2017 is widely regarded to have been a very good year for game releases, and it’s not hard to see why. The year was replete with universally acclaimed games, including the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, described by many as one of the best games ever made. The problem facing most people, though, is finding the time and money to keep up with all of these new games; particularly as the current trend is for role-playing games (my favourite genre) to get longer and longer.
I played a number of truly awesome games in 2016 (including The Witcher 3, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Last of Us, and XCOM 2), and it was always going to be hard to top that in 2017. The pressure of life events, combined with a large backlog of games I wanted to play, meant that I didn’t have time to play all of 2017’s major releases, and so Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, and Resident Evil 7 have all been pushed into my diary for 2018.
Through sheer dedication and hard work, I actually managed to complete more games than in 2016 (21 instead of 17), but the mean average score I gave in 2017 was 7, while the average in 2016 was 8. So, the games I played in 2017 weren’t quite as good, even though the schedule of new releases was much stronger. I also didn’t give any 10s to games in 2017.
So, with the caveat that I haven’t yet played several of the top games that came out last year, here is my list of the best games I played in 2017.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013, Nintendo 3DS)
My score: 9/10, Metacritic 91/100
I did play one Zelda game in 2017, though it wasn’t the one that featured on most GOTY lists. A spiritual successor to Super Nintendo favourite A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds was a reinterpretation of the classic Zelda formula. Its novel item rental system marked a welcome change from the franchise’s traditional structure, while charming graphics, sound, and a gentle difficulty ensure the whole game felt light and refreshing. At twenty hours or so, its campaign was fun, often ingenious, and never threatened to outstay its welcome. For much of the decade after Ocarina, it felt like Nintendo were just making the same Zelda game over and over, but A Link Between Worlds started a process of reinvention which contributed to the resounding success of Breath of the Wild.
4. Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017, PlayStation 4)
My score: 8/10, Metacritic 71/100
Mass Effect: Andromeda had a fairly hostile reception, largely due to a series of technical problems including broken facial animations. Most of these were fixed in a series of post-launch patches, so playing the game now, it’s hard to know what all the fuss was about. Andromeda was an ambitious attempt to reboot the Mass Effect franchise in another galaxy, and even if it wasn’t entirely successful, it was still an enjoyable game. Excellent combat, a decent story, and just enough heart and conviction meant Andromeda was one of the more rewarding games I played this year.
3. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright/Conquest (2016, Nintendo 3DS)
My score: 8/10 (Birthright only), Metacritic 86.5/100 (Birthright 86, Conquest 87)
It speaks to the popularity of the Fire Emblem series these days that Nintendo was confident enough to make Fates comprise three full-length games. The first, Birthright, is a little underwhelming, but it’s only the first (60-hour) part of what’s effectively a single-game trilogy. Birthright prepares the way for Conquest, which is an almost perfect refinement of Fire Emblem’s version of tactical strategy. Conquest is hard, but finely balanced, and deliciously satisfying. And while Conquest has been criticized for its story, I think this is rather missing the point. Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems adopted a bold strategy by telling Fates’ story across three intertwining games, and each game’s events need to be understood in the context of the trio as a whole. To my mind, the designers haven’t been given enough credit for this ambitious and original undertaking, which is, among other things, consummate fan service. Indeed, the last couple of years have been a dream for Fire Emblem fans. Even if Conquest is lacking in the story department, it makes up for it in its marvellous character ensemble. I have no doubt that playing Fates’ final instalment, Revelation, will be among my gaming highlights of 2018.
