RPGamer’s Personal Top Threes of 2017
While the RPGamer staff has been hard at work prepping for our Game of the Year awards, I thought it would be interesting to poll the staff regarding their favourite games from last year. year. I asked our volunteers to share their top three RPGs played in 2017, as well as a non-RPG pick. While you won’t see the big awards until the end of the month, I hope seeing some of the staff’s personal picks will at least get you excited for what is to come.
1. Horizon Zero Dawn: Horizon Zero Dawn was a game that hooked me from the start and had me wanting to complete every quest and explore every nook and cranny. My addiction to this game had me wanting to explore the world and I loved Aloy’s story, but let’s be honest, the real reason I love this game is MURDERING ROBODINOSAURS!
2. Yakuza Zero: My beautiful, imperfect Yakuza series, I love you. I was smittened by Zero, especially finally having Majima’s side of the story. Exploring Kamurocho in the 1980’s was an utter delight, and the epic question of getting a child a shrink-wrapped magazine will never be forgotten.
3. Persona 5: I adored Persona 5, but I’ll admit that some of the dungeons in this game did not sit well with me. While I enjoyed the combat and the thieving of hearts, I felt like this installment missed the mark for me. Makoto is still best girl, though.
Non-RPG Pick: Thimbleweed Park. This quirky little game and I got on almost immediately. Working my way towards the ending, I remember laughing my butt off and enjoying the crazy, crazy twist. A very fun and interesting take on a murder mystery.
1. Divinity: Original Sin II: A wonderful in-depth RPG experience. The story, character building, and strategic combat are engaging and polished. I will be continuing my saga into 2018 as I haven’t quite beaten this one yet.
2. Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition & Siege of Dragonspear: This game, along with its sequel, I have long considered to be in my top RPGs of all time, yet I had never quite beaten it until this year. After playing up to chapter six on multiple occasions in the past, I finally beat it and am progressing through its newer expansion, Siege of Dragonspear. Not much more needs to be said about this classic game, except that I finally checked the box of having finally finished it.
3. XCOM 2 – War of the Chosen: My love for all things XCOM is strong, and this new expansion did not disappoint. Loads of new content that could almost be a new game in of itself was added, including new soldiers, factions, enemies, and level design. A fully engrossing experience for those who love the XCOM formula.
Non-RPG Pick: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: I have been sucked into the phenomena of this game as well, even from when it was first launched in Early Access as a buggy mess. It is still buggy, but the core components and fun factor of this game allow one to overlook these flaws. While my biggest gaming passion is RPGs, I have sunk seven hundred hours into this game already, and no signs yet of slowing down.
1. Divinity: Original Sin II: While losing some of the charming jank that defined its predecessor, Original Sin II improves on it in every conceivable way, becoming one of the great RPGs of its time.
2. NieR: Automata: Nine months later and I still can’t believe this game exists. Excellent music, writing, and concepts at work wrapped up in a far more playable package than NieR. In a year filled with excellent titles, Automata stands as its most memorable.
3. Persona 5: Yes, there are pacing issues. Yes, the story fails to deliver on its early promise by having noticeable dissonance between its themes and how characters are represented. However, despite some reasonable complaints, Persona 5 is a Persona game for its modern fans: extra layers added to well-trodden systems and a myriad of quality of life improvements that make the simple act of playing the title smoother than ever.
Non-RPG Pick: Super Mario Odyssey. I’ve played few non-RPGs this year, given the size and quantity of many of this year’s bigger titles, but the clear winner from those that qualify is Super Mario Odyssey. Mario’s adventure through a conga-line of distinct worlds, each clashing stylistically, brings with it a sense of joy and discovery its contemporaries fail to capture. And there isn’t a single game this year that plays better.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Of course I’m going to put Xenoblade Chronicles 2 at the top of my list. I loved everything about the game, from its battle system — I think the best of the series so far — to fantastic cast, fascinating and gorgeous world, great story, and excellent music.
2. Persona 5: I wouldn’t consider it my favourite Persona game (that is reserved for Persona 4), but Persona 5 has everything that makes the series so beloved and brings a new upgraded style to the proceedings. Atlus’ P-Studio successfully blended together all of its gameplay elements into an incredibly pleasing package and the cast did a great job of taking the hearts of many.
3. Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth: Although Mask of Deception has some serious pacing issues, it came to life brilliantly at the end. Aquaplus’ visual novel/tactical RPG hybrid sequel and finale picked up right it left off an never stopped going. A brilliant story told with a memorable group of characters is backed up by an excellent combat system that gets a much deserved chance to shine, which it didn’t really get in the first part of the duology. Though the first part is necessary for fully enjoying things, the way Mask of Truth spectacularly wraps everything up makes it all worthwhile.
