I broke down and wrote a list. 2017 was an incredible year of games. I enjoyed pretty much everything I played, so it was difficult as all hell to sit down and think about what are my favorite experiences of the year. Eventually, I had to ask a better question, what are the games that I think about a lot? What are the games that gave me benchmark experiences that I find myself measuring other games against? I had to go through more than two rounds of honing this list down, so there are a lot of great games that didn't make it. So here's my best list for games that came out in 2017 excluding re-releases and remakes.
#10 Fire Emblem: Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)
Okay, I know I just said I wouldn't be listing any remakes but, Fire Emblem Echoes is a bit of an oddball. It's a remake of the 1992 release, Fire Emblem Gaiden for the Famicon but, Gaiden was never released in The West so, I'm letting it slide on a technicality.
Fire Emblem Echoes earns its place on this list for its character work. Having compelling characters is a trademark of the Fire Emblem series but, there's something about the Echoes cast that was, even for a Fire Emblem game, very, very good. As opposed to Fates and Awakening, Echoes works on the ideology that less is more when it comes to character narratives. Support conversations were short and sweet but, always affecting. Especially when it came to the relationships between the characters. They felt more real than any of the characters in Awakening and Fates. Paired with stunning artwork, fitting music, and a well-refined gaming experience, Echoes has become one of my favorite Fire Emblem entries since the series' reawakening in 2012. I also appreciated the game's differences from traditional Fire Emblem games with dungeons and towns appearing in the game.
#9 The Long Dark (PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One)
Since I first experienced The Long Dark's terrifying silence, I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. As overdone as the Man vs Wild thing is in almost every media there is, it hasn't been a major focus for video games. Yes, the survival genre is expansive but most of the games don't focus on realism in the way that The Long Dark does. It's just you, the wilds, and the occasional animal. I find the Long Dark to be an extremely immersive survival experience. I felt very much in the role of my nameless survivor, scared, struggling to learn how best to keep myself alive.
#8 West of Loathing (PC)
West of Loathing is a clever deconstruction of open world games, like The Elder Scrolls series and The Witcher, set in a very non-traditional setting. West of Loathing did what it set out to do incredibly well. The puzzles were impeccable, the humor was successful, and the combat did exactly as it was supposed to. When I think of games that gave me a feeling of pure unadulterated joy, West of Loathing comes up pretty quickly. It was fun in a way that a lot of games try, and screw up terribly.
I also did an interview with the developers and came to a real feeling of respect for them and Kingdom of Loathing universe. The writing style of West of Loathing is admirable, light, and funny. (review available)
#7 Night in the Woods (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Night in the Woods represents a lot of things to me. It's well written, funny, campy, joyful and also sad in an overwhelmingly relatable way. It has the best LGBTQ representation of any major title I can remember, and it does this without feeling as though it is pandering towards the community.
As for the narrative, I can't say much about it without being spoilery but, Night in the Woods genuinely surprised me. The balance between the occult, the relentlessly mundane, and personal drama is something I wish I saw more in games. And this is to say nothing of beautiful, perfect Gregg, who I would commit crimes with any day. (review available)
#6 Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PS4, Vita, PC)
Oh, my heart for developer Nihon Falcom's latest installment of the long-running Ys series. Nihon Falcom is great at creating worlds which feel alive and, Ys VIII is no exception. Ys VIII starts with a shipwreck, you play as Adol as he wakes up washed ashore on a mysterious island.
Soon after you gain control of a settlement of the ship's passengers and crew named (rather uncreatively) Castaway Village. Ys is an incredibly satisfying game where exploration of the island is strongly rewarded and progression in the story means unlocking all sorts of optional areas. In Castaway Village, every one of the 21 odd citizens has their own interior life, well thought out motivations and relationships to one and other. In the 100+ hours I spent with the game, I enjoyed getting to know the other members of the settlement. I often feel like minor characters in RPGs ought to be a little more interesting than side characters. And Ys VIII fleshes out every character in the game pretty well.
Aside from that Ys is a game that is an exemplary action RPG. The combat was tight, not too complex, and not too simple. I had fun collecting items and filling out the world map. It was just a damn good JRPG worthy of anyone's collection.
