Yakuza is a series that’s been around for quite a while, but has remained incredibly niche with its cult following. This year saw a lot of that change, however, with the release of Yakuza 0, a PS4 exclusive that still remains one of the best of the entire year. Yakuza can be an imposing series to try and get into, but Zero provides an opportune spot to jump right in, as it functions as a prequel to the entire series.
You play as two different characters, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, who both have inexplicable ties to the Yakuza and both end up embroiled in a conspiracy to control an empty plot of land in Kamurocho, a fictional area of Tokyo. The game takes place in the 1980s, dropping players into a fascinating world of crime drama and wacky characters, with an extra dose of over the top action. In the spirit of the series, Yakuza 0 manages to be incredibly endearing and heartfelt while also managing to stay action-packed. It deftly weaves its themes and toning together, transitioning from emotional to off the wall crazy at the drop of a pin.
With tons of substories, a lengthy main story, and a wealth of sidequests there’s plenty to keep you occupied for tens of hours. It’s the absolute best place for anyone to try out this hidden gem of a PlayStation series, while also giving longtime fans new context on the characters and world of Yakuza.
Night in the Woods
Coming of age stories aren’t anything new to video games, but few games manage to tackle the subject as well as Night in the Woods. The game focuses on Mae, an only child that’s returned to her childhood home of Possum Springs. After moving into her parent’s attic she finds out a dark secret in the nearby woods, that leads to revelations about what the town has been hiding for decades.
Night in the Woods is a narrative focused game, letting you control Mae as she explores Possum Springs, talks to its inhabitants, finds clues for the mystery, and interacts with objects. It’s a simple game to play, but is layered with complexity in terms of storytelling and player choice. There’s some truly emotional stuff packed into the game, and at its core it’s an experience about finding your place in the world, figuring out what you can control in your life and what you can’t. Despite playing as anthropomorphic animals, it’s a game that’s surprisingly human in what it makes you think about and feel, and it’s one indie game you can’t afford to miss this year.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Torment: Tides of Numenera is the spiritual successor to the cult hit RPG Planescape Torment, and uses the fantasy role-playing setting of Numenera. It’s a game done in the classic Baldur’s Gate style, with the personal narrative acting as the main driving force. You play from the view of the Last Castoff, a human host that was inhabited by a powerful being, but has now been abandoned without any memory of prior events.
One of Torment’s most unique aspects is how it approaches morality, as it veers away from a traditional moral compass or slider. Instead, the game uses a “Tides” system, that represents the emotion or reaction that someone inspires in their peers. Instead of choosing a good or evil option, you respond with different Tides that are represented by different colors, each of which have a number of nuanced concepts attached to it, not just a basic description. This brings a different kind of depth to the game and its story, providing a nuanced tale about humanity, with plenty of fascinating characters to go along with it. The classic role-playing gameplay is sure to appeal to anyone that’s a fan of games like Baldur’s Gate or Pillars of Eternity as well. Torment: Tides of Numenera isn’t a light experience by any regard, but it’s one of the more unique titles that’s easy to pass up this year.
Snipperclips – Cut it Out, Together
With the release of gargantuan titles like Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and ARMS, it’s easy to pass up some of the smaller experiences on the Switch. Point in case is Snipperclips, a charming little puzzle game that released right alongside The Legend of Zelda at the console’s launch.
Snipperclips has a really unique idea going for it, as a co-op game focused entirely on snipping the other player’s body the correct way. Each character can cut the other’s body into specific shapes, which is required to solve a variety of different puzzles. This includes getting a certain object to a location, like a pencil into a sharpener, or cutting up both player’s bodies just right to combine into a specific shape. The game is filled with really smart puzzles that get pretty darn difficult by the end. It also helps that there’s hours of content for both two and four players, and with the portability of the Switch it’s a breeze to pop out Snipperclips for a bit of fun with some Joy-Cons. If you’re someone that jumped on board with the Switch after its launch, this is a title you need to make sure to go back to.
The Sexy Brutale
The Sexy Brutale definitely is a game that has its own share of flaws, but it’s a wholly unique experience with a really engaging and solid mystery at its core. The title is a puzzle game set in a casino mansion, during a yearly party known as The Sexy Brutale. Attendees of the party are being killed off one by one, with the reason and murderer remaining mostly a mystery. The biggest catch, however, is that the mansion is stuck in a time loop, with the victims reliving their death over and ove.r You play as Lafcadio Boone, a preacher and attendee of the party, who’s ripped out of the time loop by a mysterious girl, and given a strange mask and pocket watch.
