#08 - Cuphead
I’ll be honest; Cuphead did not really interest me all that much. I was very impressed by the art style, but I’m not one to get too excited about “bullet hell” style platformers. I never was a big fan of games like Contra. However, after reading up about the game and hearing all the praise, I decided to give it a shot anyway. At the very least, I would enjoy the hell out of the animation. As it turns out, the entire game is pretty delightful.
The premise of Cuphead is told through an amazing song during the title screen. Basically Cuphead and Mugman are gambling at a casino. Cuphead pushes their luck and bets their souls to the devil. They lose, but instead of just losing their souls, the devil sends them out to collect the souls of other various people to repay their debt. The game starts, and you’re in a beautiful, hand drawn overworld. Each area contains a handful of bosses and one or two platforming stages. Beating bosses unlocks new routes in the overworld until you finally finish them all, unlocking a new area.
The bosses are the meat of the game. There is a wide variety, and each one feels unique. Each boss has different forms, and you must figure out where to shoot to damage each one. It’s pretty simple, but the different ways you can equip Cupheadkeeps things interesting. I also really enjoyed the parry system even if I didn’t always use it in the boss fights. Anything pink in the game can be used to parry. Basically this means that if you press the jump button again on the pink item, you will parry that thing and fill your special move bar a bit. Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet but the game is unyieldingly difficult. The boss levels will take perseverance. You will die over and over. It is incredibly rewarding, though, when you take down a challenging boss. This kind of difficulty isn’t going to be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.
The platforming levels were definitely my favorite part of the game, but not for the reason I would have thought. There is a NPC in the overworld that will mention something about beating the platforming stages without hurting anyone. Sure enough, there is a way to complete each stage without ever killing a single enemy. Figuring out how to do this in each level was a joy. It was definitely infuriating at times, but the puzzle aspect gave me something different than the gauntlet of bosses the game otherwise provides.
Ultimately, while I definitely had a lot more fun playing Cuphead than I would have ever thought, I don’t know that I will have any desire to return to it. I did not feel the need to engage with the customization in the game. There’s an item that turns you invisible while dodging, and I had that equipped the entire game. I only used two or three different guns, and I kept the original special move equipped the entire game also. I’m sure there may be benefits to the other load outs, but I could not justify changing up my playstyle. The game also ranks you after each victory. I considered going back and trying to get top marks on all the bosses, but that ultimately sounded like more trouble than it was worth. Cuphead will remain a fantastic 6 hour game that I will have fond memories about. Maybe someday I’ll return to it. It probably won’t be for a while, though.
#07 - What Remains of Edith Finch
#09 - Tales of Berseria
The latest game in the Tales series is a big game. It was the first 2017 game I played this year, so there has been a long time between finishing it and me writing this. I did not anticipate starting a blog, so I have no notes to go off, but I’m going to do my best to explain why I loved it so much.
What really makes Berseria work for me is an incredibly fascinating world and a deep and layered, strong female protagonist. Velvet Crowe could have been a very one note character bent on revenge. Instead, Velvet is a character bent on revenge that has fascinating relationships with the other members of her crew. The party you build is one of convenience, for sure. However, as the story unfolds, Velvet’s relationship with Laphicet begins to change her. You see, Laphicet looks almost identical to her brother who was murdered in front of her by her guardian and brother-in-law three years earlier.
Let’s take a step back. The world of Tales of Berseria is inhabited by humans and the once invisible, angelic Malakhim. The Malak are the source of magic in the world. Their purpose seems to be to rid the world of the daemons corrupting the world. This is going to get complicated, so bear with me a minute. When humans feel strong negative emotions, they bring an impurity called malevolence into the world. When enough malevolence is gathered in one area, humans can be transformed into daemons. Daemons and Malakhim could only be seen by humans with resonance. However, Velvet’s brother-in-law, Arthur, performed a ceremony called The Opening. To do this, he sacrificed Velvet’s younger brother, Laphicet. Velvet attempted to save him but did not succeed. Furthermore, her arm was touched by the daemonblight, turning her into a type of daemon that feeds off of other daemons.
The Opening fine-tuned human resonance. This means that ALL humans can now see daemons and malakhim. This also means that human emotion is more volatile, and negative emotion creates more malevolence. A Templar-esque group of daemon hunters, called Exorcists, is formed by Arthur. These Exorcists use the malak as familiars, suppressing their free will in the process. We eventually learn that Arthur’s true goal is to remove human emotion from the world. He believes that it is better to live without emotion than to bring malevolence to the world. I have left out quite a few (probably) vital details, but it’s dense and complex so I’ll spare you.
