Boy, 2017 sure was bad. Video games were one of the few bright spots of the year. As per previous years, there will be supplemental awards first before we dive into the Top 10. There will be spoilers so please beware as you read.
It’s not often that two new games in franchises that you enjoy will come out in the same year that you are incredibly excited for. It is not often that those two games leave you feeling incredibly sad with how they turned out. From my 2016 Game of the Year article, “As much of a disappointment it is that Persona 5 got delayed to 2017 and then delayed again…”, boy if only you knew 2016 me. Persona 5 had quite a few issues that make it the worst game in the series, and as mentioned in another article, that make it too long, have bad writing, and not live up to the hype. Whether it is more Katsura Hashino homophobia or gross oversexualization of Anne, Persona 5 does more harm than good and makes me wish I had seen this coming in 2016 when I played the Japanese version.
Danganronpa V3 is another story altogether in why it is disappointing. The game has been talked about at length in the Seasonal Anime Checkup OVA Podcast , but it might go down as one of the biggest slaps in the face to fans of a series. Without giving spoilers, most of the game is the same as has already been experienced in the first two Danganronpa games which at times make it feel too stretched out and boring. The biggest offender is the ending. It is perhaps one of the worst endings ever in the history of video games. There has never been a game that has spit in my face more than Danganronpa V3 by mocking me having the gall to enjoy and be emotionally invested in the previous games. It is as if the creative team backed themselves into a corner and could not figure out a good way to end this game, which if that is the case and with how much Danganronpa V3 feels like a retread, maybe this is a game that should not have been made in the first place.
Best Old Game
Persona 2 Eternal Punishment, the second game in the Persona 2 duology, was what I needed after the disappointment of Persona 5. For the Persona series to have a game that features a mostly adult cast is surprising given that Atlus has not done that since this game. P2EP is another game I wrote about earlier this year, but out of all the games I played this year that did not come out in 2017, this left its mark in a way that still resonates with me. To truly get the most out of the game, it is imperative that you have some experience with Revelations Persona, most notably the original PSX release and not the PSP re-release, as this goes off of the Americanized localization of the first game. In addition, it will be easier to see and understand the gameplay changes that have been made from Revelations Persona to P2EP and see how the first game’s cast is implemented into this game. In fact, the way P2EP utilizes and combines the characters from Revelations Persona is infinitely better than how the Persona 4 Arena games handle it. One of the end scenes where that original cast gets to reunite is perhaps one of the best in the game, especially if you have that prior knowledge. Considering the PSP remake of this game never made it to America, it is an incredible shame given this is legitimately one of the best games in the series and should get more recognition and appreciation from Persona fans.
Best Anime Game
Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura Card Friends (GBA)
They somehow managed to condense the third opening of Cardcaptor Sakura onto a Gameboy Advance. That shouldn’t make sense. That shouldn’t be possible. It is the best. Shout out also to Chobits – Atashi Dake no Hito as it does the same thing.
Wolfenstein 2 Court Scene (PS4, XBONE, PC)
There are a bevy of moments in Wolfenstein 2 that could take this award. In fact you could make a Top 5 Best Wolfenstein 2 moments. Some that are incredibly impactful but didn’t win are [SPOILERS] when BJ returns to his home in Texas and meets his Nazi sympathizing father and of course when you happen to run into Hitler when on Venus. [/SPOILERS] The one moment that really hit me with how it left me stunned after finishing was the courtroom scene. For context, BJ has been captured by the Nazis and is being tried for acts of terrorism and murder, but is able to break free from his restraints and fight his way through hordes of Nazis. It is a tough fight since you have to scramble to find weapons, health, and armor since you have been stripped of all your equipment. After you finally make your way through all the guards and soldiers, BJ finds his Mother, who had been taken by the Nazis for being informed by BJ’s Father that she was Jewish. It is a touching reunion that is then cut short when BJ wakes back up in the courtroom realizing that everything that just transpired was a dream. Considering the Wolfenstein games (the ones from 3D onwards, not the original ones) have been about giving you an extreme power fantasy of being this hyper-masculine and tough soldier who just mows down Nazis, this scene was one I was absolutely not expecting the game to have. I remember right after he woke up and the scene progresses to another absolutely shocking scene that I kept saying “Wow” over and over. The ways that Wolfenstein 2 humanize BJ Blazkowicz in ways that no one saw coming make this scene all the more impactful in a game full of incredible moments and scenes.
