Originally published on Trevor Trove on December 29, 2017
After the absolutely nightmare that was last year’s “Top Ten Non-2016 Games That I Didn’t Get Around to Playing Until 2016” list, I have done myself a favor and simplified the title. So it’s time to dive into some of the games that I finally played this year, even though they didn’t originally come out this year. This can be ports or remasters that I haven’t played before or just games that I generally missed when they came out but got around to in 2017.
10. Darkest Dungeon
I remember first hearing about Darkest Dungeon while it was in Early Access, I think. The idea of a turn-based combat RPG where the characters actually suffer mental health issues based on the admittedly tragic stuff they’re witnessing/performing struck me as a novel approach to the idea.
I didn’t finally get around to playing it until this year though. I picked it up on the Vita (well, I probably picked it up on the PS4 and just took advantage of the cross-buy functionality) and finally played it on my trip to/from PAX South this year (in a pre-Switch world). I didn’t put too much time into it admittedly but I loved the art design and the weight of the combat. With perma-death a factor, the stakes are definitely high for you to carefully weigh your options.
Darkest Dungeon is definitely a game that’s outside my comfort zone in terms of its difficulty and learning curve (I just barely managed to keep my party alive but a few of them definitely cracked under the pressure and became more or less useless to me) but I love the ideas the game plays with enough to earn it the number ten spot on this list.
9. Knee Deep
Knee Deep first caught my eye at PAX South last year with the subtitle “A Swamp Noir in Three Acts.” I think Act 1 and maybe 2 were out on Steam at that point. I followed its development enough to know when it game to PlayStation earlier this year and pick it up.
From a gameplay perspective it basically plays like a graphic novel-type game but with more animation. What drew me in though was that the game was framed as a giant stage play, with all of the characters reciting their lines (often as chose by you) and performing their blocking around a three-sided football-field sized set. At the end of a scene, the lights would dim, an actor would walk onto a platform that would slide downstage to the audience, and then the massive set would rotate behind them to reveal the backdrop for the next scene. The platform and character would whoosh back to the set and the next scene would begin.
The theatre geek in me loved this aspect as a new potential design aesthetic for presenting stage plays. The reason the game doesn’t land higher those is that it was marred by the weaker vocal direction often found in “choose your own narrative” style games where characters never really feel like they’re talking to each other so much as just reading their script. Great idea and the murder mystery story was pretty fun, but I wanted more out of the execution.
8. Broken Age
After trying and trying to get into Broken Age and failing last year, I finally just forced it here. Adventure games typically aren’t my style but I enjoyed the art design, writing, and performances so I wanted to sit down and see where the story went and how Shay and Vella’s stories would connect.
I was very satisfied at the twists and turns of the story and seeing how everything came together but it suffered from that “overly obscure solution” issue that the genre has. And lacking the patience to really solve those puzzles on my own, I wound up playing the second half of the game with my phone open to a walkthrough as I followed it step by step on my Vita. Great story! Just not what I’m looking for gameplay-wise.
7. Marvel Ultimate Alliance
I was a huge fan of the X-Men Legends games on the PlayStation 2. As a fan of Marvel cartoons, playing the action-driven beat ‘em ups selecting my favorite team members and unleashing their powers was a ton of fun. I didn’t realize until the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games were brought to PlayStation 4 last year that they were effectively the successors to those games.
But I wasn’t really interesting in paying $40 apiece for the two games. But at some point this year, they went on sale for a much more reasonable rate so I grabbed them and started running through the first game. And I think I probably enjoy the game way more now than if I had known about them a decade ago. Thanks to the breadth of characters covered across the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the intervening years, I know way more of the characters than I ever would have recognized back then.
And the gameplay is pretty much exactly what I remembered enjoying from those X-Men Legends games.
Virginia was like a beautiful silent arthouse film. Without uttering a bit of dialogue, Virginia presents the engrossing tale of Anne Tarver, a rookie FBI agent tasked with observing and reporting on her partner Maria Halperin, as they investigate the disappearance of a high school boy in a small town in Virginia.
The game breaks traditional “walking simulator” ideas by abruptly cutting from scene to scene (ex. walking in a stairwell abruptly shifts to a hallway, which shifts to Maria’s office). There also isn’t much to do aside from follow the story beats. But the beats themselves take a turn to the surreal that I saw many people compare to something like Twin Peaks. I’ve not actually watched the series (the old or new seasons) but enough people made the comparison that I believe them.
The characters and imagery squeezed into the games approximately two hours is incredibly deft and efficient and it’s well worth sitting down with before you then spend another couple hours searching forums to try and figure out what the ending means.
5. LEGO Harry Potter Collection: Years 1-4 & 5-7
As someone who has been a pretty regular fan of the LEGO games since the original Star Wars Prequels game, the Harry Potter games were a major missing entry for me. I think the only others at this point are the second Indiana Jones one (which I skipped because Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), the Pirates of the Caribbean one (which I skipped because I didn’t enjoy the first movie enough to warrant playing through the second two in game form), and the Hobbit (which I refuse to play since they made it before the 3rd film came out and then ultimately cancelled the planned DLC for said film so it’s not even a complete product).