Non-RPG Pick: Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. What with this year being so ridiculously packed with RPGs, I haven’t had time to play many others, but I was always going to make time for a new Danganronpa. Distancing itself from the previous games works in V3‘s favour and allows it to explore the series in different ways, and is another title where a strong cast really pays off. Although the game was packed with moments, the ending deserves note as one of this year’s truly memorable sections of gaming.
1. The Alliance Alive: A spiritual successor to the idiosyncratic SaGa series, The Alliance Alive manages to combine the classic light-bulb tech learning action of its predecessor with a story that places it more firmly in the Final Fantasy camp. For someone aching for traditional JRPG fun, it provides everything one might like about the genre while also mixing things up enough to stay fresh. Also, penguins!
2. Cosmic Star Heroine: Promising a combination of Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star in its aesthetic, Cosmic Star Heroine almost managed to live up to its own dream. While it had issues, almost all of them could be solved by more of the same goodness that was the heart and soul of the game. In other words, it was good, but MORE PLEASE! Also, Paws the Destroyer as an optional boss was purr-fect.
3. Children of Zodiarcs: One other new game on my list this year was Children of Zodiarcs, fresh out of Montreal with English and French text. A better marriage of card-based strategy, tactical maneuvers, and dice rolls I have never seen, and the story is as captivating as it is depressing. A sequel showing the lands beyond the city of Torus would be quite interesting, I think.
Runner-up: Romancing SaGa 2: Let’s face it; there was no way I wasn’t going to list this one somehow. The thing is, I can’t really call it a recent release if I played it seventeen years ago, and it wasn’t new then. It’s still an awesome experience, and one that classic JRPG fans are likely to enjoy a lot. Let those light bulbs shine!
Oh, I need a non-RPG for this list? I don’t really play a lot of those, so… Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. This game kept me busy on a pair of long trans-oceanic flights this summer, not to mention the various layovers. It was classy, it was sassy, and it had just the right amount of cheesecake blended into its graphical style. It was also a crazy challenge in the later levels. My thumbs were sore from negotiating rooms that were 95% death-by-spiky-doom by the end of it all. But it was the good kind of sore.
1. Yakuza Zero: I expected to have fun traveling back to the 80’s and hanging out with Kiryu in hostess clubs. I didn’t expect Majima’s story to be so touching or for Yakuza Zero to have the best ending of the year. Pure Yakuza perfection.
2. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd: Ditching the beloved protagonists from the first two games was a move that could have gone wrong, but Father Kevin Graham and Ries Argent were more than up to the task of filling those shoes (Stregas of course). It was a fantastic tale in its own right as well, tying up plenty of loose ends from the later Trails of Cold Steel games and, even months later, Star Door 15 continues to haunt my nightmares.
3. God Wars: Future Past: 2017 was a great year for strategy RPGs: a new Fire Emblem came out, Disgaea 5 found a new audience on Switch, and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a surprising success. However, my money is on God Wars as the best of the lot. The game mixes ancient Japanese history and folklore with an incredibly deep class system and wraps it up with a gorgeous art style. Hopefully it marks the start of a new franchise.
Non-RPG Pick: Steins;Gate 0. When this game was announced, I was confused because Steins;Gate wasn’t a story that needed a sequel. Steins;Gate 0 proved me wrong and turned out to be an interesting exploration of Okabe’s depression as he lives through the fallout from one of the bad endings of the first game. Steins;Gate 0 doesn’t shed the excessive wordiness of the original, but it does have an amazing story if the player can get past its foibles.
Editor’s Note: Phil likes old games. Only one is a 2017 release!
1. Horizon Zero Dawn: Horizon Zero Dawn blew me away and wins my favorite game of the year sticker. The world building in this game draws you in, along with the story. Yet, the robotic enemies steal the spotlight as each monster type demonstrates various types of cunning intellect in trying to take you down. The visceral combat system rewards proper planning along with quick reflexes. I can see myself playing this again on harder modes because the combat is just that enjoyable. As icing on this cake, developer Guerrilla Games wrapped this entire packaged in the best looking graphics I have ever seen in a console game.
2. Persona 4 Golden: What can I say that has not been said about this title before? Persona 4 Golden merges great characters, writing and plot together to weave a story that hooks you in and does not let you go. The striking visual style of the game and awesome, concert-inspiring soundtrack absolutely match the quality of the story. While I do not plan to replay this again any time soon, I certainly recommend that all RPGamers run through it, at least once, to experience this story and fabulous cast first hand. Just keep a spoiler-free FAQ handy if you actually want the ‘golden’ ending.
3. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate: I played Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate years ago, when it first released. It did not really hook me, so I quickly put it on the shelf, adding it to my backlog. Late this year, I tried out the Monster Hunter: World, as it was a PS Plus exclusive demo. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted more, so I popped this in. The game hooked me with its tight gameplay, up-gradable weapons and armors (from the pieces of monsters you carve up, no less) and challenging beasts. This exciting entry definitely whetted my appetite for the main course coming up in January.
1. Persona 5: Not to sound cliché, but this game taught me the true meaning of friendship. It resonated with me in a way few games do. The colorful cast of characters did not feel like digital simulations on a screen, they felt like my friends throughout the entire game. One character in particular (Futaba), really struck home with me. It felt good seeing a shy character come out of her shell and relate to things with gaming and other nerdy coping mechanisms. Seeing someone in a game overcome her struggle with social anxiety after suffering through my own for years touched my heart. And that’s just the story aspect of P5. The gameplay, the graphics, the sound; EVERYTHING about this game is amazing. I can guarantee, if there is a ‘Persona 5 Crimson’ on the Switch, I will put another hundred hours into it.
2. Monster Hunter Stories: Let’s face it, our annual Pokémon title this year is a lame expansion disguised as a full priced game. If you want a BETTER Pokémon experience for your money, go with this game. Monster Hunter Stories had me charmed from the first seconds of the demo all the way to the end. It made me feel like my monsters were actually my faithful friends and partners in battle. You get a huge world to explore, tons of monsters and items to collect, and one of the warmest, fuzziest, “give me feels” stories you’ll experience on a handheld.
3. Stardew Valley: The game that enticed me so hard, I played it twice this year (once on the PS4 and once on the Switch). This certainly scratched that Harvest Moon addict itch that I’ve been dying for since Friends of Mineral Town on the GBA. If you have nothing else you want to do for a month, like eat or sleep, this is the game to go to! Just don’t be surprised when your actual baby glitches into the wall.
Non-RPG Pick: Sonic Mania. My inner ten-year-old self thanks the entire everyone at PagodaWest Games and Headcannon for bringing me this masterpiece of Sonic perfection. This is the REAL Sonic 4. This is the Sonic game we needed in the Saturn era. This is the Sonic game that finally shatters the Sonic cycle (we won’t talk about Forces taping THAT back together). If you enjoyed platformers at all in the 16-bit era, you NEED to play this game. Let Sega know THIS is the Sonic we want from here on out!
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: As you can probably tell from my review, I absolutely adored this game. Rather than rehash what was written there, I’ll mention some things that didn’t really fit in the review text. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was quite apprehensive going into Breath of the Wild. Sure, the trailers looked great, but I’ve never been a fan of open world games, and that combined with other changes like breakable weapons and fewer dungeons had me worried. Those worries faded literally as soon as I walked out of the opening cave in the game and beheld the massive world, and they never came back. The Zelda series has been a favorite of mine since I played the original, and yet it has been ages since an entry in the series grabbed me this much (a 3D entry anyway, Link Between Worlds worked wonders for me too), and basically everything else I was playing at the time got put on the back-burner. The combat, the world, the exploration, the clever dungeons, everything just worked. The graphics and music were an absolute treat as well. The impact of this game can’t be understated, and will likely influence open world game design for many years to come. Have I mentioned I love this game?
2. Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom: I have no earthly idea how this game good possibly have come to be. Whoever successfully pitched this to Nintendo has my highest praise. However it happened, it happened, the actually game is a hilarious and challenging turn based strategy game that successfully integrates the Rabbids into the Mario universe without ever feeling like its too much. Clever mechanics and a good selection of characters give players lots of ways to approach battle, keeping things fresh and interesting throughout. My only major complaint is that I already want a sequel bringing in more characters and elements from both series. Playable Rayman please.
3. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: I almost put Xenoblade Chronicles X here as I dug back into to prepare for this game and fell back in love with this amazing and deep game. The only thing keeping it off here is the damnable tiny font. That said, the fact that I put Xenoblade Chronicles 2 here only being twenty hours in should tell you all you need to know. Great voice acting, fun characters, well-paced story, awesome combat, huge locations to explore, this massive JRPG seems to have it all. It’s too early to tell if I’ll love it as much as the first game, but it is absolutely one of my top three games of this year.
