While it has been well documented by many that 2017 has been a fantastic year for new game releases, when it came time for me to write down this list I realized that I didn’t fall head over heels for a lot of games that I expected to love.
Still, the amount of quality games this year was so high that I think I could probably make a list of 100 games that I wish I had the time for this year, but thankfully I was actually able to play some and a few of them I really liked.
So let’s start this thing.
Reigns: Her Majesty
I wasn’t sure how a sequel to last year’s Reigns could improve, but after a few minutes
with Reigns: Her Majesty it became clear that this was a more refined and focused version of that first game complete with an enticing story that came with sharp and funny writing done by Leigh Alexander. This one was a great surprise and I hope more developers get Leigh Alexander to write their game.
With its imaginative art, bright colors, and warm music, GNOG is probably one of my favorite interactive experiences of the year. Poking around with its puzzle boxes and seeing how it reacts brought out this sense of wonder in me that I haven’t felt from a game in a good while, especially when played in virtual reality.
Invector is a music rhythm game based around the music of EDM artist, Avicii. Being a fan of rhythm games I had an interest in the game since it was announced at Sony’s 2015 Paris Games Week, but after that first reveal the game went dark in terms of updates. Fast forward to 2017’s PGW, and the game is re-revealed and it turns out it would launch in December of 2017.
It was a great surprise and the game that came out is small in scope but with a great core and exciting visual design. I’ve been on the lookout for a new console rhythm game for some time now and while I’ve found plenty of solid games, none have me wanting to come back to it as much as Invector.
10) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The first ten hours I spent with Breath of the Wild had the promise of an adventure with a grand scope in a space where anything was possible, but those introductory hours I spent with the game were probably the time I most enjoyed it.
I found the shrines dull, I had few emergent moments in the open world and didn’t feel a need to interact with it once I knew what I needed to make my way through the game. I also found the dungeons lacking in challenge apart from Vah Ruhdania and its story shockingly lackluster.
But those first few hours, learning the rules of this Hyrule and overcoming challenges with a less than well armed Link, felt as if I was taking on a grand adventure in a game filled with character that welcomes the player to interact with it.
9) Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story
Another Lost Phone tells a gripping story through its framework of a cell phone. It’s a story enhanced by its great art design and soundtrack. Having played other games in this new genre of a “phone” game, Another Lost Phone is one of the best and I think better than its predecessor. It’s a real and upsetting story about the people you place your trust in and one of my favorite stories of the year.
8) Sonic Mania
Sonic Mania is more than just a new Sonic game in an old style or just a fan game made with the blessing and funding of SEGA. It’s a game that understands the series down to the very basic elements that make it and then takes that knowledge to create an entry that advances what we know “Classic Sonic” to be.
With a new jack swing soundtrack, art design that pops, and a reverence for SEGA’s past work, Sonic Mania lived up to the possibility. Here’s hoping this team gets another swing at the series.
7) Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
What I enjoy about Wolfenstein II is the character work and story Machinegames has done within the framework of the Wolfenstein series. This of course isn’t the first time Machinegames has had the opportunity to really explore the series, but this time they were able to take that angry pixelated man at the center of the screen in Wolfenstein 3D into a character you can feel empathy for and they were able to balance various tones to tell an impressive story about resistance.
6) Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
My favorite thing about the Resident Evil series is when all of the pieces of its design click and you build this sense of familiarity with a place, but still have this sense of dread ever looming over you.
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is the closest the series has been in over a decade to tapping into what I like about the series, but it’s also more than just the series returning to what made it originally work. In many ways, Resident Evil VII takes bits and pieces from the series’ highest and lowest points, and then finds a way to mix them together with a modernized take to create one of the best games in the series.
There are also like 5 pieces of story DLC that I really want to get around to playing.
5) Persona 5
Even after clocking in over a hundred hours into Persona 5, I’m still divided on it. I don’t really have any strong feelings for the relationships I developed with my in-game friends and I think the overall story is rather weak, especially with the way it all comes together in the end.
But here it is, number five on my game of the year list, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because Persona 5 has enough of Persona 4: Golden in it, my favorite game of all time, that it felt like returning home. Something that I was familiar with that I didn’t mind spending time with because it had been so long.
I know how the systems work, the story is just good enough that I’m able to stay sort of invested, and it helps that it has an energetic jazz inspired soundtrack with a style that really is unparalleled.
