I definitely won’t be the first to proclaim, but certainly not the last, that 2017 represented a phenomenal year for gaming. Marked by a wealth of software from a diverse range of development teams to the release of the Nintendo Switch, the stars aligned for many regardless of the season of the year or the preferences of the gamer. I had tremendous experiences playing video games throughout the year, so much so that I unfortunately missed several titles that piqued my interest. In fact, multiple titles from 2017 topped many favorites from 2016! Before we head into 2018, I want to take a look back at some of the fantastic titles that defined the year and spread the joy to those interested in playing some of them.
I have not finished every game on the list, so I will quickly include estimated playtime to put my thoughts in context
EVERYTHING Kingdom Hearts (66+ Hours)
As fans continue to wait in agony for Kingdom Hearts III’s release, many settled to pick up Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue for the PS4, which includes Kingdom Hearts HD: Dream Drop Distance, HD cutscenes detailing events from Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover, and a special sneak peek into the gameplay mechanics of Kingdom Hearts 3 through Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage.
As a moderate fan of the Kingdom Hearts series, it was a nice treat to experience the fluid, parkour-centric battle system of DDD reimagined for the PS4 and witness a satisfying conclusion to Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep that ties up loose ends and provides a brief but compelling look at the future of Kingdom Hearts.
There is a decent chance that everything I just said flew right over your head (those titles certainly don’t help!) But perhaps it piqued an interest in Kingdom Hearts?
Thankfully another collection for the PS4 was also released: a combo of both Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and Kingdom Hearts 2.5, coming with
- Four HD-remastered games (Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep)
- Two sets of fully remastered HD cutscenes (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts: Re: Coded)
In other words, the entirety of Kingdom Hearts can be experienced on one platform.
And I strongly recommend it for those with even a hint of interest. Kingdom Hearts successfully meshes together specific RPG elements from the likes of Final Fantasy in congruence with a battle system prided on thrilling combat and player freedom. Traversing the various Disney worlds adds a layer of familiarity that provides glimpses into the universes of memorable Disney films and maintains a persisting wonder with every step of progression. Even if its combat appears mindless on the surface, each game provides a means of improving precision and skill in combat to prepare the player for greater challenges down the line, while maintaining the excitement expected from a hack-and-slash game.
Especially in the first collection, there exists such a high degree of worth in longevity that purchasing the collection to merely play one title is justifiable. In my case, I had played Kingdom Hearts, 358/2 Days, and Re: Coded some time ago, but never Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep. Put shortly, they were wonderful experiences that cleverly evolve the Kingdom Hearts formula to embrace its roots and provide the utmost fun for its players. If you haven’t checked out Kingdom Hearts before or want to fill in the gaps before Kingdom Hearts 3, these collections make the investment worthwhile.
Horizon Zero Dawn (30+ Hours) (NOT FINISHED)
Unfortunately, I did not pick up Horizon Zero Dawn earlier in the year to play through it in its entirety, but there were specific elements present that I feel deserve attention.
Firstly, the game’s technical achievements are simply unmatched. Aside from the lush environments and attention-to-detail, I adore the intrigue of a world in which humanity has reverted back to a tribal state in the face of dangerous technological beasts that roam the grounds and dominate the skies. Every landmark and every town I’ve visited thus far feels whole, infused with great purpose and lore. Many open-world games fail to achieve this gameplay-narrative balance, often resorting to uninspired fetch quests, but Horizon Zero Dawn establishes an interesting narrative with a wonderful protagonist by the name of Aloy.
Secondly, it has never felt so good to wield a bow. Paired with a set of other items (i.e. bombs and traps), every encounter with a mechanical beast arises excitement, as I ponder how to approach the enemy with the many options available to me, even only about ten hours in. While not completed, I know that the credits will be rolling across my screen when I return to playing it.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (10+ Hours) (NOT FINISHED)
Shovel Knight has amassed so much popularity within the past two years, but I decided to hold off on my purchase until most of its expansions came out. Luckily, it happened to be during an uneventful weekend in March that I bought Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove for the Nintendo Switch to see what the excitement surrounding it was about.
All in all, I found myself impressed with the content available. Having completed the main campaign and most of the first expansion, I cannot help but remain amazed at the way the playable characters derive challenge from their basic move sets and find themselves paired with rewarding gameplay that encourages players to take significant risks for greater amounts of treasure.
