For me, 2017 was a surprising year for video games. Over the course of a year, I can usually pinpoint one or two games that really defined that year. Maybe I’ve become overly picky. However, 2017 shattered my expectations with multiple surprising titles.
Below is a small list of my favorite games from 2017, though it could easily get bigger if I go back and play some of the games I didn’t have the time for. These won’t be any particular order; putting them in any type of ranking would be incredibly difficult!
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
After waiting for Atlus to finish milking Persona 4 to death, Persona 5 finally released in 2017. With so much hype surrounding the game, I was somewhat expecting the game to fall flat on its face or be too similar to its predecessors. True, Persona 5 does follow the same formula of high school student by day, Shadow slayer by night. However, the formula has been tweaked to near perfection. The battle system is a blast to play. And though I’m far from a teenager anymore, the cast of characters is fantastic and very much relatable. Though I’m not sure if I valued the story and music as much as Persona 3 or 4, I still enjoyed both immensely.
DanganRonpa V3: Killing Harmony
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC
At first, I didn’t want to include this game on the list. If anything, I was thinking of referring to it as an honorable mention. DanganRonpa V3: Killing Harmony, at a glance, felt very much like “been there, done that.” Once again, a group of gifted teenagers are thrown into a situation where they are forced to murder each other in order to escape. Even Monokuma was back, this time with his Monokubs.
But then Monokuma pulled the rug out beneath me and beat me with it. The game, like most games in the series, plays with your expectations. The core of the gameplay, the class trials, are mostly the same except with some interesting new additions and mini-games. If anything, I really wish there was a quick-travel feature for exploring the school. But the heart and the soul of DanganRonpa V3, no, the series, are the story and characters. I’m not even finished with it yet, but I had to fight back tears at work because of how it made me feel. And if a game can make me feel so intensely, it deserves to be on this list.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Developer: Ninja Theory
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
I didn’t really know anything at all about Hellblade until a friend mentioned it around release time. A woman on a quest through the afterlife to save her lost love set in Norse mythology sounded somewhat intriguing, but I don’t think I truly fell in love with the game until I put on a pair of headphones. The sound design is phenomenal. The main character, Senua, hears voices in her head, and these voices range from supportive to antagonizing. With the use of binaural sound design, these voices float all around your head. Sometimes, a voice would speak directly into your ear, giving me the shivers.
So, Senua hears voices. Does the game use her mental illness as a cheap gimmick? Actually, no. While her mental illness is portrayed throughout the game, it is merely a vehicle she uses to interact with the world. People misunderstand her. But her mental illness doesn’t define who she is. With proper research, I feel as though Ninja Theory created a strong character that doesn’t rely on negative stereotypes to push the envelope.
Though the game is short, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is easily one of my favorite games of 2017 for its beautiful sound design and strong female protagonist.
Doki Doki Literature Club
Developer: Team Salvato
To be fair, I played this game near the beginning of this year, but I really should have jumped on it when it released last year. Doki Doki Literature Club is far from what it seems. I really didn’t know what I was getting into, especially with the secretive manner people speak about it. In a sense, it felt like its own club: people had this unspoken agreement to not spoil the game for others.
With that being said, describing Doki Doki Literature Club without spoilers is difficult. As the name implies, the game centers around a literature club. As the main character, you are dragged to the new literature club by your childhood friend, Sayori. You meet three other girls in the club: Natsuki, Yuri, and Monika. From there, the game plays like a typical visual novel dating sim, with different routes and CG screens for each girl.
I won’t say much more. Doki Doki Literature Club eases you into a false sense of security, especially if you are already familiar with the genre, and yanks the rug and the carpet below it right from under you. For a visual novel, it pokes fun at itself and the genre in so many creative ways. Though it only took me a few hours, I was totally sucked into the plot. Even the music, which starts out upbeat and whimsical, eventually deteriorates into a haunting and unsettling soundtrack.
