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Branching Path: Josh Torres’s Top 10 Games of 2017

We all know it in the back of our minds. 2017 was a wild ride - for better and for worse. To many, it was one of the more difficult years to get through. A lot happened and we’re still pushing through in our own ways.

Out of all this, video games were one of the bigger winners - for the most part. It felt like a bunch of strong releases were coming out almost every month in the year. There were hardly any breaks for me so-to-speak. Nintendo also released a new console-handheld-thing and it’s pretty damn good!

Before listing off the very best of the best games I played this year, let’s establish some ground rules.

Only games I’ve beaten to completion are eligible. Sorry, Horizon Zero Dawn and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.

They’re all new games released this year that saw an overseas release, so no ports! Vanquish and Bayonetta’s PC ports would take the top two spots otherwise. Super Robot Wars V is technically eligible though since it did get an English release, but it most likely will never come to the west. No, Fate/Grand Order is nowhere near touching this list though it getting an English release is bizarre as all hell.

Last but not least, I have to give it up to how strong 2017 is for video games. In any other year, Gravity Rush 2, Nioh, Tekken 7, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, and Gundam Versus would’ve been easy picks but there were just ten other stronger ones. Dead Cells may still see the list next year but I disqualified it for now, since it’s still in Early Access.

These are my top 10 games of 2017.

10) Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2

If I had a “Best Looking Food in a 2017 Video Game” category, I think Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2 would easily take the cake. This sequel doubles down on everything that I loved from the first game. There’s a lot more menu items to learn and master. Plus, the new prep stations for side dishes add an extra layer of things to consider since some orders may require them beforehand.

Further new tweaks like thwarting robberies with fighting game-esque commands help keep the frantic pace going now. It’s certainly not a game for everyone due to its overwhelming nature but oddly enough, that’s what I adore about it. Both Cook, Serve, Delicious! games were able to strike that sweet spot of difficulty that had me sweating without getting too frustrated if I messed up. Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2 was one of those games that helped me relax… as odd as that sounds.

9) Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I still can’t believe this made it out this year. Twelve months ago, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was shown for the first time back when the Nintendo Switch was unveiled. That’s insane to think about considering how long it took for the first Xenoblade to come to the west.

Nevertheless, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is simply fantastic. It probably has my favorite RPG battle system of this year; once it clicked with me, I couldn’t get enough of it. XC2 also has one of my favorite RPG parties in 2017 too. The various bonds that form the camaraderie between each member feels satisfying. Now supplement that with a phenomenal soundtrack, an engaging world to explore, and a delightful tale full of lovely small moments - this entire package comes together exceedingly well. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has its share of problems, but its pros ultimately outweigh the cons.

I almost forgot to mention that the action-packed cutscenes are absolutely killer in it too. They are so good.

8) Puyo Puyo Tetris

Ok, Puyo Puyo Tetris has technically been out for roughly three years now but it finally got an official overseas release in 2017. I say this is fair game. Elegantly mashing together two of the very best puzzle games of all-time works out. Who woulda thunk? There are two things that made this stand out to me though.

Its story localization is magical. There’s a certain whimsicalness that transports me back to the 90’s; it reminds me of quirky English scripts in the early days of the PlayStation. The carefree, whacky excuses for veteran Puyo-series characters to do battle against characters that use Tetriminos is dumb - but in a good way. Even the English voice actors nail the extremely cheesy nature of it endearingly well. I was stunned.

The Switch version of Puyo Puyo Tetris also has a longevity to it. Unfortunately, the PS4 version is physical-only due to digital licensing issues on the PSN and I’m not fond of having to swap to its disc every time I get the itch to play it for a few minutes. I double dipped on the digital release for Switch and it’s one of the best decisions I made. Puyo Puyo Tetris remains one hell of a game.

7) Yakuza 0

Damn, Yakuza kicked this year’s ass. I’m thrilled that it got (and is still getting) so many new fans thanks to Yakuza 0 - for a good reason too!

Yakuza 0 achieves what seems to be an impossible task on paper. It serves as an incredible gateway to the series for newcomers and provides something fresh for series’ veterans. Both new and old fans got to witness the origins of Kazuma Kiryu’s claim to fame as the Dragon of Dojima and the real story behind Goro Majima’s “unique” characterization. The story in it is downright amazing. Yakuza 0 carefully conveys delicate cultural issues in Japan, yet manages to showcase ridiculous events in a completely natural way that doesn’t betray its tone and direction.

As a longtime Yakuza fan, Yakuza 0 is just on another level when it comes to storytelling. It recontextualizes the first Yakuza’s events in significant ways and adds meaningful backgrounds to familiar faces you come across as the series goes on. The development team didn’t really have to, but they went the extra mile and it pays off so well.

