Shadow’s Six – Best of 2017

It’s that time of year again. The time when we look back on the year and decide – in some strange arbitrary fashion – which games reign supreme!

Today we’ll be revisiting the realms we’ve explored, reminiscing on the rivals we vanquished, scrutinizing the structures we built (and destroyed), deliberating about the dungeons we discovered, and judging the year’s journeys. Who will survive all of this speculation and come out on top?

This was a year that featured a new console; new entries in many long-standing franchises including Mario, Persona, Assassin’s Creed and more; entirely new IPs; and even the birth of a new genre. Many exceptional games will fail to make the cut, but for those who do… the glory will be all the sweeter. So without further delay, it is time for me to reveal the best games of 2017.

Honorable Mention: Tales of Berseria

With how amazing 2017 was for games, it has impossible to fit every game I wanted to give credit to into this list. There were a lot of games that didn’t quite make the cut, but when looking back over my reviews and thoughts for the year, I was reminded of just how much I loved Berseria when it came out.

The game’s combat fixed all of the many flaws its predecessor had, and featured some of the most clever character design I’ve seen in a long time. This was a story I was sad to see end, and I hope that the team behind it takes inspiration from all that they did well here when making future games in the series. So while Tales of Berseria isn’t quite in my top 6, it was close enough that I felt it was important to mention it.

6) Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

This might be the first time I’ve ever put an expansion in my Game of the Year running, but Stormblood deserves it. They took the opportunity here to lower the barrier of entry for the game a lot, by reducing the burden on people to level multiple classes and by allowing people to pay to skip to current content, if they so desire. In an MMO with as heavy a story burden as Final Fantasy XIV, the ability to skip to just being able to play with your friends is an extremely valuable one, especially since you are still able to go back and relive the story if you wish to catch up.

Additionally, they’ve continued to refine the game in all areas. Stormblood is the prettiest Final Fantasy XIV has ever been, and it was already one of the best looking games on the market. The dungeons are clever, with unique aesthetics, interesting stories, and fun mechanics. The game’s end-game is more satisfying than ever as well, with some of the game’s fights being among the best I’ve played in any MMO. I particularly love the Halicarnassus fight, which plays with expectations and breaks the fourth wall in a clever way.

5) Fortnite

Fortnite is a game I’ve been awaiting for a long time, eager to see how Epic created their ‘base-building post-apocalyptic zombie-shooter’. Now that it’s available, albeit as an Early Access title, I am thoroughly impressed. Fortnite’s core game mode, called the ‘Save the World’ mode to differentiate it from the Battle Royale mode they’ve recently added, is a mission-based squad zombie shooter that lets you run around destroying a mostly-abandoned city to your heart’s content, in search of zombies to kill, loot to harvest, and people to save. Once you’ve had your fill of destruction and exploration, you then get to build up defenses to protect an objective or serious of objectives based off of the mission. You also get your own persistent home base that you can build and customize however you want, setting up permanent mazes of traps and platforms to help you withstand zombies whenever you choose to participate in one of the game’s Stormshield events. Oh, and you get pinatas shaped like llamas that give you sass when you break them.

What really elevates Fortnite into contention here is that they weren’t content to just sit on their laurels and work on this one game mode. They also took inspiration from the new genre of the year, the ‘Battle Royale’ genre, and created their own take on that. Keeping the basics – 100 players, 1 winner, randomized gear drops – they used the unique elements of their own game and made something truly special. While the genre is not my personal favourite to play, it is a glorious spectator experience and Fortnite is the best the genre has to offer in my eyes right now. With both game modes being this polished, the game definitely deserves its place here.

4) Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games took a step out of their comfort zone, and it paid off. Horizon’s unique take on the ‘Apocalypse’ offered one of the most engaging histories of any world I’ve ever stepped foot into, alongside some of the most interesting exploration content. The game kept me guessing about just what had happened to lead to where we were today, and how the past could possibly be still relevant. Of particular note were the game’s ‘Vantages’ – beautiful views that offered their own side-story related to, but not mandatory for, the core story in a wonderful way.

Horizon also fires strong on all cylinders as far as gameplay goes. The shooting is easily in the same tier as the recent Tomb Raider games, offering an archery experience that simply feels good to use. The machines you fight are majestic and terrifying, and hunting them is exhilarating.

The gradual progression creates a vibe reminiscent of horror games at the start, which builds into something truly special and unique as you gain the most important weapon of all: knowledge. As you learn, you become able to handle even the mightiest of machines with relative ease… but in those early days, even something as simple as a mere Scrapper is nerve-wracking.

