2017 has been a complete shitshow for a number of reasons, but there’s no denying that it’s been a pretty incredible twelve months for video games. We’ve seen big release after big release, a brand new Nintendo console, a late-generation upgrade from Xbox, an Early Access game destroy records, a free visual novel develope a cult following, and a plethora of titles from smaller teams that continue to provide unique experiences not found in the AAA space.
We’re mere mortals, of course, and there were plenty of games I didn’t have the time (or money) to check out. Night in the Woods and Tacoma are both narrative adventures that seem right up my alley, while Prey and >OBSERVER_ are likely to scratch that sci-fi/horror itch. I never got around to Tales of Berseria, The Evil Within 2, or Yakuza Kiwami, which are staring at me in disappointment from atop my game shelf. I’ve barely touched Stardew Valley, Wulverblade, Morphite, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, and Golf Story on my Switch, and I haven’t really scratched the surface of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Then there’s Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds DLC, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s new DLC that just released on December 7th, Splatoon 2, and the 3DS remaster of Dragon Quest VIII that are still on my to-buy list. It never ends! But, I did manage to play a large chunk of 2017’s notable releases.
I’ve narrowed my ultimate list down to 10 games. Comprising this year’s list was tougher than any other before it. Enjoy!
#10 – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
When Final Fantasy XII released way back in 2006, it wasn’t the experience I was expecting. As a long-time fan of the series, I loved the tenth entry but felt a little burned by XI’s numerical status as an MMO — an MMO that my crummy PC couldn’t run, no less! Final Fantasy XII moved the series away from its turn-based roots and instead took a more character-driven approach that felt more like a single-player MMO. I wasn’t ready for such a drastic change and felt completely overwhelmed by its open world. You’re immediately thrust into a massive town full of NPCs and side-quests, barely introduced to its paralyzing license board, and thrown to the wolves with its “action, but not action” combat mechanics. I hated it.
11 years later, I’m much more comfortable with open-world games and a hell of a lot more open-minded. Final Fantasy XII was given the remaster treatment in this year’s The Zodiac Age on PS4, which not only gave the game a noticeable facelift but also eased the difficulty a bit and adopted all of the Japan-only International Zodiac Job System version’s welcome updates. The Zodiac Age was a far superior experience the one I had in 2006.
I fell more in love with Final Fantasy XII this time around, particularly its strong cast of characters. I know Vaan and Penelo catch a lot of shit from Final Fantasy fans, but I liked that they were merely victims of circumstance and just made the best of it. The narrative was pieced together in such a way that made all six heroes feel like an ensemble cast rather than anyone posing as the main hero, despite Vaan’s depiction as the cover star. Everyone had their time to shine, their purpose, and it just made for a great 50+ hour experience. There were certainly moments where the story was absent in favor of drawn-out exploration segments, but that was fine. It felt adventurous and gave me a chance to explore without feeling pushed in any sort of direction. Sometimes freedom is nice. Sometimes linearity is nice. There is room for both!
Final Fantasy XII transitioned from one of my least favorite entries (just above 2) to sitting comfortably in my top 5. The job class system was a lot of fun to play around with, there were a lot of neat environments to explore with loads of optional content to partake in, and I can definitely see myself revisiting The Zodiac Age in the near future.
#9 – Horizon: Zero Dawn
I’ve never been a fan of Guerrilla Games’ Killzone series, so I didn’t have much of an emotional reaction when Horizon: Zero Dawn released earlier this year. The more I looked into it, though, the more interested I became. The screenshots everyone posted on Twitter were gorgeous and I kept hearing about how great a character Aloy was, how good the writing was, and how much fun the world was to explore.
Then I made the mistake of picking the game up and starting it immediately after spending 70+ hours in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I’m not sure if it was just open-world fatigue or what, but I bounced off Horizon pretty quickly. Gone was the ability to climb and paraglide off of everything, which made searching for highlighted climbing spots feel archaic by comparison. My eagerness to explore was often met with the tedium of frequently using my combat visor to tag enemies and highlight weak points, slowly sneaking through tall grass to simply lure them to my location in order to execute an ambush, or fumbling my way through the game’s passable combat mechanics. At least, this is how I felt at launch.