After five hours, the day resets in The Sexy Brutale, meaning you’ll need to play through it again and again discovering clues, finding items, and completing objectives that help you learn how each of the partygoers die. Strong writing and a whimsical soundtrack help elevate the game into a murder mystery adventure that’s sure to stand out in your memory.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is probably unlike anything else you’ve ever played, although it does have a good amount in common with other first person narrative games like Gone Home or Firewatch. You play as Edith, a young member of the Finch family, returning to here foreboding family home nestled deep in the woods. The family has a secret, however, a sort of curse that dooms each member to die prematurely in unexpected ways. Through the narration of Edith we get to see some of the final moments of the Finch family members. In some cases, this is the tragically short lives they lived, in others a look into their lives and achievements. Although Edith Finch is a fairly straightforward game, the variety in gameplay is astounding.
Each family member you spend time with has wholly unique gameplay ideas and elements, helping to distinguish each and every segment of the game. It’s an experience as fascinating as it is heartbreaking, and one that’ll keep you glued to your screen for its relatively short run time.
Supergiant Games made their mark on the legacy of indie games with both Bastion and Transistor, two incredibly well-received action-RPG titles that sported emotional storytelling, beautiful art, vibrant soundtracks, and engaging combat. The developer returns with Pyre, their most ambitious project to date, and although it’s drastically different from their past two titles, it’s no less memorable.
Pyre casts you into a strange high fantasy world as an outcast – a Reader – thrown down from the civilized government of the Commonwealth into an area known as the Downside. Through a sport-like game known as The Rites, outcasts can win back their freedom and return to civilization. Pyre is broken up into two different segments, visual novel style storytelling and 3v3 matches for the Rites. While the Rites themselves can be incredibly fun and hectic, its the story that really makes the game shine. You meet a ragtag cast of characters on your journey, each of which have a bit of a tortured past. Pyre brilliantly weaves gameplay and choice together in exciting ways, making you choose which of your fellow Exiles achieves their freedom. This can mean losing a valuable team member, in favor of freeing someone you care about and want to see return to safety and happiness. It’s through this blend of gameplay and story that Pyre distinguishes itself as being unique, and combined with gorgeous art and music, it’s one unforgettable fantasy game.
West of Loathing
West of Loathing is an incredibly unique little game, as it’s a turn-based RPG done entirely in a stick figure style. You’ll play in an old west style setting, as your character leaves the family farm to travel west and seek their fortune in Frisco. Despite its simple facade, West of Loathing is jam packed with consistently funny humor and complexity.
There’s a great amount of choice, letting players approach puzzles and choices how they want. The presentation is also top notch, playing its simple aesthetic well and even using it to bolster the jokes and humor found in the game. Considering the game runs the price of $11, this is a lengthy title you can pick up for cheap that’ll keep you occupied until the Fall rush.
Gaming has long had a bit of an obsessions with Cyberpunk, with everything from Deus Ex to Shadowrun. Observer is the newest Cyberpunk infused title, casting you as a special detective known as an Observer, who are completely given the clear to hack into their targets memories and fears when investigating. The game takes place in 2084 Poland, after a digital plague that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, and lasting effects on the survivors including rampant drug use.
Although Observer is a survival horror title, it doesn’t rely on jump scares to terrify you, it’s all about atmosphere and themes. The game brings up some serious topics of how we can abuse technology, and what all digital, technological future means for us. The gameplay has you investigating crime scenes, searching for clues, speaking to citizens, all while pursuing a central mystery about one family. Observer is a slow, methodical descent into horror rather than thrusting you right in, but it’s a trip well worth taking.
The original NieR on PS3 and Xbox 360 was met with lukewarm reception by critics and players, but over the years it’s developed a cult status with more and more people jumping on board with the unique things the game does. Now we have NieR: Automata, the game that realizes almost everything the original wanted to do and even more. Co-developed by Platinum Games and Yoko Taro’s team as Square Enix, Automata is set on a post apocalyptic Earth where all of humanity has been forced to flee to the moon after aliens landed and unleashed robotic hordes on the world. You play as 2B and 9S, two android that are part of the YoRHa unit sent to eradicate the robots and make Earth safe again.
Platinum’s work on the game is clear, as combat has an incredible flow to it in Automata. Various weapons, options, and combos make it an engaging system every bit as enjoyable as the game’s story. Like the previous NieR, Automata is a game with multiple layers and a story you won’t truly get to see until you’ve “beaten” the game multiple times. Different endings add to your understanding of the world and narrative, and even push you forward into new events and gameplay segments. NieR: Automata has all the makings of not only one of the best RPGs of the year, but one of the very best games of 2017. Considering the game released directly after Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild, it very well may have been passed up by a few. Make sure you fit this one into your schedule before the Fall heats up.