Highlights so Far

As mentioned in the intro, the first six months of 2017 have provided a ton of options for RPGamers to sink their teeth into. Starting off in January with Tales of Berseria and Yakuza Zero before reaching June with Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood and Ever Oasis, every month has had something to be interested in. We asked the RPGamer staff to share some of their personal highlights of the year so far.

Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 (PS4)
Developer: Sega | Publisher: Sega | Release Date: 01.24.2017

One of the first RPGs out the gate, Yakuza Zero is easily the strongest contender for my personal Game of the Year. While it lacks the style of Persona 5 or the gorgeous world of Horzion: Zero Dawn, Yakuza Zero is a game full of humour and passion. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard while playing an RPG, yet I can't get the memorable sidequests out of my mind. From delivering pizzas, to saving a child from pornography, to making long-distance calls on a brick cellphone, Kazuma Kiryu doesn't seem to ever get a break. Even Zero's main story is as strong as its sidequests, and equally as memorable.

Not only has it tweaked the Yakuza combat system into something more fluid, there is just so much to this game in terms of exploration, side-missions, minigames, everything feels so solid and refined. It's also interesting to use the 80s as the main setting and see the younger Kazuma Kiryu at work, being a young yakuza and learning the trade. Zero has given me hope that Yakuza 6 will be worth the wait. Now I just need to go back and make some time to finish more of those crazy sidequests! - Sam Wachter

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)
Developer: Guerrilla Games | Publisher: Sony | Release Date: 02.28.2017

Well 2017, you gave it the old college try to make choosing a Game of the Year harder than ever. By all indications, it looked to be a year full of contenders: the latest entry in the Mass Effect series; Ni-Oh, the historic RPG with Souls flair; not one but two new Yakuza games; and a new offering in the Persona franchise... and that's just the opening salvo of the first half of the year. But all that ceased to matter just a couple of months into the year. By the time February concluded, the Game of the Year discussions ended for me with the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I know I'm by far not the only one who felt this was the perfect storm of gaming elements. For some, the fast-paced, chaotic-yet-completely-overseeable combat that had Aloy tangle with house-sized metal beasts and take them down with style did the trick. For others, it was the absolutely gorgeous environments and graphics that were evident in everything from the steel blue skies to the crystalline lakes Aloy swims across, from the cloud-piercing mountaintops of All-Mother down to each out-of-place hair in Rost's magnificent beard. What sealed the deal for me, though, was the superbly told and engaging narrative of mankind facing extinction by its own making, and the subsequent struggle against it. Meticulously realized and maturely told, it's a story that rivals those found in any other science fiction RPGs. - Pascal Tekaia

NieR: Automata

NieR: Automata (PS4/PC)
Developer: PlatinumGames | Publisher: Square Enix | Release Date: 03.07.2017

When I think about the last six months of games and how insane it has been, the one that still stands out the most is NieR: Automata. It's been months since I've completed the game in full and I'm still dumbfounded it even exists. For the first time, there is a Yoko Taro game that doesn't play like a PlayStation game trying to run on the PlayStation 2. For the first time, there is a PlatinumGames title that doesn't feel like empty, if entertaining, machismo. When was the last time a game this weird ended up not only working, but garnering a bunch of positive attention across the industry?

I could continually ask questions like this, but in the end it doesn't really matter. For me NieR: Automata is this year's most memorable game and I can't see anything in the near future coming to unseat it. It plays like a dream, continues the series' excellent music, explores contrasting elements of storytelling and gameplay, isn't afraid to have a sense of humor about itself, and revels in just how odd it is. In a year of standout titles, it remains the most indelible of them all. - Zack Webster

Persona 5

Persona 5 (PS4/PS3)
Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus | Release Date: 04.04.2017

Obligatorily added to a list where it may be the prime candidate, Persona 5 lived up to the lofty expectations I had for it. It's not a perfect game, I have qualms scattered throughout its hundred-plus hour running time, but those qualms are lost as easily as my endless nights playing it, yelling at Morgana that I was not in fact tired and didn't need to go to bed. The Persona formula still holds up, especially with the numerous quality of life improvements that came along with this entry. Better yet is how the entire game wears its soul proudly on its sleeves, eschewing the smaller focus of its previous entries to instead throw itself whole hog into thematic and literal rebellion. Is it cheesy? Even a little cringe-inducing? Absolutely, but it also gains the opportunity to exude style from every pore, elevating it above its peers that fail to find that same spark of imagination. It's not often we get games that are entirely worth an extended wait. - Zack Webster

