Games. Culture.

Moises Taveras’ Top Nine Games of 2017

I couldn't muster the will to give you ten.

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It’s sort of weird reflecting on the last year. A lot has happened. Namely, I started a website dedicated to covering video games in the hope of being among the conversations that I plan on contributing to with this very list. Now I write for a website with a bunch of great people, which has introduced me to great people and here I am, again writing this list. I’ve made it mama. You don’t want to hear about my year though, you want to hear about the games I played this year, more specifically my favorite games of the year. I’ll try to keep it brief and to the point, but knowing me, you might be here a while. Grab your preferred pastime drink, put some music on and draw a bath, here are my favorite games of the year!

Doki Doki Literature Club

Let’s start at the end, why don’t we? Doki Doki Literature Club, just sort of came out of nowhere, huh? I remember reading about it on Kotaku and knowing that it goes someplace dark. Of course, if someone had told me just how dark it gets I might’ve not played it. Too say things get grim is an understatement but also to say anything about the game would be a tremendous spoiler. However, despite it’s twists and turns, there’s something to be said about the fact that the game demands spoilers to get someone into it. You don’t have to tell them what happens, but you do have to tell them it’s an entirely different game than what they’d expect. It looks and plays like a normal visual novel/dating sim for so long even I was beginning to worry about when or if the plot twist would come. Fear not because before long, it feels like you’re playing an entirely different game and you’ll wonder how things escalated to this point. It’s a wild ride and one that I wouldn’t soon get back on and I mean that in the best way possible.

Tacoma

Tacoma is the followup to Gone Home, the 2012 narrative game that set the world ablaze and popularized the term “walking simulator” and it’s a tough act to follow. While Tacoma doesn’t resonate with me as much as Gone Home did, it’s a damn fine example of how to evolve the genre that became infamous for telling stories through environments rather than dialogue or prose. It’s set on a space station named, you guessed it, Tacoma where you have been sent to investigate what exactly went wrong up there. As you navigate the three wings of the station, you load up AR constructions of the crew, who are fully voice acted, animated and lively as all hell. You can follow characters into other rooms and catch whole conversations that you would’ve missed had you been listening to another character go on and on about Obsolescence Day. While there’s something to be said about how creepy it is to have projections of these people and their every movement, it fosters a closeness that would’ve been hard to establish otherwise. Though the story ends sort of abruptly and on a nice surprise, I wish I had been given more time to get to know these people. They don’t just discuss what’s currently happening, they make phone calls to old friends and family, they play music and sing in their free time, they gather into a room and play video games and some even take it upon themselves to have a makeout session in a certain storage room. Instead of reading about how my sister realized she was gay and how my family fell apart, I got to see these 6 people fall in love, fall apart and everything in between.

What Remains of Edith Finch

Speaking of falling apart, I can’t talk about these narrative heavy games without mentioning What Remains of Edith Finch, a game about a girl going back to her family home in order to discover if her family is actually cursed or not. What you end up getting is one of the most stylish, creative and polished of these walking simulator games. Different vignettes follow members of her family who died long ago after falling victim to the family “curse” of dying at unlikely times. While they may all be joined in the fact that they die, the way the vignettes play out make sure to emphasize how deeply unique each member of the family was. One has a shape shifting protagonist, another is colored in like a comic book panel, one takes place entirely within a bathtub and my favorite should go relatively unspoiled so I’ll just shut up right now. The heart of this story is the danger of telling stories. Our lives are comprised of stories and often we want to share them with those around us but rarely do we think of the implications. Rather than say that we shouldn’t tell stories however, the game concerns itself with telling the player not to be dragged down by the burdens of the past. When you’re thinking about the past, you’re not thinking about the present or your future. It gets in the way to always feel like digging up demons. A lot of these characters don’t get to live their best or longest lives and that’s in part due to resignation to the whims of “fate”, Edith Finch is trying to tell you not to do that. Take its advice.

We’re 900 words deep and not even sort of done. WE’RE BACK BABY.

Oof, we got a heavy hitter up next.

Persona 5

Alright so the more time passes, the more Persona 5 falls in my ranking. I still love it but there’s a case to be made against it. Ultimately, what I think happened here is that it just didn’t strike the same chord with me as it’s predecessor did. The characters felt just a tad too heightened, a few of them just aren’t as good as the previous cast, the story runs way too long and I think the villains and thus the arcs they all bring are uneven and make for a wonky 100+ hour ride. What it does have working for it are a strong central cast, a fucking fantastic art style and soundtrack that shine literally in every moment of the game, a thematic hook that’s just brilliant and a satisfying gameplay loop though and in a game this big, what more can you ask? The aspect most deserving of praise is its style.

