GameLuster GOTY – Jorge and John

Jorge Van de Sompel’s 2017 GOTY Pick

Handing out awards always seems like an overindulgence. Surely having people play your game and review it positively is a sufficient reward for your efforts? But I suppose it’s nice to be recognized outside of this simple exchange. Hence my number one game of the year award (trademark pending) goes out to Nintendo’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Beyond the predictable moaning and groaning on how incredibly predictable a choice that was, I have to ask you calm down and patiently listen to my reasons why. It’s true that Zelda is a safe choice, certainly this year where it has already won several awards from many different award ceremonies, and that betting on Nintendo is mostly a safe bet where games are concerned. That said, I too moan and groan when people champion Zelda for very vague, and in my mind very wrong, reasons. The scale of Zelda, the score, the feel, the universe, and what have you all seem secondary to my enjoyment of the game. Indeed, I even remember some reviewers noting the score as bland or forgettable in comparison with older Zelda titles. What drives my enjoyment of the game, then, is neither the parts in themselves nor the sum of all of them, but the fact that it is a contemporary experience driven completely by the player’s gameplay.

That in and of itself is a vague statement, I know. Every game is an experience that relies on player input, so why should Zelda be special amongst thousands? For this, I raise the issue that many people—too many, in fact—see and treat a game’s story and gameplay as two separate elements. Really, they are almost identical. Games do not have stories, they tell stories through gameplay. Lately, however, a lot of game developers have come to see it this way, too; that games should have these two separate poles called story and gameplay and that they should somehow receive individual emphasis. As if the medium simply didn’t matter! And in comes Nintendo, of all companies, to set the record straight; in comes Zelda: Breath of the Wild to remind all of us that games are played, not experienced or seen or heard or lived through. Zelda unashamedly wears its medium on its sleeve, its breastpocket even, and shows its courage in a market dominated by visual novels and interactive movies. And for that, it deserves nothing short of my respect and gratitude.

But I do have a cheeky runner-up. As I am a fan of Norse mythology and strategy games, it was hard to ignore Northgard this whole year. I quickly caved and found a diamond in the rough that no large corporation has swallowed whole yet. In this same stale market where Zelda shines, so, too, does Northgard. Proudly can I call it a game, its medium emblematized in the matches that can last several hours even though the game only asks that you collect a limited number of resources and that you survive the winter. There’s too much to say about it that I feel makes it inappropriate to just dump into one or two paragraphs. I’ll close by saying that, if I didn’t feel a comparison to older, successful RTS games was in poor taste in that it would rob Northgard of its own spotlight, well deserved, than I’d have made such a comparison already. As it stands, it does warrant me granting it my second favorite game of the year, its status as a runner up due in part because of its status as an early access game.

John Morano’s 2017 GOTY Picks

1.) NieR: Automata

To be completely honest, I didn’t see Nier Automata coming at all. I picked up the game shortly after release because I needed a game to review for my school paper. I’m not typically a fan of the hack and slash or bullet hell genres, but NieR blew my mind. The combat felt great and the roleplaying elements were engaging, but what truly made NieR a standout experience was its plot and music. The narrative was quite profound, with compelling characters. I interpreted it as a philosophical allegory, exploring the meaning of one’s existence if there is no god, or as NieR (and Nietzsche) puts it, if god is dead. Add to this a musical score which won NieR best soundtrack at The Game Awards, and you have my favorite game of this year, and probably one of my top five favorite games of all time.

2.) Persona 5

If NieR: Automata hadn’t been the competition, Persona 5 would easily have been my favorite game of the year. I’ve been waiting on this one since Persona 4, almost a decade, and it was absolutely worth the wait. The Persona series is one of my favorite series, and Persona 5 meets my expectations for narrative and production values. The anime cutscenes are beautiful, the voice-acting professional, and the soundtrack quite catchy. Further, it elevates gameplay and mechanics to a new high. If you’re a fan of the series, this is the next-gen Persona game you were waiting for, and if you’re not, Persona 5 is sure to convert you. Even if I’m partial to NieR: Automata, Persona 5 was an excellent choice for Best Role-Playing Game at The Game Awards.

3.) Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

I’m rather fond of the Danganronpa series, and the latest entry, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, was an absolute joy to play through. This is a series unlike anything else within the JRPG genre, with liberal use of profanity, a dark story, and cerebral gameplay mechanics. This latest entry delivered more of the quirky characters, murder-mystery, and fast-paced trials which has made the series a cult hit. One of the new characters, Kokichi Oma, might be the series’ best to date. I really hope this isn’t the last Danganronpa game, but if it does turn out to be, it’s a good note to end on. If The Game Awards had a “Best Visual Novel” category, then Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony would absolutely have my vote.

4.) Warframe

2017 has been an excellent year for Warframe and all those who play it. We’ve seen not only the addition of new weapons, mods, and warframes, but also the release of Plains of Eidolon. Plains of Eidolon is the biggest and most innovative update the game has received to date, and I’m still enjoying it. The update was barely even out before Digital Extremes released an event, Operation Plague Star, with special loot and enemies. Currently DE has released another event, the Ghoul Purge Bounties, about a month after the last one, and there’s even more content just around the corner. I think Warframe was by far the best choice for “Best Ongoing Game” at The Game Awards, and Overwatch’s win was just silly.

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