old godlike creatures and elevate themselves above their mortal forms. This has resulted in an outbreak of beasts, and the people that hunt these beasts coming out of the woodwork to kill them all. The player is an outside force just trying to make sense of it all and learn the details of what is truly going on. Bloodborne is all horror all the time, with awful, disgusting enemies at every corner. Your search for snippets of lore parallells the main character's thirst for knowledge about the truth about these monstrosities and the setting, and it respects the Lovecraftian influences with how that knowledge drives humans mad and how insignificant we are in the big picture. The happiest ending of all might be the one where you know the least, while the True Ending that you have to work the hardest for leads you down a path you really wouldn't want to go on unless you buy into the ideals of the cults.

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Bloodborne is more tragic than the other Souls games, with fewer heroic characters and comic reliefs to root for. Dark Souls has always been dark, natch. Companion NPCs mostly die or go hollow, and there's often that one boss that you feel terrible about fighting, like Sif or Priscilla in Dark Souls or Maiden Astraea in Demon's Souls. But Bloodborne takes that to another level. Even in terms of enemy variety, there's no sign of any moonlight butterflies or mushroom families to liven up the place - the best you get are some tragically mutated pod people, and almost everyone else is some kind of beast or otherwise twisted human. Struggle all you want, the people in this place are not going to have a good end. It's a very sad world to have the first children in a Souls game appear in.

And yet, because it's a Japanese action-RPG, it's also a game where you can strap an actual cannon to your left arm and a pile bunker to your right. You won't see that in any western-developed Lovecraft games, that's for sure. The new trick weapons are amazing things that usually switch between a regular mode and a powered-up/ranged state. Exploding hammers, monstrous arms that were ripped off of beasts, giant pizza cutters, a cane with a whip sword, a sword you can slide into a giant metal box to form a huge sledgehammer... Every weapon is just cool as shit, and the combat feels great and messy. It isn't the hardest combat in the Souls series, but every enemy looking like an absolute nightmare that constantly screams at you sure makes it feel like it is. I spent all of the game clenching my muscles in excitement, both from being scared of the horrors and the thrill of the fights, to the degree that my neck hurt when I stopped playing.

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All the elements come together to form an amazing whole. The trick weapons, the guns(allowing for ranged attacks, but more pressingly, ranged parries), the more lenient stamina system combined with the faster dodges and dashes, the rally system that lets you gain damage you lost if you attack the enemy right back fast enough, the improved backstab that lets you charge it up for an attack of opportunity, all the bosses with different points of weaknesses on their bodies... They just went above and beyond in making the basic action feel good, and approporiate for the feral setting. The heartpounding combat combined with the intricate level design alone is worth the price of admission. The Town of Yharnam is one of my favorite areas in Souls.

The flaws come down to the finer details, like the healing items now being farmable and not being refilled at bonfires, which is a bummer. It just adds an hour of farm runs now and then in order to continue with enough healing items in tow. Having to travel back to the hub to travel anywhere else is annoying. It's murder on the farm runs too. In Dark Souls, resting at those bonfires respawned the enemies, but in Bloodborne they won't reappear until you've traveled to the hub and back again, which is way too much loading time for an already tedious task(and Bloodborne does not load fast). Additional bosses and enemies being hidden behind procedurally generated dungeons geared toward multiplayer is a bit of a waste, especially since it's harder to co-op in this game because of the resource used for it. There's no option to respec your stats here. Bloodborne is also a more reduced experience compared to other Souls titles. If you were a mage, or a knight with a heavy shield and armor, you cannot recreate that experience here. You're either playing a speedy glass cannon, or you're not playing Bloodborne. NPC questlines haven't been improved much, and in some cases end even more suddenly than I'm used to for the series.