Anyway, I hit a point (and probably another Flash sale) this year where I decided I was in the mood for that mindless collectathon LEGO game grind and I wound up playing through both games to their Platinums over the course of about a week and a half (and that’s with a detour to play through and get Pyre’s Platinum in that same span of time). It was a definite throwback to the older style of LEGO games that relied on mute, pantomimed cut scenes instead of animation against dialogue pulled from the movies and those always feel a bit more creative to me.
The Transistor theme has probably been my theme of choice more than any other. I’ve dabbled with the Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, 20th Anniversary, Persona 5, and Undertale themes but I think the soothing dulcet tones of Red humming have played out more than anything else on my system.
And the crazy part is that the song in the theme comes from relatively late in the game that I’d never actually experienced it until I finally sat down and played through the game early this year. I’ve played it a bit in fits and starts over the years but for whatever reason, I just always found myself being pulled in other directions.
But I absolutely adore the art and sound design of Supergiant Games so I finally sat down with this one and played it all the way through. And I’m glad I did. Red’s journey with the Transistor sword is a beautiful cyberpunk tale played out across a phenomenal soundtrack. And the gameplay as a mix of hack-and-slash and tactical real-time strategy combat is a ton of fun. Mixing and matching the games different abilities might be a little overwhelming at first (and is probably part of what drove me away in the past) but eventually it just clicked and I was just taking out enemies left and right.
3. Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn
For a while now, as I lamented my disappointment in modern Final Fantasy games, I often heard that Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn might be what I was looking for: an MMORPG, yes, but one that held much love and reverence for the kind of older Final Fantasy I preferred. With the launch of the latest expansion Stormblood and some solid selling by friend and WOW/FFXIV: ARR veteran, Lauren Wilson, I decided to pick up the set and give it a shot at least through the introductory trial period. The idea of a monthly subscription was always one of those things that turned me off from the game. I tend to want to play too many things to make investing a monthly fee worthwhile.
But I hopped in and started playing and really enjoying it. In the early areas of the game I was free to roam the low level areas and hack and slash the monsters, with ample story and side quests to help me gain experience. I even had some fun trying out all of the little sub classes I could, including the non-combat ones like Miner, Carpenter, etc. I wound up gravitating toward a tank class and headed down the path as a Paladin for a time.
But as I got to the games Dungeons, where I would have to be paired up with other players and work through these encounters, I started getting self-conscious. As the Tank, I was often expected to be the de facto leader and I had no idea what I was doing. Additionally, playing it on console left me at somewhat of a disadvantage compared to the PC players and their ridiculously more involved key bindings. So these insecurities ultimately led me to walking away from the game but I had a ton of fun with it while I was there, with my favorite bit being one of the Gladiator side quests that winds up playing out eerily like the relationship between Barrett and Dyne from Final Fantasy VII. It was a great little moment and confirmed what people had told me about it being the kind of Final Fantasy game I’d been looking for. If only it weren’t an MMORPG…
When Undertale made waves at the tale end of 2015, I picked it up but didn’t get too far. A few times. I could never make it past the opening section of the game regardless of how many of my friends started labeling it their game of the year.
When it finally game to PlayStation this year, I finally sat down and beat it. By then, much of the surprise of the game was gone though. I had read about the different ways to approach the game and basically set forth hoping knowing a bit about what was going to happen. I wound up this time going for a pacifist playthrough of the game, enjoying the handful of characters introduced and how they play into and then subvert some of the expectations of the genre.
I beat the game and then was told I had missed some things so I went to a guide to figure out what had happened and why I missed the “true pacifist” ending. With that information onhand, I followed the few extra steps I had missed in order to get there. I absolutely love the story told there in the final phases of that approach but I think it shows just how off the pacing of the story is when about 80% of the world building comes in the final hour or so of the game. I enjoyed it, but I imagine it was a case of being over-hyped on the game.
Then I attempted the genocide run, got to the first real challenging boss fight in there, died a handful of times, and said “fuck it. I’m going to walk away before it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.” The combat, humor, characters, and most of all the music of the game were all great but didn’t quite set the world on fire in the way that I had been led to believe they would. Still good enough to hit the number two spot though.
1. 2064: Read Only Memories
I first played 2064: Read Only Memories at PSX 2015. Their booth had bean bag chairs and an intriguing retro art style that drew me in. The portion of the demo I played basically showed a bit of you talking to some characters and then a sequence in the game where you have to control the traffic lights in order to get a person you’re after rerouted back around the city to your location. The art style was the most intriguing bit, but I kept an eye on the game over the years. It was already out on PC at the time but I just don’t play enough on PC so I figured I would grab it when it eventually came to PS4.
When it launched on PS4 this year, it came with a newly-recorded voice cast featuring a handful of industry people who intrigued me like Melissa Hutchinson (Clementine from The Walking Dead), Jim Sterling, Xavier Woods, and Dan Ryckert so I hopped in. As I mentioned in the Broken Age segment, adventure games typically just don’t pull me in. This one did.
Set in a near future where humanity is on the brink of creating true artificial intelligence, I became enamoured with the characters of this story and even moreso, the philosophical and political questions it raised. Genetic modification, the legal and moral ramifications tied to an increasingly technological society, and general human rights all get their time in the spotlight, as do a handful of truly special fleshed out characters. Turing, your ROM companion for the course of the game, is a wonderful creation exquisitely brought to life by Melissa Hutchinson and was one of my favorite characters of the year.
All of that combined to make 2064: Read Only Memories my favorite game this year that didn’t come out this year.