game of the year
Trevor's Top 10 Games of 2017
Trevor | February 27, 2018
2017! What a great year, huh? For games, I mean.
Congratulations! We made it to the end of 2017. I'm proud of us, really.
Our Game of the Year articles keep slipping further and further into the subsequent months. We better get that under control before we're publishing these in June.
Hope you all had a nice Valentine's Day, and here's my personal list of 2017's best games.
First, here's a few Honorable Mentions. These are games I ultimately cut from my list, but felt were worthy of recognition.
Reason for exclusion: ...Hello? Anyone here?
I suspect many readers will look at our collective GOTY list and think we’re having a laugh over here at T@P. “Lawbreakers?” my fictional automaton says. “Who played Lawbreakers!? Who would add it to a Game of The Year list? Those jokesters, having a row.”
Row, he says. My fictional automaton appears to live in London.
The truth is we played Lawbreakers, and we had a damn good time. Creating an arena shooter in 2017 is a bold move (especially in a world that already has Overwatch), but Lawbreakers differentiated itself enough to be an entirely incomparable experience. It moves at breakneck speed, and the focus on verticality and zero-gravity zones creates absolutely wild combat situations.
The Vanguard, the rocket-jet-strapped-to-my-back combatant, was by far the best class. Rocket-powered speed feels almost necessary on control point maps, and it opens up your options in zero gravity zones.
I have a feeling this is the only GOTY list where you’ll find strong opinions about Lawbreakers' classes.
I wish I could recommend Lawbreakers, but with an active player base of approximately fifty people, I cannot, in good conscience, suggest anyone purchase it.
If it happens to go Free-to-Play though, please download it.
Please oh please.
PUYO PUYO TETRIS
Reason for exclusion: Has technically been out for a while in Japan and on other platforms, but mostly Fusion mode.
Puyo Puyo is one of the finest puzzle games ever invented. I suppose it’s only right it shares some space with Tetris.
Technically, Puyo Puyo Tetris has been out for a while now in Japan on other platforms, but the Switch release feels like the definitive version. Aside from the fact it’s the world’s two best puzzle games in one collection, it also provides a method to quickly challenge friends, either online or locally. The amount of available versus options is what puts this particular collection over the top, too. Aside from just a straight Puyo Puyo or Tetris Battle, there’s also Big Bang and Switch. Big Bang puts each player in a quick series of large combo opportunities, while Switch swaps player's boards from Tetris to Puyo Puyo every 30 seconds.
Ironically enough the worst version is Fusion, a mode which combines both Puyo and Tetris on the same field. It’s like the Reese’s commercial where two kids holding chocolate and peanut butter collide, only the collision of Puyo and Tetris has yielded something no one should ever consume.
Thankfully, aside from a few mandatory fusion battles in story mode, it’s easy enough to ignore.
The cartoony aesthetics may be off-putting to some, but take into account a comprehensive story mode with some actual challenge and a vast collection of modes to play, and it's hard not to recommend to every switch owner.
HELLBLADE: SENUA'S SACRIFICE
Reason for exclusion: I don't feel so good. Tummy is rumbly. Brain-pan has the thought makies. I think I need therapy now?
I damn near proselytize for games I can walk away from and feel like I experienced more than just a fun way to waste time. This year Senua’s Sacrifice tops my list in that regard, but I experienced such a litany of emotions -- for both personal and design reasons -- it was difficult to place on a top ten list. I came out the other end of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice changed, and the process of internalizing and analyzing all those emotions wracked me for days on end.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tells the story of Senua as she travels into the Norse Underworld of Helheim to reclaim the soul of her lover, Dillion. At face value, you could be forgiven for assuming this is the premise for a hack-n-slash adventure, but there’s an added element; Senua’s Sacrifice simulates schizophrenia as you play. Voices speak to you during your journey. They overlap, plead, beg. They provide help, but whisper doubt. They offer words of advice while simultaneously condemning your actions.
And they never stop.
