The Games I Loved in 2017

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.

1) Nioh

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.

5) 20XX

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.

8) SuperHot

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.

Lab Notes #5: Alpha and Beta or Attack of the Demos

Lab Notes #5: Alpha and Beta or Attack of the Demos

Before we start: yup, still been playing Dark Souls 3: gotten to Anor Londo, but that’s not the point of this post. No, this has been the week of Demos. I spent the first half of the week playing the Nioh Alpha. You can find my thoughts on that HERE, but the basic points is that it’s pretty good, but there are way too many one hit kills throughout the game. It’s looking like the game will live up to it’s unofficial title of “Samurai Souls”. So far it’s not quite as good as the original Dark Souls, but I found the demo well worth my time and am looking forward to the full release.

I’ve also spent most of my free time today playing the Overwatch Beta. I have to say, i’ve not been as into this one. The “hero shooter” thing is a great idea, but i’ve yet to find a character I really enjoy playing as, and the lag can get insufferable. At one point is was so bad I couldn’t leave the room I spawned in, other times the game just wouldn’t spawn me in. I really hope Bilzzard fixes a lot of these issues before the game releases, because as of right now the game is barley playable. When things are working then it’s fine, if underwhelming, but that’s too often not the case. I haven’t spent enough time with it too do a full write up, but i’ll have some footage up on my YouTube channel sometime this week.

And that’s it: see you next week

Nioh Alpha Demo Impressions

I’ve been saying for a while now that i’ve wanted to see a Dark Souls like game set in a non western setting, so when I heard about Team Ninjas “Samurai Souls” game Nioh I was interested right from the start. After spending a few hours with the Alpha Demo, I’m reasonably happy with it. Although there are a few ideas I hope either change or get nerffed altogether, I enjoyed most of my time with the game even though i’ve never been much of a fan of Team Ninja’s other work.

Unfortunately the demo didn’t start off on it’s best foot. Nioh seems to be taking Dark Souls’ lack of sign posting to a simply ludicrous degree. Upon starting the game I fought another players phantom thinking it was a tutorial enemy. It took me way too long to figure out that wasn’t the case. It also took too long to figure out the games controls. I’ll admit that it’s been a while since i’ve played an action game where you primarily use the face buttons to attack so maybe it was my fault my first few deaths were due to me doing nothing but running around like an idiot, but I still feel like there should have been something there to teach players how to not die. Another thing that needs a change is the number of one or two hit kills enemies have. Even as I was gearing up to fight the boss at the end of the demo basic enemies could still kill me in no time. Not even in the Dark Souls way were you have to pay attention or risk death, I was literally getting killed in one hit from the first few foes even after a few hours in. This is bullshit. There’s really no other way too put it. But as much as that pissed me off, once I got use to how the game played, I rather enjoyed myself.

New weapons and armor drop rather frequently, pushing the player to switch between Swords, Axes, Spears and Hammers often. On top of that there are three different stances with light and heavy attack that change damage output, stamina usage and attack speed. While there are wet-stones that can repair weapon durability, I hardly found myself using them. The constant switching of weapons, armor and stances kept the combat interesting as I could never quite get comfortable with my current equipment.

Enemy encounters play out in ruffly the same way as they do in dark souls: you want to draw out enemies and fight them one on one as groups can easily overwhelm you. However, there are too many times when the game forces you into fighting multiple opponents at once. With only a limited block that’s easy for groups to flank around and a dash as your only defensive options, these encounters become increasingly more frustrating. Luckily the combat itself was rather enjoyable once I had a real understanding of how to play the game. Just like you the AI enemies all have a visible stamina meter under their health that you can use to your advantage, just like they can do to you. When stamina runs out you and the enemies have a short period where you can’t move as you recover. If you hit the enemy with a heavy attack you can do what amounts to a visceral attack that does massive damage. Be careful though, as your enemies will also pull this trick should your stamina deplete.

As you progress you also unlock new skills for each weapon as well as magic abilities and secondary throwing items. The weapon skills add something of a combo system to the combat, making the game play more like a mix between Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden had Ninja Gaiden not been a pile of wank. Magic abilities so far are more like limited use Resins, but I found them rather useful, even if a little cumbersome to use. Once you unlock the ability to use magic, bombs or shurikens you then have to go back to a shrine (the games version of a bonfire) and equip it. And should you upgrade these skills to give yourself a higher allotment, you then have to go back and make sure the upgraded skill is equipped. For skills with divergent upgrade paths, like adding poison or fire to shurikens this makes some sense, but why on earth would I not want more earth or fire magic as soon as I upgrade it?

As dumb as this may sound, those shrines are possibly my favorite change from Dark Souls. Not only can you do the usual stuff like level up and attune magic, but there are a few new ideas that I really enjoyed. Scattered throughout the game world are lost deities that you can send back to the shrine for in game bonuses to choose from. You also have the option to change your “guardian spirit”, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly that did so I choice not to mess with it. But the best part of the shrine was the “make an offering” option. Here you can sell old or useless equipment for the currency used to level up (I never did learn what that was called), but you also get gifts regularly as well. So while only 3 life restoring Elixir are replenished after death, I had a full stash of 10 for most of my play time after selling junk I wasn’t going to use, whist keeping competitive equipment on reserve for when my current stuff began to break, then I’d sell that off and the cycle began anew.

As of right now, not everything the game has to show for itself works in its favor, but I had fun and with a few tweaks I can see this becoming the first real Souls-like competitor to really rival From Software’s beloved series.