GOTY 2017

I'm never really ready to make one of these (especially due to the fact most of what I play is usually months to years after release) but this year is easily the least prepared I've ever been. Fortunately for a good reason, the best reason of all actually, the games are just that good. And to complicate matters further many of the elite games are absolutely huge ones (I’ve got at least three titles in the list with over 100 hours played in each). But deadlines being what they are, at some point you have to put pen to paper and I’m doing this for matter of record. Perhaps like Mento I’ll post a revised list later, though I’m mulling over a more ambitious solution.

2017 has been an absolute embarrassment of riches for gamers, the likes of which I maybe haven't seen in 19 years. Just about genre had at least some sort of decent title (even RTS had a few) and a large number of companies put out some really great stuff (except for *cough* *cough* EA and Konami). I saw this crest of titles coming last year and man to my delight did it deliver. In all honesty this is a year where limiting a list to 10, probably isn’t the right call. There’s that kind of depth.

So unlike previous years, I don't feel bad at all about not having finished much of the list. I plan to take my time with 2017's bevy of games and savor them, for a crop like this one are at best once in a generation. It’s just not worth it to blast through a generational great for the sake of a list, since I do this for fun. I fully expect the ordering of this list to probably be radically different in 18 months or so by the time I've had to really sit down with all the 25-30 viable candidates for the top 10. That could mean even number 1, which I just changed my mind about in the last 2 weeks.

With that being said, I'm going to disclose how much of each game I've played to give any interested readers an idea of how permanent a placing each game is on the list. That way you can discount my opinion if so inclined where you feel appropriate J

Chances are if there's a game not on this list that you think might be up my alley, it's likely because I just haven't gotten to it yet. There's at least 10 serious contenders I haven't touched meaningfully yet.

Just a headsup might be some light spoilers below, don't think there is anything crazy but I don't remember how to use spoiler tags/block in the actual list.

List items

  • (In progress: Chapter 11 - 81% CP- 105hrs)

    This may be a case of Brad's favorite axiom about Mario kart (that your first one is your favorite one), but holy heck did this grab me to a degree that I didn’t expect. I’ve been so sucked into Yakuza that it really complicated completing the rest of this list. At some point about a week into, I decided I was going to go for a platinum trophy because I just wanted to experience everything. After 105 hours, I’m about 81% of the way there CP wise. You might be thinking “why is this lunatic only on chapter 11 after 100 hours?”, well that’s because I’m doing most of the side games before moving on. Even if I end up burning out, it’s been totally worth it. At least now I know how to play Shogi, Cee-lo, Koi-Koi etc

    Yakuza does what I’ve long wanted Open World games to do. Be a place with depth as opposed to some enormous glorified loading screen with tons breadth but little to do. The neighborhoods of Kamurocho and Sotenbori are jam packed with hordes of well designed minigames, gangsters to brawl and perhaps the most entertaining NPCs & sidequests of all time. And that’s all I need, I’d much rather get to know a place thoroughly than blast through some beautifully rendered neighborhood just to get the next mission.

    And boy oh boy those sidequests, I don’t know if it’s the localizers or the original writers or both, but that is some of the goofiest Lulz worthy stuff I’ve ever played. Where else can you win a “turkey” that’s actually a chicken that you can hire to be a real estate property manager, Hook some 8 year old up with a nudie mag or deliver pizza to help somebody from somehow getting deported? And they usually aren’t bad to play. They are so well written they actually made me enjoy an escort mission. I never thought I’d say that ever.

    That trademark goofiness I had some warning about, What I didn’t expect was that the core game itself would have the same Arcadey feel of SEGA games of yore. Yakuza’s combat may be easy, but it’s such a power fantasy that it’s somehow satisfying. The Heat actions in particular are captivatingly brutal (I’ll never look at a box of nails the same way), that have made me exclaim “Oh d@mn” more than a few times. And the core story itself so far has one of the better plots I’ve seen in games in years (so far). Kiryu may not be saving the world like [insert JRPG ten protagonist here], but somehow the stakes feel a ton higher for him. Yakuza is some high drama and weirdly enough that High drama mixes perfectly well with the zany sidequests. Not sure I’ve ever played a game that can handle multiple tones as well as Yakuza deftly does.