I don’t know how well I explained the set up there, but it is all incredibly fascinating to me. The antagonist is driven by logic, while the protagonist is all pure rage and emotion. The Tales games have a history of generally being a bit cheesy at times with a lighter tone throughout. I love that, don’t get me wrong, but I really appreciate how dark Berseria gets with its tone. It isn’t afraid to make its protagonist unlikeable at times. She can be exhausting, but it is almost always earned. The payoff is also worth tolerating her, because there are times, I will admit, where her grudge and attitude is laid on thick.
For anyone who hasn’t played a Tales game before, Berseria is a fantastic starting point. I didn’t go much into the systems of the game, but the combat is really good. It’s an elemental, combo based, action RPG. I didn’t love it as much as Xillia’s combat, but it is better than most Tales’ combat. I highly recommend Berseria to anyone wanting to check out the series.
#08 - Cuphead
#10 - HOB
Hob may have made my list by simply being in the right place at the right time. I played Hob after finishing a run of longer, more complicated, and exhausting games. My body was ready for a tight ten hour experience that didn’t require much thought. Hob was perfect for this.
Hob is a minimalistic 3D action platformer. It has a bit of a Zelda structure with some Metroid and Bastion thrown in there as well. The game starts with you controlling a character garbed in red that just woke up from some sort of slumber. You walk outside and are met with a very vibrant world. There is no dialogue or context for what is happening. The only thing you have to guide you is a robot who wants you to follow them. Eventually, you discover that the world is being overtaken by some purple goo stuff. That’s a very vague description, but I honestly don’t know what it is. Regardless, it’s not good as you soon find out by getting too close to one of the arm-like extensions growing out of the goo. You’re grabbed, and once you shake your way free, you find you’ve been poisoned by this weird goo. Your robot friend is not okay with that, though. Instead of letting the poison spread, they cut off your arm and replace it with their own arm. You then wake up for the second time with a shiny new robot arm. This becomes your “tool” for exploring the world.
Hob then opens up. Your robot buddy gives you a map and a place to go. Like I mentioned before, there is no spoken or written dialogue in the game. You are left to interpret the gestures of your robot buddy to figure out what he wants. This is a bit frustrating at first because there is no context for anything you’re doing. I will happily admit that this game does not pull this off as well as others, like Hyper Light Drifter for example. I finished the game without really understanding the consequences of what I went through. There are hidden “lore rooms” that seem to try and explain certain things about the world, but they are incredibly vague and gave me no insight into the world at all. While the nature of the world and the context for the current disaster was never made clear to me, Hob does a great job showing you what needs to be done in the moment. Through a little trial and error, you begin to learn how the world works.
Regardless of all of that, the biggest reason Hob made my list is because it’s just fun to play. The combat isn’t deep. You swing your sword, and occasionally use your robot arm to break shields. You can find upgrade schematics that you can purchase to give yourself different moves. Heart pieces, energy pieces and sword upgrades are scattered throughout the world like a traditional Zelda game. A lot of these upgrade pieces will be hidden in plain sight but will require an upgrade to reach, so I really enjoyed that an icon will appear on your map when you are close enough to them. This alleviates the need to remember where they were when you do acquire the needed upgrade. Exploring the world itself is also very fun. The map is big enough to create variety but small enough to never feel empty. You are almost always rewarded for exploring your surroundings.
Most of the gameplay revolves around environmental puzzles. The physical world in Hob is powered by an energy source. Puzzles have you connecting power sources to turn on switches that will shift landmasses in different ways that allow you to move on or find an area you otherwise could not reach. The actual puzzles themselves work well enough, but I loved the way the world was physically affected by the outcomes of these puzzles.
Unfortunately, the game does not perform well. (I played on PS4.) Too many times, the game broke in a way that required me to reload a checkpoint. There is a map glitch that turns your map into blobs of neon colors, and the only way to fix it is to completely restart the game. I also got a handful of blue screen crashes to the PS4 dashboard.
I clearly have many problems with Hob as a total package, but through a combination of playing it at the right time and just having a lot of fun exploring the world, it was an experience that I really enjoyed overall.
#09 - Tales of Berseria
*Major spoilers for the following games: Wolfenstein II, Doki Doki Literature Club, Tales of Berseria, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, What Remains of Edith Finch, Nier: Automata, and Horizon: Zero Dawn.
*Please be aware that suicide is mentioned in multiple entries.
This category is devoted to the best moment or sequence in a game this year. This could be a truly shocking moment, a sequence that affected me emotionally, or something that was just really fun. More than any other medium, the interactivity of video games really allow moments to have a huge effect on me. This is probably my favorite category to think about due to its nature.