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But if the aspects of Souls that they focused on and refined here appeal to you, then you're gonna love this game. It's one of my favorites in the series, alongside Dark Souls 1, and it's just the refresher I needed after getting burned out on the sequels. You could argue that Dark Souls 2 and 3 are more feature complete, and I agree. But I also think those two games were very dull compared to this. I wouldn't mind too much if they returned to Bloodborne for another game, but let's be real, I like their direct sequels way less than their spiritual sequels. New worlds are just better for not only the new gameplay systems, but for the mysteries and the lore.

3. Dragon's Crown

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When it initially released, all anyone was interested in talking about in Dragon's Crown was the Sorceress' colossal rack, which I think did the game a disservice. The studio essentially consists of just artists, and it's their major standout feature, so it's a valid talking point. And if you can't stand how a game looks, you can't get into it(and on the flip side, being into it makes it much easier to like the game).

But maybe spend a few minutes of your time talking about how it's one of the finest 2D beat 'm ups out there too, the pinnacle of Vanillaware's game design after the more bad to middling combat in Odin Sphere and Muramasa. Despite being one of the most fun 2d action games I've played, this game gets like no press.

This is the character select screen. One of my few complaints with the game is that I wish the characters were more expressive, their facial expressions are all a bit dull compared to the rest of the artwork
This is the character select screen. One of my few complaints with the game is that I wish the characters were more expressive, their facial expressions are all a bit dull compared to the rest of the artwork

I first played this game in 2015 after watching ENB's review of it on youtube, and ended up loving the tight gameplay, the RPG upgrade system and the incredible sword and sorcery-inspired 2D artwork and flash animation. Vanillaware was formed by ex-Capcom devs that had previously worked on the Dungeons & Dragons beat 'em ups, and this is a revisiting of that concept with 20 more years of experience under their belts. They've moved up from sprites to 2D artwork, from MIDIs to a more orchestral score and from weird dragon punch movements to do special moves to thankfully just mapping them to a button and a single direction.

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The campaign really is a thrill ride, each environment lovingly crafted, beautiful and diverse. No stage takes you through just one type of area. You go to a forest stage, you get coves full of crystals and a boat ride across an underground lake. You go to a temple that looks like the tower of Babel, you get a quick ride down to Hell while you're there. And each stage has two unique bosses of its own, which range from the spectacularly impressive(The Chimera is a highlight for me) to the unexpectedly comedic(This is the only game I've seen that shamelessly based a boss off of a Monty Python sketch). While primarily Conan the Barbarian-like, Dragon's Crown has a lot of different fantasy inspirations, and manages to feel like a Best Of of the whole genre and still have a strong identity of its own thanks to the impressive artwork and craftsmanship on display.

It doesn't matter that I've fought a Minotaur a hundred times in different games before - I've never fought one that looks like this in game. I think it's worthwhile to have some games with more realistic graphics depict these sorts of things, too. Dragon's Dogma portrays Chimeras the way I always imagined them, and that's cool. Great, even. But Dragon's Crown portrays Chimeras in a way I wish I could have imagined them, and that goes for everything in this game. Medieval fantasy is as played out as it gets, but this exaggerated version of largely Sword & Sorcery imagery is uncommon.

Every sidequest nets you one piece of artwork for the massive gallery in addition to the EXP and other rewards, all with a short story that fleshes out the setting of Hydeland. Most of them are absolutely beautiful, but if this sort of Conan the Barbarian level of bikini armors and sexy pinups of damsels isn't your jam, maybe steer away from Dragon's Crown and play that cool Scott Pilgrim beat 'em up instead. This is what you're getting.
Every sidequest nets you one piece of artwork for the massive gallery in addition to the EXP and other rewards, all with a short story that fleshes out the setting of Hydeland. Most of them are absolutely beautiful, but if this sort of Conan the Barbarian level of bikini armors and sexy pinups of damsels isn't your jam, maybe steer away from Dragon's Crown and play that cool Scott Pilgrim beat 'em up instead. This is what you're getting.