I took a good 5-month break from Horizon and revisited it toward the end of summer. Having been removed from open worlds for a while, most notably Breath of the Wild’s, helped tremendously. After some equipment upgrades, digging further into the story, and getting away from the initial starting zone, Horizon sank its hooks in me for the long haul. I liked where the story was headed and thought it had a pretty great finale. Aloy was a solid heroine with a great look and relatable motivations. Combat became a little more enjoyable (though never more than “good”). However, I don’t think Horizon excelled in any area above other games that released this year.
There were others I enjoyed more in the story department or had better combat, better characters, more engaging stories, a better musical score, and so on. So while Horizon is certainly an incredible game in its own right, I just think it was outshined by other, similar games across the board. However, I still loved it to death on my second attempt and can’t wait to see where Guerrilla Games takes it from here. PlayStation has a huge hit on their hands and if Horizon isn’t being conditioned as a new franchise, I’d be surprised.
#8 – Yakuza 0
The Yakuza series has been around since 2006 in North America, debuting on the PS2. Up until now, I’ve never played one. I’m certainly glad I have.
Yakuza 0 feels like the spiritual successor to Shenmue, but far more polished and enjoyable. It’s chock full of Japanese melodrama and side-quests, zany cutscenes and brutal combat visuals, and it’s easily one of the most fun games I played all year. I believe CommaEightCommaOne’s Deviot referred to Yakuza as “Streets of Rage: The RPG,” which is pretty fitting.
It’s not quite open-world and feels heavily rooted in the beat-em-ups of yesteryear, but underneath the fisticuffs lies a hard-hitting story of two ex-Yakuza struggling to survive. Kiryu and Majima are rad central characters and they’re only elevated by their supporting cast (heroes and villains alike).
When you’re not absorbed in the story, however, you’re welcome to explore the world and partake in a plethora of mini-games, like karaoke (seriously, this is one of the best things in any game this year — watch the whole thing), jerking off to porn, running a host club, becoming a real estate agent, fishing, bowling, batting cages, retro SEGA arcade games, or solving everyone else’s problems.
I can safely say I’m a Yakuza fan now, but I have a lot of catching up to do. Yakuza 0 is a great place to start as a prequel to the main entries, and the original game was also remastered this year in Yakuza Kiwami. Yakuza 6 releases in 2018 as well, so here’s hoping Yakuza Kiwami 2 gets localized — along with PS4 ports of the three PS3 titles. Fingers crossed!
#7 – Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
Resident Evil VII’s transition from the series’ third-person perspective to the first-person viewpoint made popular over the years by Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: The Eight Pages, and Outlast was pretty polarizing, but when all was said and done it had more in common with the original games than one might perceive at face value. Biohazard tasks the player with exploring a large plantation home, similar to the Spencer Mansion. There are safe rooms, complete with “magic” storage boxes and tape recorders to save your game (a la typewriters), scarce amounts of ammo on the higher difficulties, and specific monster placements that hearkened back to the original Resident Evil.
Biohazard is just a masterclass in horror gaming, easily toppling every other horror release this year — and every Resident Evil before it. Yes, even Resident Evil 4. Sorry. It’s full of spooky corridors and atmospheric storytelling, had me engaged in its story and downright terrified of its ensemble cast of antagonists in the Baker family. The experience takes a bit of a nose-dive in the last quarter, becoming more of a shooter than a horror game (maybe in an attempt to please both audiences?), but it’s still one of my favorite experiences of 2017. I can’t imagine trying this in VR. I’d likely pee myself.
For a more in-depth critique, check out my review of the PS4 release right here.
#6 – Assassin’s Creed: Origins
Assassin’s Creed has been in a bit of a slump, mostly due to franchise fatigue. This happens when you have annualized releases. As a fan of the series, though, I only found myself skipping out on Syndicate. Ubisoft took two years off from the series and it’s clearly paid off.