    I will say Yakuza does have one area in particular that players may understandably find pretty objectionable, and that is how it treats its female characters. For the most part they are about as Objectified as could be and largely not present in the main story, at least so far. And on top of that, many of the more developed ones also have collectible Gravure idol videos you can unlock. Make no mistake Yakuza 0 is pretty much a pure hetero male M-rated power fantasy for better or for worse. However it doesn’t feel as out of place to me in a game about Japanese gangsters in the 80’s, it’s not like these guys are angels (despite Kiryu seemingly going out his way to help every random person who asks for help on the street. You are a gangster Kiryu, Did you forget this?). It feels like something Majima or Kiryu might do without actually breaking character. To its credit the game also never pretends it’s something different than that. And it certainly makes a lot more sense to me to have cheesecake stuff like catfighting in a red light district than for the camera to basically have the player’s POV leer at an obviously underage Moe girl in some JRPG aimed at pre-teens. I appreciate it when a game’s honest about what it is, and Yakuza is definitely that. It owns its silliness, It owns its melodrama and it even owns its pervy side.

    So yeah SEGA made a great Shenmue and looks they have been doing for quite some time.

    Yakuza to me is the best game I have played from 2017 because man it’s like 50 amazing games in one cohesive package and I’ve never had a game make laugh out loud anywhere as often Yakuza does. I’m definitely going to jump into Kiwami before too long

  • (Completed 125 hrs- 1 completed dungeon- 90~Shrines- 98928192819281 gazillion korok seeds)

    I’m one of those Zelda 1 guys. One of those fringe people who think that was actually that was the best game in the series. So you can imagine how I feel about Zelda returning to some of those sensibilities.

    The real genius to this game is the climbing. That one mechanic turns Zelda into a literally go anywhere game and so I did and boy do I like Open World games where the act of traversal itself is fun. BotW recaptures a ton of what I love about Dragon’s Dogma, dynamic combat action in a world where traversal felt good. It’s just a real good feeling to scale a mountain and then hanglide off the top of it. I could do that all day long

    At first I was concerned about the loss of Link’s tools, but the fact there’s so much interactibility with the physics in this game, allows for creativity to do some really berserk things like make a raft float in the air. Pretty good tradeoff for no more boomerang (not counting the sword) or hookshot (RIP). The weapon durability system actually turned out to be a positive for me as well, as it added tension to the more trash mobby bokoblin fights. I know it’s divisive, but I found as long as you held onto your very best stuff and just trusted the game to drop enough stuff for you for the trash fights, you could do just fine.

    And then there’s the Puzzles, boy are the Shrines a treat, I think liked the ones you had to find the best myself. That was one of my favorite aspects of Zelda 1, trying to figure out where the dungeons were located. The Shrines are almost perfectly tuned to not too hard that you need a guide, but not too easy where you can just put your brain on autopilot.

    The story? Well you don’t usually play Zelda for that, but this had a pretty good premise I felt even if it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Ok a lot more. This Zelda may not be the physical threat OoT Zelda/Sheik (spoilers for a 19 year old game I guess) was, but Zelda the nerdy scholar seemed like a neat way to show the Hero of Wisdom fighting her own battle in her own way. Speaking of that, This was definitely a Zelda game where it would have been nice to see the Triforce back as well. Not sure why that disappeared from the series, but the Triforce always gave a nice cohesion to the plot. I felt its absence a lot here.

    But as hardcore Zelda fan, I can’t help but compare it to what has come before it in the series. And there a couple key aspects where it doesn’t hold up to the best of the best in Zelda franchise. Tthe boss fights (not enough and not engaging) and dungeons (too few and too short) just aren’t on par with what I’ve come to expect from the Zelda series. It’s especially stark how short the dungeons are after playing through the really excellent Hyrule Castle section. BotW seriously might have been in the running for my favorite game of all time if it just somehow managed to deliver those. Given the focus the overworld had in the game it could have used a bunch more giant monster fights. And that’s why it sits at number 2 on my list instead number 1 despite my deep love for it. Also a surprisingly big bummer is no 1080p, I was surprised how noticeable the resolution was on my tv. Fortunately they picked the right art style to gloss over that, but it certainly added an unwelcome blurriness to the textures in the WiiU version. I’m the Switch version looks a little better, but no 1080p is kinda hard to swallow in 2017, especially for something that didn’t always maintain 60fps.