I played through the game 4 times as the Amazon and did a few missions with the rest of the characters just to get a feel for them, and it was still fun for me. I wouldn't call it hard, at least not on normal, as soon as you've got a grasp on the mechanics and are appropriately leveled for a stage. The beginning could be rough, as your resources are few and your options fewer, and there's always gonna be a hard limit on what healing items you can carry and how many continues you can use before your score takes a massive hit(EXP and gold both being based on your score). It certainly gets harder the more you turn the difficulty up, naturally, but you can't do that without beating it once. And at that point you're familiar with the enemies and your moves and can get through almost anything with not much of an issue. One particular boss, the cyclopses, are so slow that I'm not sure they've ever managed to hit me with a single attack. But the tightness of the controls mixed with the beautiful artwork just sucked me in, and I kept returning despite the amount of different stages in this game being limited to just 9, with one alternate path and boss each.

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There's just enough out of combat management of resources and leveling mechanics(and a point system that rewards you more experience points, gold and gear the better you perform) that it feels like your progression has meaning and opens up new avenues without getting stuck in the dull mire of colored loot. Your skill tree is large for this sort of game, with a number of moves and skills you can unlock, and then additional tiers that increase their strength/frequency etc. Additionally there are a number of bonuses that increase stuff like health/score gained by picking up coins in stages, or how much extra HP you can store on top of your regular HP with special food items, which always makes you think about what to level up to most efficiently improve your chances in the stages.

Because of your limited inventory slots(and a single blessing out of many you can receive before venturing out on an adventure, which determine stuff like an extra life or extra score), it's often a choice between how much survivability you want versus how many damaging special items or equipment you want to take with you. After a while you gain separate bags of gear that you can switch between stages, allowing you to go on adventuring for longer before your equipment deteriorates and also optimize the different bags for the enemies you face on different stages.

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During the stages themselves, there are enough expirable weapons and animals you can ride around to spice up the action, as well as more setpiece-heavy breaks where you have to dodge lava on a flying carpet or steer a boat around whirlpools. You can click on the stages with a pointer you move around the environment to activate runes for bonus effects, or reveal hidden treasure and doors to secret areas. The bosses themselves have a lot of gimmicks that make each one unique besides just their looks. Every boss on the alternate route is on a time limit. If you can't take it out in time, you'll either get help or be forced to flee and have to take a lower score, but at least you'll never be stuck on an unbeatable foe you went to too early.

Eventually you lose the ability to freely choose what stage you go to unless you pay a premium. Instead, you're incentivized to prepare for a journey throughout all of the stages(there's a certain order to them, but not the same as the one you initially visit them in). You get more experience points and gold the more stages you do in succession, and with the right combination of sidequests you picked up, main quests you're trying to do and bags that you prapared for the tasks, every adventure is worthwhile.

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Like with all games it's important to know what you're in for. This game asks you to repeat more content than most other games, even Nier Automata. Besides playing the game two times over in the course of a single playthrough(once to beat all the stages, a second time to beat the alternate routes), you're required to go to them again for sidequests and grinding out experience points. You can then continue the game with the same character, on a harder mode. If you wanna play as someone else, the progression unfortunately means you have to start over with them from the beginning. There is a story, but it is just there to provide the barest amount of context to the campaign.Your playable characters aren't people as much as they're avatars for different gameplay styles, and they have zero personality.

The reason I am fine with that is because I love the art, the whole setting is my thing and just playing the game is enjoyable for me, the stages also being only 5-10 minutes long on a rerun. I couldn't care less about the loot, that's just not the kind of gamer I am. But I like the simple act of playing Dragon's Crown, and I can't think of a better compliment for a game. Whatever annoyances I have just doesn't matter because I have such a good time controlling a character, going through the stages and dealing with all the RPG stuff during the downtime. It's not a very challenging game for me, but it's challenging enough that it's not completely mindless filler either. I can't play it forever. But I can certainly play 40 hours here, 30 hours there, and have a great time whenever I pick it up. There's nothing else like it.