It amounts to an experience I would describe as overwhelming, especially once you realize that as a player can simply step away from this at any time. For Senua and others suffering from her affliction however, the voices are always there, and they won’t cease until the day she dies. Nowadays we have a number of procedures, therapy, and drugs available to help assist mental health issues. We're a long way from anything resembling a comprehensive solution, but something exists. Senua, however, is dealing with this in the 8th century.
What do you suppose people thought of her then?
I didn’t feel great at the end of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice -- I felt wiser, perhaps more emotionally intelligent, but also sick. Very sick. Devastated. For personal reasons, experiencing the world through Senua's eyes gave me a tremendous amount of emotions to reflect on, as it pulled a number of memories to the forefront.
It’s a game I absolutely think people should play, but prepare yourself mentally beforehand. Harden that resolve and steel those nerves.
If you like Punch-Out! there’s fun to be had in the combat, but I don’t recommend coming into this anticipating fun.
End of Honorable Mentions
Now, on to the proper list. Teeing off first is...
10. EVERYBODY'S GOLF
“It’s a long way off, a tricky shot
But I know it can be done
Another day, another game
Another hole in one.”
It’s been six years since the last Everybody’s Golf game. Much golfing has happened between the two, but it ends up there’s still an undisputed Lord in the Green.
Everybody’s Golf is a long running franchise by Clap Hanz entertainment, but there’s a good chance if you’re in North America or the U.K., you know it as Hot Shots! Golf. The gameplay is classic three-click golf gameplay -- one to start the meter, one to lock in power, and one to lock in accuracy. The franchise often includes many techniques to hone your approach on the green, such as applying backspin or topspin.
This year, Everybody’s Golf fully embraced just about every online feature you can think of in games, and the end result is a delightful golfing experience. Once you’ve unlocked a course, you can hit the open field with other golfers, freely explore the grounds, and either do a full 9 holes or test your skills on one hole until you master it completely. There’s also Turf War, a mode where two teams compete on the open course to claim dominance. The team with the most holes assigned to their color when time is up wins.
For a more curated experience, you can also set up your own challenge room and invite friends. There’s a whole host of customization options and additional rules, meaning you could have a serious game of golf, or surround the holes with tornadoes and force everyone to take penalties for staying on the fairway. If you’re looking for a full 18 hole gauntlet, this is the place to go.
In a world with far too many mediocre golf games, Everybody’s Golf was a welcome release and a great return to form.
9. FINAL FANTASY XIV: STORMBLOOD
“Raise your weary head,
Heed the call to arms,
Ringing in your heart.”
Rebellion is a consistent theme on this year’s list.
Final Fantasy XIV’s second expansion, Stormblood, focuses on rebellion efforts underway in two oft-mentioned occupied cities. The Warrior of Light (that’s you) travels far and wide to help overthrow imperial occupation.
The thematic consistency in Stormblood impressed me immediately. The music is a resounding call to arms. Drums approximate marching, voices chant, refrains sweep. Every town and outpost the player visits has suffered some indignity at the hands of imperial forces. Some have resigned to their new fates, while others, like the local pirates, desperately try to avoid conflict. The worlds of Doma and Ala Mhigo have been irreparably altered, and the player witnesses it all directly during their new travels.
Where previous content was quick to send The Warrior of Light off on tangential side quests or introduce new antagonists halfway into the story, Stormblood (for the most part) maintains its focus. The primary antagonist shows up and trashes your efforts early in. Zenos yae Galvus is established from the start as mysteriously untouchable to even you, the greatest warrior the world has known. Once it becomes clear a direct assault is bound to fail, the stage is set for a slower guerrilla warfare approach to undermining his regin. Smaller victories elsewhere build upon one another, until you once more have a chance at Zenos himself.
If there's one thing that wears me down in older content, it's the middling quality of early dungeons. The original set of leveling dungeons are especially strange, as they're often barely related to your story content in the slightest. Every dungeon in Stormblood (with the exception of one) relates directly to the events at hand, and Square-Enix also took the opportunity to get more brazen with mechanics. At this point, we're pretty good at avoiding giant circles on the ground. we’ve been there, done that, ate the Valknuts. Dungeons in Stormblood have a few fresh mechanics and ideas layered on what we've come to expect. Here’s a quick list of a few stand-out moments Stormblood’s dungeons I appreciated:
Turning into an old crone to avoid a room-wide seduction attack.