    All of this is more a quibble than a real complaint, BotW is a great game.

    As an aside, BotW also produced the single great trailer for a game I’ve ever seen. Not going to lie, I cried a little first time I watched it during the Switch reveal.

    https://youtu.be/1yIHLQJNvDw

  • (In progress: Act II/III- 2 playthroughs- 200 hours cumulative)

    I keep trying to get into traditional isometric CRPGs and Divinity: OS2 is finally the one really grabbed me. Perhaps because its’ combat system is more like a Japanese SRPG than what I tend to think as usual CRPG fare. There’s a surprising amount of commonality between this and Final Fantasy Tactics in the way the combat plays and the way you can build your characters to your whims. It doesn’t quite realize a perfect balance of the various systems (some schools just seem more potent than others), but it certainly does offer some engaging surprises with all the environmental elements in play (like the lightly unpredictable way fire spreads, I’d say my risk of accidental self immolation is about 40% with each spell).

    In fact there’s so much choice in D:OS2 that it’s a completionist’s worst nightmare, it’s super easy to get paralysis by analysis given the myriad of ways you can pursue any conversation or encounter. So my admittedly horrific solution, is to reload through each one until I feel satisfied (now you see why I haven’t finished it yet despite the hr count). Which given the strength of the writing is a real treat to do actually do. So I don’t mind it. Even the animal dialogue is usually surprisingly compelling (that sidequest about Peepers the voidling chick made me laugh more than it should have). And plot isn’t half bad either, never thought the prospect of being a god could make for an interesting video game premise but quite happy to be proven wrong. The real meat of the writing is how cleverly they handle the preset origin stories (which have absolutely fantastic characters like Red Prince and Lohse) and the VA work is quite good, the fact the origin story is separate from the class means a degree of player choice that Dragon Age: Origins didn’t provide. It’s quite liberating. Larian also seems to be doing a great job of improving the game based off player feedback (thank you thank you thank you for making lucky fund a party wide attribute). And still I’m enjoying it obviously.

    I had to set my solo campaign down to get onto other topical games before GotY time (at least that was the plan until Yakuza ruined it) and may not finish it, but fortunately I’ve got a group of friends who are doing a co-op campaign with me which we will probably eventually finish. The Co-op campaign isn’t without its flaws, but it has ton of smart little wrinkles like being able to listen in on a friends conversation with a NPC (or not). The co-op is actually why I place it this high, there may be other games that have done something similar, but to me D:OS2 is perhaps the closest I’ve felt to playing a D&D campaign with friends in a video game. How many RPGs offer as a great multiplayer experience as well as their single player one?

  • (Several hundred matches, Solo, Duo and Squad)

    PUBG, as novel as engaging Battle Royale finally realized is, was going to be off my personal list probably altogether, until 1.0 hit. Then all of sudden it took that leap for me with the significantly improved performance, UI and new map. Still a buggy janky mess in a lot of ways, but now it’s a state that’s more videogame and less EA dice roll that my parachute will clip my character through an exterior wall of a house into the bathroom. Chances are if you hang out on this site, you already get the appeal of this game. But if you don’t, I think the simplest way to put it is that great genius of PUBG is that it makes failure feel good and success feel intoxicating.

    One of the things I enjoy most in games is an element of dynamism and PUBG has that in spades, every match has something different happen. PUBG is Kinda similar to Zelda in that regard, but even morseo due to the human element. One match I blew up a guy who tried to ram us with his UAZ by dumping a tommy gun clip into his truck. Another match a buddy and I were pinned at a Gas Station when three new teams all crashed cars into each other and started a 5 way firefight. A solo match I played featured a buggy race between me and another player where we drove in circles until we ran out of gas and then got in a fist fight. One match I laid prone on the floor in a bathroom and shot three players in the crotch as they kept entering the room looking for loot. One match the plane blew up and dropped all 100 players into the same town. Every match has some sort of story like this. As someone who doesn’t have the twitch reflexes of a teen anymore, it’s also nice to play a shooter where I can use stealth to get the drop on my opponents.

