Ben Moore is one of the many great Easy Allies, which you can follow primarily on Youtube.com/EasyAllies or EasyAllies.com. Lover of JRPGs, all things Japan, and a good hottake, Ben hosts the Easy Allies podcast called Frame Trap and you can follow him on twitter @BenMoore035.
10 – Tekken 7
I’m in kind of a strange position at Easy Allies where in some ways I think I’m looked at as the fighting game guy by the community and other members of my team, but I’m pretty hilariously terrible at fighting games. Since we’re a very small group of guys, and an even smaller group of reviewers, I have to bounce between games pretty quickly, even if there are a couple that I could sink into for months. I’m also no Tekken expert beyond playing a lot of Tekken 3 and especially Tekken Tag casually with friends as a kid. The reason for those last few sentences is to emphasize how good Tekken 7 is despite my lack of skill and time.
Sure, you can make valid arguments that Injustice 2 has more stuff in it, which is true, but as far as I’m concerned no fighting game feels as good as Tekken 7 this year. Every single fight is a spectacle, whether you’re brand new or someone who knows how to Korean backdash with the best of them. Whether it’s the new rage arts and drives or the slow motion that pops up at the end of matches, Tekken 7 understands a pretty fundamental thing: fighting games are meant to be exciting regardless of the level your playing at. Every element of it seems to adhere to this central idea. Beat up people and make it look fucking awesome.
9 – Horizon Zero Dawn
It’s hard talking about Horizon without first bringing up Killzone. Whereas Killzone, despite its competency, always felt like a desperate collection of things that came before it, Horizon feels startlingly fresh. Not necessarily in terms of how it plays, which can certainly be whittled down by comparisons, but in the world that it presents. The entire mythology for the game’s machine monsters is delightful to slowly unravel. If you were to tell me Guerrilla Games would be responsible for some of my favorite world building of the year before Horizon came out, I wouldn’t have believed you. No element to Horizon is more important than the main character Aloy, though. A remarkably human heroine, she approaches every situation logically. It’s as if she responds to things as you would respond to them, which is a simple quality we still don’t see enough of in games.
8 – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein: The New Order is an apt demonstration that first-person shooters don’t all need to be so dreadfully boring. New Colossus takes that idea and then beats it into you with a 2×4. Sharply written, surprisingly touching, and relentlessly creative, New Colossus is an absolute joy to play. A lot of that rests on its excellent characterization. Although BJ Blaskowicz was given a strong voice in New Order, here the exploration of his past as well as the effective demonstration of why he’s currently fighting make him a rousing protagonist. BJ is so well contrasted with the absolutely vile Frou Engel, who lives for nothing more than torment. Of course, blasting off limbs with a shotgun always feels nice. That’s here, too.
7 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Streaming all of Xenoblade Chronicles has easily been one of my favorite experiences this year. The game ticks all of the boxes that you would hope a great JRPG would tick. The world is exciting and alive, the characters endearing, and the combat both complex and fulfilling to master. It does all of this while having a spark of inventiveness throughout. When you play through a sequel to a game that means so much to you, it’s hard not to be apprehensive.
I think personally you fight the desire between wanting more of what you love and for it to “wow” you in brand new ways just as the original did. Thankfully, Chronicles 2 does both just fine. I cared about the journey of Rex, Pyra, and crew a whole heck of a lot, getting increasingly invested as the game went on. Plus, it sure is a lot of fun doing ridiculously huge combos during combat as the game showers you with praise.
6 – Yakuza 0
He’s a character that’s been in Yakuza since the beginning. He’s someone I’ve always loved, but nowhere near as much as I do now. Yakuza 0 is essentially his game and his story is perhaps my favorite in all of 2017. His journey from suave cabaret owner to a selfless hero is enthralling thanks to its sincerity and depth. The Yakuza series has plenty of great stories, but none that I’ve experienced have hit nearly as hard as this one. Beyond that, Yakuza 0 has so, so, so much to do. Between the bountiful and well-written side quests, selling real estate, and playing Outrun, you will spend a lot of time simply messing around. None of it feels wasted either, since so much of it comes with its own compelling characters or storylines attached. I’ve gotten innumerable messages from people saying they’ve tried Yakuza for the first time because of Zero and are absolutely smitten with it. If you haven’t given it a shot, you’re very likely missing out on a brand new love.
5 – Super Mario Odyssey
How is this game not higher on the list? I don’t have a great answer for that question, but it really doesn’t matter.
Mario. Odyssey. Is. Great.