When I say this is “Anime: The Game”, know that I’m 100% serious. The game plays into the archetypes and lovingly brings them to life, the characters are super-powered teens trying to survive school and fighting literal demons, and oh they’ve taken it upon themselves to break into the heart of evil adults in order to sway them to confess and live a life of repentance. Super anime. Unfortunately, the game has the right idea for what to follow thematically and then doesn’t make the effort to chase meaningful answers. A lot is riding on these teenagers who don’t even truly know themselves, including the well being of classmates, their neighborhood, Japan and eventually the world and while the game certainly asks you to think about whether this is the best way to enact justice, nothing about what follows suggests it was ever up for interpretation. Luckily the same systems as before are intact and so while the story leaves something to be desired, like subtlety or chill, it’s the same strong game as before with the freshest new coat of paint.

Let’s keep trucking right along, I swear we’re getting to an ending.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the one game I refuse to wax poetic about. It’s a damn fine game. A revolutionary one at that. I don’t think ever before have I been given so colorful, so expansive, so varied and open-ended a world that I could use 5 incredible tools to navigate and shape exactly how I see fit. Zelda only asks one question of its players: How? How are you going to make this fire, how are you going to make this dish, how are you going to cross this stream, how are you going to get from this mountain to the neighboring one without freezing to death? Of course, the answers are countless. Months after release, I’ve seen ways of playing with the toys you’re given in that I’m not even sure the developers could think of. That’s what works about this game. It feels unfinished and finished at the exact same time. Nothing is game-breaking but the sheer number of things you can do are unparalleled in just about any other open world game. The stuff you can do in Zelda is the stuff that would get cut from any other game but since this game is your sandbox to mold, you can do whatever your brain can come up with, so long as it works within the incredibly lax ruleset the game establishes. It’s magic.

Pyre

Between NBA 2K16 and Pyre, I think I realized I have a love of basketball. Turns out basketball can also have a spiritual edge. Pyre, the latest and greatest from the geniuses over at SuperGiant Games, is about waking up in a downtrodden wasteland ravaged by various creatures and apparently gods that walked the very land and water you travel across. You travel it with a roving band of misfits looking to compete in the Rites, tournaments of spiritual basketball that are meant to enlighten you enough that you may rejoin the Commonwealth, the land these outcasts were expelled from for a multitude of reasons. Pyre and all the games SuperGiant puts out, are the closest things to art I can think of when I think of video games as art. They intricately weave characters, story, and gameplay in such a way that’s complex but not complicated and ultimately rewarding. It helps that every individual aspect of it is so expertly done. The characters are supposed to be the criminals and undesirables of the normal society of the Commonwealth and instead what you find are people that exhibit compassion. In caring for someone outside of themselves, most of these people found themselves exorcised and it forces you to think about whether or not the Downside is as bad as it’s made out to be. To add to this, these characters will grow and express their desires with you as time passes, making it more difficult for you to pick who to free when the time comes as they not only leave your party but leave the world. Not only could you potentially cripple yourself the further into the game you go, but you may ultimately make a call that would hurt a character that you loved. Every choice you make feels impactful on an emotional and mechanical level that way. Plus it’s got hands down the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard in a game. Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett, bless your composition and voices.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is another game that I feel I don’t have to drone on and on about. I think just about everything that has to be said about the game has. I think it properly capitalizes on everything 3D Mario has set out to do since 64 and perfects it. Never has moving around as Mario been this good. What I love about this game is that it forces you to adapt. Whereas in previous titles, all you’d have to do is complete a fairly linear mission in order to be rewarded a star, this game asks you to become a participant and a close observer of the worlds you’re entering. Power Moons are heading in every nook and cranny and ask you very simply to do everything possible to get to them. Whether that is intense platforming, riding a scooter on a platform miles above the ground, ground pounding a particular spot, or sitting down with a man by himself on a bench, the worlds never stop asking you to adapt to them in even the most mundane ways. Of course, I haven’t even spoken about how you can become the creatures inhabiting most of the world and utilize their toolset which has been made to cater to these areas too, but I felt it wasn’t necessary.