#10 - Killing Hitler in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
The introduction of Hitler in the new Wolfenstein series has been an anticipated event. MachineGames didn’t disappoint. Hitler is every bit as terrible as we’d expect him to be. BJ (the protagonist) runs into Hitler while impersonating an actor to gain access to the Nazi base on Venus. Hitler just so happens to be the director of this movie. Hitler does Hitler things (like kill the actors he doesn’t like for example), but eventually he just decides he’s tired and takes a nap on the floor just as it’s BJ’s turn to read lines. While walking over to the scene, BJ passes by Hitler sleeping on the ground. My first thought, like most people I would assume, was that I’m going to try and kill Hitler. To my surprise, the game actually lets you do it. Being in a Nazi compound, I knew it would immediately lead to my death, but that didn’t stop me from trying it two or three times.
#09 - Doki Doki Literature Club Turns
Doki Doki Literature Club appears to be your run of the mill dating sim visual novel. You play as a boy with a cute friend who forces you to join a literature club that’s full of other cute girls. You get to decide who you want to spend time with and who you want to try and impress. Spending time with the other girls, however, has an unintended consequence on your childhood friend, Sayori, that is hinted to by the game’s content warnings. (For a great discussion about content warnings and their relationship with spoilers, check out the Waypoint Radio podcast HERE.) Sayori confesses that she struggles with depression and ultimately commits suicide in a scene that is incredibly unsettling.
After this happens, the game turns. I immediately went to load up a previous save to try and fix this terrible outcome. I could not. All my saves were gone. Also missing from the title screen was Sayori. In her place was a glitched out jumble of pixels. The ‘New Game’ button had also been replaced with a string of unusual symbols, so I clicked it. The game then turns into a subtle horror game. You slowly lose control as the screen flickers, text scrolls at times on its own, or your cursor moves without input. This results in a sense of dread that continues until you finish the game.
#08 - Phi Saves Velvet from Despair in Tales of Berseria
Velvet experienced a truly tragic event that changed her physically and emotionally. She spends the game stepping on anyone that gets in her way to try and enact her revenge. At a certain point in the game, it’s revealed that maybe she didn’t have all the correct information. The antagonist proceeds to talk her into despair. She’s told about all the lives she ruined and the people she’s hurt to get to where she is. Velvet is on the verge of giving up before Phi steps in and tells her how unbearably whiny she’s being. What follows is an unexpectedly emotional scene in which Phi reminds Velvet of her kindness. It is one of my favorite turning points for a character in any game.
#07 - BJ is Sentenced to Death in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
This sequence in Wolfenstein II was just so bizarre. Shocking moments are created simply by subverting expectation. The best shocking moments do this in a way that carries weight. I don’t know if this specific sequence does the latter, but it somehow works so well within Wolfenstein’s heightened universe and narrative.
BJ is captured by the Nazis and sentenced to death. Of course, we fully expect BJ to escape. MachineGames even goes so far as to create an escape sequence that eventually reveals itself to be only a dream. Shortly after, BJ is executed. His head is separated from his body and dropped into an incinerator. However, on the way down, BJ’s head is caught by a drone, brought back to the resistance, preserved, and reattached to an android-like body. It’s absurd. It’s absolutely crazy. It also works extremely well somehow.
#06 - Rachel Amber Starts a Wildfire in Before the Storm
I wrote about this scene when talking about Rachel Amber in my top ten new characters blog, so I won’t spend too much time here. What I love about this scene is how real Rachel’s and Chloe’s reactions feel. Rachel just learned some potentially devastating information about her father and lashed out at Chloe. Chloe is also going through some stuff so she lashed back. Add into the equation that they’re both teenagers who struggle with dealing with such heavy things, and you have a genuinely emotional scene between two characters.
When Rachel comes clean to Chloe about why she had been acting that way, they both struggle with how to talk about it. The final scene is somber. Rachel seems very calm as she talks about her feelings. However, as a physical manifestation of the fire swirling in Rachel’s mind, she lights a picture of her and her father on fire and throws it in a garbage can. Rachel then releases her pain in the form of a scream and kicks over the garbage can setting the forest ablaze.
#05 - Senua Speaks Directly to the Camera in Hellblade
I’m going to be brief with this one, because the heading describes this moment well. There’s a moment at the beginning of the game where Senua talks directly to the camera. I believe she was addressing the voices in her head, but something about the delivery and her big eyes looking directly into mine that made me feel it in my soul. I can’t quite describe it, but it had a lasting effect on me.
#04 - Pascal and His Children in Nier: Automata
Pascal is the robot leader of a small robot village tucked away in the woods. The village is full of the more self-aware robots, and Pascal teaches them about emotions using the only example available, humans. (There are no humans around anymore, only what we left behind.) Pascal is also a pacifist. Unfortunately, the conflict raging outside comes to his doorstep, and he’s forced to move the children to a factory to keep them safe. As a fleet of robots show up at the factory, Pascal has no choice but to take control of a giant Engels bot (like, seriously giant) and destroy the enemy fleet, ultimately breaking his code.