Any game where you can collect as much stuff as you can in Odyssey always has me a bit leery, but there’s a fine balance present that makes it work here. Some of the moons you gather are so easy that you’ll practically trip over them. Others are shrewdly hidden requiring a keen eye or a precise series of moments. Yet regardless of the difficulty of the things you chase after, there’s always something to chase after. Going after one thing will inevitably lead you to half-a-dozen others, and before you know it your path is completely divergent from the direction you originally started in. Just as important, however, is how much fun Odyssey has with itself. Dressing Mario up in all sorts of absurd outfits and decorating his ship in trinkets may not seem like a huge deal, but adds a personal touch to Mario that’s so appreciated without falling victim to the bog-standard sort of customization that feels so trivial in other games. It’s special because Nintendo goes so far out of the way to make it special.
4 – Divinity: Original Sin 2
I don’t love the idea of putting something on this list that I haven’t finished, but it also speaks to the quality of Original Sin 2 that I feel so compelled to. Here is a game that takes the typical promises of RPGs such as “freedom”, “flexibility”, and “depth” and not only makes good on them but meticulously capitalizes on the very ideas of those words. The character you pick? Extremely important. The race and background you adhere to will have lasting consequences throughout the game. The side quest you did? Extremely important. Experience and money are so precious in a game where nearly any battle can annihilate a careless player.
Decisions only matter, however, if the very thing they’re a part of is worth seeing and Original Sin 2 has some of the most enjoyable moments of the year. Dealing with the tainted offspring of a magical chicken is an example of how offbeat some of the side quests get, and they all refuse to succumb to the dreadfully dull standard of “kill x” or “collect y”. Even if there is collecting or killing, there’s so much wit and charm crammed into whatever you’re doing that nothing ever feels standard.
3 – Nier: Automata
The talk of Nier director Yoko Taro has always been how bizarre his games are. It’s true, his games are weird to the point where it seems like some sort of impulse, but it’s always disheartening to hear people be so reductive about someone who puts so much heart into everything he creates. Nier: Automata, at least from the Taro games that I’ve experienced, seems to be the pinnacle of that. We live in chaotic times where rampant racism, sexism, and corruption are out in full force. Yet games this year, for better and worse, don’t really tackle such issues on a large scale. While there’s no direct real world comparisons in Nier: Automata, I can’t think of a single game this year that has so effectively captured the struggle of simply existing. Automata examines how easily prejudices form and how steadfast they can remain. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “weirdness” of Automata, but underneath is something that affected me on a level that I wish more games would strive for.
2 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The internet can be an annoying place. There’s a lot of relentless negativity that spouts forth from not a place of logical criticism but rather a bandwagon of hate. Quick-fire blasts of cynicism that reek of laziness and insincerity. I bring this up because it’s frustrating to see people claim that Breath of the Wild wouldn’t get nearly the attention it is getting if the name Zelda wasn’t attached. The idea robs the game of the things it does so well. “Enchanted” is definitely a word that critics like to overuse when they can’t think of anything of substance to say, but in this instance there’s no better word.
Breath of the Wild made me realize how easy it is to enter auto-pilot mode with other games. A certain thing does something because of course it does that’s just how video games work. Whether it be by accident, curiosity, or desperation, there were countless times when some interaction in Breath of the Wild caught me off guard. There’s a playfulness present with the enemies, world design, and mechanics that both encourage and require creativity. Breath of the Wild points you in a direction that then makes absolutely sure there’s so much to discover along the way as long as you’re willing to take the time to look. I remember when I first started playing video games and everything fascinated me. Simply moving a character on a screen was a joy. No game has recaptured that sense of simple awe and wonder as much as this one.
1 – Persona 5
There are a lot of easy things to praise about Persona 5. It has style for days. The soundtrack is godlike. How do you not get attached to characters like Futaba and Makoto? What puts Persona 5 at the number one spot in such a contentious year is how contemporary it feels. Here is a game that deals with how easily power is abused in sensitive and formative situations like school, within a family, and amongst friends. The game tackles sexual harassment, the toxicity of rumors, and how someone will betray themselves for acceptance.
In a lot of ways, I don’t think Persona 5 attempts to provide answers to the things it explores but that’s not the point. The very fact that it explores them is what feels so important. There are a times when the cast of Persona 5 can hardly believe the world around them, as if everything is a facade and everyone is doing whatever they can to push ahead. Persona 5 is a rejection of complacency. Its heroes are so keenly aware of how fake their supposed betters are and they aren’t willing to take such nonsense quietly. It’s vital, I think, no matter who you are or where you live to be able to give the middle finger when you know for certain someone is trying to take advantage of you. Persona 5 embodies that idea and serves as an embolding injection of righteous rebellion.