Birdie here. The cooking is a minigame where you and your companions cook the parts of monsters you've defeated and eat it after a stage to recover HP and earn bonus stats. Every meal looks so freaking delicious
Birdie here. The cooking is a minigame where you and your companions cook the parts of monsters you've defeated and eat it after a stage to recover HP and earn bonus stats. Every meal looks so freaking delicious

This year, that youtuber I mentioned had started streaming on Twitch. At one point he did a co-op playthrough of Dragon's Crown with the audience, and I played alongside him to be at the appropriate level, eventually playing through all the stages with him and other fellow viewers. It's neat how games can bring people together that way, and Dragon's Crown is just as fun co-operatively as it is solo. There's a remaster coming out for PS4 in spring 2018, and if anyone wants to co-op, I'm down for playing it again! Perhaps that version of it could get on the list next year, especially if the rumors are true and Vanillaware's next game is more of a point & click adventure game with mechs in it.

2. Persona 5

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Persona 5 is what happens when you get to iterate on a concept again and again. The same way Nintendo keeps improving and building on their franchises each generation, Atlus' Persona team have been working on this specific design since Persona 3's development began 13 years ago. It's all the same framework: Half life simulator/management sim set in mundane Japan, half dungeon crawling, turn-based, pokemon-capturing JRPG goodness set in a fantasy world somehow connected to people's inner feelings. But now that the developers have polished the systems over the course of making Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4, Persona 4 the Golden and even the weird spinoff Catherine, everything in the game just beams.

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The quality of life improvements are outstanding, the amount of anime cutscenes and directed in-game cutscenes has ballooned, the 3d models are amazingly well realized and the music is amazing, my favorite game music this year. Every option in combat is now accessible from the controller's buttons instead of navigating menus. Dealing with Persona fusions is simpler than ever, and you have a lot of options for how you want to use them. Every social link(now "confidante") gives you a new gameplay element or odd bonus that integrates with the dungeon crawling aspect of the game, so you're encouraged to go after them for more than just the story or the extra experience points to the personas you fuse. It's also easier to manage them thanks to new UI on the map that shows where they are and when they're available. We've gone from the procedurally generated, crappy dungeons of P3 to premade, nice-looking dungeons with their own puzzle elements, enemies that fit the theme, and proper story content and events. You can negotiate with demons in battle.

They've reintroduced old attack elements into the combat from Persona 1 and 2, and changed up the light and dark elements so you're not stuck with OHKOs that have a low chance to hit anymore. The new baton pass mechanic allows you to decide your turn order, and keep attacking as long as you hit an enemy's weakness thanks to the 1 More mechanic. And it's all coated in this awesome, slick presentation that just oozes style out of every pore. That's the power of a strong artstyle, it doesn't matter that they developed this for the PS3 and then ported it over, it just looks sick. Persona 3 and 4 already had an indrecibly strong art direction, and with the jump to a new generation didn't just come higher definition, but hundreds of neat graphical touches and animations. Just the menus in this game look better than entire other games, and all the neat little transitions and animations really help bring the world to life in a way unique to Persona 5. It's beautiful, and it feels cool.

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I do have a number of nitpicks with P5, though. While handcrafted dungeons are a massive improvement, they're just too long to support the shallow puzzle mechanics inside of them. You want to do them in as few tries as possible to waste as few days as you can of the time management part of the game. But that lead to me being stuck in them for hours at a time, eventually growing bored and resenting them for keeping me away from the story. The developers bothered to include one procedurally generated dungeon just for old time's sake where all the sidequests are placed, called Mementos. While I appreciate the effort, only one single song plays when you're in there, for the tens of hours you spend there as you return to do quests after every major dungeon. It's not even a good song! That music combined with the sameyness of the visual design made me really loathe returning to Mementos.