When the pre-release materials of this game leaked prior to E3, everyone, myself included, thought Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was going to be an absolute train wreck. Following Ubisoft’s presentation at E3, reception of the game flipped as everyone was blown away by what had been shown. A Mario X X-Com game?! That was exactly what we got when the game was released a few months later. Mario + Rabbids is a game by all means that should be a mess, but it’s not and is a lot of fun. The game is short in that it only has 4 worlds and doesn’t really overstay its welcome. There are challenges as you make your way through the story, as there should be, and some real goofy and self-aware moments that are by themselves a surprise that Nintendo allowed them to be included. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the epitome of Best Surprise, simple as that.
Best Multiplayer Re-release That Is Better Played With Shuffled Music
Obviously this would not be included in the Top 10 due to it being a re-release, but given the amount of time that I spent with this game over the course of the year (45+ hours according to my Switch) and the fun that Anne Ladyem and I had just chatting while AL’s fantastic shuffled music played in the background, it had to be recognized. As much as I didn’t want to admit it at first, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best Mario Kart game and having a goofy way to play the game with my best friend made it even better. You haven’t truly experienced Mario Kart 8 Deluxe until you’re racing to this.
Most Surprising Arcade Archives Release
VS. Super Mario Bros. (NSW)
If this was best Arcade Archives release, it would easily go to Garou: Mark of the Wolves, one of the best games of all time, but the announcement of Nintendo and Hamster teaming up to bring out some of Nintendo’s arcade catalogue that in some cases has not seen a re-release ever is genuinely shocking. While Arcade Archives Mario Bros. was less surprising due to original Mario Bros. not being the best game and having a variety of re-releases out there, Hamster putting out the arcade version of Super Mario Bros. is something I would have never seen coming. Hamster has been knocking it out of the park with their various Arcade Archives releases, mostly from the Neo Geo library, but getting some of Nintendo’s classics is a smart idea for the Switch. Specifically when there are still people complaining about the lack of a virtual console, despite the fact that it’s there, just called Arcade Archives.
The Top 10 Video Games of 2017
10. Fire Pro Wrestling World (PC)
Most wrestling games are bad. Spike Chunsoft reviving the Fire Pro franchise after its decade plus slumber was strange and a stark reminder that wrestling games can be good. After spending half of the year in Early Access and then sneaking out with just a few weeks left in the year, Fire Pro Wrestling World barely made it in terms of my considerations for Game of the Year. If you’ve played a Fire Pro game before, there is not a lot that is new here, other than the game looking better and newer moves. What makes Fire Pro Wrestling World stand out is the game contextualizing the gameplay to make it easier for everyone to understand as prior games were not as easy with their barrier to entry. Including Steam Workshop support for everyone to upload their creations is the best thing the game does, as it makes it extremely easy to find creations that you want and download them for your game. Even with the great gameplay that is fun, it is perhaps even more enjoyable just watching the AI wrestle and watch the shenanigans it gets into. If the WWE 2K games have left you spurned on what a wrestling game is, Fire Pro Wrestling World will open you up to a new way of thinking.
9. Fire Emblem Warriors (NSW)
There’s a Musou game in my top ten? Trust me, I am as shocked as anyone. For whatever reason, Fire Emblem Warriors was finally the Musou game that clicked for me and let me understand these games outside of just fighting and defeating 1000s of enemies. As someone who has never experienced any of the Fire Emblem games due to strategy RPGs not being a genre I enjoy, it was fun to finally have pieces of those stories presented to me in a way I could get and understand why the series has become so popular, especially recently. Perhaps it was the time it came out, but it really was just a great game to zone out to and considering I put in nearly 40 hours into a Musou game, it worked. Hopefully whatever Nintendo and Koei Tecmo decide to team up on next is as good as Fire Emblem Warriors and takes another franchise in a surprising direction.