    It also doesn’t hurt my opinion of it that this game seems to think I’m good at it (which isn’t true in the slightest, I’ve only got 1 chicken dinner and my kda is sub 1) by routinely telling me I’m in the top 4-5% of all solo players. At one point this month I allegedly was 708th in the world in vehicle kills. That was a weird feeling. I feel like I should print that out , laminate it and frame it.

    I’m really excited to see how much better PUBG gets in 2018.

  • (In progress: Island 2)

    Cuphead was hyped enough that I would have played it for the amazingly spot on visuals, aesthetic, sensibilities and sound of old timey cartoons. That I think everybody knew the game did that incredibly well. It can’t be overstated what an impressive design achievement CH is. What CH has done aesthetically is what I hoped 2d platformers would all be doing instead of trying to recreate a pixel loo of the past because that’s what the most famous platformers back in the day used. Oddly enough Cuphead’s old timey aesthetic presents a new way forward for 2d Platformers and I hope we more artistically ambitious ones like Ori and Cuphead.

    What I didn’t expect is the game would play this well. I normally loathe boss rush games, but cuphead’s got so much charm and controls so well it’s oddly entrancing to just slam my head into it until I finally execute the pattern necessary to take the bosses. When I fail (which I’ve done hundreds of times) it always feels like my fault and not the game’s. And it certainly helps; that the game has the “run and gun” sections when I need a change of pace.

    Only on island 2 atm, but easily far enough in that whatever the game does well from here is only a bonus and anything it does poorly won’t outweigh the amazing experience it’s already been. Will I beat it? I dunno I get distracted in the digital age. Pretty dang cool platformer. WALLOP!

  • (Completed 100% collectibles)

    This one is almost a lifetime appreciation award for now legendary fan remake AM2R. Samus Returns marks the third time I’ve played Metroid 2 in some form now in the last 2 years and to my shock it’s my favorite yet. I was initially very skeptical of the free aim (it felt way too loose with the base cannon), but once Samus started to get her kit, man did it really start to click. And it sure makes use the grappling beam a whole ton easier. And I thought the whole idea of a melee counter just seem odd, but once I got the hang of it I started to enjoy gunpunching space bugs for variety or to farm health. The Aeion abilities were a fun add too, nice way to incorporate some QoL into the game without feeling too offputting. The move away from pixels and away from Nintendo also made me raise an eyebrow, but that seems like such a silly worry now. MercurySteam did a bangup job here, making it feel like something Nintendo would have made and they were smart/fortunate to have Sakamoto help with level design.

    I’ve always really liked the premise of Metroid 2, the objective arguably fits better with what somebody would actually commission a single bounty hunter to do if they were dealing with a Metroid threat. Even if many of them are basically repeats, SR wisely makes each Metroid encounter different enough that they still feel engaging to fight. The boss fights in general may be the biggest improvement of SR over the previous 2 versions of the game.

    And you know what? I’ll never complain about adding a little bit more lore to the Metroid series. I’m really curious to see what sort of Samus we’ll see in MP4. M:SR seemed like a return to the “fill in the blanks” mute Samus of yore, but will that be true for MP4? Or will the chatty version of Samus from Other M return?

  • (Completed 12 hours.80% collectibles)

    I’ve always wondered why I never took to Uncharted and now I think know. Nathan Drake just wasn’t that interesting to me, like a poor man’s Indiana Jones without the academic underpinnings and other aspects of Harrison Ford’s charm that helped gives the character depth (for the record I’m a big Indy fan). And that’s a problem if you feel that way in a linear game with a heavy emphasis on story. Well Lost Legacy addressed that completely for me by ditching Drake for more of a Lady Buddy Cop type adventure with Chloe and Nadine. Chloe in particular strikes me as a complex conflicted character, and I’d very much like to see her story continue.

    As a series neophyte, I think my biggest surprise was the open area exploration in the middle parts of the game, especially the Hoysala token search and puzzle. You know, Uncharted is an incredible linear experience, but if it were to go primarily open like this for future games I actually think I might like it even more. Which isn’t something I expected at all to be saying about a franchise considered to be gaming’s best linear franchise atm.