Additionally, the boss battles continue to remain my personal highlight, each marked with a unique mechanic that requires tactical approaches to each encounter given the expansive potential yet limited options available to the player. I’ll always remember the struggle I initially had with Plague Knight and his versatility, only to derive a more efficient method of dealing damage that required patience and quick thinking.
As a retro 8-bit side-scroller, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove sets out to revive the intricacies of its nearly washed-away genre and simultaneously blend in the innovation of its expansions and characters to fuel a charming experience for its audience. It pulls no punches and benefits tremendously from its longevity. With the end in sight for its downloadable content, there’s never been a better time to dig your way into this delight of a game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (“80+ Hours”)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is far from perfect. I could quickly name significant, glaring issues that I experienced throughout my playtime (and I plan to do so at a later date). I could choose to point out aspects of the game that feel like a step backward from previous entries. I could choose to quickly undermine the game for its performance issues. I could choose to define the game by its nitpicks rather than its achievements.
Yet it remains clear to me why I adore Breath of the Wild: I have never played a game that felt so natural, expansive, and breathtaking in ambition and execution.
Personally speaking, this feels like the first true open-world game ever created, due to the fact that a player can go nearly anywhere and everywhere once obtaining the required abilities of the Shiekah Slate and the essential tools such as the glider. The feeling that I can approach the game in whichever way I choose evokes the sense that I am carving out an adventure unique to myself and myself only, Even with the time constraints presented to me when I initially purchased the game, I derived immense entertainment through exploration that simply cannot be replicated by any other game on the market today. While I explored quite a bit of Hyrule in my playtime and finished the main campaign, I know there is so much more to discover, so much more to experience, and therefore I plan to fully re-embark in the game this coming year to experience it once again for myself.
To fully grasp the time I spent in Breath of the Wild relative to my total playtime, here’s a quick breakdown:
- I have only played Breath of the Wild over the course of six days on one of my save files account. Within five of those consecutive days, I amassed around fifty hours (averaging ten hours a day), and total have played around 53 hours on this single account
- The other thirty-or-so hours is on another account that I started, with the intention of finishing the game in its entirety (aside from Korok seeds).
- I have yet to play ANY of the downloadable content.
As many can see, I’ve got high hopes to return to Breath of the Wild this year, and I will undoubtedly invest much more time in 2018 than I did in 2017, a tremendous feat given how much of the game I’d played prior.
Anyways, there are many other people out there that have sung their praises, and a majority of my further comments would be mere retellings that speak to the quality of Breath of the Wild. As a robust and groundbreaking entry in the Zelda franchise, I’d easily consider it an essential for the curious and enthusiastic.
Nier: Automata (30+ Hours)
Out of all the games listed here, this one will likely be the most difficult one to disclose my reasons for its presence as one of my favorite games. Otherwise, I feel that I would ruin much of the surprise that makes NieR: Automata distinct from other games this year.
The game features a coherent infusion of several gameplay styles that maintain engagement in combat and bolsters the game’s replay value. Platinum Games, known for their bombastic action games, helmed the development of NieR: Automata and smoothly incorporated their expertise with addicting combat. Paired with the variety of weapons that can be upgraded, the modifications that can alter player stats, and the intrigue of the lore, one may find it difficult to pull away from the game after the initial investment.
However, Nier: Automata’s biggest accomplishment lies in its deep, thoughtful narrative and excellent atmosphere. Set in a time period where androids are employed to exterminate robots inhabiting Earth for the sake of humanity, the story is thematically rich, tackling ideas surrounding the raw nature of humanity and existentialism with excruciating depth. More impressive though is the fact that its execution remains uncompromised by its surrounding components.
For example, a major criticism of NieR: Automata involves the fact that enemy variety is extremely limited. Virtually all the time, you will be engaging in combat against a mechanical being of some sort, with the same general design aside from differing combat styles. Despite this, I feel that adding more enemy variety in terms of aesthetics would actually hamper the message attempting to be conveyed throughout the game, and I can appreciate the innate understanding on the part of the development team to craft something special.
Before I proceed, I must also mention that I love the way that Nier: Automata handles storytelling, but I’ll leave that for you to discover for yourself 🙂
Persona 5 (70+ Hours)
Okay, if you didn’t see Persona 5 coming onto my list, then I’ve only got one piece of advice for you all: wake up, get up, get out there!
