5. Yakuza Zero
Origins titles are ones that I usually approach with a fair share of trepidation. Sure, you’ll occasionally come across a few outstanding ones such as Crystal Dynamics’ outstanding Tomb Raider reboot, or the criminally underappreciated Resident Evil 0. However, more often than not, origins stories tend to end up feeling like lazy cash-ins for tired franchises that fail to impress.
Having said that, when Yakuza 0 was first announced, I was more than a little concerned that Sega was spreading their beloved open-world crime drama series a bit thin. Thankfully, when our review build showed up this January, all of my concerns quickly fell to the wayside. It’s arguably one of the finest entries in the long-running underworld saga to date. The game sports a slick new engine, gorgeous visuals, and an overhauled fighting system that allows you to master not one, but three different fighting styles which can be swapped on the fly. Combine that with one hell of a story and Yakuza 0 stands as one of the most memorable releases of 2017 by a long shot.
There’s just so much fun to be had in this unbelievably feature-rich package. From cracking skulls in the streets of Sotenbori as Shimano Family “Mad Dog” Goro Majima or raking in millions of yen in real estate profits as you topple the Five Billionaires of Kamurocho as fledgling Dojima soldier Kazuma Kiryu, there’s a staggering amount of things to do. Of course, you can forgo all of the drama and just spend hours in the various arcades scattered around town, too. The world is your oyster!
However you choose to live your life of crime, one thing is for certain: It feels damn good to be a gangster.
– Francis DiPersio
4. Nier: Automata
Nier: Automata is a bullet hell with heart and soul. Amidst intense, frenzied battles with legions of robots is a game that delves deep in to our identities as human beings. This exploration of the human soul was one of the most poignant and beautiful games this year. With a driving soundtrack, gorgeous scenery and nuanced characters, Nier: Automata was truly a product of conviction and soul.
Nier: Automata tells the story of two androids, 2B and 9S, as they carry out missions for their organization, YoRHa, an entity comprised entirely of androids committed to eradicating an alien presence on Earth in order to protect the remainder of the human race that has sequestered itself on the moon. The malignant, alien invaders have developed robots to engage in combat and, as the game begins, you come to understand that the animosity between the human-developed androids and the alien-made robots has been maintained for years. Androids have always destroyed robots and that’s how it always will be. However, as 9S and 2B explore the world that humans left behind, they start to question the meaning of their own existence and what it means to be alive.
Robots, long thought to be obedient and simple, begin to mimic patterns of human behavior. There are robots that wish to be beautiful, fight for peace, create a cult and even go through the act of fornication. Upon this discovery, 2B and 9S realize the world they know isn’t quite so black and white. They themselves are superficially indistinguishable from humans, yet they are decidedly nonliving. They work to protect humans and must block out extraneous thoughts. However, they feel passion, companionship and sorrow. What sets them apart from humans?
This sense of existentialism pervades every facet of the game, from the multiple main storylines to every optional side mission. Playing through the game multiple times yields different perspectives and alternate endings that pose complex questions of identity and being. Moreover, gameplay through these routes is explosive; players are often faced with hordes of enemies at a time and must cut through them all while rapidly dodging and shooting. Though the player must relive the main story multiple times, the game does a great job of keeping gameplay fresh and exciting, never dwelling too long on levels and keeping the player moving towards new truths.
Conceived by the enigmatic Yoko Taro and scored beautifully by Keiichi Okabe, Nier: Automata is a beautiful and compelling investigation in to the underpinnings of our identity as human beings through the echoes of our civilization.
– Grant Utter
3. Super Mario Odyssey
I’ve been a devout fan of the Super Mario series ever since I was little, so I don’t take what I’m about to say lightly – Super Mario Odyssey is one of Super Mario games of all-time. It’s kind of funny, when you think about it. This is a platforming series that’s been going on for well over 30 years, now. You can only make so many games about jumping over pits, nabbing collectables, and saving a princess from an evil turtle, right? Well, no, actually. That’s not right at all. On the contrary, Odyssey continues to show, as have its predecessors, that the platforming genre has a lot to offer – especially 3D platforming involving everyone’s favorite leading plumber.
Most 3D Super Mario “adventure” games have had their quirks. Sunshine gave you the F.L.U.D.D., and Galaxy and Galaxy 2 had the Star-Spin and gravity trickery. And then we have Odyssey, which features… the ability to throw your hat. Sounds goofy, right? Well, it is. But it’s that very same goofiness that makes it so much fun. Not only can you use your Cappy-possessed hat to grab coins and use as a springboard, but you can also use it to take control of (officially known as “capturing”) a number of creatures – and sometimes, even inanimate objects. This, not surprisingly, leads to plenty of incredibly fun scenarios. From using a Hammer Bro to carve out new paths, to building a sky-high Goomba Tower to impress a swooning lady Goomba, Odyssey proves that even something as simple as tossing a piece of headwear around can be turned into something absolutely… CAP-tivating.