What puts this game above so many others is how well executed it is but it’s not entirely the reason it’s up here. That reason lies outside of the game. About ten years ago, Super Mario Galaxy was on the precipice of launching on the Wii and it was the only thing I wanted for Christmas. That fall back in 2007 was when I discovered games media as I know it now. Before then, I had only thought that Game Informer existed and that it Marioonly existed in print. But somehow, I found myself endlessly watching videos and reading reviews of Super Mario Galaxy on sites like Gamepro, GameRevolution and namely GameTrailers. Two of those sites don’t even exist anymore but have continued in some way, and GameRevolution is one of the oldest gaming websites still kicking. This isn’t about longevity though, this about the impact those sites had with me. Right then and there, I realized that games media is what I wanted to do. I couldn’t and still can’t picture my life without games and while I may have strayed from that path in recent years, here I am ten years later at a very small but very awesome website, writing a top ten list that people will read because my opinion is sort of valued by some people. Odyssey is more than just a spectacular game, it’s a milestone for how far I’ve come in ten years and I expect the next major 3D Mario game will mark something even bigger for me.

I should note before I continue onto the last two that I run a column on this site called Late to the Game. It focuses on older games, not necessarily ancient games, trying to see if they still stand up long after release or not. This year, I found a game on sale that had been interesting to me and would later evolve into my favorite competitive experience ever. All of the time I’ve spent with this game has been contained in 2017 and while I know it’s invalid, I need to shout it out somehow because it would 100% be my GOTY if it could be.

Rainbow Six Siege

I don’t know what there’s left to say about Rainbow Six Siege. I’ve not played as meticulous or methodical or slow a game as this since Chess. As a matter of fact, fuck it, Rainbow Six Siege is absolutely Chess in a first person shooter. Each and every Operator(read: class) has a role to play that bounces between effective elimination, effective personal defense, effective fortification of your area or a toss up between those. There are very clear pawns like Blackbeard who can afford to draw agro because of the mountable shield on his rifle. There are rooks who can proceed unfettered but function best as defenders of VIPs like Montagne and his already huge shield that can expand. There are knights who move in different ways than your typical pieces and exploit that like Caveira who can silence her footsteps to sneak around and interrogate you to find out your teammates locations. Finally of course, there’s a Queen, who can do a lot of everything, is nigh untouchable and if she does get caught, it can spell doom for a team. Yes, I’m referring to Ash who is one of if not the fastest character in the game, has the smallest hitbox, has some of the fastest killing guns and to this day still has one of the best offensive gadgets, a hybrid between a grenade launcher and a breach charge that still instills fear when you hear it drilling into the wall it’s about to shred to pieces. Placement on the board is significant too however, given the fact that you can destroy most walls or floors to some degree. The tiniest hole in the wall can prove to be the key to a good offense or defense as you exploit it’s relative innocuousness to line up the shots no one sees coming. I could continue this chess analogy for hours, but I have things to do and you will hopefully have this game to play once I’m done here. Never has a game rewarded tactical thinking like Siege has and it’s because it’s fundamentally the best game in the world, Chess.

WE MADE IT. WE MADE IT TO THE END.

And you know what they say,

“At the end of everything, hold onto anything.”

Night in The Woods

I’m holding onto Night in the Woods being my #1 game of the year. It’s just that special. If you don’t know what it’s about, Night in the Woods is about a 20 year old college dropout named Mae who comes back to the Rust Belt town she was born in, Possum Springs. If you know anything about the narrative surrounding these places, you’ll know that change is in the air around there. While the town changes in more overt ways, with local businesses getting shut down and being replaced with corporations, the deepest changes are skin deep. While everyone in the town laments the loss of life as they knew it, they’ve all changed emotionally and mentally. Some are scarred, some are just weary and some, like Mae, are frightened that her world is increasingly becoming one not for her. Night in the Woods likes to ask what your place is in the world is and frequently posits that maybe we don’t have one, maybe we don’t have cosmic significance. That doesn’t make you any less though, it makes you just the same as everyone else. The human experience is universal in that you’re born, you live and you die, and Night in the Woods believes that that’s fine, so long as you do that second part to the best of your ability. You want to rock out with your friends or uncover the dark secrets of your town, do it so long as you make that experience unique to you. You may not carve out a huge hole in the world, but you’ll have lived enough for yourself to survive, and that’s all we can ask for.

There it is, those are my games of the year. There aren’t ten but there are nine and I hope that’s enough for you guys, it certainly was for me.

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