I dated Ann, but it was pretty evident by the end that I should've dated Futaba instead.
I dated Ann, but it was pretty evident by the end that I should've dated Futaba instead.

Finally, the story is.... It's not exactly bad, but it's very predictable in ways that it shouldn't be, and I feel like they don't respect the player's intelligence. If you couldn't tell who one of the major villains is from just their pre-release concept art, you haven't been watching enough anime. And that's an issue when the villain's identity is this big mystery teased throughout the game. There's another "secret" villain that's equally easy to figure out the identity of, but the main character has the kind of amnesia where he doesn't remember who he is until the end of the game while the player can easily tell. This, combined with endless explanation of simple concepts, all make the main plot frustrating to follow.

In a better written story, I feel like the heroes would be more proactive and less lead by the nose. At one point the game pretends like they're tricked while they're actually just acting like it to fool the bad guy, but it comes about 60 hours too late to feel as satisfying as it could have, and they have to explain how it worked for hours afterwards. The protags just aren't clever enough for this sort of story. During one especially annoying bit right after summer vacation, there's infighting and drama in the group over perceived slights that feel like they go on forever and grind the pacing to a halt. These niggles are tiny on their own, but add up over time to real annoyances.

Props for handling the true ending much better than Persona 4, though. I like what they did with that.

Meanwhile, on the character end of things, this team just isn't as tight knit as the team of Persona 4. Those guys were real friends that knew each others' secrets and went on wacky camping trips together, crossdressed for beauty pageants and went out to party at clubs they were way too young for. The story was about their inner negative emotions being unleashed by the supernatural world, and them coming to terms with themselves, so there was just naturally a bigger focus on them. Everyone had clear, ugly flaws and insecurities that humanized them and grounded them in the real world. They were nice individually, but as a group, they were amazing.

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In Persona 5 the focus is on society's bad guys taking advantage of people, and the main team rising up to fight the power. It's a lot more "us VS them", in all aspects of the story. Every single person in the main cast is a victim of someone abusing their power. Every single villain is a person abusing their power. There just isn't room for the same sorts of flaws and fun get-togethers that Persona 4 has because you're either an innocent victim or a cruel victimizer, and almost all events in the game reflect that, including the previously silly events P4 had.

At one point you go on a trip to Hawaii, which is prime material for the kind of wacky hijinks the Persona 4 team got into, but these guys just can't escape The Phantom Thieves. Either they're talking about themselves, or everyone else are talking about them. Every P5 party member shares the flaw that they just didn't stand up and fight their oppressors until now, and while they have their individual quirks, it's not the same. Everyone bagging on Ryuji for being stupid and loud is just not as good as Kanji and Yosuke giving each other shit over their gay insecurities(and on the topic of gay characters, there's a recurring pair of flirtatious Shinjuku dwellers that keep chasing Ryuji that were a bad idea. It's not funny the first time, and they're about what we get for the beach trip this time around). Props to that one scene where Ryuji, the main character and Mishima break into an unused apartment just to hire a maid from a... massage clinic. That was a funny scene that went places afterwards through an unusual confidante, and it would've felt at home in P4.

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My problem is this: Ann almost being raped and some other characters' moms being killed is tragic, yes, but it's not a personal flaw. You can't just have a villain kick a good guy and expect the good guy to magically become charismatic from it, they have to have their own faults and strengths as human beings. The party members do get some more depth thanks to their confidantes, but a lot of that is just fleshing out their miserable circumstances rather than going in-depth on their personality, and they don't result in more interesting party scenes. So while I enjoyed a lot of the characters and it's certainly a better team of pals than in games like Persona 3 or Dragon Age, I don't care as much about the protags as I should. Some of these guys barely get enough screentime to be worth having around. One character with the codename Noir is introduced so late into the story without interacting with the main crew at all that I feel like most of the party hardly know her. Meanwhile, in Persona 4, the developers made sure to include final party member Naoto in plot events and get-togethers ever since Kanji's early introduction. I think they were trying to set Noir up so we thought she was some sort of traitor, but it's extremely pointless considering how easy it is to recognize the real villains, like I mentioned earlier.