Of course, Cappy isn’t the only thing that makes Super Mario Odyssey so much fun. The levels are the game’s real bread and butter. Although it’s surprising when you think about it, Odyssey is the first real “open-world” Mario game that we’ve gotten in quite a while. And this time, you’ve got more freedom than ever before. Odyssey encourages players to do as they please within each Kingdom that they visit. Sure, there are a few core missions in each that, when completed, change the world a bit. But other than that, you’re on your own.
Truthfully, this might be a little intimidating at first. With most Kingdoms containing over 50 Power Moons (not to mention the 50 – 100 Purple Coins per Kingdom!), there’s a lot to see and do. But Odyssey makes the most of it, thanks to its ingenious level design. Just as each of Odyssey’s Kingdoms differ from one another, so too do the game’s methods of Power Moon collecting. Despite the fact that the game has a whopping total of 880 Power Moons to collect (which can be brought up to 999 if you buy enough in the Crazy Cap stores), you’ll very rarely find yourself doing the exact same thing twice.
From the introduction of fun new mechanics and the further polishing of old ones, to the vibrant worlds and consistent nods at past Super Mario games, there are so many ways in which Super Mario Odyssey is great. If you have a Switch, you owe it to yourself to pick up this modern-day platforming masterpiece. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
– Kenny McKee
2. Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This may be a controversial thing to say, but Zelda’s struggles in the Wii generation — be it constant tutorials and handholding or the confined, unfun overworlds, damaged the brand in my eyes. What was once a series known its openness and grandness suffered in its ever-growing obsession with guiding the player and ever-more obvious restrictions from Wii hardware. With the rest of the industry running circles around in what Zelda once excelled, Nintendo’s legendary franchise was in serious need of an overhaul.
Breath of the Wild accomplished all that and more. The honeymoon period came and went, and still I cannot put my Switch down: there’s still so many Korok seeds I haven’t found, Lynels I’ve yet to slay, checkmarks I need to check out, quests I need to clear, and archival snapshots that must be taken. Last month’s DLC has only prolonged its life: I still need to hunt down most of the costumes, and I remain endlessly entertained by Link’s shiny new motorcycle.
Really, my point is that even a year later, I still want to try new things. My habits in playing may have become familiar — investigate for Korok Seeds, fly about with Revali’s Gale, save up for new arrows, etc. — but much like the “I can do that” philosophy found in Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64, I’m always itching to do things differently, be it finding new ways of tackling Guardians or submitting to my desires of starting a new file. In diving back to Zelda’s roots, Breath of the Wild’s unfettered freedom charts a new course I cannot wait for Nintendo to build upon.
– Anthony Pelone
1. Persona 5
Ever since the Persona series first made its debut over twenty years ago on the Sony PlayStation, it has captured the hearts of hardcore JRPG fans thanks to its eerie occult themes, innovative demon-fusing mechanics, and challenging dungeon-delving gameplay. And while the once-niche series has enjoyed considerable mainstream success in recent years, Persona 5 raises the bar Atlus’ flagship role-playing franchise to deliver a modern masterpiece.
Sure, the game borrows the familiar formula made popular in Persona 3 as you balance your school life with saving the world. However, its execution is much more ambitious than previous efforts thanks to the sprawling version of modern Tokyo that players can now explore. There’s more to see and do than ever before, which really makes you feel like part of a living, breathing world as you attempt to juggle your burgeoning network of social links, a slew of part-time jobs, and exploring the winding corridors of the shadowy world of Mementos.
Of course, all of this freedom wouldn’t matter much if the gameplay wasn’t fun. Thankfully, Persona 5 manages to be the most exciting entry in the series to date thanks to a major overhaul in the way dungeon-crawling aspect of the game is handled. Gone are the sloppy procedurally generated labyrinths we’ve become accustomed to over the years. Now each dungeon, or palace, as they’re now known, is extremely well designed and teeming with clever puzzles to solve as you attempt to steal the heart of its master. These dungeons are all meticulously crafted and full of little details that help flesh out the personalities of their deranged owners. This makes things all the more exciting as you dive ever deeper into their depths. And trust me, you’ll be spending plenty of time doing just that over the duration of the game’s 100-hour story. Talk about epic!
I could honestly talk for hours about all of the little details I love about Persona 5 and it still wouldn’t scratch the surface of what the title has to offer. Simply put, it’s the kind of game that only comes around once every generation or so. If you have even the slightest love for JRPGs, Persona 5 is a game you need to experience at least once in its entirety.
You probably saw this coming, but the Phantom Thieves at Atlus have successfully stolen the hearts of the Hey Poor Player staff, cementing Persona 5’s place as our Game of the Year for 2017.
– Francis DiPersio