Doki Doki Literature Club is free on Steam, but I would highly recommend supporting the game by also purchasing the Fan Pack. Not only are you supporting the developer, you also get access to the soundtrack and a behind-the-scenes digital art book as well!
Tales of Berseria
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
I looked forward to Tales of Berseria with a heavy heart. The previous game in the Tales series, Zestiria, had disappointed me. I didn’t necessarily hate it, but the disjointed storytelling and awkward battle system didn’t compel me through the game. I was especially sad since the previous games in the series, Tales of Xillia 1 and 2, were such great games.
Throwing in the fact Berseria is a direct prequel to Zestiria, I wasn’t very excited. Oh how I was proven wrong. If anything, Tales of Berseria ranks in my top favorite games of the series, maybe even RPGs in general. With a strong female protagonist, a great supporting cast, and one of the darkest plots in the series, I was instantly absorbed. Berseria did such a great job reintroducing a world I was disappointed in, I even felt like giving Zestiria another chance. Not only that, the battle system was among the best in the series.
A new Tales game hasn’t been announced in awhile, but whenever it happens, I hope Bandai Namco takes what they learned from Berseria and applies it in full force in their next title.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platform: Nintendo Switch
If you know anything about me, I have a long history with the Xeno franchise. I started with Xenosaga, leaped back to Xenogears, and then waited with bated breath for Xenoblade. Depending on the type of fan you are, some people completely divide Xenoblade away from the other games. With an emphasis on gigantic and beautiful environments, a ridiculous amount of sidequests, and less of a philosophical journey as the other games, it is clear why people like to disassociate Xenoblade from the rest of Xeno.
However, each Xenoblade, to me, is a slow burn that usually leads to a brilliant flame. Granted, that slow burn can sometimes take maybe 70 hours, but the gorgeous scenery and even better music usually helps. The same themes are usually there but more subtle or buried deep within the game.
I’m going to share an unpopular opinion: I liked Xenoblade Chronicles X more than the original. Yes, boo and hiss. Maybe I was blinded by the more sci-fi roots and giant robots. Maybe I was too caught up in the winks and nods to older Xeno titles, such as Xenosaga, Mechanically speaking, it did do several things right but also some things wrong (why do I need to track down a character to add them to my party? Why can’t I just call or text them?). However, I was truly absorbed in the world of Mira and the cast of characters, which I enjoyed much more than the cast of the original game. And though the music was drastically different, I still loved it.
Get to the point already: How does Xenoblade Chronicles 2 stack up? The game travels back to its roots with a more cinematic story taking place on the back of giant titans, this time more than two. Characters are now divided into two distinct classes: Drivers and Blades. Blades are support characters who are gathered by gathering various core crystals and trying to bond them to a Driver. Because there was a specific Rare Blade I wanted, KOS-MOS from Xenosaga, I truly hated how random the process was, especially when using a Legendary Core Crystal led to a Common Blade. But once I finally found her, on the last chapter no less, my hate dissolved.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 takes a decent battle system established by the other games and makes it one of the most complex and fun battle systems I’ve played in an RPG. Sure, the tutorials don’t really help at first, but half of the fun came from fighting random enemies and experimenting combo attacks on them. If you aren’t careful, you will be killed by an enemy way out of your league, which has been a staple of the series since the original. But it is oh so satisfying when, 70 levels later, you are finally capable of taking down the super powerful monster that relentlessly murdered you 100 hours earlier in the game.
This is starting to sound like a review, so let me cut myself short. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is one of the best games of 2017. It builds on its predecessors and delivers an overall amazing experience. It might even be my favorite game in the Xenoblade series.
And this is just the list of games I played. There are several other games from 2017 that I have yet to play. After my brother gushed about Nier: Automata, I think I will put that on my list of games to play.
As far as 2018 is concerned, it has a lot to live up to. I’m mainly looking forward to Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. That’s it. However, if 2017 taught me anything, I’m always up for surprise gems!