Trying to rank the past three Persona games is a near-impossible task and not one I'm going to attempt here. Nevertheless, all three are fantastic and it's no surprise that Persona 5 is one of my picks of the first half of 2017. Any game that manages to keep me so engaged for over a hundred hours is always going to be right up there. Its qualities have already been enthused over by many others so I'm not going to spend too long on them here, but the game truly lived up the hype, thanks in part to its sheer stylishness. So much effort has gone into every facet of the game that one can only sit back an appreciate it. - Alex Fuller

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)
Developer: Intelligent Systems | Publisher: Nintendo | Release Date: 05.19.2017

Due to various factors, I have been unable to play many of the games released this year, which I hear has been a particularly good one for RPGs. However, I was able to start and finish Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia in a timely manner and I must say, this has to be the best Fire Emblem for the 3DS. This is especially astonishing as Echoes is a remake of the second ever game in the series, Fire Emblem Gaiden, considered by many to be an oddball title. This remake takes the unique aspects of Gaiden — dungeon exploring, talking to villagers, and battle maps that emphasize terrain — and updates them. Echoes also adds in many newer features that the series is now known for such as support conversations, the forging of weapons, and Casual Mode. On top of that, there is the new Mila's Turnwheel, which allows for a limited number of times a player can rewind the battle to correct mistakes and full voice acting, a first time for the main series.

Perhaps the most welcome aspect of Echoes is the story, which is not only greatly expanded from the original Famicom version, but is arguably the best the series has had in years. The plot, writing, and characters are very strong, with the full voice acting only making it better. The maps aren't quite as well-designed as in last year's Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and Revelation, but they are still enjoyable and a good challenge. That's not to say there aren't some shortcomings (the final dungeon can be a bit grueling and small class variety), but the game's strengths more than make up for it in my eyes. Echoes takes the best aspects from Fire Emblem both pre-and-post-Awakening and I very much hope the upcoming Nintendo Switch game will take more after this game than Fates. - Cassandra Ramos

Victor Vran

Victor Vran (PS4/One/PC)
Developer: Haemimont Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Release Date: 06.06.2017 (Console)

After spending the first half of the year hearing about all of the great RPGs that had released, I found myself longing for an underdog to show up out of nowhere and surprise me. That happened when 2015's PC-exclusive Victor Vran finally hit consoles. After playing through this on PlayStation 4, I found everything I'd been wanting out of a third-person looter and none of the mess I didn't.

This low-fat action RPG gave me a ton of customization through Victor's arsenal and lots of monsters to smash to keep the fun flowing. I found myself slicing through hordes of foes with a scythe before swapping to a lightning gun and chain electrocuting the rest of the swarm. Typically these types of RPGs take their stories too seriously for me and weigh things down with an overabundance of meaningless dialogue, but Victor Vran never did that. It simply gave me tools of mass destruction and pointed me towards the nearest dungeon full of baddies. And the challenge rewards, complete with the explosion of loot they grant, were enough to keep me searching every area for all of the hidden secrets. Victor Vran might lack the name recognition needed to make it a huge success, but I highly recommend it for anyone seeking a fun, monster-killing romp. - Michael A. Cunningham

Tokyo Xanadu

Tokyo Xanadu (Vita)
Developer: Nihon Falcom | Publisher: Aksys Games | Release Date: 06.30.2017

Nihon Falcom's flood of western releases continued last month with the release of Tokyo Xanadu on PlayStation Vita, courtesy of Aksys Games. A distant successor to previous Xanadu titles, though effectively considered a new IP, the game is a curious blending of Trails of Cold Steel's structure, UI, and other systems, with action RPG gameplay reminiscent of recent Ys titles and Persona-esque story elements thrown in to its modern day setting.

A fair argument can be made that it is not particularly original considering that aspects that have been lifted wholesale, nonetheless the game has been thoroughly enjoyable so far. The game is packed full of all the charm that the developer's fans have come to expect, with another excellent and engaging cast, and combines it with snappy, enjoyable dungeons and combat to provide the action after all of the main players and NPCs have been chatted to. Tokyo Xanadu is yet another showcase of the PlayStation Vita as an fantastic device for RPGamers, though those yet to join #TeamHandheld will be able to sample its delights on console and PC later this year with the launch of the eX+ version. - Alex Fuller

Halftime Report 2017
Intro - Highlights so Far - Still to Come

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