Cringey jokes aside, Persona 5 had to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the year for me. Prior to playing it, I had dabbled within Persona 4 on the PS2 for a very brief period of time: enough to gain an understanding of the franchise, but not nearly sufficient to grasp its appeal. Now having completed the game in its entirety, Persona 5 has most certainly taken my heart.
There are three significant portions of Persona 5 that make up the entirety of its gameplay: the social simulation, the turn-based combat, and the dungeon exploration. And these subsets are intertwined in such a manner that requires the player to course their progression and manage their resources effectively to meet specific story deadlines. When not exploring the Palaces and Mementos scattered across Persona 5, you could be studying with friends, hanging out at the movie theater, participating in an eating contest, working part-time at a coffee shop…
However, I must stress that you have the capacity to do anything you want, but you cannot do anything you want. There are specific deadlines and responsibilities (although slightly lenient) that prompt careful allocation of your time to optimize your experience within the palaces. Depending on how you approach the game, you could find yourself deprived of the necessary means to progress throughout the game with efficiency, or breezing through the dungeons with ample time to develop relationships with other characters and prepare for upcoming trials.
In terms of the turn-based combat, you’ll find yourself wielding various beings called Personas, while disguised as the Phantom Thieves, in order to expose the malicious intentions of people throughout Tokyo. The primary focus of Persona 5‘s turn-based combat involves the exploitation of enemy weaknesses and negotiations. Concerning the latter, there are opportunities to negotiate with enemies that can result in recruitment or extra currency, given that you carefully pinpoint the weaknesses of enemies. In short, it’s addictive and groovy, only amplified by the outstanding soundtrack that kept me humming through every battle.
Of course, though, the main intrigue for me is the major theme of Persona 5: the maintenance of personal freedom and ambition against the face of a society guided by expectation and corruption. The dynamic of the young cast of main protagonists against the authority figures attempting to manipulate the younger generation is doubly inspiring and rad, tapping into my own personal values and philosophies and witnessing their manifestation throughout the narrative of Persona 5.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (15+ Hours) (NOT FINISHED)
Unfortunately, I have yet to finish this game in its entirety. For now, my intention is to start playing again when the next major Fire Emblem game is fully unveiled (sometime this year), but regardless I currently have fond memories of what I experienced.
The game’s mechanics can feel shallow at times with a concerning lack of mission variety and lesser choice of available classes and weapons. It was clearly developed with a smaller development window and/or lower development budget gave the slight downgrade in character models and arguably certain cutscenes. Despite all of this, I came out of my current experience feeling that with my limited experience of the series that it felt the most “Fire Emblem”, with the much stronger characterization of Alm and Celica driving the central plot forward and introducing new ideas that have the basis to become something grander in the future.
Regardless of a narrative’s simplicity, its characters can maintain player engagement within the plot given the necessary time and depth. Especially compared to the admittedly hollow plot structure and characters of Fire Emblem Fates, Fire Emblem Echoes shines in creating a striking cast. The smaller character roster of Echoes was instead supplemented with improved writing that reveals the intricacies of several personalities of my favorite individuals. Even now, I find that Celica and Alm are more resonate and realized within my eyes than the likes of Robin or Corrin, or a wealth of other characters from their games respectively. I truly want to witness the outcome of their actions, the perilous battles they face, their visions for the future, and that drove and will drive me to see the game through to the very end despite its flaws.
Splatoon 2 (100+ Hours)
Back when Splatoon released, it captured my imagination as one of the most inventive shooters of the last decade. Not only did Nintendo manage to develop a new intellectual property that was accessible for people of all ages, but it introduced an original territory-capturing/shooting gameplay style that fostered experimentation and paved the way for a competitive online tactical experience where every player has the capacity to contribute in a meaningful way, where every player is vital to success.
It was these qualities that led me to put approximately 220 hours into the original, and what will allow me to hit that same benchmark in Splatoon 2.
Retaining the familiarity of the original Splatoon as an ink-based shooter that has squid kids called Inklings battling it out in turf wars and competition, Splatoon 2 adds several new features and modes that expanded upon the core appeal of its gameplay. There are several new weapon types, including the dualies and umbrellas, with their own unique properties and functions, completely revamped special weapons and sub-weapons fine-tuned to maintain the game’s balance, and a new online mode called Salmon Run, involving a cooperative effort on the part of a team to collect salmon eggs and survive against hordes of enemies.
