Every gaming site across the web is likely to preface their Game of the Year awards with a similar statement: 2017 was nuts for video games. That’s because it really was. We saw a plethora of outstanding releases across every platform, both big and small, grand and intimate, spectacular and subdued. It was also the debut of what is arguably Nintendo’s greatest (or at least potentially greatest) console in decades, complete with its own small yet outstandingly robust library of diverse games. Given that I’m especially enthusiastic about RPGs, it was incredibly fulfilling to see so many dazzling titles take the spotlight this year. I honestly believe that 2017 might be the most quality-rich year in gaming since…I don’t know, 1998? This year’s releases have turned several longstanding design philosophies on their heads, and I can’t wait to see how that influence takes shape in the future. Here are my top five examples of how that innovation shone through in 2017.
I tend to have a pretty solid finger on the pulse of my own tastes. To that end, it almost felt like I knew what my top games of the year would be before 2017 ever even rolled around. Persona 5 was destined to be one of those sure-fire wins right out of the gate. With an inimitable sense of style, Persona 5 feels like the apex of modern Japanese RPG design. It elevates the series’ signature socialization-meets-supernatural concept to such a high standard of excellence that it’s hard to imagine any game surpassing that bar until the inevitable Persona 6.
Persona 5 isn’t perfect; some troublingly regressive ideas arise throughout its nearly 100-hour narrative. It’s surprising that a game built around such a progressive theme—rebellion against an unjust society—didn’t quite nail the execution of its story, but everything else about it is so unceasingly good that it’s much easier to focus on what it does right. A nonstop spectacle of audiovisual decadence, Persona 5 didn’t steal my heart; it earned it, fair and square.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is a supremely important release in a year packed full of standout titles. Not only did it debut alongside Nintendo’s new console as a show-stopping demonstration of everything it can do, it redefined Zelda as we know it. Elegant and restrained, there’s a sense of fulfillment inherent to the mere act of discovery in Breath of the Wild. While other games incentivize exploration with material rewards, Breath of the Wild successfully convinces the player that their feats are rewards in and of themselves.
Breath of the Wild‘s sheer volume of things to do (or “content,” if the word is more palatable) is hugely impressive. It’s the sort of game that every player approaches differently, thanks to its beautifully realized mechanical language. Objects in its world behave and react with a natural sort of logic that is immediately understandable, even to unseasoned players. Plus, with two sizeable pieces of add-on content now available, there’s even more reason to revisit the game nine months after its release. Mark my words: Breath of the Wild is going to be influential for a long time to come.
Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood
Naming an MMORPG expansion one of the best games of 2017 may seem like an unconventional choice, particularly in light of the genre’s comparatively limited appeal, but Stormblood is a particularly transcendent example of an expansion done right. IfFinal Fantasy XIV is a Final Fantasy theme park, Stormblood is its latest attraction. It’s a bold tale of revenge and revolution that manages to feel incredibly grounded in light of its eclectic, moogles-and-magic framework. The superb quality of its writing genuinely rivals (and often surpasses) that of its single-player contemporaries.
Stormblood is also notable for introducing two fan-favourite Final Fantasy jobs that fans have been requesting for years: Red Mage and Samurai. Both handle like a dream, with unique class mechanics and visual panache that demonstrate producer Naoki Yoshida’s deep understanding of what makes an MMORPG fun to play. Did I mention the soundtrack? Twelve forfend, that soundtrack is phenomenal. Stormblood isn’t done, either, with at least another year’s worth of additional content in the pipeline. I guarantee I’ll be along for the ride.
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is happiness distilled. Mario is one of the most iconic characters in gaming for a reason; his games exude a positive, whimsical sensibility that feels precision-engineered to generate joy.
Thinking about Super Mario Odyssey, it’s not necessarily the most revolutionary game in the world. It retains the tried-and-tested, go-here-collect-that formula that Mario games have pioneered since the early days of gaming. Yet Odyssey settles for nothing less than perfection in every iota of its execution. Mario’s weight and momentum make traversal a joy. Its careful consideration of the series’ history pervades its design. Every world, every character, every detail burns bright with endearing personality. There may have been more influential or even artistically significant games released in 2017, but I cannot remember a single session of Super Mario Odyssey that did not begin and end with me smiling from ear to ear.
My favourite games this year all excel in at least one key area, whether it’s their reinvention of formulaic gameplay structure or sheer audiovisual excellence. NieR: Automata does both of those things to some extent (particularly in regard to its show-stopping soundtrack), but where it really stands out for me is the way it defies narrative conventions. NieR: Automata is a game that must be completed three times—yes, three—before the full breadth of its brilliance becomes evident. It’s nothing short of awe-inspiring.
A tale of troubled androids in a bleak, post-human future, NieR: Automata’s robotic protagonists grapple with existential queries that make them feel convincingly alive in spite of their mechanical bodies. The game’s stirring climax cements itself as one of the most powerful moments in video game storytelling, period. It’s a testament to the power of a well-developed narrative, and proof of the medium’s artistic potential.
Retail versions of some the games mentioned were provided by the publisher for previously published. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.