#5 Battle Chef Brigade (PC, Switch)
Much like West of Loathing, Battle Chef Brigade is a game that represents pure joy for me. I talk about this more in my review but, Battle Chef Brigade was one of the strangest mashups of the year, mixing match-3 gameplay, Iron Chef, and a high fantasy setting. What else is there to say about this ridiculously charming game? I just love it. (review available)
#4 Doki Doki Literature Club (Just Monica- I mean, PC)
Doki Doki Literature Club is one of the most clever games of the year. Skip to 3 if you haven't played it, it's free and really good.)
DDLC builds up a strong foundation in the first few hours of the game. It's appears like a cutesy Dating Sim worthy of any otaku's collection, utilizing formula to assuage the player's inclination after the game's ominous initial warning, This game is not for children, or those who are easily disturbed. Though, thinking critically, you can see the moments where the narrative starts to stray over into darker themes, when Team Salvato pulled the rug from under you, it's completely out of nowhere.
The game's horror relies on playing off of the player's anxiety, like in Five Nights at Freddy's, utilizes your fear of fear of the horrible things, which will almost inevitable come. And I loved every moment of it. And goodness gracious, all of the breadcrumbs Team Salvato left, the lore you had to dig for, it was the best.
#3 Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Super Mario Odyssey is one of the purest examples of why video games are worth playing. It is shamelessly goofy, self-referential, colorful, and incredibly well thought out. Each level was expansive and had something new to discover behind every corner. Every time I went off the beaten trail, there was something for me to find, a collectible, or something new to see. The attention to detail was immaculate down to the smallest detail. From discovering if you threw your hat, the little shiba inu that reappears throughout Odyssey would chase after it to Mario dancing when you stand in front of a jukebox. Mario Odyssey was a delight for the senses and truly worthy of high praise.
Also, just a note, the festival level wins my vote for best level design of the year overall. That sequence was a perfect homage to the series and the fans who have loved Mario for over 20 years.
#2 Pyre (PS4, PC)
I struggle with how to contain my thoughts about Pyre to one paragraph. It's no exaggeration to say that this game leaves me a little bit at a loss for words. When I go to describe what kind of game Pyre is, I usually end up mumbling about blitz ball meets visual novel, meets the damn best choices matter storyline I've seen. In a year of stunning video games, Pyre still wins my vote for my favorite aesthetic of the year. The art style, voice acting, small animation details, gave me chills and continue to impress me as I dove in for a few minutes to write this paragraph. But, Pyre is #2 on this list because of its writing, which was the strongest of the year by far.
Pyre's story is a choices matter type narrative which follows the lovable, Nightwings as they engage in ritualized basketball in order to escape exile and expunge the history of what led to their exile in the first place. Every character in the game, even the captains of the other teams, had a story and a fleshed out past, the game took to prodding well, as you got to know each character, the game gave you more and more information about them and their motivations and the pieces hung together about as well as I've seen a game put a fractured story together. Because of this, the game has high replay value. You have to play multiple times to learn everything about the world. I appreciated this game's writing a lot and the soundtrack slaps. (review available)
#1 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U, Switch)
Breath of the Wild has so many things going for it. Visually and musically it is a stunning game, it handles well, and the combat is solid. But, the thing that is truly notable about the Legend of Zelda is the system the game is housed within. The things that characterize Breath of the Wild are how detailed its world is and how good moving around in that world feels. Like in real life, the BotW physics engine behaves as you would expect it to in any situation. Players could use this knowledge to manipulate physics in hundreds of ways which went against the way the game was intended to be played. The "chemistry engine" which dictates how things interact with each other is also similarly as close to perfect as a game has ever come. The way that the elements, weather, and various items act makes sense and there was always a new way to use something. Whether that was learning to attach balloons to things to get them to float or throwing fruits right into a fire to create baked dishes, the game worked in ways which were both expected but unusual for a video game.
Everyone who has played Breath of the Wild has some sort of story about how they did something in a way that no one else they've talked to has done it. There are things in BotW that could have seriously helped me in portions of the game that I didn't discover in time for them to be useful but, I valued the fact that I didn't have to do things in order. Open Worlds run into this problem where they aren't really as open as they seem. There's an intended way to play them and deviating from the script is possible but unforgiving as hell. Breath of the Wild can be, similarly, unforgiving but, the game is never unfair. I didn't discover the rubber armor before I had to fight Thunderblight Ganon, meaning he subsequently kicked my ass but, I beat him without knowing that armor set even existed.
Breath of the Wild embodies a certain kind of freedom that gamers long for and for that, I have no problem agreeing with the roves of other people who also give BotW the title of the best game of 2017. I've never played a video game that felt quite as expansive as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.