A gauntlet against an unattackable Rock Golem to prove your worth.
A boss who shoves players outside their bodies and their spirits have to make an arduous journey back.
Stormblood marks a thrilling direction for Final Fantasy XIV, and I’m eager to see what more will come in 2018.
We’re ready for the next phase of the Ivalice raid now, Yoshi P.
8. BATTLE CHEF BRIGADE
“Vive la Brigade!”
Watchers of Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Great British Bake-Off, Rejoice.
Every review of Battle Chef Brigade I’ve read includes a cooking joke, so I’m pretty sure I’m obligated to include one too. A recipe for Battle Chef Brigade is as follows:
2 Cups action-platformer
2 Cups puzzle game
½ Cup Nickelodeon cartoon (One of the good ones, mind you)
A dash of well-defined, delightful characters
Top with equally delightful presentation
Battle Chef Brigade follows Mina Han, a young girl who runs away from home to compete in an annual cooking tournament. In the kingdom of Victusia, however, it’s not enough for a chef to cook up a mean dinner of Dragon Ribs and Versnikt Stew -- they also have to hunt and kill their ingredients in the middle of the contest. Every matchup, you’ll be balancing your time between hunting, killing, and cooking. Once you’ve presented all your dish to the judge (or judges, in later matches), it’s time for a winner to be decided.
Battle Chef Brigade merges platforming action and match-3 gameplay into a cohesive package well enough, but the real surprise for me was a delightful cast of characters. Between matches, Mina has time to explore the town, shop, assist townsfolk, and speak to other contestants. As the story progresses you’ll get to know your fellow participants well. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story takes a few unexpected, but much appreciated twists.
The only reason Battle Chef Brigade doesn’t climb higher on the list is an issue of brevity. Normally I’m one for a shorter, more refined experience, but Battle Chef Brigade often felt a little too eager to usher me to the next chapter. I wanted more time with the people I’d met along the way, more time to see how all their stories played out. I especially felt this way about your fellow contestants Kirin and Shiv. Kirin becomes crucial to your successes in the Brigade, and while I got a great sense of Kirin’s personality, I never felt like I got to know much about her life. Shiv, meanwhile, seemed like a fantastic foil to Mina, but their relationship barely extends beyond a single altercation.
Please don’t confuse my complaints above as knocks against Battle Chef Brigade, or worse yet, a negative recommendation. Even if the story didn't progress at the pace I desired, I still think the overall package is tremendous. Trinket Studios is a developer worth keeping an eye on.
Battle Chef Brigade is a wonderful experience for everyone. While I played it on PC, I'd recommend the Switch version for some cooking on the go.
“Bring me those contracts, c’mon! Bring ‘em to the King!”
If you’ve ever seen our annual awards, you know we tend to steer clear of any awards commonly handed out at other fine internet establishments. But, If we gave out awards like “Best Visual Design,” Cuphead would’ve taken it with no contest. (My personal number one may have been a contender too, but I think Cuphead would've still won it in the end.)
In Cuphead, Cuphead and his pal Mugman roll the dice at the Devil’s Casino and end up deep in debt to the Devil himself. To save themselves from a life of servitude, it’s off into the world to collect the souls of others contractually obligated to The Devil himself. The title screen song lays all this out brilliantly.
The Moldenhaur’s spent years laboring over Cuphead, drawing inspiration from 1930’s animation for their hand-drawn, no holds barred boss rush of a game. The result is one of the most gorgeous action platformers to date... and it’s a good thing everything looks so damn good, because you’re going to see a lot of these bosses repeatedly.
Cuphead pulls no punches. You’ll spend a lot of time dying to bosses over and over as you learn their attack patterns. For me, poking and prodding at these bosses, devising and executing new strategies, is part of the intoxicating fun -- your mileage and patience may vary.
