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GOTY 2017

2017 was an undeniably great year for video games, but I had a rough time forming this list. This was due to both a lack of funds to spend on games and a complete dislike or disinterest of some of the year’s biggest games, such as Resident Evil 7 and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Also, a few of my favorite games from this year don’t qualify for the list under my standards (for example, FFXIV’s expansion Stormblood and Final Fantasy XII). Until about a month ago, I didn’t even have 10 games to fill my list. Some last-minute acquisitions managed to impress me, though, and I managed to squeak in under the deadline. Here are the games I enjoyed most in 2017.

List items

  • Video games tend to play it safe nowadays, using the same basic gameplay loops and story ideas while maybe coming up with one or two small “new” hooks to entice gamers. Those games that actually go all in on trying something new are rare, but they are often incredibly important, redefining the way I look at games. What Remains of Edith Finch is one of those, a thrilling and touching experience that perfectly highlights the importance of games as an uniquely interactive medium. While parts of the game resemble something like Gone Home, the biggest chunk of the game is a series of vignettes telling your family member’s tragic stories, each of which is entirely unique. These vignettes are remarkably creative and somehow manage a delicate balance between joyous whimsy and horrifying misery. The best of these are some of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in a game, mixing storytelling with interactivity in a way that only games can do. Each of them is entirely different, and I could see any of them being someone’s favorite.

    The score and narration add a great deal to the experience, grand and soaring and perfectly in tune with the emotional resonance of each scene. It also makes excellent use of a licensed track which is quite surprising when you first hear it. This is all done in a game that last around two hours, a densely-packed experience that made me both happily content and desperately wishing for more. What Remains of Edith Finch transported me in a way games haven’t in a long time. As someone who spends most of his free time playing them, games as a whole have lost much of their magic. This game reopened my eyes to the unlimited creative potential of the medium as a whole, reminding me that we still have so many places to go and see.

  • Never would I have expected a new Prey game to be one of my favorite games of the year. To my surprise, it is the best game of its genre since System Shock 2 and a spiritual successor to that game in many ways. The space station setting is absurdly intricate and features brilliant design, offering tons of things to do and see. Its biggest strength is probably in the way the areas’ passages interconnect; unlike many games of this type where the vents and secret hidey-holes feel much too convenient, Prey makes them feel entirely believable. It feels like a real space station that was lived in by a group of people. I had the most fun with the game by simply exploring every inch of it, not satisfied until I had seen everything and “met” every person through their emails and audio logs.

    That isn’t to say the rest of the gameplay isn’t fun--it’s just rather mediocre. There’s lots of options to modify your character, with many typical options from the genre along with some creative new ones, but none of them feel punchy enough to deal with the resilient enemies. You can eventually trivialize the combat, but it never feels entirely fun. The plot is mostly forgettable, with a decent throughline that ends in a surprising way, potentially setting up a very different sequel. Despite its problems, I had an incredible time exploring the station of Talos I. Who would have guessed that “Prey 2” would be such a hit?

  • I, like many others, had been eagerly awaiting the next entry in the Persona series ever since Persona 4’s release in 2008. The long development time had me a bit worried, but the end result is a worthy successor to one of the best games in existence. Persona 5 is a stellar JRPG, with plenty of smart changes and a great narrative. The story starts a bit slowly, like most Persona games, but it quickly builds into a fascinating tale with some true surprises and one of the best payoffs I’ve seen in a game in quite some time. Sadly, the characters don’t manage to come close to the perfection of 4’s cast, with many of your party members being very plain and uninteresting. The few good ones, and the exceptional non-party NPCs, do manage to make up for it somewhat, though.

    The combat has been greatly improved, adding a few more options but simplifying and expediting the fight process to make a better overall whole. The dungeons are fantastic as well, hand-crafted instead of randomly-generated which allows for more setpiece moments. This game drips with style, particularly in its UI design. It’s all tied together with the absolute best soundtrack of the year, a delightfully jazzy score filled with a great variety of tracks and plenty of smooth bass. It’s also worth mentioning that I broke a finger near this game’s release, and it was one of the few games I could play with a cast on my hand, making it rank just a bit higher than it otherwise might have.

  • As maybe the only person on the site who put Yoko Taro’s previous game Drakengard 3 on my list in 2014, it’s probably not too surprising to see Nier: Automata here. This game has that same crazy yet provocative narrative style that only Taro can bring, oddly compelling while being entirely depressing. Both the main story and the side quests are filled with noteworthy moments, with of few them being immediately iconic for years to come. One of these moments is a beautiful callback to the original Nier and easily stands out as my favorite part of the game, both musically and emotionally.

    It’s also one of those games that inspired me to learn everything I could, analyzing all the side quests and reading all the supplemental text to get as much of the full story that I possibly could. The soundtrack from lead composer Keiichi Okabe is superbly crafted (if a weaker soundtrack than original Nier). A few of the songs were instant new favorites of mine, especially the well-used ending theme that is creatively tweaked as you push deeper into the game. It’s the second-best soundtrack of the year, and a nice supplement to a worthy successor to both Drakengard 3 and Nier.

  • I didn’t expect much from Life is Strange: Before the Storm when it was first announced--it felt like a opportunistic prequel meant to make money and tide people over until the actual sequel. Nonetheless, I decided to pick it up due to my extreme love for the original. While the game certainly doesn’t match the charm of Max and Chloe’s tale, it tells an endearing story of its own that is close enough to the feel of the original game that it feels like a worthy addition. It stumbles a bit at the end, but it makes up for it somewhat with a much greyer final choice to make, one that gave me much more pause than the original game’s climax. At the core of the story is the relationship between Chloe and Rachel, which unfolds at a somewhat rapid pace but still feels entirely believable thanks to many excellent quiet moments, a good script, and some solid voice acting.