    And now I get why people love these games so much. The set pieces, the banter, the decent gunplay combat, the exploration chapters, the incredible graphics, These games really do have unparalleled production values. It’s a best in class of its type, a masterfully rafted thrill ride. Really hope to see more of this series now.

  • (In progress: Chapter3)

    I thought I was fine with Waifu Emblem direction set by Awakening until I played this very welcome completed unexpected throwback to the older sensibilities. Now this is the good stuff. The core mechanics may be radically different than your typical FE game, but the core values and aesthetics are restored.

    Boy o Boy what a smart little package this has been so far. The artstyle is really poppin, it does nice job straddling what I think both eastern and western audiences want. In fact I’d go so far as to saying it it’s on par with Path of Radiance for best character art direction in the series. The 8-4 team did an excellent job with the localization; it conveys Japanese sensibilities in a very naturalistic way to English speakers. The twin intertwined story arcs adds a ton of tension to the plot as it makes harder to predict how things will play out for the dual protagonists. Celica’s route in particular feels like it’s breaking ground with a lot of series tropes that I find exciting and unpredictable.

    The combat system is pretty dramatically overhauled from most FE games, by removing the weapons triangle and the durability system I found it very freeing. I’m not sure I have the hang of how to optimally promote units in the game yet, but it does seem neat that maybe you don’t need to obsess over getting everybody to 20 before changing class. As someone who gets nervous FE games will pull the rug out from under me during the campaign at any moment (but yet feels like playing with permadeath on is the “right way” to play FE games) due to the discovery that I leveled up the wrong squad etc, I found the return of easy grinding a welcome relief as well even if I don’t use it much. The Dungeon exploration as ambitious as it is, I could do without. It doesn’t really add much to the story, rather simplistic to control and the combat isn’t terribly engaging. But it is kinda a nice change of pace occasionally and it’s cool to control the characters up close, even if it’s a just avatar running in a space to the next encounter. The town sections otoh fit the series pretty well and I hope future games retain that aspect of it.

    But most of all, the greatest addition to the game is Mila’s Turnwheel. No more save scumming required; now I can play as I want to without burnout from trying to keep every unit alive. Yes, one mistake will still get them killed, but now one mistake doesn’t necessarily mean replaying the entire map to correct it, which is the exact right mix of permadeath challenge and convenience for me. Every FE games needs this from now on. It’s an absolutely essential QoL change.

  • (Just Started)

    So I bought a Ps4 Pro to play this game. That has to count for something right? Already I’m really taking to Aloy’s arc of being an outcast and the gorgeous world displayed. H:ZD is really making me wish I had a 4k tv as there is almost too much vegetation detail for my 1080p. The combat definitely feels very much FarCry ish (shooting focused, toss rocks for distractions etc) as opposed to Dragon’s Dogma ish which is a light bummer for me, but there are worse things than copying a good video game series’s combat mechanics

    Obviously this placement is pretty temporary, but offhand I say this has a chance to crack my top 5 due to the strength of the presentation of the story and characterization. The combat thus far has been just ok, Once I unlock more of Aloy’s kit I hope it gets more dynamic.

  • (Just Started)

    Similar situation here to H:ZD. Nier is another candidate to shoot a lot higher on my list. Meant to play this before Yakuza, but have had some issues getting to run well through my Steam link to my satisfaction. What I have played of it so far has been captivating. The somber tone, sweeping music have already swept me in. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game that’s basically shifted gameplay genres so seamlessly as Nier does in the early parts.

    Drakengard was one heck of a weird game back in the day, and Nier is shaping up to be a mechanically and narratively much improved. I don’t mind the combat feeling kinda easy at this point as I assume I’ll probably play through it several times as I did with mashy ansgty ole Drakengard back in the Ps2 days.

    Similar to H:ZD, this is very preliminary at this juncture and could move radically up or down as I play deeper into it. Nier and H:ZD were in my mind preseason contenders for the top spot on my personal list and at least so far as showing promise that either of them has a legitimate shot once I play them to completion. All I know for sure is that I like Nier and H:ZD significantly better than the other 2017 releases I’ve played not listed here even in my limited time with them so far.