It’s not just the visual styles of Cuphead that are top notch; the game handles and plays extraordinarily well. Cuphead and Mugman are a responsive bunch, essential in a game where your reflexes are constantly being tested. The flexibility on offer to is where Cuphead got its hooks in me. Throughout the game there are different styles of projectiles to swap to, and charms that alter the way your parry slap or dash functions. Each boss fight became something of a puzzle, as I tested different configurations to achieve success.
Cuphead being seventh on this list is not somehow indicative I recommend it less; on the contrary, I think it’s the best 2D action platformer to date. It even tops Mega Man titles I hold dear.
And yet, 2017 has just been such a stand-out year there are still six games of higher personal merit.
“Who shall remain, whose freedom shall be earned?
To fly this prison, never to return.”
The flames of rebellion burn again on our list.
Pyre is the third game from Supergiant Games, a team who’s boundless creativity keeps me coming back.
Pyre takes place in a mystical prison called The Downside, a land full of exiles far below The Commonwealth above. The player assumes the role of a reader, cast into The Downside for the heinous crime of literacy. When a traveling wagon nurses the reader to health and asks for them to examine a strange tome, it invokes a rite of absolution where winners will be permitted to return once more to the world above.
“What is this rite I’ll be performing,” you may ask? Well, it’s uh, it’s this.
“Mystic Basketball” comes to mind as a quick descriptor. Each side has a burning Pyre. The object of the game is to take that magical ball of water and douse the opponent’s flame. Teams are three-on-three, but you may only control one unit at a time. Every match is a mix of running, dashing, passing, jumping, blocks and banishes until one flame sputters out forever. Your cast of characters all have different strengths and weaknesses on the field. Some may be exceptional at leaping long distances, making them expert dunkers, while others may be served better on the backlines as a final defense.
Lots of games tout “your choices matter” as a selling point, but Pyre does an exceptional job reflecting those choices in both story and gameplay. You’ll get to know all the Nightwings very well during your journey -- what reaped them exile, who may be waiting topside in the commonwealth, and what their goals are here in the Downside.
When the liberation rites come, you’ll need to choose a player you and the scribes have deemed worthy of redemption. While this means sending them back to a home where they’ve been absolved of their crimes, it also means losing their skills on the mystical waterball court forever. For me, my inner conflict came to a head with Jodariel, the best defender on my team. Several liberation rites went by and I kept holding Jodariel back, desperate to keep her imposing aura in my lineup. Each liberation rite where I sent someone else home, I felt a tinge of guilt. Jodariel had more than earned her way home, but I couldn’t bring myself to lose her. Not yet.
I don’t want to reveal too much about Pyre’s narrative twists, but regardless of how your choices play out, two truths will come to light. First, the Nightwings are united by deeper desires then simply returning home. The Commonwealth that unfairly prosecuted so many of your companions must be changed.
The other truth? Not everyone will make it back home.
Who makes it back -- and who you think may stand the greatest chance of stoking the flames of change -- is up to you.
5. Super Mario Odyssey
“Here we go, off the rails
Don’t you know it’s time to raise our sails?
It’s freedom like you never knew.”
Super Mario Odyssey is an absolute delight. It’s a colorful, jaunty adventure through all things Mario, an eternal celebration for Nintendo’s flagship mascot.
Super Mario Odyssey introduces a new companion to the franchise named Cappy, a ghost who inhabits Mario’s hat and can take possession of enemies and critters you’ll meet along the way. Each one completely changes the way you interact with the world, opening up new paths and methods to explore your environment.
This sequence is legit horrifying. Where does the frog's mind go? The Sunken Place?
Leaving aside any moral, philosophical, and ethical dilemmas seizing the body of an unwilling inhabitant may create, Cappy’s existence changes a fundamental way you interact with Mario's world for the better. Enemies stop being obstacles and become opportunities instead.
If what you come to Mario to do is collect Stars (or in this case, Power Moons), then good news! There’s a ludicrous amount of them here. Mario Odyssey rewards exploration to an almost absurd degree. Power Moons are packed away in every shadow, bush, and sewer main. In previous Mario games with a similar design concept, the player would return to the overworld between Stars. Odyssey removes this limitation, giving you the freedom to explore everything in whatever order you desire, and collect every Power Moon in sight at once.