Origin’s Egypt setting provided the perfect backdrop for its fantastic leading role in Bayek of Siwa and his hunt for those who ritualistically murdered his son. Woven throughout the narrative is his emotional struggle to remain close to his wife, Aya, who slowly begins to distance herself, along with the introduction to their birth of the Assassin Brotherhood. Both seek revenge, but their paths often lead them apart.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins gives the series a much-needed overhaul in the combat department, which falls more in line with an action RPG. Bayek collects, upgrades, and crafts weapons and armor, allocates earned skill points into various skill trees, partakes in countless side-quests as the ever-helpful Medjay, and develops into the best assassin the series has ever had. I love me some Ezio, but Bayek’s character growth was absolutely fantastic. I loved the story to death and likely annoyed my Twitter followers with a constant barrage of screenshots of Egypt’s gorgeous setting.
This was definitely the most beautiful game I played in 2017 and its surprising depth had me hooked from beginning to end. The boss battle with Hyena was also one of this year’s high points. I want to see more of Bayek and Aya, sooner rather than later.
#5 – Super Mario Odyssey
As expected, Odyssey doesn’t reinvent the wheel — rather it finely tunes the king of 3D platformers, adding new mechanics to an astounding level of quality found in its world design and is easily my favorite 3D Mario release to date.
No developer captures the joy and wonderment of video games quite like Nintendo. Super Mario Odyssey is just a pleasure to play and experience, from its colorful visuals to its new take on the age-old platformer and everything in between. It’s chock full of surprises and frequent blasts of nostalgia, and provides the player with a plethora of content to experience well after the credits roll.
The week after Odyssey released I was glued to my Switch whenever I had free time. I was obsessed with hunting down Power Moons, buying new outfits for Mario and touristy stickers for the Odyssey, and just dicking around in any one of the game’s bite-sized open worlds.
Super Mario Odyssey definitely had my favorite post-game surprise this year. As an aside, I think I had more fun with Odyssey than Breath of the Wild, but I was far more blown away by Zelda’s breath of fresh air. What a great problem to have, though, right? Any year we get a brand new Mario and Zelda is incredible. Nintendo is on top of the world right now.
#4 – Persona 5
I feel weird placing Persona 5 so high on my list when it’s the only game here that I haven’t completed. I’m currently sitting at 55-hours played, though, which should count for something. I may be a little biased as a huge fan of all things Persona/Shin Megami Tensei, but man oh man is Persona 5 a damn good JRPG.
Persona 5 is mammoth, spanning well over 100 hours. As the new kid in town, you find yourself with the ability to enter alternate dimensions called “palaces” that manifest themselves from the internal desires of (some) incredibly shitty people. You eventually make friends with others who possess this ability, dub yourselves the Phantom Thieves, and set out to enter these palaces in order to “steal the hearts” of the palace owner in hopes of changing their outlook in the real world. For instance, a creepy gym teacher who physically abuses the male students and sexually harasses the females is forced to confess his crimes after the Phantom Thieves steal his heart. He saw himself as the “king of the castle,” which combined with his perverse desires to create a palace full of sultry statues and scantily clad female students. Persona 5 deals with some sick stuff.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, there’s a huge focus on time management. Each in-game day typically provides the opportunity to hang out with friends and increase their relationship levels, partake in various activities to increase stats, craft items, etc., but there’s never enough time to do it all. Persona is all about managing your free time efficiently and recruiting new Persona to summon in battle, which can be admittedly overwhelming to newcomers. Think of it as Pokemon for goth kids.
I don’t think I’m as absorbed in Persona 5 as I was with Persona 4 Gold, mainly because I prefer the latter’s cast and story more. This game’s cast is still pretty strong, though, particularly Makoto and Futaba — and if you’re curious, I dated Ann. Persona 5 is definitely more stylish and has a more refined combat system than any of the previous games. It’s also easier to grab and fuse Persona thanks to a repeatable dungeon called Mementos, so I’ve never been in fear of missing out on anything.
I’ve been slowly chipping away at Persona 5 for months now, and I’m determined to finish it up. It’s an astounding JRPG (easily the best of 2017) that’s well worth the time investment, but it’s hard enough finding 10-15 hours to finish a game. Let alone 100.