8. Tekken 7 (PS4, XBONE, PC)
The story of Tekken 7 begins with the player being allowed to throw a character into a volcano with the press of a button. If that is not the definitive Tekken experience, I don’t know what is. As someone who was last deeply into a Tekken game with Tekken 3, Tekken 7 keeps the feel of a game I haven’t regularly played in over 15 years, but makes enough changes that allow it to stand on its own. One of the biggest additions is the inclusion of a last hit slow motion that makes matches gain an intensity and tension that is not there without it. It makes even the most casual matchup into one that can breathe the same level of intensity that a match from any of the major fighting game tournaments has. Tekken 7’s story mode is an absolute wild ride that tries to finally put to rest the Mishima family drama that has been at the crux of every Tekken game. Perhaps the craziest part of the story is how it gives a narrative reason for why Street Fighter’s Akuma is in the game, not simply as a guest character. Everything about the gameplay is great and tight in the ways you would want, the multiplayer is fun and frantic, and their DLC plans have been bonkers. In a year of good fighting games, Tekken 7 can easily stand on its own ground and stand out--just watch out for volcanoes.
I loved Life Is Strange. In fact it was my second favorite game of 2015. When a prequel was announced at this year’s E3, I was highly skeptical it would work. There are no time travel powers, Max is not present, there’s a new developer, and Ashly Burch is not reprising her role as Chloe due to at the time SAG-AFTRA strike. Somehow, this three episode game did not end up as a major mess. There is good storytelling to be had in those three episodes and getting to understand Chloe more with what she was going through prior to Max’s return helps make sense of parts of the original game. The main focus of Before the Storm is the relationship between Chloe and Rachel Amber, a character that is not present in Life is Strange. The three episodes really allow the feelings that Chloe has for Rachel blossom and further contextualize why she is so determined to find her in Life Is Strange. One of Before the Storm’s strengths is it allows for Chloe to explore her romantic feelings for Rachel in ways that Life Is Strange lacked. However, if you played the original, you know exactly where this game is going to go, and it again does not escape the bury your gays trope which it could have if the post-credits scene at the end of Episode 3 was not included.
There are certainly some very cool moments in the three episodes, especially in Episode 2, the strongest episode, where you are forced to go on stage as Ariel and play out a scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As someone who has studied that play at length in a variety of ways, it was awesome to see it represented in this game and what they do with it. Episode 3 is a departure from what made the first two episodes good with it taking Rachel out of the equation for more than half the episode and focusing on subplots that were not nearly as satisfying. Despite the fact that Before the Storm is surprising with it being good, it could have been better. Episode 3 could have been better, the wishy-washiness of trying to give the player agency over the games queerness should have been better, and just simply Square Enix delaying the game so they could get Ashly Burch instead of forcing their performance capture actress to become a scab. I’m glad they got Burch back for the bonus DLC episode, but it’s still a bummer cause her performance of Chloe in Life Is Strange is what sold that character. Before the Storm is good and surprising, but does not match how great Life Is Strange was.
Pyre is very much a game about connections to characters, world building, and also playing a 3v3 sport. The premise was something that worried me when I first heard it because it was something I did not think could work. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I grew attached to the variety of characters you interact with on your team and their interactions with each other. It is what makes one of the core mechanics of the game as impactful as once you gain enough victories in the sports section and win the final game, you are forced to send one of your players back to society. Since everyone you interact where you are now has been ostracized, they can be excited to go back or become part of a call for revolution. Once you let someone go, the cycle begins anew and you repeat this until you have enough players back in the supposed civilized form of society to create your revolution, but once again are forced to make tough calls. It makes it so each person playing the game can have a unique story of who they decide to keep and who they decide to let go and that extends to the other teams as well. Pyre is absolutely fascinating in how it is able to merge visual novel storytelling and sports into one cohesive package that not only works, but leaves me wondering why more games haven’t done this.
