GameLuster GOTY – Robert and Simon

Robert Scarpinito’s 2017 GOTY Picks

2017 was a great year for video games. I always felt like I was scrambling to finish one game before laying my hands on the next shiny new toy, but the pace has been nearly impossible to keep up with. It almost felt like every week there was something to look forward to just around the corner. If you missed some gems this year, don’t worry about it. I’ve made a list of games that are almost essential.

5.) Tekken 7, by Bandai Namco

I’ve always had a soft spot for Tekken since I first played the fifth game. I never claim to be great at fighting games, but there’s something satisfying about picking at Tekken’s fighting system. It’s a straightforward fighting game without complicated inputs to unleash special moves; it’s about understanding how each of a fighter’s limbs can work together to unleash effective combos. Every fighter plays differently, and every match is full of exhilarating moments of close calls, calculated or not.

Tekken 7 introduces a slow-motion mechanic that kicks in when both fighters’ inputs are very close to hitting each other. It doesn’t sound like much, but the energy it adds to players and viewers is astounding. It’s a game that made me get back into fighting games as a whole, and is a very competent fighting game that’s fun for both novices and experts.

4.) Voez, by Rayark Inc.

Voez is my fourth most-played game on the Switch, behind Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Stardew Valley. It’s a charming rhythm game with a satisfying visual style.

Every audio track comes from Asian composers in the Far East, and the genres vary from electronic to trance to classic piano to rock. The game originally released on iOS and Android back in 2016, but it was ported to the Switch in March. Instead of adopting the same business practice as the mobile version, which was free to download with tracks that had to be earned, the Switch version was a one-purchase $25 release with no microtransactions.

I always find myself coming back to this game between the big Switch releases, and I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by the new tracks that are added as free updates. With such a big screen, the hybrid console is a perfect way to play a touch-screen rhythm game. It scratches that itch I’ve been having for a good music game, and it’ll likely stick with me for the foreseeable future.

3.) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, by Ninja Theory

Hellblade is a success story on so many levels. Ninja Theory couldn’t find a publisher, so it published the game on its own. Providing high-fidelity graphics at half the price of a AAA game, Senua’s Sacrifice has found success as a game with a powerful message. Within months of release, the studio has begun profiting from its risky venture, both in finances as well as reputation. Few games tackle heavy subjects like mental health, especially games that look this good, but Hellblade rushes into the deep end, putting players in the shoes of a character with psychosis. You’ll hear voices in your head as you fight your way through the Nordic afterlife, all the while wondering if any of those enemies are actually there. The game is winning its share of awards this year, notably netting the Best Performance at The Game Awards for Melina Juergens’ work as the title character. Juergens isn’t an actress by trade, yet here she stands, applauded for her compelling work as Senua. The game is a chilling, haunting experience unlike any other, and it deserves respect for what it stands for in the gaming industry: a symbol of taking risks, even when no one else gives you the chance.

2.) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, by Nintendo

Breath of the Wild was an integral piece of software to the Nintendo Switch’s wildly successful launch year. The dream of playing full-on console games on the go felt too good to be true, but Zelda proved that dream was in our hands. While it may not get many points for its story, exploring Hyrule has never felt so good.

The first couple hours you will likely spend marveling over all the little things you can do, like attaching balloons to objects and making them float or launch rocks at enemies. The game was built to reward curious minds at every turn, and rarely if ever tells the player not to do something. If you want to dress Link up in crazy outfits, you can. If you want to ride up to an enemy on your horse, launch yourself up in the air, and peg them in the head with an arrow, you totally can. Many predicted back in March that this game would win a lot of game of the year awards, and time is only proving them right.

Nintendo has created something marvelous in Breath of the Wild that will only leave people patiently waiting for its next Zelda project.

1.) Persona 5, by Atlus

Through all the chaos of 2017, I miraculously found 100 hours to set aside for Persona 5, and every second will forever be burned in my memories. Since I played Persona 4 nearly a decade ago, I’ve been eagerly waiting for the sequel, and it didn’t disappoint. This turn-based RPG stands out as one of the most stylish showings of the year, with every frame being a treat to view. Nearly every element of the user interface is animated in some way, and the presentation of the combat menu makes you forget that it’s a turn-based system.