3) Persona 5

Persona 5 is the most stylish game I have ever played. I have never played a game as cohesive and coherent as Persona 5, with every facet of the game playing up its core theme admirably. And, its theme is one most can relate to – the concept of society as a ‘prison’; the concept that we’re all held back by the restrictions society imposes upon us. While Persona 5 takes it to an extreme, it is certainly a concept that should resonate.

Regardless of whether we’re talking visuals, gameplay, story: it all ties into that theme. Your entire team even brands themselves as “Phantom Thieves”, and all of the game mechanics tie into that well. Whether it be your map mobility – jumping from shadow to shadow in pursuit of the perfect ambush – or the holdup mechanics tied to acquiring items, money and new persona… every facet of the game is tied together under its core concept.

Also noteworthy is Persona 5’s cast, a number of whom are among my favourite characters of the year – and one in particular is one of the best characters of all time in my eyes. Each character has relatable problems, and the dialogue at every step feels natural. Discussions about mid-terms or the latest movies and the like permeate the fantasy elements of this game with just the right frequency to feel appropriate… and it helps ground the game, making the more absurd fantasy elements easier to swallow overall for those who might not typically be fond of JRPG tropes.

2) Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

What happens when you take one part JRPG, one part Metroidvania, one part Base Defense, and mix it together with a clever time-bending story? Well, the answer is clearly the runner up to GotY this year. Lacrimosa of Dana impressed me from the start with its fast-paced gameplay and unique mechanics… but it wasn’t until I was 20-30 hours deep that I really started recognizing just how clever the game was overall. Metroidvanias are usually shorter games – because eventually you run out of new special powers to give to players and then you start wanting to just get things wrapped up. Lacrimosa of Dana subverts that by tying it to a longer JRPG, allowing more time with each of the game’s various abilities and more opportunities to explore.

The game’s fast-paced, responsive combat is the perfect compliment to an exploration system. As a result of the crisp, responsive movement and combat, you are never punished too harshly for stumbling upon places above your level – as long as you’re smart enough to run away. The distinct ways in which each character plays makes for a near-endless supply of variety to enjoy, and the rock-paper-scissors combat system encourages you to take advantage of it to the fullest.

The game’s focus on small stories amidst this grand historical epic is one of the biggest reasons the game works so well. You find yourself having reason to care about every castaway, beyond the obvious ‘more people means more areas you can explore’… and thus you end up caring about everything from completing sidequests to saving Castaway Village from rampaging monsters… and it creates this wonderful sense of tension as you gradually explore the island, returning to town to resupply or to respond to emergencies.

 

We’ve talked about six amazing games here, each one deserving of recognition. Picking this #1 spot was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made for Game of the Year. Any one of the top 3 could have easily been given this spot and I would’ve been perfectly content with the list. Realistically, any of the top four could have been a contender for Game of the Year among almost any other year’s releases. That being out of the way… what is Shadowed Blade’s Game of the Year pick?

1) Nier Automata

This was such an amazing year for Japanese games. We’ve already highlighted four Japanese games above, and we’re ending on a strong note with a fifth. Nier: Automata was a game that I was definitely excited for, but had tried hard to keep my expectations in check. The first Nier was a wonderful mess, but it was still a mess. However, Nier: Automata elevated the concept so far beyond what the first had to offer that a niche single player RPG about existential crises has become one of the most critically well-received games of the year.

Nier: Automata is a game that excels in so many areas, offering a fascinating and deep story, vast layers of customization, along with some of the most exciting and dynamic combat I’ve ever played. I felt all-powerful for most of my time in Nier: Automata, yet the game’s challenge was such that even Gods could bleed, and there were definitely moments where I died horribly. But when things went right… I was unstoppable. And it felt amazing.

There is one thing I highlighted in my review, but I also want to touch on here because it was so special to me. Nier: Automata, unlike so many other games, was not afraid to let me move fast. All the time. Some games even force you to have awkwardly short stamina bars to limit your ability to run… not Nier. Nier gives you high movement speed, the ability to endlessly run, and then adds the ability to move even faster if you equip the speed boost chips. It was liberating, and the satisfaction of running like that with crisp controls and blinding speed stuck with me. It may be a small things… but Nier: Automata wins this prestigious award precisely because it didn’t skimp on the small things. Many games do ‘the big stuff’ right. Very few do so without sacrificing the little details along the way.

 

Well, now that that’s done, were there any big surprises? Anything you expected to be here that wasn’t? And what of your GotY lists? Feel free to share your own picks in the comments below!