USgamer's Top 20 Games of the Year 2017: #5-#2

You thought you were getting our Game of the Year today? Sorry to break the news: but Day Four only leads to our second top choice of GOTY.

This year we decided to do something a little different for our Game of the Year. Since 2017 was such a big year in terms of the sheer quality and volume of video games coming out, we opted to do a Top 20 list, in addition to our personal top 10s that you found on the site all last week. So, all week long we're counting down our 20 favorite games of the year. Today we're listing off numbers 5 through 2. Enjoy!

5. Yakuza 0

Available on: PS4

Yakuza 0 is the first Yakuza game to really, and I mean really, catch on in the west. Word of mouth propelled it on social media, as players shared their tender moments with misunderstood bad boy Majima and the stoic but kind-hearted Kiryu. At times, browsing Twitter almost felt like a gigantic Let's Play, as everyone shared their favorite moments with the two heroes, from overdramatic RC car racing to helping a father "reconnect" with his long lost daughter who works at a hostess club. The Yakuza series was finally getting its due.

When Yakuza 0 released early in the year, players were introduced to a seemingly new sort of semi-open world action brawler. Starring as two anti-heroes from opposite ends of Japan, players followed the game's surprisingly gripping tale of two Yakuza outcasts, left to weather running businesses and trying to get revenge against tattooed thugs, and, y'know, occasionally running errands like helping break people out of cults too, as you do.

The best thing about Yakuza 0 is that no two missions are the same, whether you're mainlining the story or are helping out every random acquaintance you run across in its condensed streets. It's a game that has fun with its structure and 1980s Japan setting, packed with side missions, activities, and a riveting story at the core of it all. Yakuza 0 will be remembered for years to come for how much it took the western gaming audience completely by storm during a seemingly dead period of games. Or how in reality, it was really just the start of a crazy year. Or maybe it'll just be remembered for that one amazing karaoke number with Majima. Only time will tell. —Caty McCarthy

4. Super Mario Odyssey

Available on: Nintendo Switch

This is probably the most obvious pick for Game of the Year outside of Breath of the Wild. This delightfully light-hearted Mario romp arrived just as people were discussing how their appetites for a collect-a-thon game had gone unsated for many years. Well, as a successor to Super Mario 64, Super Mario Odyssey is the answer for hungry fans of collect-a-thons (sorry, Yooka-Laylee).

Each of Odyssey's kingdoms are small open worlds that you're free to explore at your leisure. You can execute a huge selection of moves to find Power Moons, and also for the satisfaction of going to areas you're technically not supposed to. Nine times out of ten, however, Nintendo will reward your nosiness with a small treat of coins or another power-up. Exploring Odyssey rarely feels stifling or punishing. There's no hand on your shoulder and voice saying, "No, why don't you go over there?"

Granted, fans of Super Mario Galaxy's tight, fast-paced environments might feel a bit let down by Odyssey's looser structure. If you've been waiting for a true follow-up to Super Mario 64, however, you'll feel right at home in New Donk City and its surrounding suburbs. —Nadia Oxford

3. Persona 5

Available on: PS4, PS3

Out of all the games I played in 2017, Persona 5 made me feel the widest range of emotions. Atlus' RPG expertly reels you in during intense moments, but it also gives you plenty of slack so you can calm yourself while you roam around. I still think about the slow, subdued version of "Beneath the Mask" that plays when you finish your daily tasks during the game's rainy season. It's a perfect cap to a long day of stealing hearts in the name of justice.

Persona 5 also boasts a unique visual style that's almost hypnotic to look at. Everywhere you look, bloody reds and watery black shadows spill across the landscape, effects befitting of a game about high schoolers attempting to clean up a corrupt world. Realism matters less and less in game graphics, and Persona 5 is a good indication of where we're going. Style garners more praise than power, and I'm okay with that.

I first sampled Persona 5 under unique circumstances. I was about three quarters through my first playthrough of Persona 4 Golden (and by extension, my first Persona game) when I decided to "just try out" Persona 5. As much as I liked Persona 4, 5 hooked me in a way its predecessor never quite managed. The visual style and characters immediately grabbed me, as did the more substantial and themed dungeons (Persona 4's dungeons are randomly generated). I also like 5's emphasis on forming bonds with your Personas: Baphomet is the Prince of Hell. Why would he hang with a pack of snot-nosed high schoolers unless he has a reason to respect them? Though the negotiation process becomes a bit repetitive by the game's dwindling hours, I much prefer bargaining with my sidekicks versus simply winning them at the end of a fight, a la Persona 4. It really does feel more like a partnership when negotiations are involved.

Persona 5 is an easy recommendation for RPG fans. Now bring on Persona 5 The Crimson for Nintendo Switch. Pleeeease. —Nadia Oxford

2. Nier: Automata

Available on: PS4, PC

Nier: Automata, the action-RPG from Platinum Games and legendary director Yoko Taro, is a game overflowing with poignant, affecting moments, but one in particular that stuck with me happened at the start of the second playthrough. I was playing as the character 9S now, a sidekick to main heroine 2B, seeing the world through their renewed eyes. Just as with the start of the first playthrough, the game took me to its settings and laid its menu bare for me to tinker with. It was here that I quickly realized something: I wasn't in control this time. I was watching my past self get acquainted with the menus. I knew this because I remember lingering on brightness settings or something for an absurd amount of time.

That's a small example though. The tip of the iceberg, if that iceberg was intent on destroying the expectations that are inherent to video games, JRPGs, and science fiction alike. Nier: Automata isn't just a clever game playing with what we anticipate though, it's a game that by its end felt like nothing else I have ever played. It encapsulates everything my favorite games of 2017 did: giving modern game design and storytelling conventions a big middle finger. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see Yoko Taro actually doing the latter.

The late film critic Roger Ebert once argued that video games can't be art. They're too malleable because of their interactivity, was the crux of his argument. Art should be cemented. In a distorted way, Nier: Automata feels like the natural answer to that. It's a game that marries its interactivity with its storytelling; it's the sort of story that couldn't be told through film or a novel. Through its intricate boss fights, multiple perspectives, ever-changing gameplay, twisty-turny playthroughs that feel more like sequels than different "endings," and the upsetting decisions players have to make, Nier: Automata builds and builds and builds until it crescendos. And the whole experience is a wondrous thing. Glory to mankind. —Caty McCarthy

Day One: #20-#16
Day Two: #15-#11
Day Three: #10-#6
Stay tuned for Day Five of our countdown (and a roundup of the whole list), revealing our official Game of the Year!

Tagged with Feature, GOTY 2017, Yakuza Zero.

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