The Odyssey’s requirements for advancing to a new stage are often generous, meaning you can spend as much (or as little) time in a world as you’d like before advancing. The flexibility afforded to the player in Odyssey, in terms of both where you go, how you get there, and how long you stay, came much appreciated. You better believe I ditched Luncheon World at the first opportunity.
In a much appreciated recurring trend in Mario games lately, there’s much more to do after the credits roll. A whole new set of Power Moons appear in every world, giving you a reason to return to previously visited locations and tackle new challenges.
If there’s one criticism I have of Mario Odyssey, it’s Toadette. I’m all for getting achievement moons at the end of the game, but one at a goddamn time? Really?
4. Nier: Automata
“I don’t usually get a partner. It’s kind of fun!”
“...Emotions are prohibited.”
It’s now 2018, and I still can’t believe we’re living in a world where Nier got a sequel. Made by Platinum Games, no less.
The first Nier was... you know what? I wrote extensively about it here. A cursory glance will tell you I was mostly unimpressed, but the characters and world were fascinating enough to keep me playing to the end. I never thought I’d be back in that dreary, fascinating place, with those delightful yet doomed people, but somehow here we are.
The good news is Nier: Automata takes place so far in the future of Nier’s universe, you won’t miss out on much if you haven’t played it (and statistically speaking, you probably haven’t). There are a few references here and there, and a few more overt ones the end of the C and D routes, but you won’t need any information from the first entry to see the complete picture.
In Nier: Automata, humanity has been purged from the earth. The robots we built as a defense against an interstellar threat now run amok, occupying our old world. The only remaining humans live on a moon colony, awaiting the day they they might be able to return home. To that end humanity established YorHa, a group of Android soldiers fighting the seemingly endless tide of robots.
As you may have guessed, you play as these androids, namely 2B and 9S. The combat is a mix of the typical character-action style combat Platinum is known for and bullet hell shooters, which go together better than you might imagine.
That is the only sentence I’m going to devote to combat, however, because what I will remember about Nier: Automata is everything else.
As a designer, Yoko Taro has a fascinating approach to storytelling. In almost all his games, seeing the ending is only the start. Next, the player is asked to experience everything again, but this time from a new perspective. You’ll see what other characters were up to, learn your opponent's motivations, and often see a different way things could’ve ended. Nier: Automata takes this to an extreme, where the third playthrough becomes an entirely new chapter in story, picking up right where the first two endings leave off.
If the main character’s name didn’t give it away already, Nier: Automata’s theme is all about what it means to exist, even if one isn't human. Characters struggle with questions about their own existence, and meet others who begin to challenge their own assumptions. The game starts, in fact, with your assumed automated foes exhibiting curiously human speech and behaviors.
I hesitate to say much more, as exploring this world and discovering the twists and turns along the way is part of what makes Nier: Automata so fascinating. The only thing left to say is your enjoyment of Nier: Automata will be largely dependent on how much you like 2B and 9S. I’ve been privy to a few conversations where 9S’s company was not enjoyed or welcome, and that’s a shame, as their relationship is the crux of what makes Nier: Automata work.
If any of this rambling above sounded fascinating in the slightest, I highly recommend picking up Nier: Automata. You'll never forget your first Yoko Taro game.
3. Breath of the Wild
“Courage need not be remembered, for it is never forgotten.”
Listen. I’ll be straight with you.
I got sick of Zelda games.
How many goddamn times do I gotta waltz into a dungeon, go in the room and pick up the thing every puzzle in the dungeon is built around? How many times am I gonna pick up the bow and shoot a boss in his giant glowing eyeball? Even in Windwaker, a Zelda game with an artistic aesthetic I fell in love with instantly, I tired of sailing the seas long before the end.
Link Between Worlds presented a promising new direction for Zelda to head by separating the various tools at your disposal from the dungeons themselves. At the time, I thought this would be a fun experiment on handheld devices, one that would never translate to the next console release.