    Chloe wasn’t voiced by Ashly Burch, as she was in the first game, but the new actor does a surprisingly good job of matching her style while having her own take on it as well, taking the character to a new level. There are a handful of creative setpieces (typically one per episode) that stand out too, like a surprisingly lengthy Dungeons and Dragons session that’s dorky and straightforward but charming nonetheless. I also have to mention the music; while I still feel just a bit more attached to the original’s soundtrack, the new stuff here (both licensed tracks and original work) is quite good, especially in the third episode. On some level, Before the Storm is still an unnecessary prequel, but it manages to have enough compelling moments to make it worth existing, even managing to surpass the original in one or two small ways.

  • After the disappointment that was Ninja Gaiden 3 (and even 2, to some degree), I didn’t have much faith in Team Ninja making a good action game. In this case, I’m happy to eat my words. Nioh is a compelling mix of elements from Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden, along with a striking 17th-century Japan setting. The environments are beautiful, both in appearance and design, and the creatures (based on Japanese spirits) are grotesquely well-realized. There’s also some fantastic design in the gear as well.

    The only real issue is the lack of variety across the board, with a fair amount of repetition, especially due to the mission structure of the game. It stays pretty interesting, though, mostly because of the combat. It moves a breakneck pace and offers an insane amount of depth, both in the basic systems and the varied build options it provides for players. Mastering the various systems is a challenge at first but ultimately rewarding as you destroy creatures that once ripped you apart in a matter of seconds--while also looking entirely badass. There’s also a crapton of things to do, with multiple campaigns (thanks to DLC) and harder difficulty modes that keep scaling up.

  • Everyone should play Horizon: Zero Dawn, if only to experience the amazingly creative story it tells. The way it tells its story should also be praised, with an incredible pacing that steadily drips new information and questions to the player, keeping them hooked for the entire game. It also leaves just enough obscured, urging you to dig deeper or even come to your own conclusions. Of course, it wouldn’t be as strong without its stellar voice performances, namely main character Aloy voiced by Ashly Burch (a fast-rising star in the video game industry). The one single problem I had with the story was how it ended: after wrapping up perfectly with no dangling threads, a post-credits stinger teasing more just had to ruin it.

    In terms of gameplay, I enjoyed the visceral and chaotic feel to the combat but too often found it hard to parse in busy encounters. This was especially frustrating when fighting the quicker enemies who get in your face and make it hard to target their weak spots. Despite my qualms with the combat, I still found Horizon to be a gorgeous and thought-provoking game.

  • I actually like the original Evil Within quite a bit, unlike seemingly EVERYONE ELSE who played it. It was flawed, sure, but there was great potential which made it ripe for a much-improved sequel. The Evil Within 2 is that sequel, a game that is better in pretty much every way and deserves its spot in the survival horror pantheon. The main story is merely decent, if a bit too reliant on horror tropes, but it ends surprisingly well. There’s also a fantastic side narrative relating to the main character’s fragile psyche after the events of the first game. Through that narrative, he cathartically cleanses himself of the horrors that plagued him for years; it’s easily the best part of the story, especially if you played the original.

    The gameplay has improved a lot, with tighter controls and lots of fun new options (although I do miss the matches for burning bodies). It also plays with some intriguing open-world ideas, offering freedom and choice in a typically linear genre. These areas only comprise a small part of the full game, but their skillfully-executed promise offers a tantalizing idea for future survival-horror releases.

  • Gone Home was the game that sold me on the idea of the “rummaging simulator,” featuring a densely-crafted house setting filled with little touches and a touching yet simple romance story that left me speechless. It was my favorite game of 2013 without question and likely pushed me towards the more narrative-focused gamer I am today. Tacoma certainly didn’t have that level of impact for me, but I still enjoyed the story it told and the creative conceit in which it was told. That conceit, watching the recorded actions and conversations of a group of people in an abstracted way, seems bland at first, but it gives the recordings a detached feel that actually suits the narrative. The way you experience it is also quite neat, forcing you to rewind to catch important moments or even follow the different people as they move from room to room.

    The performances are all excellent, and even the little voice roles like the voice of your character’s ship are cute and memorable. It all wraps up with a somewhat predictable but satisfying conclusion that left me wishing for more. Tacoma certainly doesn’t live up to my memories of Gone Home, but it doesn’t have to--it’s perfectly competent at being its own thing.

  • While I can understand all the pushback and hatred for the newest entry in the Mass Effect franchise, I actually had quite a good time playing through Andromeda. There is a fair amount of quality inconsistency in the telling of the main story and the personalities of your team members, but there are moments of greatness to be found throughout. I particularly enjoy the performance of the female Ryder actress--some of her delivery is incredibly funny and her romance options feel entirely believable.

    This game also features the best combat the series has had yet, offering tons of mobility and the freedom to cherry pick abilities from any class for your build. It’s also a stunning game visually, with some vibrant and creative environment design that pleases the eye. Sadly, the game is still a bit of a mess in terms of stability (I had it crash at least once a session on PC when I played it a few months ago), but it’s a much smoother experience than it was a launch. I can’t deny that the initial impressions are rough, but there’s a solidly average Mass Effect game underneath.