Non-RPG PIck: Super Mario Odyssey. 3D Mario games are a rare and special treat, and I was overjoyed to find out we’d be getting a new one so early in the life of the Nintendo Switch. Combining the star hunting and large levels of Mario 64 and the more bite-sized challenges of Mario Galaxy, we find something new and fun in Mario Odyssey. Combine this with the hat and enemy controlling mechanics, and you’ve got not only the best non-RPG of the year, but quite possibly one of the best 3D platformers of all time as well. Mario Odyssey is simply a joy to play, and a game not to be missed by any Switch owner.
1. Horizon Zero Dawn: Like others here, this game sweeps my top spot for the year. All the praise for its astounding graphics and unique combat system are more than deserved, but what put it over the the top for me is its story. Combing through the ruins and bunkers of this unique post-apocalyptic future to discover bit by bit what happened to humanity in the distant past never got old. Something about this tale, told by the messages and recording left behind by a long-dead civilization really stirred up a great thirst in me to see and hear as much more of it as I could. Aloy’s tale is impressive, to be sure, but it’s what lies beneath that hooked me like no other game this year.
Oh, and the fact that we got a meaty DLC offering to play through in the same year, with its own narrative deserving of recognition just seals the deal.
2. Battle Chasers: Nightwar: In a year stuffed with big-scale, open-world RPG experiences, Battle Chasers impressed with its old-school sensibilities. With an IP based on a short-lived but well-received comic book IP, this Kickstarter-funded game from Airship Syndicate provides a deep and enjoyable turn-based combat system with an arcanepunk setting and gorgeous, hand-drawn graphics to great effect. Essentially a western-developed JRPG, this game is one no fan of classic RPGs should miss.
3. The Surge: Lords of the Fallen developer Deck13 took what it learned on that game and applied it to this futuristic Soulslike that puts strategic dismemberment at the forefront of its brutal combat. Being able to constantly craft weapons and armor upgrades for your mechanical exoskeleton to maximize its lethality with pieces and limbs ripped right off enemies never got old, and making your way through machine graveyards and assembly facilities while dying time and time again is as entertaining as it is grim.
Runner Up: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age: It doesn’t really count as a 2017 game, even if it released this summer, but this update of the classic came with some improvements, not the least of which included a reworking of the job system and the option to speed up combat significantly. Not only was it more enjoyable than the original, but I now also finally get to say I’ve completed FFXII.
Non-RPG Pick: Danganronpa V3: 2017 is the year I played through all three of the Danganronpa games, but this one is my favorite of the bunch. A superb cast of characters combines with some of the most enjoyable murder cases I’ve seen in the series to date. Saying anything at all plot-related would be entering spoiler territory, but V3 certainly made me feel more emotionally invested in certain characters than its predecessors had. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of the ending whatsoever, and consider it the one thing marring an otherwise outstanding outing.
Adriaan den Ouden
1. Persona 5: I honestly wasn’t sure that this game could possibly live up to its hype, but for me it did and then some. I personally consider it the best overall game in the series — the cast isn’t quite as memorable as Persona 4‘s, and the plot isn’t quite as brilliant as Persona 3‘s — but it strikes a good middleground, canceling out my different complaints about the previous two games and adding in some brilliant level design, something the series has been sorely lacking.
2. Tales of Berseria: For years, Tales of Symphonia has been my all-time favorite game, but Tales of Berseria comes very, very close to topping it. I had this pegged as my game of the year early on, but I’ve got to give that to Persona 5 after experiencing both. Berseria doesn’t quite hit all the points with the same quality as Persona 5 does, but it’s story and cast are amazing, and it focuses on a pair of characters that have quickly become some of my favorites in all of gaming.
3. NieR: Automata: While I don’t think it’s quite as good as the original NieR, Automata was an amazing experience with a great, memorable cast of characters that asked some interesting philosophical questions as you explored its bizarre, post-apocalyptic world. My only major criticism was that it relied a bit too heavily on some of the previous game’s conceits, especially when it came to the multiple endings and how they played out.
4. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: I am probably one of the harshest critics of the original Xenoblade out there. In fact, I consider it to be the most overrated JRPG since Final Fantasy VII. With that in mind, the fact that its sequel was able to impress me so much is a testament to just how good it is. Every complaint — EVERY SINGLE COMPLAINT — I had about the original Xenoblade has been remedied, and remedied spectacularly. From the actually-rewarding exploration to the improved combat mechanics to the just generally more likeable cast of characters, this game did everything right. Any other year it probably would have been my Game of the Year, dammit 2017!