I'm not even sure if this sort of "fight the oppressors!" message is the right tone to take for a story about charming rogues. It's a decent theme, but the way the Persona team approaches it is exhausting and preachy. One Piece is about actual outlaws fighting a literal tyrannical world government, and it's way more chill about it than Persona 5 is. And for a more direct influence, take Lupin III(Many characters in P5 are based on or named for the cast of Lupin. FOX straight up is Goemon, except with painting instead of swordsmanship).

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Lupin III might be about actual phantom thieves stealing shit from the rich and often making the world better for the little man in the process, but it's still never as heavyhanded with its morals as P5 is. Both One Piece and Lupin feature characters on different sides of the law that are varying levels of good or bad, and might ally with one another in times of need. Not all powerful people misuse their position, some oppose the injustices from within, some are unaware, and so on. Ultimately, everyone's human. And most importantly, the main characters never buy their own hype. They're just doing what they want to do, and happen to land on a morally good side despite operating outside the law.

Why does Luffy want to be a pirate? Because being a pirate is fun. He loves pirate life in general and idolizes Shanks' pirate life in particular, replicating it in his own way. Why does Lupin want to be a master thief? Because he loves being a master thief. He wants an exciting life where he never knows what's gonna happen next, and he loves being the cool customer at the center of it all. Being a phantom thief is fun.

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Why do the Persona 5 cast want to be phantom thieves? 'Cause all the adults are mean to them and they're not gonna sit around and take this no more, daddy-o. P5 is happy to portray almost all authority as evil and almost every person with little power as just victimized saints(The few exceptions, like Mishima, really stand out), and the main characters are self-absorbed and dumb about their secret identities so they can have a revelation about it in the final act and abandon the whole enterprise. It's terribly one-dimensional, and entirely reactionary instead of proactive.

I think this is just a result of how the Persona team do their writing. They're always on theme, so P3 is always emo and distant and mopey about death, P5 is aggro and revolutionary and fights the power, row, while P4 is all about community and friendship and coming to terms with yourself. It's just that I like one of those themes way more than the others(and in my opinion, it fits much better with a game all about hanging out with people), so P3's mopey coldness and angst bores me to tears while P5's "Adults are all shit!" can get a bit tiring and annoying. It probably didn't help them that they set it in the actual city of Tokyo this time and based a lot of the villains on real political issues and scandals, I can't imagine they wanted to take that stuff lightly. They chose to take a hard stand, but in doing so, they made the conflict fairly flat, and while the shadow versions of the villains are often pretty fun in a campy sorta way, there just isn't enough flavor in the main heroic characters to pick up the slack.

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Still, for me, the good vastly outweighs the bad in this title, and I just wanted to get some story gripes off my chest. All the systems are fun to interact with, and despite my annoyances with the story, I was more than engaged enough to see the whole thing through, rooting for the good guys all the way. It's been almost a decade since Persona 4 originally released, and one of these every nine years is way too little. Now that you've got the tech down, why not release another in just three or four years instead, Persona team?

I spent more time than most at this game, clocking in at 123 hours, and overall I loved it.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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In 2011, one of my favorite games was Skyrim. It's not a game that's great for roleplaying, or interesting combat, or even a good story. It's got ugly characters, awful animations, a desaturated and muted color pallette and it's buggy as all hell. The camera and control is clearly meant for a PC, so with me being a console gamer born and raised it didn't exactly feel great to control. But it's a game that sucked me in like nothing else just by being an amazing fantasy sandbox where you were given total freedom within fifteen minutes of starting the game. "Here's this giant map, go wherever you like. We've put quests in every direction, you're essentially playing a choose your own adventure game that we made in full 3d". That stuff was incredibly engrossing, and I walked for over a hundred hours just in random directions, going where my experience took me.