In some ways Persona 5 is a disappointment, but even though I didn’t have the meaningful connection I had with Persona 4, in the end I really just enjoyed playing and spending so much time with it.
4) What Remains of Edith Finch
I walked into What Remains of Edith Finch with no expectations and with no real grasp on how it goes about telling its story. All I knew was that it was a narrative focused adventure game in the first-person perspective, but what makes it special is how Edith Finch tells its story through a series of imaginative and unique vignettes that really surprise. Not all of them work as well as I would’ve liked, but they successfully immerse the player in a different mindset and really take advantage of the inherent interactive nature of video games. Edith Finch is a fascinating game, both in the way it tells a story about family and how it allows the player to interact with it. It’s a stand out in its genre. It’s also my personal biggest video game surprise of the year.
3) Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods was the most comfortable and warm I felt playing a game this year. Its small town of interesting animals who have dreams, like to do crimes, build robots, and smash fluorescent light tubes in the back of grocery stores stole my heart. While a lot of the game’s characters futures are uncertain and you are trying to get to the bottom of all of the missing people in the town ,it was a fun and cynical ride that I very much enjoyed.
In the sense that it’s made by the same development studio, Tacoma is the follow-up to another one of my favorite games of all time, Gone Home. Following up that game is a mighty task, and it’s really hard to place any expectations on what I would’ve wanted this next game to be. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better game.
The story of the crew that boards the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma is a grounded story of people who live and work in a less than glamorous job. That’s it. Oh, also they’re in space and they’re not actually there, only the augmented reality recordings of them that you can manipulate remain, but it really is just that simple setup. Yes, there is a twist, but it really isn’t a ground shaking revelation. It doesn’t even really need to take place in space, and I love that about it. I love that Tacoma is a video game that is able to tell a quaint story in premise, but manages to stand out because of how well they execute the specifics of it.
Going through the station, picking up everyday objects that have their own charm and character that developer Fullbright is known for, and learning about the at times mundane and other times touching lives of these people really resonated with me. It’s a testament to how talented this team is that years after their first game, after other developers had taken inspiration from Gone Home and then built upon its design or found new ways to take the genre forward, that Tacoma still manages to tell a great story with a space that feels so real and lived in.
1) NieR: Automata
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I spent the majority of the year talking about NieR: Automata, and by “talking” I mean shouting what effectively results to “I really like NieR: Automata.”
That’s partly because I really have a hard time really talking about why this game meant so much to me in 2017.
“All year I’ve been trying to write out and articulate the finer points of why I think Automata is a work of genius, why its story of androids fighting a ceaseless battle against invading alien robots struck me so deeply. For all my talk about not really enjoying Anime Bullshit and my total unfamiliarity with the works of Yoko Taro, NieR:Automata wrecked me to the point that I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it since the day my save disappeared into the ether.
Maybe it’s hard to articulate because the sheer volume of things I want to say about it keep trying to all come out at once. It’s like trying to focus in on a single particle of water in a geyser.”
Every time I want to talk about NieR: Automata, I feel like I didn’t actually dig into what I love about it in the best way I possibly could’ve. As a writer, that angers me deeply and makes me feel insecure. As someone who admires and respects Automata, I feel like I wouldn’t do it justice. It’s why I’ve avoided writing about it all year. It’s also why I’ve never written about Persona 4:Golden.
That being said, this is a Game of the Year list, so I sure will try.
One thing that I loved going through Nier: Automata was that I couldn’t help but constantly be struck by how grand it all felt. Through its score, themes, and most importantly the way it plays with perspective and embodiment made me feel like the goings-on in NieR: Automata were truly rich and three dimensional.
Another aspect I love about NieR: Automata is how it’s at its core an incredibly tragic game. It really sells its own tragedy – the tragedy of the world, characters, and the tragedy of life, like life in general – and I find that beautiful. I’m a very pessimistic person who also struggles with depression and constant self-doubt. Sometimes, I have sad thoughts and I find myself getting lost in them. It certainly isn’t healthy, but it is who I am.
NieR: Automata’s commitment to sadness and tragedy is a lot, for some it might be insufferable. But in its ultimate conclusion, when everything has fallen apart and you’re approached with an actual impossible challenge, NieR: Automata has a moment of hope. A moment where you are made aware that you are not alone and that while things are hard, and they may very well still be even after all is said and done, that fighting for a future is better than giving up. It’s a profound moment and ending that spoke deeply to me.
So there, I tried.