When Pascal returns to the children, they have killed themselves. You see, when Pascal tried to teach them emotion, he taught them fear. The self-aware robots in this game latch on to human characteristics in a way that is exaggerated. The “children” aren’t actually children as much as they are robots who have devoted themselves to live as predefined familial structures that humans created before them. These robots decided that not existing was better than to feel terror. They did not have the emotional knowledge to realize that such a thing will pass.
I’ll be honest; I don’t know if that all made sense, but that is what I took away from it. This scene closes with one final gut punch. Upon seeing this devastation, Pascal decides that he cannot go on with this memory. He tells you to destroy him, but you also have the option to reset his memory. (There seems to have been a third option, but I did not think of it.) Both options were terrible. I couldn’t force myself to kill this character I have come to care for. I also felt that resetting his memory allowed him to avoid dealing with the tragic events that occurred. It was an impossible choice. Nier: Automata is filled with these kinds of moments, but this one stood out to me the most.
#03 - Visiting Elisabet in Horizon: Zero Dawn
I will also be brief with this moment as well, because it is incredibly simple. Aloy grew up without a mother or father. They didn’t die, but she literally did not have them. As Aloybegins learning about the world around her, she discovers that she is the clone of Elisabet Sobeck, a scientist attempting to save the human race. Elisabet is the closest thing that Aloy has to family. When Aloy finishes her mission, she sets off to find the resting place of Elisabet. While watching Aloy ride up to Elisabet’s grave, we hear a voice over of Elisabet talking with GAIA about her own mother and what she’d like her child to be like if she had had one. It’s beautiful. I just watched it again, and I’m crying over here.
#02 - Lewis and the Cannery in What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch had a handful of amazing sequences, but the one that really stood out the most was Lewis’s. This sequence tells the story of Edith’s brother Lewis. Lewis goes to work at a cannery after high school. The job is monotonous. After his brother, Milton, had gone missing and the deaths of his other family members, Lewis is depressed.
The story is told by his therapist. She speaks about how Lewis spent his time working in the cannery imagining himself in a fantasy world; a world where he could mean something. His fantasy starts small as an explorer in a dungeon. It slowly builds as he gains friends and followers, becomes mayor, and finally is about to marry a prince and become king.
This is all too real for me. There have been times when life is hard and sad, and all I want to do is escape into a fantasy world, whether it be a movie, video games, or just my own head. Lewis, however, gets lost in his fantasy. He wants to live there. Tragically, he ends his own life to do so.
The way this sequence plays out is what really stands out. At the beginning, you control Lewis with the right stick cutting the heads off a never ending supply of fish and throwing them on a conveyer belt. As the therapist begins talking about Lewis’s fantasies, a thought bubble pops up and you begin controlling that as well with the left stick. The more Lewis’s fantasy grows, the more real estate it takes up on the screen until it eventually overtakes the entire thing. I made my wife play this game, and it was very interesting to watch her play this segment. When the fantasy first appeared, her focus was still on the fish, and she struggled to navigate Lewis through the fantasy. As the fantasy grew, more fish started piling up as she began focusing more on the fantasy than on the fish. As obvious as this may seem, it was fascinating nonetheless.
Anapurna created something special in Edith Finch, and this segment is the perfect example of how this genre can weave together storytelling and interactivity in such a spectacular way.
#01 - Ending E in Nier: Automata
Nothing in a game has left an impact on me this year as much as ending E of Nier: Automata. When you finish all previous endings, you get some additional dialogue from your pods during the credit. These little guys were companion robots designed to follow your commands throughout the game. Through watching your actions, they learned and gained free will. Instead of deleting all record of Project YoRHa, they admit that they want the androids to survive and spark a battle with the end credits of the game.
That’s right, you fight the names in the credits. While a very good, inspiration song plays, you control a little triangle and shoot at each name in the credits, destroying them. Of course, the credits shoot back. There’s a point at which this become impossible. You play, die, restart, and repeat. As this happens, the game begins to mock you. Instead of “try again?” it says “admit that trying is meaningless?” or something similar to that. Along with that, you’ll start seeing other messages in the background. These are inspirational messages from other players encouraging you to continue. This will continue to happen for way longer than you’d expect. Finally, you’ll receive an offer for help. Choosing yes surrounds you with six other little triangles and the music swells from a single voice to a choir.