2. Yakuza 0 (2017, PlayStation 4)
My score: 8/10, Metacritic 85/100
Before Yakuza 0 came out, I’d been interested in the long-running series for years, but didn’t know where to start. The prequel felt tailor-made for people like me, as it didn’t assume knowledge of the game’s systems or plot. Set in late 1980s Tokyo and Osaka, Yakuza 0 features a hard-boiled tale of gang warfare, moving family drama, and a myriad of (often hilarious) minigames and side stories. Joining the comic deadpan series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is breakout star Majima Goro, and Yakuza 0’s interwoven storylines worked well. The game also featured an incredibly addictive and entertaining Hostess Club Management Simulator. Like much of Yakuza 0, it sounds crazy, but it just works. The game wasn’t perfect, with occasionally clunky and frustrating combat, and some overwrought and stilted writing towards the end of the main story. But on the whole, this was a game of raucous delights.
1. Tales of Berseria (2017, PlayStation 4)
My score: 9/10, Metacritic 79/100
After the disappointment of the previous Tales game, Zestiria, much was riding on Tales of Berseria. Fortunately, it marked a much-needed return to form for the franchise. Berseria boasts a compelling, dramatic story with emotional heft, along with an excellent cast of characters. A robust combat system with interesting mechanics sustained a 70-hour plus campaign, which also featured the series’ trademark co-op gameplay.
I’m reminded that my best gaming experience of 2015 was a belated playthrough of the PS3 version of Tales of Graces. The Tales series subsequently entered somewhat troubled waters, with the polarizing Xillia games followed by the drama around Zestiria. With controversial series producer Hideo Baba having left to join Square Enix, it’s good to see the series make a strong return to form with Berseria.
I sunk over 100 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U, 7/10, Metacritic 84/100). It was a wildly uneven experience: I loved the art style, and the story and character writing were frequently captivating, but the game’s obtuse, unforgiving mechanics eventually wore me out. Even though I completed the story, I felt that the game got the better of me. Another game ticked off from my back catalogue was the Wii U port of Bayonetta (7/10, Metacritic 86). Bayonetta was something of a critical darling when it was released, but it never quite clicked with me. Though I could appreciate the refinement of the game’s combat, it just wasn’t fun enough to play; while its punishing difficulty put me off.
Having discovered Atlus games in 2016 thanks to Tokyo Mirage Sessions, I tried to catch up with some of the myriad franchises in the Japanese developer’s back catalogue. Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PlayStation, 7/10) had one of the best stories I enjoyed this year, and featured the same style of character writing as Tokyo Mirage Sessions. The second part, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (PlayStation, 5/10), featured a less interesting story, a poor localization, and even more frustrating gameplay. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS, 7/10) was an enjoyable tactical RPG, but Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (DS, 3/10) was a nightmare. Having my fingers burned on that one encouraged me to take a break from Atlus games until I finally get round to playing Persona 5.
One of the highlights of the year for me was the release of the SNES Classic in September. The Super Nintendo is the iconic console of my childhood, and in many ways it remains the definitive gaming console. It certainly featured a variety of classic games, shown to good effect on the SNES Classic. The only single-player game I’ve played to completion so far is Super Metroid (9/10) which remains a timeless experience. Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II Turbo are still mainstays of multiplayer mayhem, while I’m also slowly plodding my way through Final Fantasy VI and it’s dodgy localization.
While I didn’t play Resident Evil 7 in 2017, I did play four Resident Evil games. They included the HD remasters of the first Resident Evil (8/10) and Resident Evil Zero (6/10) on PS4, while I also enjoyed blasting through Resident Evil 5 (7/10) in co-op with T. Oddly enough, my main complaint with that game was its length and difficulty – the same objection I had to Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within (7/10), the erstwhile series producer’s supposed retort to the bombastic RE 5. Playing Resident Evil Revelations 2 (6/10) was fun at times, but I was put off by the poor pacing and hammy, parodic nature of the script. It’s clear that the franchise was in need of a reset, and by all accounts Resident Evil 7 succeeded on that account. I’m looking forward to playing it in the coming year.
My game of the year
My game of 2017, therefore, has to be Tales of Berseria. This is a game that flew under the radar for a lot of people, but anyone who likes JRPGS, or co-operative games with compelling, immersive stories, really owes it to themselves to give it a try.