5. Night in the Woods (PS4, XBONE, PC)
Capturing young adult stories and the feel of small town America is hard not only for literature, but especially for video games. Mae’s plot of coming home after dropping out of college immediately resonated with me as someone who had dropped out of college before and felt all of the stress and anxiety of feeling like a complete failure. The writing and storytelling is Night in the Woods’s strength. It accurately captures people in their early 20s talking and interacting with one another to where it is easy to associate Mae, Gregg, Angus, and Bea having similar conversations that I have had with my friends when I was younger. It is the strength of those relationships where this game shines in its 10ish hour journey. If more young adult stories were like this, imagine how that genre would be so much better. The world it builds was one that felt incredibly realistic, even with the last quarter and the dream sequences breaking that with its veering into sci-fi. The game also helped me understand certain mental illnesses in a way that I hadn’t before, which is incredibly helpful. In a year filled with strong narrative focused games, Night in the Woods is certainly one of the standouts of that style of game.
Gone Home was my favorite game of 2013 and I have been incredibly excited for the next Fullbright game ever since it was announced. Tacoma does not disappoint. While Tacoma is similar in its mechanics as Gone Home, they have been expanded upon in a variety of ways with the addition of the AR scenes that allow you to see what the characters on the Tacoma space station were doing in the months leading to your arrival. The amount of storytelling that is able to unfold in these scenes is incredible and the ways that you can interact with them. You can just as easily follow one character and keep doing that until you have seen what every character has done or try and bounce between conversations. The world of Tacoma is also intriguing in ways where I wish there was more exploration of it considering the IDs shown tell how the United States is no longer a country and how exactly did corporations like Amazon open up their own universities (SPOILERS: it’s capitalism). In the short time that you spend with Tacoma, everything leads to a climactic finale where you witness the crew understand what has happened and why. The narrative reasons for these events are expected, but what is not is the true reason for the character that you play as being there. That surprise is what really shocked me in a way that I was not expecting as with how much agency you have over viewing the events of what happened, the player gets an idea of what your character should do. The narrative however, takes that from you and doesn’t allow you any choice in the matter. Tacoma isn’t a choice filled game, but considering you really don’t have much to go on about why you’re character is at the space station outside of directives you are receiving, it is easy to try and fill in those gaps yourself. The twist was something I really enjoyed and once again makes me very excited for whatever is next from Fullbright.
Before Super Mario Odyssey, I had never beaten a 3D Mario. I’d tried going back to Super Mario 64, but it never did anything for me. Galaxy I rented, but never got far enough in to really get a feel one way or another. Odyssey finally gives me the sense of what everyone has been talking about with 3D Mario games for over 20 years now. It is the best looking game so far on the Switch, plays incredibly well, and is perhaps the most polished game on this list. I absolutely enjoyed my time going from kingdom to kingdom and collecting a lot of moons. The callbacks and nostalgia the game uses to create certain feelings in players is incredible. That New Donk City festival is certainly a fantastic moment, as is the ending sequence. The one issue with the game I ended up having is that for whatever reason it never had the lasting appeal or left me thinking about the game well after I had finished it. I certainly spent quite a bit of time after I saw credits, but eventually I stopped playing. I still have hundreds of moons to find, but I’m just not motivated to go get them. That reason is by no means any disrespect to this game, which is great. While this is another iteration of a very successful formula that Nintendo has utilized in the past to great success, it really doesn’t do a lot to innovate on it like another game from Nintendo on this list. Mario has gone through numerous 2D and 3D versions that it is hard to imagine what exactly could be done that is new for these games, but that unknown is very appealing, especially after what has been done with The Legend of Zelda. Odyssey is a step in that direction, which could mean whatever the next Mario game is, could do something completely new and hopefully that is the case. Super Mario Odyssey is a great game, don’t get me wrong, and I loved my time with it, but I would be very interested in a formula shakeup, whatever that could be.