6) Persona 5

Just barely missing its mark of a winter 2014 release, Persona 5 finally made it to the west at long last. It’s remarkably ambitious and admittedly, I feel that it doesn’t nail its landing as cleanly as I would’ve liked. It’s easy to spot its problems surrounding questionable localization decisions, shoddy pacing beats, and Atlus USA’s strange restrictions on sharing media of it months ago.

Despite its shortcomings, I love so many aspects of Persona 5. The interrogative frame of its premise, the cohesive chemistry among its main characters, and of course, the spectacular UI that gives P5 a unique sense of swagger on top of its bombastic style. Additionally, its marriage of sound design and color direction (look at those All-Out Attack animations!) is brilliantly realized in service of the extravagance behind the game’s themes of thievery and heisting.

Persona 5 is also a game near and dear to my heart due to its reverence of the Persona series as a whole. It brought back demon negotiations and streamlined them so they didn’t feel like a chore. The Nuclear and Psy elements make a weird return with some spectacular visual effects in their attacks. Each character has a unique firearm. Main dungeons are no longer randomized and are, for the most part, incredibly fun to navigate around.

There’s so many risks that Persona 5 takes and I really appreciate that Atlus made a sincere effort to go for it. This new Persona is a marvelous piece of work that truly showed me that there’s still a lot of untapped creative potential in modern RPGs moving forward.

5) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd

You’ve probably already heard several things about the Trails series on this site. It’s lovely. It’s excellent. It exemplifies what makes the RPG genre so special among all others. Of course, the important part is that it has to be played in order.

The Trails series is no Final Fantasy. You can’t just jump fresh into Trails in the Sky Second Chapter or Trails of Cold Steel II like you can with Final Fantasy VII. The previous installments are pretty much a requirement to understand any of the sequels.

I’m not going to lie to you. There’s a high barrier to entry - especially with Trails in the Sky the 3rd. It is absolutely imperative that you’ve played the other two Trails in the Sky games before you boot it up. It’s a tall order and if you choose to climb it, you’ll discover a narrative in the gaming landscape that many others have attempted, but unfortunately failed in making good on their entire scope.

Trails in the Sky the 3rd is an odd entry in the Trails series. Its prequel wrapped up the major story arc surrounding Sky’s protagonists, Estelle and Joshua. The 3rd revolves around Kevin, one of the more important characters you meet in their journey. What makes the 3rd magnificent lies in its radical structural departure from the preceding Sky entries.

Instead of traveling around the Liberl Kingdom again, the 3rd strictly takes place in an enigmatic interdimensional dungeon. This sounds like a bummer at first, but it actually sets it apart for the better. Kevin and Ries reunite with familiar faces the deeper they go; you’ll quickly end up with more characters than you know what to do with - and that’s also a big change of pace from the other installments of Sky.

Luckily the game gives you compelling reasons to switch up your party up often. Its gameplay is relatively much more difficult in interesting ways. Slight tweaks to the combat make battles more engaging and enough breaks in-between to not overstay its welcome.

Trails in the Sky the 3rd’s X-factor for me ultimately boils down to its role in the entire Trails series. It places a nice bow on the entire Trails in the Sky arc on where it went and opens many exciting possibilities of where it goes next. You finally see untold backstories that recontextualizes previous scenarios in important ways.

The final stretch of the 3rd is powerful because you’ve learned to love this band of characters so much. You’ve spent a lot of time with them. It sticks the landing perfectly and makes good on not only what the Trails in the Sky games are going for, but nails crucial landmarks of what every single RPG aspires to be.

4) Cuphead

One glance at Cuphead and you immediately know what it’s going for. It does the unthinkable and entirely delivers on its vision to make a video game that looks like a 1930s cartoon. I didn’t know I wanted a game to look like something out of Betty Boop, Looney Tunes, and Popeye until I first laid eyes on Cuphead.

I could go all day about its exceptional visuals, but that alone isn’t what makes Cuphead excellent. The game feels awesome to simply move around in. The controls are tight and snappy which complements its elaborate level designs. Each boss is extraordinarily complex with multiple forms and behavioral patterns.

The animation work is some of the very best the gaming industry has seen. My jaw just kept dropping the more I played. Cuphead’s audio design also captures the era perfectly too; the mischievous pianos, the pompous trumpets, the haughty xylophones - everything about its soundtrack is awfully superb.

Studio MDHR delivered an exceptional video game and I’m excited to see what’s next for them.

3) Super Mario Odyssey

Remember when you threw Mario’s big-eyed sentient cap at that innocent frog? Do you remember the look in that frog’s eyes as you pushed its entire existence into the void for a bit?

I did. Mario was an absolute madman in 2017. He couldn’t stop after teaming up with the Rabbids. He wanted something more and acquired Soul Edge Cappy.

Super Mario Odyssey is more than another good 3D Mario game to me. Yes, it strikes the feel of controlling Mario just right. Yes, its new capturing mechanic adds a lot of variety to the gameplay. Yes, keeping the hat and moustache on possessed foes was freaking brilliant.