#3 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
There isn’t much left to say about Breath of the Wild that I haven’t already said on Twitter and here at Cheap Boss Attack. It’s a Zelda experience unlike any other and quite possibly the best-designed open-world I’ve ever played around in.
Gone are the major dungeons of the previous games, in favor of more bite-sized shrines that make use of Link’s toolset — which he’s given entirely within the game’s opening hours. This proved to be both a blessing and curse, though. With so many shrines to hunt down, this lead to countless hours of exploration and a tremendous sense of discovery. However, removing this core dungeon experience made Breath of the Wild simultaneously feel like the most memorable and forgettable Zelda I’ve ever played. It was all about the moment-to-moment gameplay and self-made fun, not unlocking a new item to use or conquering memorable dungeons.
The game’s weapon durability mechanic left a lot to be desired, but it became something I just learned to live with. Once I expanded my inventory space with Korok seeds, it became a non-issue anyway. That’s literally my only complaint from a technical perspective. Otherwise, Breath of the Wild is an incredible experience and a hell of a way for Nintendo to launch the Switch. I’m still playing around with it nine months later.
I’m not surprised this is topping all sorts of Game of the Year lists, but the further removed I get from my 70+ hour playthrough in March, the less attached I’ve gotten to it.
#2 – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Ninja Theory continues to prove they’re one of the premier providers of excellent characters and environmental design with this year’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It approaches psychosis in an unparalleled manner and presents one of, if not the best character of 2017 in Senua.
I want to sit here and talk about what made Hellblade so special, but it’s best if you just find out for yourself. It’s 80% narrative adventure, packed with emotional storytelling, stunning visuals and character animations, environmental puzzles, and some of the most rad content of any game this year. The other 20% is passable combat, which is good enough that it never gets in the way of what matters most.
Senua is a warrior, a survivor, and her growth throughout Hellblade’s journey is astounding. I’d also go on record to say that the game’s Fenrir boss encounter is the coolest thing I saw all year.
It was initially a tough choice discerning which game would take my #1 spot, but in the end, there was only one title that stuck with me all year long. One game that turned genre definitions, tropes, expectations, storytelling, and sound composition on its ass.
#1 – NieR: Automata
If you follow me on Twitter, you know all too well how much I love this game. NieR: Automata was this year’s Undertale for me, where I fell in love with the game and ate, slept, and breathed it for months after its release. I listen to the soundtrack constantly, I retweet fan art and accolades, and I still think about the game’s approach to existence, struggle of self-worth, depression, suicide, sex, violence, humanity, sentient machines, and everything in between.
NieR: Automata was not only my favorite game that I played this year, but possibly my favorite game of all time. Bold statement, I know, but I haven’t felt this connected to a game in my life. Nostalgia is what draws me to The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mario, Final Fantasy, and Resident Evil, and I love all of those quite dearly, but NieR’s barrage of emotion overturned expectations in a way I’d never experienced before. I’ve played countless games over the last 36 years and NieR seemingly went against everything I’d been trained to anticipate. No punches were pulled and I left my final playthrough stunned.
When I reviewed the game in March, I called it “one of the strangest, most compelling, thought-provoking, and beautifully heart wrenching games I’ve had the pleasure of playing.” Nothing about that statement has changed. “When broken down, no portion of NieR: Automata’s genetic makeup carries the weight of the others. Rather, it works so well as the sum of its parts. What makes it such a standout is not solely Yoko Taro’s trademark dark humored, “pull no punches while stabbing repeatedly at your heart” storytelling. It’s not PlatinumGames’ stylistic approach to combat that they’ve seemingly mastered over the years, the way in which Automata shifts from RPG to side-scroller to bullethell, nor the studio’s newfound appreciation for the open world of role-playing games. And it’s not just one of the single greatest musical compositions in gaming’s history by way of Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Haoshi.” This game is the sum of its parts. Everything works with everything else.
If I could erase one game from my memory to experience it again for the first time, this would be it. Without question. NieR: Automata is my absolute favorite game to release in 2017.
For more information, check out my review of NieR: Automata’s PS4 release right here.
What a year it’s been, yeah? Feel free to share your favorite games down in the comments or even post a link to your own Game of the Year post. I always like discussing this type of thing.