What I state might simply sound like an expansion, and in many ways it is. However, it is undoubtedly a sequel with its own style and its own identity. As my current playtime has already demonstrated, Splatoon 2 is addictive, exhilarating, and always satisfying amidst the victories and defeats. With content updates and in-game events maintaining the vitality of the game’s lifetime, I surely have couple more years before I get tired of Splatoon 2.
Sonic Mania (10+ Hours)
Regardless of the conflicting opinions surrounding the quality of Sonic games, most can agree that the blue blur has been suffering from an identity crisis. Found entangled between the lines of the classic and modern era, 2D and 3D platforming, and the balance between speed and precision, it’s difficult for anyone to accurately describe the current state of the series based on the games released within the past decade. Moving past the 25th anniversary, Sonic was in desperate need of some form of revival, a reaffirmation of what made Sonic a gaming icon from his inception.
Perhaps then, we should be appreciative that through a dream partnership between Christian Whitehead and SEGA, Sonic Mania was born, sporting the true classic side-scrolling action of the original games and crafting a love letter that humbly celebrates the origins of the franchise.
Even with the presence of many classic stages such as Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant, they are remixed in such a way, whether by adding a new stage element or introducing a new boss battle, that infuses mystique within the already stellar level design. Of course, all three playable characters control beautifully and easily adapt to the complex stages that are meticulously created to be completed with a variety of gameplay styles. Because there are a total of twenty-four main stages with multiple pathways and three characters, I have an innate desire to return to the game once in a while to see what secrets are hiding, or the fastest way to make it to the end of the stage.
Additionally, Sonic Mania‘s presentation captures the essence of the era that it intends to replicate: the prospects of a Sonic game within this style on the Sega Saturn. And it works beautifully, with the gorgeous pixel animation, jazzy soundtrack, and the breadth of creativity flowing through every level, especially a significant portion of the boss fights. Even the game starts off with an animated opening, which was hands down some of the best hand-drawn animation I witnessed in 2017, period.
As a great starting point for newcomers and a nostalgia trip for longtime fans, Sonic Mania satisfies the craving for retro platforming, featuring the fastest thing alive.
Super Mario Odyssey (35+ Hours)
Super Mario Odyssey is not necessarily a new direction for the Mario franchise, nor is it anything that deviates too heavily from prior installments, but rather it is a refreshing revival of the three-dimensional platforming genre that Super Mario 64 pioneered that takes full advantage of its clever concept and stronger hardware to create a seamless, rewarding experience gushing with creativity.
Super Mario Odyssey‘s novelty lies within its new ‘capture’ mechanic, which allows Mario to throw his hat (possessed by the sentient being of Cappy) to take control of enemies as a means of utilizing a new arsenal of abilities that augment specific elements of Mario’s move set. It adds a dynamic element to the overall gameplay experiences that keeps the pace going while remaining engaging, as you won’t find yourself scrolling through menus to determine the right abilities for the right situation: everything you require lies at your disposal.
Even if Super Mario Odyssey does not manage to top the awe of Super Mario Galaxy‘s limitless cosmos and grand scope, the game is trickled with various surprises throughout its sandbox worlds that manage to make Mario’s adventure feel ambitious. While certain areas suffer from a lack or realized potential, each kingdom maintains a distinct identity through its specific challenges and missions.
As the debut Mario game on the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey is the perfect title for those craving a finely tuned platforming experience that brings Mario’s 3D roots back to the forefront, in what I hope will become a sign for the series’ future as a whole.
Doki Doki Literature Club (5 Hours)
Before you all harshly judge me and make weird assumptions based on the thumbnail, I recommend you read the following description from the Steam webpage:
“The Literature Club is full of cute girls! Will you write the way into their heart? This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.”
A strange warning, correct? Yet it explicitly foreshadows the nature of this visual novel from a cutesy dating story focusing on three girls in the Literature Club to a disturbing episode that traps you within its psychological chamber of shock and horror. It also happens to be one of those games that’s quite difficult to discuss without ruining its appeal for those reading.
If it isn’t clear, Doki Doki Literature Club is an imposter; a deceptive tale that despite my full awareness of its horror aspect on a purely surface level managed to leave me terrified throughout my complete playthrough on a late evening in December with my surroundings clouded in darkness and my nervousness manifesting itself in my frequent occurrences of internal screaming and (although admittedly I get scared easily).