I melted at this point into a blubbering bag of emotions. While the message was simple, with the help of others you can overcome anything and give life meaning, it was the presentation that affected me so much. It may sound silly reading this, but it’s an experience that I won’t soon forget. This segment concludes with one final offer. If you delete all save data, you can help someone else through this section. I chose yes without hesitation. There were still a few things that I wanted to go back to, but it wasn’t even a question for me. I deleted all 40+ hours without a second thought.
As always, I want to hear from you! What were your favorite moments playing a game this year? Do you prefer fun sequences or do prefer to be shocked?
There will be light spoilers about the games each character appears in. Use caution ahead.
This category is devoted to the ten best characters that were introduced to us in 2017. Characters are the backbone of any good story. These are the ten that I found to be the most compelling for one reason or another. I found it very challenging to write about why these characters affected me. I tried my best to keep my rambling to a minimum, but I don’t know that I succeeded. Let’s get started with a character that is sure to be a bit on the divisive side.
#10 - Dr. Suvi Anwar (Mass Effect: Andromeda)
Suvi is a bright light on an otherwise underwhelming and disappointing game. Suvi is the crew’s resident science officer. She is also deeply religious. It is something that I could immediately relate to. So often, the idea of science and faith are put at odds against each other. It was a giant breath of fresh air to experience a character that explored the ways in which the two things can exist as one. In a game that was rather lackluster, conversations with Suvi were one of the few things I looked forward to after each mission.
#09 - Magilou (Tales of Berseria)
I will admit that Magilou tends to exist through a big chunk of the game as a clichéd character. She’s not only the comic relief, but she’s also the one with unclear loyalties. Even so, she is a great one of those characters. She’s genuinely funny and learning her motivations and intentions is immensely satisfying. I would love to go into more detail, but it has been almost a year since finishing this game, and the details are blurry at best. The most important part is that Magilou is a fun character who often made me genuinely laugh out loud.
#08 - Sigrund (Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus)
Sigrund Frau’s introduction is devastating. She is being berated by her Nazi mother for being overweight, for writing in English in her journal, and finally for not being able to sever the head of a resistance member. Her mother continues by mocking her with the aforementioned severed head. It’s disgusting stuff. It’s easy to imagine that Sigrund was physically and emotionally abused by her mother her entire life. After a sequence of events, Sigrund joins the resistance and turns against the Nazis and her mother. However, as the daughter of a top ranking Nazi officer, she is often met with doubt and suspicion in the resistance. After being continually called a Nazi by the new resistance leader, Sigrund gives one of my favorite speeches in the game. It’s a great moment in a game jam packed with great moments.
#07 - Bayek (Assassin's Creed: Origins)
Ubisoft’s excellent return to the Assassin’s Creed franchise includes the best protagonist in the series since Ezio. While I was initially worried that his quest for revenge would paint him as a one dimensional character, the game began shining a light on other sides of Bayek’s character. Bayek genuinely seems to care about the plights of his fellow Egyptians. Through flashbacks, we get to see Bayek as a father, stargazing with his son and talking about life and what the future holds. We also get to see his dad side reemerge when he finds kids in need in small villages throughout Egypt. His relationship with Aya also felt incredibly real. The conclusion of their story was also heartbreaking. It was unsatisfying in a way that life sometimes can be. I would love to see Bayek return in future games or DLC.
#06 - Velvet Crowe (Tales of Berseria)
It’s been almost a year since I finished the latest Tales game, so I apologize if I don’t quite hit the mark. Like Bayek above, Velvet’s story is one of revenge. She experienced a terrible tragedy and lost everything and everyone. Her new mission is to destroy the one responsible. She is 100% antihero. Throughout the game, she is constantly ruthless in her journey for revenge, and it is up to the others around her to keep her in check. I don’t remember the exact details, but I truly enjoyed that her story didn’t take the easy, predictable route. She didn’t suddenly learn the error of her ways and become an unselfish person. She took a different route and the game was all the better for it.
#05 - Edith Finch (What Remains of Edith Finch)
Edith gets an unfair advantage by being the lens through which you experience the lives and deaths of so many other characters. She’s on a mission to find the truth behind a supposed family curse. As she makes her way through the unique house, she ruminates about whether or not she’s doing the right thing. Edith wonders if the stories themselves only perpetuate the idea of a curse. She never seems to come to a concrete decision, but ultimately decides to pass on her family’s history. This idea that myths can create history is fascinating, and Edith was a compelling central character to explore this idea. Valerie Rose Lohman also does a wonderful job voicing Edith.
