I’ve been writing about games in my pseudo-amateur professional way for a good long time. Almost eight years, at least in the serious capacity. And there are always ups and downs.
I don’t think a year has delivered as equal parts challenges as it did successes and triumphs as 2017 did for me. Professionally, I put on the best shows of my life, did the best in events I think I’ve ever done. Personally, I hit more roadblocks, had more self-doubt, and experienced the worst depression I have ever had. From dropping out of school, to PAX, to a personal family situation that was very upsetting, to Kinda Funny Live, to depression that left me in a darker place than I have ever been, to ExtraLife, it was a series of literal ups and downs that still, at the time of writing this, hasn’t stopped.
To reflect on the year, to reflect on Irrational Passions and how well it’s done, is to look back at all the good and the bad. And I’ve written a lot about it. Hell, I’ve written a lot in general, toppling 1000 days of consecutive writing.
But now the new year continues, and it’s already proven that’ll bring new challenges in itself. I’m still excited though, and hopeful.
2017 wasn’t just a difficult year for me personally, but for thousands past me, less fortunate and more affected by the terrible political climate the United States has found itself in. I can’t harp on it too much, but I can hope to build, to create, and aspire for a better 2018.
Besides, you know what was super good in 2017?
Honorable mentions: Nier Automata, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Super Mario Odyssey, The Evil Within 2, Flinthook, What Remains of Edith Finch, Horizon Zero Dawn
All very good within their own right, some with more issues than others, like Nier, and some that just didn’t hit the mark for me, like Mario. But even if these didn’t make the cut, I can say these are all games you should still check out.
Number 10. Metroid Samus Returns.
I have been wanting an actual, real Metroid game for years. So much so I made a videoabout how good Metroid games are. And Nintendo finally gave me one. They also said they’d make Metroid Prime 4, and the Prime trilogy of games is probably one of the best collection of three games out there, so I’m in a good spot.
Samus Returns is a remake of that old GameBoy game that isn’t that great, but I played Metroid 2, and it has a different pacing, a different style than any other Metroid game before it. Samus Returns holds onto that, and that’s the best part about it. It looks great, plays great, is silky smooth, and the new changes to how traversal and upgrades work make it a fantastic swan song for the 3DS, a great proven ground that they should have been making Metroid games for the 3DS the whole time, and a faithful revisiting of the original GameBoy title.
Where your objective is to run around and hunt something, you know, like an actual bounty hunter, versus the typical objective of Metroid which is to use your newest ability to go where you haven’t, Samus Returns puts the pace in the player’s hands, and while some moments added to the game fall a bit flat, it’s an awesome Metroid game on an awesome platform, and exactly what I’ve wanted for so many goddamn years.
Number 9. Resident Evil VII: Bioharzard.
I was excited about Resident Evil 7, which was already more than I could say about any RE game since the fifth entry. I’ve still only played RE4, RE5, and a bit of RE6, so my tepid roots with the series are just that: tepid.
Resident Evil 7 blew my expectations out of the water. Whatever I wanted out of a new entry to the series was replaced with this beautiful mesh of old and new. I am a big fan of the first person perspective in horror, and as someone generally new to horror games in general, I think this is a great one to start with too. It channels things like P.T. in its small-environment structure, and also has little slices of something like Outlast, which uses a held video camera as a perspective well.
Reliving the footsteps of those that have come before you is just one excellent part of RE7 though. It’s mystery, it’s density, it’s excellent family of antagonists, and how each act of the game feels so wildly different than the last, whether it be the opening house in the beginning, the “Old House” trapped in the swamp after, or its final area which acts as a massive departure from the rest all together. I loved my time with the game, so much so that I played through the ending back to back just to see both ways it could go.
Number 8. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
Danganronpa is a series that has been absent in my life for a good long time, after being so front-loaded with both its first two games releasing in 2014. I’ve been waiting so anxiously for there to be another mystery, another killing game, another endless and emotional deevolution of tension, I never stopped to think about how they could possibly up the past.
Welp. Danganronpa V3 figured it out. As we discussed in our roundtable conversation (which you should listen to if you’ve played the game) it’s difficult to discuss the true intricacies of Danganronpa V3 without really taking away from someone else’s experiences. But the game takes the extra step of looking inward, reflecting on its own content and its own presence in video games. It takes the ever-topical idea of a Battle Royale, and returns the mirror to the player’s face, in such an alarmingly clever way that you cease to understand how you could have doubted Team Danganronpa in the first place.