Instead, Nintendo’s next move completely redefined Zelda.
Breath of the Wild drops you into an expansive world where the tracks are off. The world is packed to the brim with content, but what order you do it in -- or how you want to tackle it -- is entirely up to you.
Link’s entire kit of abilities is at his disposal within the first two hours of gameplay, and every puzzle in the world involves learning how to use these abilities together. That’s all nothing next to Link’s incredible new mobility, where literally every mountain is scalable with your bare hands (provided you have the stamina to do it). Suddenly Link is Hyrule's John Muir.
Zelda games have also had something of a “story creep” in recent iterations, where the opening sequences and subsequent cut-scenes took up an unreal amount of time. Breath of the Wild instead seems to have turned to the Dark Souls series for inspiration this time around, leaving it up to the player to deduce and induce what transpired before Link woke up in his strange bacta-tank coffin. Later in the game, you'll be able to track down memories that fill in some gaps more explicitly, should you still find yourself lost.
The short version; 100 years ago, Link and Zelda had a plan to defeat Ganon, but it went totally awry. Zelda has locked herself away inside Hyrule Castle with Ganon in a desperate attempt to contain him, while Link was spirited away to heal from his injuries.
Now, 100 years later, it’s time for round two.
Nintendo seems big on flexibility this year, because how and when round 2 happens is at your agency. You could spend hours wandering the world, solving shrines, saving your past allies, and hoarding weapons to improve your odds -- or you could just march straight to Hyrule Castle armed with a wooden shield and deku stick.
It may not go well, but Breath of the Wild gives you the choice to play this Zelda game however you want, and after years of guided tours of Hyrule, it’s choice much appreciated.
2. Night in the Woods
“My heart is
But when I see you
Night in the Woods is a special kind of game, the kind that comes out at the perfect confluence of events. The stars aligned, the world went mad, and in 2017 we got a game with a message perfectly tailored for the year it came out.
Night in the Woods is set in Possum Springs, a town in “Deep Hollow County” where a once rich mining industry has since dried up. Mae Borowski returns home from college due to an undisclosed incident, and arrives at an empty train station consisting of one Janitor.
The rest of the game is spent running around as Mae as she reconnects with her family and friends. Each day you’ll choose who to spend time with. Maybe you kick it with Gregg in the woods and bash a car with a bat. Maybe you spend some time accidentally being an insensitive jerk with Bea. You may even see everyone occasionally for band practice, where Mae will be expected to jam out a sweet baseline for a song she’s never heard.
These relationships defined my experience with Night in the Woods. The game’s witty, dark humor drew me in immediately, but once I met the cast I was here to stay. None of them are particularly happy with their lot in life. There's not a lot of growth opportunities working at the Snack Falcon or the local hardware store. But the really unfortunate thing about life is after bad things happen, it keeps going. All these characters have hopes and dreams, but to people like Bea, it feels like Possum Springs has devoured any opportunity to make those dreams come true. Gregg and Angus, meanwhile, plan on moving away when possible, leaving this dying town behind them.
The real testament to Night in the Woods quality is how fully realized the rest of Possum Springs is, too. Every day you spend wandering around as Mae, there’s a whole bevy of citizens to check up on. Selmer’s has some poetry to share if you stop by to say hello. Mr. Chazakov has some constellations to show you, and their history to share. Mae can visit her mother every morning to hear about the latest morbid biography on her reading list. By the end of Night in the Woods, I knew everyone in Possum Springs. I knew where they worked, who they hung out with, and what their dreams and aspirations were before life went askew.
Despite the fact Possum Springs is populated by anthropomorphic animals, the people of Possum Springs feel more human than any other game to come out this year.
I have no desire to give away where Night in the Woods goes (that’s a topic for different article), but know there’s a deeper mystery brewing in Possum Springs. Mae and her friends unwittingly stumble upon a dark secret, and it's the answer to this secret where Night in the Woods makes a poignant argument about power structures in our world and the people who run them. It’s the kind of message many games shy away from in an effort to remain apolitical, but Night the Woods puts it front and center.