#04 - Rachel Amber (Life is Strange: Before the Storm)
I’m using the term “new character” a little loosely here. While Rachel was introduced in 2015’s Life is Strange, it wasn’t until the prequel, Before the Storm, that we really get to know her. I’m not including Rachel because there’s something special or unique about her, but because she’s so incredibly believable. Rachel represents every teenager who seems to have it all but is falling apart on the inside. Her perfect parents aren’t perfect at all. Rachel’s world is shattered after learning her dad’s secret. Unequipped to deal with such emotions, she lashes out. Rachel’s whirlwind of anger, sadness, and hopelessness manifests itself as an actual forest fire burning everything it comes into contact with. This fire sets the tone for next episode. It’s always looming over Arcadia Bay just as it’s always sitting in the back of Rachel’s mind as she makes plans to disappear with Chloe. Deck Nine delivered on making a complex teenager feel genuine.
#03 - 2B (Nier: Automata)
I honestly don’t know how to properly write about my feelings on 2B. The way the player’s perspective of her relationship with 9S changes over the course of the game is just fantastic and terrible. At the beginning of the game, 2B appears to be cold and unwilling to be personable with 9S. However, there is a very specific reason for this. Her purpose is to eliminate him every time he learns the true nature of Project YoRHa. This means time and time again, she forges a bond with 9S only to have to kill him, ultimately resetting his memories. Hints of this permeate the early game, but it isn’t until you receive this context that the full impact this has on 2B is realized. It’s truly heartbreaking.
#02 - Aloy (Horizon: Zero Dawn)
Aloy doesn’t take crap from anybody. Aloy is a strong female character. Ashly Burch does a fantastic job bringing her to life. Aloy grew up as an outcast simply for having no mother. She was raised by Rost who became Aloy’s father figure. For years, Rost trains Aloy for The Proving, which would allow her back into the tribe if she wins. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong and Aloy begins her adventure to find her and the world’s truths. Years in the wilds taught Aloy to be compassionate towards others in need. Her interactions with others during some of the side quests are some of my favorites in any open world game. Aloy continually shows that she’s willing to persevere despite the devastating revelations she encounters along the way. This all culminates in one of the sweetest moments of the year to cap off one of my favorite games of the year.
#01 - Senua (Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice)
I am not affected by mental illness. I’m not qualified to speculate on whether Senua is a good representation of what mental illness is like. I will say, personally speaking, that I can imagine that she is the best representation in a major game of what mental illness could be like for some people. Senua is affected by psychosis. She sees things that aren’t there. Her father would have her believe that she is cursed. He would have her believe that all the tragedy she witnesses in her life is brought about by her curse. Eventually the guilt of this overwhelms her leading to the events that take place at the beginning of Hellblade. Every emotion Senua felt during her journey resonated through me. Any feeling of comfort while playing this game was short lived. Melina Jeurgens brought a character to life that affected me deeply.
In a year that includes so many wonderful games, it was hard to narrow this list down to just ten. I have no doubt hat there are dozens of other fantastic characters introduced this year, so let me know in the comments what some of your favorites were!
This category is dedicated to the games I beat for the first time in 2017 but did not come out in 2017. I spend a lot of time throughout the year catching up on games I missed for one reason or another. This category gives me a way to recognize the great ones. So let’s get it started!
#10 - Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein is a game that I had heard a lot of love about over the past year or two. Game Informer’s Javy Gwaltney constantly sang its praises. However, FPS games are generally not that interesting to me. I’m not very good at them, and they normally prioritize action over storytelling. That is not the case with The New Order. MachineGames penned a fantastic alternate history story that goes beyond the “nazis are bad” narrative. The protagonist, BJ Blazkowitz, and the supporting cast of characters are generally well written. While I didn’t enjoy playing this game as much as I did watching it, the gameplay itself was mostly enjoyable for me. This game immediately made me excited about playing the sequel that dropped earlier this year. You may see that here in the future…
#09 - The Last Guardian
I’ll be honest with you. I thought this game was going to be much higher on my list than nine when I began making it. The latest game from the director of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Fumito Ueda, is as wondrous as it heartbreaking. Trico is easily the best animal companion in any game I’ve played ever. He is animated and programmed so perfectly. Trico isn’t domesticated. Trico isn’t going to do everything that you want him to do, when you want him do it. This stubbornness makes Trico feel so real. I have two cats, and let me tell you what; sometimes they won’t do anything I say. Other times, they’re lovely and quick to listen. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, and I understand how people could think it’s a bad mechanic, but it works so well for me. By the time the credits rolled, tears had rolled down my face. This game is beautiful, and I highly recommend it to pet owners and fans of Ueda’s previous games.