2. Yakuza 0 (PS4)
The Yakuza series is one that I have always been sleeping on ever since playing the original with the weird English dub back in the mid-00s. I have Yakuza 4 and 5, which I have enjoyed both of those games, but for whatever reason, I would end up falling off and never completing. Yakuza 0 finally allowed this series to latch into me and not let go until I had finished. The setting of late 80s Japan is an aesthetically pleasing and just plain cool place to play a video game in. The main crime story that plays for both Kiryu and Majima is an extremely well told, interwoven tale that has twists and turns that I was not expecting and went in directions that I never imagined. It is amazing how both stories end up coming together and even the separate stories both characters have to go through, from Kiryu’s struggle to exit the yakuza and figure out what to do next to how Majima is trying to get back into the yakuza but is confronted with a task that he cannot handle. The story is an amazing drama that is of course the backdrop to the amount of wacky and outlandish side stories that accompany the game. Whether it's teaching a tough-looking band how to act tough, buying an 18+ magazine for a kid because he’s for some reason interested in what the shady vending machine offers, running real estate, buying a woman pizza because you misinterpreted what she says, an entire slot car racing arc, managing a cabaret club, helping a guy with his giant bag cell phone, learning how to breakdance fight, distracting others so a living statue can go to the bathroom, making sure a character who would become prominent in Yakuza 2 stops stealing pants, or buying a little girl plushies from a crane game and then beating up other yakuza who are trying to sell her mom. Yakuza 0 is able to balance the very serious drama with humor and absurdity that most games are unable to do. Let’s not forget that this is a prequel to a series that by the time of its release already had 5 other entries. Being able to make not only a story that can be flowed into those other games, but does so in ways that makes them better as a result is not an easy feat. It has made playing through Yakuza Kiwami even better by having context for why certain parts are happening. I am also very excited for Yakuza 6 to see how this series can potentially get better with a new engine. Yakuza 0 is a great entry point to the series as being the first in the timeline now, but as a way to also introduce people to what these games are about in terms of gameplay and their tone. It is a game that I am glad I did not let escape and pass me by as it almost did.
One Saturday when I was playing through Breath of the Wild and making my way through the game for the first time, I found myself in the northwest section of the map travelling through the snowy mountains. It was an area I had been through previously, but not to the extent that I was going to tackle it that day. I was bound and determined to find the shrines in that area and did not care how long it was going to take. For the rest of the day, I was climbing, looking, falling, shield surfing, nearly freezing in water, and fighting all throughout that area. There were times where I found shrines, but could not figure out how to enter them or knew the area one was, but could not see it. Despite these setbacks, it is a memory of this game that I think back fondly on and truly represents what Breath of the Wild meant to me. It is also a reason this game stuck with me and continues to do so over nine months since its release.
Breath of the Wild has flaws and is not a perfect game. The Master Sword losing energy after a while is something I don’t particularly enjoy. I wish there was more story, though I enjoy how it does its story from finding memories and some of the very minute bits such as certain characters’ journals that are hidden in the world. Even with some of these flaws, it is a game I would consider a masterpiece and one that will possibly go down as one of my favorite games of all time. I am not a person who gets into exploration in games, even though I do have to stop myself at times from getting too many collectibles in other games. Breath of the Wild engaged me in a way that made exploring the world fun in ways I would have never expected. There is a main storyline and various side stories to encounter in Breath of the Wild, the true story is your story. I have had numerous conversations with people about what I had happen to me in the game and how their version of events differed and saw parts with completely different perspectives. It is very much a tale of what you do in that world. With how freeform the game is in terms of how you can tackle the four dungeons or fighting Ganon immediately after exiting the cave in the very beginning, Breath of the Wild allows players to forge their own stories and have their own unique experiences rather than the game forcing you to do one aspect or another. Not only is Breath of the Wild throwing out the Zelda formula, it is also looking at the open world genre and actively trying to do something different that hasn’t been done in years. As someone who has recently gone through open world fatigue, I never felt that at all when going through my near 100 hours in Breath of the Wild. With how stuck on the Link to the Past/Ocarina of Time-style that Nintendo had been focused on with Zelda games for the past 20 years with their 3D offerings, it is astonishing that this game breaks that mold and does it in a way that is exceptional. It is very possible we will look back and talk about Breath of the Wild as being the third generation of innovation with Zelda games with The Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time as the two previous ones. In my 27 years, I have been playing video games for about 24 of them and it is not often that games leave me with a sense of longing and joy well after I have finished them, but Breath of the Wild does exactly that. The moment I explained above, just traversing the world, the Ganon fight, building up a new town for a variety of people to live in, going and finding all of the shrines after I had already beaten the game, and the opening moment right after you leave the cave are just a few of the moments I look back on during my time with Breath of the Wild and fill me with happiness. I love it. I love this game. Quite simply, Breath of the Wild reminded me why I love video games.