I could feel the authorial intent in Night in the Woods in a way I can’t in most major releases. It was refreshing, sometimes even overpowering to play a game where I could see the hearts of the creators laid bare.
If you survived 2017, you owe it to yourself to play Night in the Woods.
1. Persona 5
“Wake up, get up, get out there
Raise your voice against liars
Feed your anger like fire.”
Persona 5 is a masterpiece.
There’s not a single image I can show you from Persona 5 that doesn’t show off style and quality.
From the combat UI:
To the pause menu:
Everything in Persona 5 feels expertly, painstakingly crafted. It’s impossible to do anything without feeling completely sucked in. Couple expert presentation with a tense story and 100 hours of expected gameplay time, and you’ve got a dangerous, intoxicating formula.
Speaking of which, you may have noticed it took almost two months for my personal list to go up. I'm ashamed to admit being totally absorbed in Persona 5 is a big part of the delay. This is such a beast of a game it's hard to even begin to describe all the pieces that make it tick, but that’s why I’m here, right? I’ll do my best.
Persona 5 kicks off with in media res opening. Joker, the protagonist, runs across the rafters of a casino with a briefcase in hand. A mysterious voice guides your way to an exit as you're pursued by men in suits. You crash through a glass window and escape the casino -- only to be caught by a massive police task force. After being detained, local prosecutor Sae Nijima arrives to hear your story. The game bounces back and forth between this interview room and your current day as the game progresses.
When the story rewinds, things are far less exciting at first. You arrive in town under the care of a local Cafe Owner, Sojiro, who takes you in during your parole. (The circumstances of how joker ended up on parole is a mystery revealed later, but rest assured your circumstances are about as unjust as they come.) After spending some time settling into your new life, things change when a mysterious app appears on your phone. Your small group of friends discover they now have the power to enter people’s “Palaces,” a metaphysical representation of how the subject sees the world. By stealing the “heart” of someone’s palace, it resets a person’s twisted morality, forcing them to reflect on the evil deeds they’ve done.
There’s a few elements at play selling this “anime-inception” tale, elements that pushed Persona 5 to the top of my list immediately. First is the consistent thread between all your party members. All of the teens who comprise The Phantom Thieves are teens with mentor figures in their lives who’ve been abusive, be it physically or emotionally. This connective thread means there’s a lot of difficult, yet supportive discussions between the cast surrounding the types of pains they’ve all faced. They discuss these issues in ways that feel authentically teenager, making light of heavy situations, but not dancing around the topic or being avoidant either. By twenty hours into this one-hundred hour game, I was already heavily invested in the cast and their goals.
The second element I have to praise is the way Persona 5 ratchets tension and raises stakes with each Palace. Events always escalate to a point where your target becomes an immediate, unavoidable threat. Once this occurs, a giant deadline gets slapped in the top right of your screen, and the countdown begins.
I’m not typically a fan of games that impose a strict time limit, but Persona 5's deadlines are lenient enough to provide adequate time for both Palace-thieving and social activities. You often have anywhere from two-to-three weeks to complete your objective, which is more than enough. If you somehow manage to blow through all your days and get a game over, Persona 5 will allow you to start over from the top of the week.
When you’re actually in a palace, Persona 5 is a traditional turn-based RPG. Enemies have various resistances and weaknesses, and by exploiting those weaknesses you can net yourself an additional turn. The same is true for you, however, so staying aware of what attacks your enemies can perform to avoid your own weaknesses being exploited is essential.
As Persona 5 comes to a close, it hits you with a tremendous "Parlor Room" scene befitting a heist story. The hints surrounding this twist are interlaced throughout the game, revealed in both story events and game mechanics. It’s the perfect surprise -- the kind you could see coming, but only if you’ve been paying close attention. The game provides many hints, but doesn't bash them over your head, or make them absurdly obvious. If you didn’t quite catch on, this scene spells it all out, complete with flashbacks of what transpired you may have missed. I could feel my jaw hanging for both the event, the twist, and the explanation.
In that stellar moment, I knew there was no room for doubt -- Persona 5 was Game of the Year.