#08 - Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Spike Chunsoft’s Danganronpa is a visual novel series. The bulk of the game revolves around a game of death orchestrated by a menacing stuffed bear named Monokuma. The premise of the game is that you are trapped in a school with your new classmates. The only way to leave is to be the last one alive. The twist, however, is that after every death, a trial will be held to determine the identity of the killer. If they succeed, the killer is killed. If they fail to identify the killer, everyone dies, and the killer goes free. Where the game shines, however, is in its characters and its writing. It’s fun to hunt for clues and use logic and reasoning during the trials, but the space between the murders was my favorite. I found myself getting attached to certain characters throughout the game. Because of this, the tension I felt when a murder occurs was unlike any other, and the tension does not release when you learn who was killed. There’s still a chance your favorite character could be the murderer. I don’t play a lot of visual novels, but this quickly became one of my favorite game series period. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game does handle gender poorly with one character. The game equates being a man as being strong and being a woman as being weak quite often. That, among other aspects about the handling of that character, is quite the dark spot on an otherwise fantastic game.
#07 - Nier
I’m one of those weird people who feels a need to play previous games in a series before I can play the most recent one, even when there isn’t a direct connection between the games. In this case, I am glad to be one of those people. Yoko Taro’s Nier is rough, I’ll be honest. The combat is repetitive and the side quests are poorly designed. However, underneath all that is a brilliant story with unique characters and a game that isn’t afraid to take risks with its gameplay. Most of the game is a standard third person action game, but you may suddenly find yourself in a twin stick shooter, isometric action game, or even a text adventure. The sudden gameplay changes don’t always work particularly well, but I love that they attempted it. The story basically has you playing a father looking for a cure for his daughter who has fallen ill with the Black Scrawl. This basic story serves as a conduit for the player to learn about the unique world. The game does require you to play through the second act of the game at least one more time to get the full context. Fortunately, the game is much easier and quicker to get through a second time and the added story pieces are tragic and beautiful. I could never recommend Nier across the board, but if you love odd narratives, experimental gameplay, and sci-fi, this could be right up your ally.
#06 - Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus
How have I never played a Sly Cooper game before? I was really big into 3D platformers at the time this was released, but somehow Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper series flew under my radar. I was immediately charmed by this game’s cast of characters. I was nervous about this being a stealth platformer, but I was surprised that the stealth aspects to this game were well done and enjoyable, if a little thin. The boss battles were where the game shined for me. Most of them having you solve some sort of puzzle to figure out how to do damage. Directly attacking a boss almost never works. One boss isn’t even a battle at all. The variety was a breath of fresh air. Sly 2 introduces many mechanics and adds playable characters, but I very much prefer the simplicity of the original Sly Cooper.
#05 - Rise of the Tomb Raider
The new rebooted Lara Croft has been a very compelling character for me. She doesn’t stand out as much as someone like Nathan Drake, but I think that’s to her benefit. Crystal Dynamics has created a character in Lara that is extremely passionate about the work she does. She is resilient and will do everything in her power to accomplish her goals. However, she never lets her work take precedent over those she considers family. Rise begins with Lara out to prove that her father wasn’t crazy; that his life’s work wasn’t just a fairy tale. Her love for her father comes through very clearly and is further seen in the Croft Manor expansion. There is also a moment in the game where Lara is faced with a choice to either go after the artifact or help her friend. She doesn’t hesitate. The game itself is a grand adventure that is incredibly fun to play. The bow and arrow is my favorite weapon to use in games, and the bow gameplay is great here. With the exception of a few “boss fights,” I was always having a great time playing this game.
#04 - Oxenfree
It’s been a long time since January when I finished Night School Studio’s Oxenfree, so I may struggle with writing about it. I had no idea what this game was about going into it. A group of young friends meets up on an island to hang out and have some drinks. You immediately find that there’s some history between everyone, whether individually or as a group. I remember the dialogue being well acted and written. I immediately wanted to know more about everyone. And then the cosmic horror kicked in. Shortly after, you are tasked with reuniting your friends while figuring out what is happening on this island. I do remember that the game often made me feel uneasy in a good way, but I also am extremely easy to scare. I don’t know that I would call it a scary game, but it is definitely chilling at times.
#03 - Deadly Premonition
I don’t even know where to begin. This game is one of the most unique experiences I’ve had with a game. The adorable Swery crafted a love note to Twin Peaks. Deadly Premonition is not necessarily a good game in the traditional sense. It really doesn’t play very well. The map is incredibly hard to navigate. Where it shines, though, is in its atmosphere and off the wall characters and storytelling. You play as Detective Francis Morgan York. You’ve come to Greenvale to investigate the murder of a girl named Anna. This leads to interactions with the towns people, all of whom are just a bit eccentric in one way or another. This is a very hard game to describe. There is also an entire supernatural element to it. York is often transported to a dark version of the town overrun by red vines where he’s attacked by zombie-like creatures with the absolute best voices. “Don’t shoot me” is a phrase I cannot hear in other tone than the weird distorted Deadly Premonition zombie tone; and yes, the zombies ask you not to shoot them. If you can handle the unfriendly controls and dated mechanics, this is a game that must be experienced. I wish I could forget my time with it so I could watch the story unfold for the first time once more. It’s truly bizarre.