The bold black-and-red color scheme smacks you in the face from the start, and the acid-jazz anthem “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There,” composed by Shoji Meguro, with vocals by Lyn, all come together to let you know you’re in for a real treat. While the technical graphics are nothing to laud over, the artistic direction surrounding the 3D anime models brings the game to places above and beyond any expectations. All the dungeon-crawling segments have a vignette around the edges of the screen, adding a sense of tension with every step. Every menu is presented concisely and aesthetically, all while being as informative and unobtrusive as possible.

What makes Persona 5 such a powerful entry in 2017 is how memorable the story is. Every twist heightens the stakes, and all the little moments spent bonding with your friends perfectly compliment the craziness of the final few dungeons. It’s a lot to ask for so many hours to experience such an incredible story, but it’s a tale that keeps things interesting until the end. Each new dungeon builds upon the last with fantastic visuals and character development that hurls you into a grand finale befitting of some of the best RPGs. What makes Persona 5 so great, like most Persona games, is that it felt grounded despite the over-the-top story, all because of the friends your character makes along the way.

It’s been months since I’ve beaten that game, and I miss the Phantom Thieves like an old group of friends. Even now whenever I pop the soundtrack on, I think back on my times in the Metaverse, fighting the corruption that runs wild in society. As an overall package, Persona 5 is a game that keeps on giving, and unlike most games this year, it didn’t need a big open world with countless side quests or an endless grind for loot to keep things fresh. Every new dungeon was begging to be explored, and each new event only served to pull you deeper into the lengthy story. Persona 5 is an essential RPG, and it should definitely not be missed by anyone who owns a PlayStation 4.

Simon Smith’s 2017 GOTY Picks

3.) Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Naughty Dog did an amazing job wrapping up the story of Nathan Drake in 2016, but it did leave concerns about how they could do more with the series without its lead character. After playing Lost Legacy, Naughty Dog has shown that this series is about the spectacle of adventure as opposed to its main character, giving us a witty and sarcastic protagonist, an amazing adventure, and a wonderful Uncharted experience.

The Lost Legacy is a wonderful ride, filled to the brim with high stakes action, excellent puzzles, and an excellent narrative. The unlikely partnership of Uncharted 2’s Chloe Frazer and Uncharted 4’s Nadine Ross provides some excellent moments and some uncertainty that escalates the ride all the way to the conclusion.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy provides hope for the future of its franchise, and is an exciting experience from start to end.

2.) Horizon Zero Dawn

Guerilla Games hit it big this year with their latest original property, Horizon Zero Dawn. The world of Horizon was a spectacle, a beauty driven back to the Stone Age, as you explored ruins of a lost civilization and fought the greatest threats around. The robot animals were daunting combatants who forced you to think fast about how to defeat them, especially when your only weapons were arrows and a spear. Each fight was a challenge that felt great to overcome.

Horizon’s greatest credit was its ability to make you explore. Every inch of the world is filled with interesting narrative and character, and the echoes of the past in the narrative and ruins of the old world encourage you to seek out answers.

The strength of this game is in its world, and its excellent main character, Aloy, who was as new to the world as the player, echoing our own excitement with the sights and sounds that greeted us on our journey.

Horizon Zero Dawn is the strongest 2017 game from a major developer.

1.) Blackwood Crossing

Blackwood Crossing isn’t the most exciting game of 2017, but for me it was easily the best game I played this year. This is another “walking simulator” game that focuses on a primary narrative as opposed to traditional gameplay, and for the narrative alone it was the most amazing experience I had this year.

The story focuses on Scarlett and her brother Finn on a train journey to an undisclosed location, and while it starts simple, it becomes anything but that.

The narrative is complex, focusing heavily on the effects death can have on those around you, and how you regret never being there when you should have been. Ultimately it’s a game about loneliness, about the fear of losing everything you care about, and being forced to say goodbye to those you love. Blackwood Crossing is a deeply moving experience that had me in tears, and will keep me remembering this train journey for years to come.

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