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The Best Games of Five Years Ago: 2017

2017's Best Games

Part 2 of this year's best games of prior years looks at 2017, which for my money is the single best year for games that there's ever been. I don't even particularly like several of the biggest titles of that year, yet it still had so many standouts that it's quite likely today's updated list won't even represent the full contingent of 2017 titles when I update my top 100 games. Many of these titles could easily have been the overall game of the year in most normal years.

Unlike the 2012 post, I do have a list from back then to compare with, so each entry will have both versions and explain what's changed over five years.

10. Then: Super Mario Odyssey Now: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

This is actually a drop for both games, since Hellblade came in #2 on my original ranking. That said, it's not really anything against either of them. My opinion on Hellblade hasn't changed much in a long time - it benefited from being one of the last games I finished before writing the list in 2017, and I definitely suffer from recency bias on these lists despite my best efforts. Mario had something similar going on and has fallen further behind another 2017 platformer after years of updates, so it falls off the list entirely.

But still, these are both exceptionally good games. Hellblade remains the most psychologically intense game I've ever played and provided you're up for the experience of simulated psychosis, it's unforgettable. Odyssey remains near the peak of platforming creativity even though I personally prefer the more structured levels of other games.

9. Then: Night in the Woods Now: Divinity: Original Sin II

These games have roughly swapped places from #9 to, if I were to extend the list that far, around #15. Night in the Woods is a memorable and unique experience that didn't quite have the staying power I thought it would, and Divinity is still one of the most ambitious RPGs to ever be created. I blew through its 50 hour campaign faster than I have for just about any other game of similar length, but I was still annoyed enough at the deeply underwhelming ending by year's end that it didn't make the cut for the top 10. With time, I've come to appreciate all the wonderful stories and ideas that made the first 45+ hours of the game so good and been less bothered by how it falls on its face at the end. It's more or less the same arc that Mass Effect 3 has had, although this one is still a long way from cracking my overall top 10. Someday I'll actually play the co-op mode.

8. Then: A Hat in Time Now: Little Nightmares

A Hat in Time is the aforementioned second 2017 platformer that is to blame for my lowered ranking of Odyssey. It will be back later on this list.

Little Nightmares, meanwhile, just barely missed out on the original list at #11. It's a 2.5D platformer in the vein of Inside that is wonderful for more or less all the same reasons: It has a disturbing and fantastical atmosphere, creative puzzles, and unforgettable set pieces. Little Nightmares probably even has the better ending of the two, which you'll know to be quite a complement if you've finished Inside. This would probably be even higher on my list if I could ever get around to the DLC campaign, but for some reason I've been putting it off for years.

7. Then: Pyre Now: Pyre

Although Hades has since stolen the crown for Supergiant's best game, Pyre is the first game to exactly retain its place on this list. It's a sports game where teams of three play a strange ritualistic mix of basketball, ultimate frisbee, and soccer in order to eventually determine who earns the right to ascend back to the normal world. The sport itself is loads of fun, but the real draw of the game is the powerful abilities that all the different characters have and the agonizing choice of who to let go of if you win the final match each "season". Add in the expected wonderful music and breathtaking art that you get in every Supergiant game and you've got quite a game on your hands.

6. Then: Horizon Zero Dawn Now: A Hat in Time

Horizon placed this high on the list in large part due to the Frozen Wilds DLC, which distilled all the best elements of the base game into a short bonus campaign that was far and away the peak of HZD. The original experience had fantastic combat and some wonderful settings, but also suffered from forgettable sidequests and a main story of uneven quality. Thanks to Frozen Wilds and the promise it implied for the series' core ideas, this made it to #6 when it might otherwise have missed the top 10 entirely. It having fallen back off the list today is in large part the fault of Forbidden West, which forgot all the lessons of Frozen Wilds. A later game theoretically shouldn't impact my opinion of an earlier one at all, but it unavoidably does because it means that promise didn't go anywhere.

A Hat in Time, meanwhile, has only gotten better since 2017. It already had a great campaign that was my first time ever getting 100% in a platformer, but two even better DLC campaigns and mod support have made it without question my favorite platformer ever. There's even a co-op campaign and a party mode that you can play through the entire game in. Today's Hat in Time has something for everyone.

5. Then: Finding Paradise Now: What Remains of Edith Finch

4. Then: What Remains of Edith Finch Now: Finding Paradise

These two games are more or less in a dead heat as far as I'm concerned. They ended up swapped in positions 4 and 5 on today's list, but I could easily see it swapping back if I ever do this again. Edith Finch is a series of vignettes that all have unique gameplay to explain how each member of the Finch family met their untimely end. One sequence is a playable comic book, another has you sloshing around in a bathtub, and all of them are brilliant examples of perfectly paired gameplay and story. This is a game I'd recommend to just about anyone.

Finding Paradise, meanwhile, is the sequel to To the Moon and explores similar themes of coming to terms with paths not taken in one's final moments. It has several very surprising gameplay sequences and an incredibly moving story, all somehow still made within RPG Maker. Laura Shigihara also provided another credits song that's among my favorite pieces of video game music.

3. Then: Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice Now: Hollow Knight

Hellblade benefited a lot from recency bias as mentioned above. Hollow Knight, meanwhile, took me until 2020 to play at all. Once I started, I played it practically non-stop for two weeks and completed just about everything in the game. This is a fusion of metroidvania and Souslike gameplay where each genre's strengths perfectly support the other, resulting in a game that I enjoy much more than either genre by itself. It has some of the best exploration I've seen in a game, expertly crafted boss fights that the lore builds your anticipation for, and combat that's satisfying against even basic enemies. I really don't have any criticisms of it - this is a game I could easily see being among my very favorites ever if I was a bigger fan of the core genres, but as it is it still manages to be just outside my all-time top 10.

2. Then: Persona 5 Now: Persona 5

When that's the entry for #3, you know that #2 is going to be at the peak of its genre. And it is: Persona 5 is in a league of nearly just itself for my favorite JRPG ever. Handcrafted dungeons, more minigames, and deeper social links all build on an experience that Persona 3 and 4 had already nearly perfected. It's 90 hours long, but it never drags, and the OST is easily the best in a series that has always been renowned for its music. If there's any criticism of it, it'd be that the combat is still grindier than I'd like, but that's easily remedied by playing on low difficulty and spending as much time as possible with the game's amazing characters. Persona 5 would be my game of the year in any normal year, but, well, this was 2017. And it still had one more masterpiece to deliver.

1. Then: NieR: Automata Now: NieR: Automata

This game released at about the same time as Breath of the Wild and Horizon, both of which I ended up playing extensively before ever really getting around to this. I knew it was something special from just the demo level, which jumps between being a shmup, a 3D bullet hell, and a character action game seamlessly and in a way that's really like no other game out there. The level immediately after that opening isn't as memorable, which led to me temporarily putting it aside, but after that it's a nonstop 30 hour experience of wild and wonderful gameplay. It's a seemingly impossible number of different genres at different times and weaves it all together with a story that is no less ambitious. Every part of it builds towards a core theme and experience, right down to the credit sequence and Keiichi Okabe's striking soundtrack.

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