The game is excellent, and while it’s not perfect, and not the most succinct journey, it’s one that left my reflecting on the series in a way I’d have never expected before.
Number 7. Pyre.
Supergiant Games got me again. I loved Bastion so much, and I didn’t think I could like a game of theirs more than Bastion, but here we are.
Pyre amazes me in its subtle brilliance. When I think back to playing the brief demo of it I had at PAX East 2016, which, all things considered, was relatively lengthy for a convention-show demo, I fondly remember how immediately invested in that world I was. It’s a difficult thing to make someone care about a world, but Pyre does it almost immediately. Part of that is the way it gives you information on that world, and the other part of that is how it never sets up the world. You’re just in it, and you learn through context rather than exposition. It’s something excellently conveyed back in Bastion, but not nearly as well as it is here. Here, it’s masterful.
As the goings-on of the world slowly become more apparent to you, as you meet more of its inhabitants, it becomes ingrained in you that you want to win. No, you need to win. These Rites, the acts of fire that lead you from one point to the next, become wildly important, and what Pyre taught me was that I wasn’t going to win all of them. And I didn’t I lost some. I lost some very important Rites. And it cost me. But it was my story.
All of the things I did, my successes and my failures, in the world of Pyre, resulted in an ending that felt justified. One that had seemingly dozens of different permutations, and my time with those characters felt personal. My decisions weren’t always decisions, they were reflections of my confidence and performance as a player. And that is something truly inspiring. Pyre is unlike anything else I have ever played.
Number 6. Destiny 2.
I spent a ton of time with Destiny 2 this year. So much so that I went out and bought it again on Xbox One after maxing out two characters on PlayStation 4. I just love playing it that much.
Similar to what The Taken King did with me and the original Destiny, I fell deep into a hole of playing with friends and losing hours and hours to raiding. Spending time searching for a group and conquering Callus with my ragtag team of misfits was some of the most fun I had with video games this year, hands down. When we finally beat him it felt like a victory like no other.
Beyond that, grinding out events, shooting guns, getting exotics, and seeing the worlds of Destiny again, it was all a continuation of my time well spent in the original Destiny. I really love the time I spent there, and I can’t wait for more content for another excuse to go back.
Number 5. Cuphead.
Cuphead’s music is very good. It’s very good. I’m listening to it right now, as I right this. I’ve always found it difficult to get into jazz since there is no concrete starting point. Cuphead’s soundtrack has been that gift I’ve been looking for for that. It’s high-octane, high-energy tunes back one of the most stressful games of the year.
Cuphead leans into what aesthetic it seeks to capture, and it does more than just harken to it, it perfects it in video game form. As a huge fan of old cartoons, Cuphead’s loving tribute to every rubber-hose cartoon in existence is immaculate, lovingly crafted, and beyond precise.
Not only does it channel old-school aesthetic, but old-school design as well, creating a series of boss fights and levels that are wonderfully challenge and white-knuckle inducing like no other game was for me this year. It’s tons of fun to finish off a boss that’s left you hanging for days upon days, and the small modern addition of seeing which phase of the fight you were in when you died is brilliant. I adore Cuphead, and the hours and hours I spent with it were memorable and, in Cuphead’s own well, hella stylish.
Number 4. Tales of Berseria.
As a longtime Tales fan, I am very much aware at how much of a rut the series has been in for the longest time. It’s been a rough couple of entries, and with the longtime producer of the series Hideo Baba moving on to work on something new with Square, I’m sure there was a feeling of hopelessness for the series. But Berseria nails it. It brings it all back.
I think a fresh perspective is exactly what this franchise needed to make something new. Berseria is the first female-only-lead Tales game, and Velvet is a character that leads this antagonistic story with chilling success. While I think there is plenty of anime-nonsense in this game, it gets away from some of the series’ biggest ruts. It totally refreshes the combat, the exploration, and the mechanics of Tales in a major way, making it a massive standout in a year full of excellent Japanese games.
Its cast of characters also left a big impact. Tales is a series always rooted in colorful heroes, and playing the disjointed band of would-be villains is a total twist on the formula. Tales of Vesperia is the only title in the franchise with more memorable types in it, and from the battered unlucky pirate of Eizen to the half-demon Rokorou, Tales has a great mix for everyone.
I’m so happy to see this franchise in a great spot again, and I implore you: if you love JRPGs, please check out Tales of Berseria.
Number 3. Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice.