Odyssey reminded me of why I love video games. Mario, like many others, was one of the very first video game characters I controlled in my life. I don’t think I would love video games as much if Mario wasn’t around. The thing about Super Mario Odyssey is that it carries a deep reverence of the entire Mario IP. Sure it occasionally throws obscure characters, outfits, and enemies that were briefly seen many many years ago - but it does much more than that.

It’s a celebration of where Mario has been all throughout the years. New Donk City alone is one of the most meaningful gaming spaces I’ve explored this year and it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what some other locations in Odyssey dig into.

Unifying level design and visual direction is one of Odyssey’s most outstanding achievements. There’s always something that caught my attention wherever I went and the key part is the game knows that, so it always rewarded me. I’m still unsure if Super Mario Odyssey tops Super Mario Galaxy as my all-time favorite 3D Mario game… but it gets dangerously close. I’ll be thinking about Odyssey for many years to come.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Wow.

I’m still shocked at how Nintendo pulled off Link’s new adventure. This was one of the most riskiest bets I’ve seen with a video game in awhile. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, on paper, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Open-world? Check. Tower-mechanic? Check. Make it a cross-generation game again like Twilight Princess? What. Could. Go. Wrong.

The amount of design challenges to reinvent The Legend of Zelda from the ground-up is undoubtedly immense. Despite the odds, Breath of the Wild found a way to not only be an astonishing game, but completely go against what has been pounded into our heads about the do’s and don’ts of the open-world genre in modern games.

Instead of populating its map with a myriad of icons that scream “HEY DO THIS NEXT”, BotW gracefully presents you with a completely clean visual of it and provides you icon stickers for you to manually set your own goals. That’s the lovely thing about it - you feel like you’re an explorer rather than a tourist.

I very much appreciated that climbing to the top of towers only gave me a new fast travel point. It was up to me to look around and mark places of interest on my own. Breath of the Wild places a level of trust in players that open-world games often do not. Thank you for that.

On top of all that, BotW is a sublime playground. There’s all sorts of weird things to discover whether it be a bizarre location, an odd way to navigate around the environment, or simply how stuff interacts with each other. Its world design rewards your experimentation and frankly, it’s one of the best launch games of all-time.

1) NieR: Automata

You’ve heard it all. You know why this game is good. You know why this game is RPG Site’s Best Game of 2017. If you haven’t played it and don’t plan to, you’re most certainly sick and tired of hearing about this damn video game.

But let me tell you about my experience with it. Before the hype. Before the praise. Before the awards.

I reviewed it for this site back in March. I wasn’t expecting to. I picked up the Japanese release two weeks before its overseas release, since it had the entire English version of the game on it. I just wanted to play through it before anyone could spoil it for me.

Things happened behind-the-scenes and I ended up with an unexpected deadline on my lap. To make matters worse, I was going through severe issues with my ears and had a two-month scare of possibly losing my hearing permanently.

Now I’ve played through Yoko Taro’s previous works and honestly, they had interesting narrative concepts but almost all of them were completely awful to play. I can’t say I had high hopes for NieR: Automata going into it. Automata’s demo was enjoyable and that was more of Platinum Games convincing me that it’d be tolerable to play at the very least.

It took awhile for me to really warm up to Automata. I enjoyed Route A and some parts of Route B, but I wasn’t necessarily sold on it. The game is full of flaws and it wasn’t afraid to offer the enjoyable aspects of it, as a video game, up to a sacrificial altar to burn in service of its narrative.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but be (morbidly) curious about this struggle surrounding the YoRHa androids versus machine lifeforms. Each quest got me looking at the state of -me- and believe me, I was a mess because I feared for my life as my ears became worse and worse. I felt hopeless. And I was stuck with a game that embodied that inside and out.

NieR: Automata didn’t sink its teeth into me until the opening sequence of Route C. This is where I began to realize that this game couldn’t have been told in any other medium; the full extent of it only works because it’s a video game. Yoko Taro and Platinum Games’s joint efforts moved me in ways that very few things in life couldn’t.

You’re absolutely right if you’re thinking “wow I have to wait X hours after two playthroughs to finally see the good stuff?” Yes. It’s not say the first two routes are without merit but the true value of NieR: Automata surfaces in Route C and the stepping stones of Routes A & B are crucial components to convey its message.

I know this is all starting to sound a tad gushy though I can’t stress enough that NieR: Automata has one of the most beautiful stories throughout all of video games and only works because it’s aware that it is a video game.

It pushes the limitations of its (very obvious) small development budget in thoughtful directions. Though its individual aspects on a technical level are full of holes, NieR: Automata is a game that absolutely stands on another level due to being greater than the sum of its parts.

NieR: Automata delivers on a subtle promise that pushing for a hopeful future beyond countless tragedies isn’t a mistake. It’s not wrong to not want to give up, but we all need a helping hand. Share your burdens and make the weight of the world a bit lighter.

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