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Six years later, it's like Nintendo picked up what Bethesda was doing, improved on all the stuff that annoyed me and made it all look, sound and feel like Zelda. The characters are expressive and stylized, all with their own personalities and quirks, and they're well animated. The controls are now actually good for a third-person camera, and being able to fly with the glider and climb almost any object greatly improves the exploration. The color pallette is beautiful. The combat is basically fine! It's not the best around or anything, but it's a lot better than Skyrim's, and the interconnected systems of Breath of the Wild means there's a good chance of something amazing and odd happening. It encourages thinking outside the box, is what it does. You might come across a giant rock golem that seems completely impervious - until you notice a part on its head that looks suspiciously like the ore you can mine, and then you bring a big hammer to the fight and beat it in seconds. A tower is covered in thorns, but if you manage to make fire you can either burn them down or use the upwind to fly above them with your hangglider. It's doing the sort of immersive sim/Metal gear deal of being able to do things that intuitively make sense, but which you usually can't do in a tightly scripted game. Here, simulating different statuses like frost or wetness and how they interact with one another and with your new, always available magical powers means that you can do some crazy shit.

While there is an introductory questline to get you started, it's all optional as soon as you leave the starting area - you could go straight to Ganon if you wanted to. I explored for hours, discovered tons of sidequests, shrines and areas, and put off actually doing the main 4 story dungeons until I was 50 hours in. And when I did do them, I discovered that while not the best thing around, I liked those stories a lot more than Skyrim's poor quests. They're certainly not markedly worse than any previous Zelda stories, perhaps except Majora's Mask, which had a big focus on that aspect of the game.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my favorite Zelda game since Twilight Princess way back in 2006. It's been 11 long years, filled with disappointments like Skyward Sword and the DS games(Not owning a 3DS, I missed out on A Link Between Worlds, which is supposedly great). I'm so happy to see a series I grew up with finally pull itself together and do something proper again, and the freshness of its design helped smooth over anything that was lost in the translation to a Bethesda-style sandbox.

Breath of the Wild certainly has flaws. The framerate drops terribly in certain areas. You've got to pony up for an expensive Classic Controller if you want to play it in the most comfortable way(and even then you're gonna fuck up, because those face buttons are not in the same position as the buttons on a PS4 controller, and I kept jumping without meaning to in this game). The bosses are pathetic. The franchised shrines get very boring to look at, and are too short and easy to feel like a good replacement for dungeons. The interconnected, simulated system for fire and ice etc were largely a necessity - Nobody has the time to build an exciting overworld of this size and also make a dozen solid puzzle dungeons. Dealing with the weapon degradation gets old. The enemy variety is, relatively speaking, poor.

But all of my complaints pale in comparison to the fun I had in a game that mixed two of my favorite games of all time, the Zelda design and the Skyrim design, combining them to form something truly awesome. It feels like an exciting adventure again, the way Zelda used to feel like when I was a kid. The sense of discovery, the exploration, the interconnected systems, it all comes together to create a wonderful sense of adventure into the unknowns of a dangerous land. That feeling gradually vanished from Zelda over the years, while games like Shadow of the Colossus showed me what a modern adventure could look like, with more open environments and freely explorable, mysterious areas. I enjoyed games like that, Dark Souls and Dragon's Dogma while Zelda went more and more in the direction of Skyward Sword's handholdy design and left me behind.

But now Zelda's back, and better than ever, and just playing BotW feels like a joy. That's more than I can say for any other Zelda game in over a decade, so whatever missteps BotW made, they were still steps in the right direction. It's the game that made me happiest this year, and for that it deserves to be my Game of the Year.

http://www.gramunion.com/fara-arts.tumblr.com/158964139816
http://www.gramunion.com/fara-arts.tumblr.com/158964139816

Hope you all had some good times with games this year, too!

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