Hellblade too, is unlike any other video game I have ever played. I adore its experience and treasure it because it puts in me in the shoes of someone who is fleshed out and developed like few other characters this year. Senua is someone who succeeds, who fails, who is hindered, who is haunted, and that doesn’t even cover everything that is worth knowing about her.
What I love, also, about Hellblade, is how it never breaks from itself. The entire game is one single and continuous shot. Sometimes the camera pans away from Senua to see through her eyes, and at times it even shows only her face, in which a thousand stories are told by her eyes. It’s completely hypnotizing.
Hellblade is dark, is heavy, is beautiful, is horrifying, but is ultimately hopeful. And I adore it. I’ve only ever played two games all the way through with headphones on, and Hellblade is one of them.
Number 2. Persona 5.
Following up one of your favorite games of all time is a tall ask, almost as much as setting out to create a massive and sprawling trilogy like Mass Effect, or ask for all the time you have to give, like Destiny. But Persona is a different franchise. It feels almost as if it was crafted, by hand, for me, with the way it focuses around character, action, drama, and all the links in between.
Persona 5 follows up, infamously, my favorite title of all time, Persona 4. It takes the franchise in a completely different direction, laying out a new world, a new plot, and paving way for an entirely new step in the series, just like Persona 3 did before 4, and Persona 4 did before 5.
It succeeds. In almost every way imaginable, Persona 5 creates a new Persona that is maybe the best place to start in the series, and is unendingly exciting for fans coming back. While I don’t think it surpasses the emotions I felt with Persona 4, it creates something new and different. It’s about outcasts, about those who have never been accepted, and about pushing back against the way the world views them. And it nails it.
Persona 5 sets a totally different premise for the Persona series, and makes your hero, the you whose shoes you fill in Shibuya, feel far more present in the story. It’s more about agency and fighting back against something clearly corrupt and devoid of empathy, and it’s poignant, especially in a year like this. It also isn’t afraid to go for it, to address those issues head first, and to feel combative against a regime clearly held in place.
The Phantom Thieves are some of my favorite bands of heroes, and they channel the hero thieves of history’s past in both the literal and figurative sense. Just like in Persona before, this band becomes your found family, and while those relationships aren’t as strong as say, Persona 4’s, it’s undoubtedly a force of will and family that links and bonds you all together deeply.
Deep bonds, deep characters, and a deeper world maker Persona 5 one of the best Japanese developed games of the last few years, and maybe the best sequel to a game in a long time, regardless of its shortcomings. Persona 5 has got it all.
Number 1. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild.
Looking back at my experiences with games in a year like this is… different. It has a different kind of tone, a different context that elevates the general conversation. We’re all enthusiasts, we’re all press, and we all carry some level of cynicism with us. It’s necessary too, when video games is run as a vicious business that has a tendency to burn out every employee in its work and work them until they’re dried and nothing, both on the coverage end and on the development end. Those two ideologies are horrible, and make the industry seem juvenile to the outsider looking in, but what’s clear is the passion present on both sides. It’s vehement, and nuanced in its best case, and when everything adds up and meets in the middle, you find something truly special. Something without cynicism that reminds developers and players alike why games are so special, and why you can get lost in them.
I don’t know if any game has proven this to be more true than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
No name, no title, no idea perfectly encapsulates the execution of a project like this. Few games reach the altitude of highs that this title did, and whether that can be attributed to its development, of taking as much time as it needed and having the team take long stops to sit and just play the game in order to make it, and make it better. Or maybe it was the 100 hours that flew by in seemingly a heartbeat for me. I don’t know. I only know that this was one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had in games in my entire 20+ years of play.
The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild transformed how I approached an open world. Moreover, it was the first time when playing a big game like this that I never really felt overwhelmed. In fact, I was only ever enthralled, excited to climb every other mountaintop, to see what lies behind the next ridge, to dive into the next shrine, and to unravel the next mystery in Link’s memory. From its opening moments completely lost in the Great Plateau to the final moments meticulously combing over Hyrule Castle, I was completely encompassed in the world. I wanted to lift up every rock, climb every tree, and graze across every field.
Few games have left me longing to return like this one has. Like many other titles that have gone on to become some of my favorites in gaming of all time, I can feel that change in how I view video games as a whole. I love Breath of the Wild like no world and no Hyrule before or since. It’s an experience that I would give anything to relive, just one more time.
Finding the Master Sword. Stopping Ganon. Saving the world. Breath of the Wild’s is a world I want to save more than any other, because for me, that Hyrule is almost like a second home.