Okay, let’s get one thing strait before I start: this is not a “best of” list. I haven’t played nearly enough of the big games that came out this year to feel truly comfortable making that kind of list. This is just a few games I played this year I either missed the chance to talk about or want to remind people about because they left an impression upon me like few other games did this year.
If you know me then you probably know that I fucking LOVE Dark Souls. The original game still ranks among my all time favorite games and I even wrote my first editorial for this site crediting it with my current school success, and now that I’m interning a real university, I still feel the same way about it. But even with all the acclaim I heap upon it, after four games (yes, including Demons Souls too) of medieval fantasy, I was hoping someone would take the formula in another direction. Take the core game play that I loved so much and move it somewhere new, like what From Software ended up doing with Bloodborne. Thankfully for me Team Ninja did just that with Nioh.
Nioh is everything I could have wanted and more. The game is every bit as challenging and rewarding as Dark Souls, but with a faster and overall smoother combat feel that felt almost more akin to Bloodborne but with more defensive options that made Dark Souls battles so tense. On top of that, the game is simply layered with complexities that you can ignore, but added so much more depth than anything any of the Souls games ever had. Three Stances for each weapons, seven types of hand to hand weapons, elemental damage, magic and ninjutsu skills, and on top of that, something like 20 different guardian spirits offering different bonuses. Add to that the beautiful Japanese setting that mixed real life historical events with Japanese mythology, and you have the first non-From Software game to truly equal the Souls games. Nioh truly feels like Team Ninja studied everything From did, then made a game using the best parts from every game, yet they still managed to give the game it’s own personality.
2) Persona 5
I wanted Persona 5 since before I knew there was going to be a Persona 5. I jumped on the Persona bandwagon with P4 on the PS2, then went back and played 3. Those two also near the top of my all time favorite games list. But each one has a pretty major flaw. P4 has a great story, but it takes forever to get going and a lot of the dept was lost in the years since P3. Persona 3, on the other hand, had the dept I wanted, but you could only control one party member which I hated and the real story didn’t even begin until you were ¾ done with the game. And Tartarus was a simply boring dungeon.
Persona 5 feels like the best of both worlds. The story is fantastic, and while it is still slow the game opens with a bang and keeps things at a much more reasonable pace. Like with Persona 4 each dungeon is a representation of it’s master/boss, but the fact they were all hand made make each one infinity more interesting and memorable than they were in the previous game. The game wasn’t perfect; I like everyone else didn’t appreciate Morgana constantly telling me to go to bed, but in the end the best thing I can say about the game was that it was 100 hours long and it never felt its length to me. And that opening theme was a jam.
3) Dusk Episode One
I haven’t gotten to episode 2 just yet, which may be the only reason it’s not here. But as far as Episode One is concerned, I cannot recommend this enough. It’s as old school as it can get yet never feels dated, which is a true triumph of game design. And yes, if you red my review you know a large part of my love of the game is that it gave me the chance to take pot shots at the kinds of backwards-thinking renecks I grew up around, and I do like taking potshots and backward-thinking redneck troglodytes.
4) Bear With Me
I think Episode One of this came out last year, but Episodes 2 and 3 were released in 2017 and….god damn do I love this game. I don’t want to say too much because I still have a review for Episode 3 coming out, but if you like point and click games, I highly recommend Bear With Me. This is the game I could nit-pick the easiest, but for all the issues I had with it I never once fell out of love with the game.
At first mention, a roguelike tribute to Mega-Man doesn’t sound like the best idea. But since getting the game it i’ve found 20XX nearly impossible to put down. What makes it so good is that the game does two things i’ve never seen another roguelike do: 1) It actually manages to tutorialize new concepts. When a new trap or platforming mechanic was introduced, it was always introduced in a way that made it feel like there was some genuine level design at play instead of having the typical roguelike issue of simply having to try your luck when something new is brought in.
The second thing it does is have a consistent difficulty curve. In most other roguelikes a really good or really bad run near the start can make the best of the game either too easy or too hard. While 20XX only has three level types, new enemies types are introduced as you go and bosses have new challenges as you put the off. So a boss that might be super easy if you fight them first can become a pain in the ass if you wait too long to fight them. If nothing else, I home more roguelike devs take note of this and try incorporating some of it’s ideas into their games.
6) Little Red Lie
Like I said in my review “Little Red Lie isn’t a fun game. Hell, it’s not even a pleasant one. But it is gripping, engaging, and honest.” It’s a game that took me way too long to get through as it was so damn heartbreaking that I couldn’t stand to play it for more than an hour at a time. If you’re into interactive fiction, go get Little Red Lie.
7) Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
The only thing holding me back from saying that Yacht Club Games are the best indie developers currently working is the fact that they have technically only made one game. However, both peaces of Shovel Knight DLC are full games in their own right and change things up so drastically that to call them merely DLC feels like an insult. Here the team took a platformer and made it feel almost like a rhythm game and continued their tradition of wordlessly conveying a relationship using the same core mechanics are the rest of the game. I cannot wait for the last expansion but i’m even more excited to see what this team does next.
It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.
(I Played on PS4, so it counts)
9) Cosmic Star Heroine
As it is with many of us, I love me some Chrono Trigger. It’s one of my all time favorite RPG’s, and as an RPG guy, that makes it one of my all time favorite games. Cosmic Star Heroine reminded me of Chrono Trigger in the best of ways. My biggest complaint with the game was that it felt like it was made for a mobile platform and I was playing it on PC.
10) Hollow Knight
I’m not going to lie, in a year where I was more productive this would have been relegated to an “honorable mention”. I took me a while to warm up to the game, and it never quite resonated with me the way it did with other people. The early hours had too much grinding and it is obviously trying to get by on the admittedly beautiful artwork and music. But after a while, around the time you get the dash I did start to see enjoy myself. I’m sure this is going to end up on a few “best of” lists, and I don’t fault anyone for that, but personally I don’t think it ever got to be that good, but i’m not upset that I put time into Hollow Knight either.