#02 - Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
The follow up to Danganronpa uses largely the same set up and scenarios as the first game. Instead of being trapped in a school, you and your classmates are trapped on a series of tropical resort islands. What really elevates this game above its predecessor is its intriguing cast of characters. I don’t think there is a single character that I didn’t enjoy. Even the ones that made a weak first impression were able to win me over by the end. The investigations and trials work relatively the same with some added mechanics to keep things fresh. Despite having a mostly brand new cast of characters, Goodbye Despair continues the story that the first one started. Trigger Happy Havoc ended with some huge questions left unanswered and the follow up delivers upon answering those questions in a very satisfying way. This is definitely not a game you should play on its own, but if you enjoyed the first one, Goodbye Despair is everything a good sequel should be.
#01 - Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2.X)
Anyone who knows me knows that I am in love with the Final Fantasy series. It’s my favorite. I grew up with it. Square Enix’s second MMO is a love letter to fans of the series like me. They managed to craft a MMO that feels as important as any other single player numbered entry to the series. The only issue I have with it is that there is a lot of it. I have played the game off on and on since its re-release. It wasn’t until this year, though, that I really dug in and finished the main story up until its first expansion. It took me almost 150 hours. While many quests (especially in the early/mid game) are your classic MMO fetch/kill quests, the story Square Enix has crafted is surprisingly well written. Side characters (or quest givers, as they’re often referred to) have characterization and can be genuinely funny. Mostly everyone feels like they have a real personality. The plot revolves around a political struggle, but also contains classic fantasy elements as monster tribes work to summon their primals to the land of Eorzea. Everything works together to weave a narrative that can rival any single player Final Fantasy in quality. This was my first experience with an MMO, and I don’t know that I have any interest in any others, but I can see myself coming back to A Realm Reborn for years to come.
So that’s it! I played some amazing older games this year. It’s only fitting for a year that saw the release of so many amazing games itself. Now I want to hear from you. What were your favorite pre-2017 games that you played for the first time this year?
How do you approach your first post? I have had this idea to start a blog for a long time now. The problem was that I didn’t know how to get it started. I still don’t know if I actually do. I had a few ideas. Maybe I would just start putting up pieces and not address it at all. Should I push publish with only one piece up or should I wait until I had a handful of pieces to share? The ideas eventually turned into fear. What if my ideas aren’t interesting? What if nobody reads them? What if I can’t come up with a single original thought?
The more I thought about how to start, the more nervous I began to feel about this process. I’ve never written anything before outside of a school setting, and I have definitely never written anything about games. What pushed me back into focus was remembering why I wanted to do this in the first place. I’m not trying to get as many views as I can. I’d honestly be happy if I were the only one to see this. I’m also not trying to make a living doing this. Of course, that’s not to say I wouldn’t be happy if I got a lot of views and made a livable wage writing about games, but that’s not why I’m here right now.
I’ve always wanted to write as a way to get my thoughts out of my head in a productive manner. Social media is one way to go about this, and I am part of a wonderful gaming community, but that comes with a myriad of baggage and distractions. (Not to mention that long form writing does not work well with most social media.) Ultimately, I’m here writing right now, because I want to get better at expressing myself and my ideas. By making my thoughts and ideas public, I force myself to spend more time thinking about how to express them and open myself up to (hopefully) constructive criticism from my peers. With that being said, I will always be open to any advice about my writing. I welcome it.
So what am I going to write about? I’m not entirely sure yet. While most pieces will probably be about games directly, I’m also hoping to look at other aspects of life through the lens of games. How does gaming affect other aspects of our lives? I’m also very interested in the gaming community and how social politics affects that community. This could be a touchy subject for some, but everything I believe comes from a place of love and respect for everyone. Because I am hoping to post something at least once a week, some pieces may just be the mad ramblings of someone with no ideas at all. Only time will tell.
And so it begins. This will be posted in the next hour. Once it’s up, I’m committing to it for the foreseeable future. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious about publishing this page. I feel like I’m exposing myself in some way. Mostly, though, I’m excited to finally start this journey. My plan for the next few weeks is to get into my game of the year picks. I will be writing not only about my ten favorite games of 2017, but also about other categories as well. Some of these will include the best moments in games and the best new characters.
And now it’s time to push the button.
Aaron (me) is a lover of games, Extra Life member, Twitch streamer, and husband. I have never written much before, so I apologize if things start a little rough. I hope to improve in time.