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On March 28th 2017, Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 HD, the only video game that actually matters. I have been told, however, by management that if I simply make a list that only contains the HD remake of Kingdom Hearts 2 that I will not only be fired, but I will be hunted down and killed. So here are ten games from 2017 that are as good as you can get, without being Kingdom Hearts 2.
10. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
Look, Wolfenstein 2 is an incredible game. It’s well written, and it looks great, but if I’m being honest the main reason I liked it so much is simple: I got to throw like… 400 hatchets into hordes and hordes of Nazis. It was like getting an injection of pure catharsis: a healthy outlet for the anger I had with the state of the world. As much as that’s all surface level, especially when things get dire for the Kreisau Circle, it was the rage fantasy aspect of The New Colossus that made it one of my favorite games of the year.
9. Picross 3D: Round 2
A little disclaimer: this technically came out in December of 2016, but it would be disingenuous of me to not include it on this list. Picross 3D: Round 2 was consistently one of the most relaxing things I played this year. I feel like we spend a lot of time acting like games built purely for relaxing and taking up a short period of time are less important than games with narratives or challenging gameplay, but games like Picross 3D are important because they’re not that. It reminded me of the importance of calm, to take some time out of my day just to solve a puzzle or two so I could recharge my batteries, and I think learning how to do that is one of the most important things to happen to me in 2017.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of The Wild is one of those games that I’m probably never going to touch again. On the surface, that probably comes off as an insult, but I mean it in the exact opposite way. With how the game is made, it’s almost impossible to emulate the experience I had the first time I played through it. From the giddy excitement I had the first time I snowboarded down a mountain, to the quiet calm of wandering through a small forest tucked away from everything else, almost every minute I spent with Breath of the Wild completely enveloped me with wonder and joy when I found myself sorely needing it.
7. Heat Signature
The moment I fell in love with Heat Signature was a moment where I thought the game broke. Without reading the text for a mission I loaded in and found myself floating in space with no ship, slowly suffocating. I restarted a few times assuming it was a glitch, before I realized what I had to do: propel myself through space with my shotgun, land on a nearby ship, and take out every last guard onboard. It was exhilarating, and it was the first of countless incidents like that. It wasn’t just missions that had predetermined challenges, but almost every random mission I accepted had at least the opportunity for me to do some harebrained, hotshot stunts. With seemingly hundreds of procedurally generated roguelikes inundating games, it’s Heat Signature’s dedication to actually letting you do whatever buckwild nonsense you can think of that makes it so special.
6. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
As much as I can appreciate the anime ridiculousness of the Fire Emblem series, I’ll be honest and say I was getting pretty burnt out with it’s direction. I just wasn’t clicking with Fates and the new standard it was setting for the strategy franchise. Fire Emblem Echoes, however, barely feels like a mainline Fire Emblem game at times. Doing away with franchise staples like the weapon triangle and favoring systems that feel more like a traditional JRPG progression-wise did a lot to make the game stand out among the franchise. Not to mention that it’s got a surprisingly good voice cast, and branching stories that feel different enough to keep things fresh, but not so much that you have to keep relearning the game. I truly think Shadows of Valentia is a hidden gem during a banner year for Nintendo, and I can only hope that they put just as much of it in future Fire Emblem games as they will with the pieces of the past few successes they’ve had with the series.
5. NieR: Automata
I don’t think I’ve ever had such an intense love-hate relationship with a game before. I’ll just get it out of the way: I’d say a good 60% of the time I was actually playing NieR: Automata I just straight up hated it. Combat felt clunky, and the hacking segments were a slog. All that said, NieR: Automata has one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced in a game. It uses the medium of interactive entertainment in a way that I haven’t seen since the original NieR, and although I didn’t have as much fun playing it as I’d hoped, I think it would be foolish to not recognize how NieR pushes the medium when it succeeds, and how, nine times out of ten, it’s trying something unique, even in failure.
4. Persona 5
I wrapped myself in Persona 5 like it was a cocoon and I didn’t emerge until I was a weird butterfly that spent way too much time trying to fuse Satan. Clunky metaphors aside, Persona 5 was a game that I was able to completely submerge myself in. There’s something comforting in being able to play a few days of Persona just screwing around with your doofus friends inside the bizarre world of palaces and Mementos that made the game special to me. While I loved the dungeon crawling and the main thrust of the plot, I found myself revelling in little moments. Whether it was getting ramen with Ryuji or going book shopping with Makoto, it was the tranquil, everyday mundanity of the friendships in Persona 5 that made it shine.
3. The Sexy Brutale
I’m a sucker for time travel shenanigans, and I’m also a sucker for murder mysteries, so Sexy Brutale letting me more or less play as the time travelling Columbo I’ve always dreamed of being was nothing short of a delight. Every single thing about this game oozes charm. From the swinging soundtrack to the bizarre otherworldly murders that you have to prevent, I found myself grinning at every twist and turn that got thrown at me.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is probably the happiest game I’ve ever played, it’s like if someone took the concept of childlike wonder, and somehow made it into a physical object. That object is Super Mario Odyssey. I think if you zoomed in on my brain, much like a Jimmy Neutron “brain blast”, while I was playing you’d probably see little Cappys on every cell in my body. I’m not quite sure what sort of black magic Nintendo evoked to make something so fueled by nostalgia not feel like a cloying, boring rehash of the past, but they did it. Not only that, but they also managed to top almost every other 3D platformer out there with one of the most intuitive, fresh takes on the genre I’ve ever played.
1. Yakuza 0
Yakuza 0 owns.
That’s really all you’ve got to know. You should have already bought it after you saw that sentence, but seeing as how just writing three words won’t cut it, I’ll elaborate a little. Yakuza 0 manages to be one of the funniest games I’ve encountered, while balancing that with deeply heartbreaking moments throughout. Admittedly, part of this is because of my long running attachment to the series, but seeing the reaction that this game’s been getting from people who’ve never touched another Yakuza title before has me feeling pretty confident in recommending it. I spent so much time just inhabiting the world of Yakuza 0, not even advancing the main plot or my side businesses, instead just wandering around the two towns in the game, doing some karaoke, trying to learn mahjong (I’m still not great) and getting Kiryu absolutely blasted on way too expensive whiskey. It’s a testament to how full and vibrant Y0 feels, that I could spend a few hours and make, ostensibly, zero progress but still walk away feeling fulfilled. Couple that with a story that legitimately had me in tears towards the end and some of the most entertaining substories to ever exist in the franchise, and you have not just only my favorite game of 2017, but my favorite Yakuza game ever released.