Just the fact that I was thrown for a loop multiple times throughout my brief playtime is my personal testament to the wit of the development team and their dedication to creating a wholesome experience that played upon our preconceptions. Put simply, it’ll mess with your reality and pull you into a twisted one filled with allegorical implications and burning questions. As a free game on Steam that can run on most normal computers, there is almost no excuse not to get a taste of Doki Doki Literature Club.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (70+ Hours)
I remember my excitement when I first played the original Xenoblade Chronicles on the Nintendo 3DS, and its immeasurable quality has placed it at the top of my favorite Nintendo 3DS games of all time. This was also likely the reason that I found myself heavily disappointed in 2015’s spiritual successor Xenoblade Chronicles X, which I felt ripped much of the soul and beauty of its predecessor while attempting to progress the series forward. Within this short timeframe, I craved another experience in line with the first Xenoblade: a story-driven odyssey of epic proportion with robust side quests and breathtaking art direction.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a true sequel that easily fills that very specific niche, revitalizing what makes the relatively new franchise so remarkable to this very day while attempting to distinguish itself from Xenoblade Chronicles as a refreshing experience.
One quick look at any trailer or screenshot and many will stare at the diverse, gorgeous world of Alrest, populated with sprawling beasts known as Titans with several species roaming its anatomy. With each featuring its own climate, government system, biodiversity, etc., I always felt driven to continue traversing each and every Titan that I came across to fully comprehend what every Titan had to offer. In a game that will take dozens of hours to accomplish, Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s ability to keep me hooked on these details alone is impressive.
However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t succeed in other areas. While the game touts a simple premise and end goal of the World Tree, there are enough twists and turns throughout the narrative to give me another reason to continue my quest. It is also aided by a relatively strong main cast, where each individual receives ample attention to expand their backstories and establish their motivations for journeying. This endearment for the characters extends onto the battlefield, where you will engage with team members and weapons known as Blades to take down enemies that you come across in a distinct battle system that requires attention to positioning and enemy weaknesses to triumph. While certainly flawed (something I will dissect in a future post), I cannot say that it ever grew dull on me within my seventy hours of playtime.
And to leave everything off on a high note, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 undoubtedly features my utmost favorite original soundtrack of 2017, bolstered by graceful orchestral backdrops and heart-pumping battle themes, easily capable of arising emotion within its players for the sheer beauty of its composition. In particular, Counterattack, Gormott Province (day theme), Mor Ardain – Roaming the Wastes, and especially the lyrical and non-lyrical versions of Drifting Souls still manage to encapsulate me in its melodies outside of the game itself as personal songs on a playlist.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 ensures its players a lengthy adventure filled to the brim with places to explore and quests to overcome, and it definitely lives up to the identity that the masterful Xenoblade Chronicles had once established.
Even now I look back and still find myself amazed that I enjoyed twelve games so much to the extent that I felt compelled to feature them on this post and provide a brief overview on its core mechanics and my personal impressions. What’s more, there are still other titles that were not mentioned here that are still worth checking out. I myself never got the chance to play Nioh or Cuphead, and have committed to purchasing these games in some capacity in the near future. However, I’ve still got some games to return to and finish all the way to completion, a daunting period of time that somehow brings me immense joy.
So I know some of you might be wondering, what’s my personal game of the year?
Well, to settle the score once and for all, my crown winner for this honor this year is…
Absolutely nothing. In fact, prior to writing this article I never even gave it a second thought. And at this point, I’d be hard-pressed to definitely choose a personal favorite knowing that it could instantly change on a whim depending on the hour. I’m dead serious: 2017 in the gaming world was phenomenal, and I hope to look back on it in the future as a golden year that pushed the industry forward.
I look to 2018, I only hope, yet feel confident, that this year can bring the same pleasure and captivation that 2017 managed to do for me. Already games like Marvel’s Spider-Man, Monster Hunter World, Detroit: Become Human, Kingdom Hearts III, Fire Emblem 2018, and a title featuring my favorite pink puff-ball, spark my curiosity and seem to offer wholesome experiences that either evolves on convention or pave the way for innovation. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for these games alongside the sleuth of new indie titles sure to find new ways to provide entertainment.
Either way, it’s never been a better time to be a gamer, and it’s never been a better time for anyone to get into gaming. Without a shadow of a doubt, 2017 reaffirmed this notion that is sure to last for years upon end, and I am truly appreciative of the dedication on behalf of the game developers who crafted such intricate experiences in a medium unlike any other.