Every so often, we're graced with a game that is the complete package: compelling story and strong protagonist, amazing visuals and soundtrack, fun and exciting gameplay. In 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn was that game. Aloy is hands down the best main character (female or otherwise) I've seen in a long time, and her personal journey from outcast to savior while uncovering the mysteries of the past is incredibly strong. The graphics still continue to make my jaw drop every time I play the game, and I feel the music is something of an underdog — not likely to be on the MOTY lists of many, but no less deserving of a spot. The combat in the game takes a relatively simple concept — shoot at things with a bow and arrows — and manages to make it feel incredibly fresh and exhilarating by pitting you against giant robots and allowing you to destroy parts of them to make your job easier. Guerrilla Games not only gave us this incredibly polished, brand new IP but also provided a perfectly sized expansion in the same year
. That is worth all the accolades and then some in my humble opinion.
Horizon Zero Dawn also wins the Who Run the World? Girls! award for Best Protagonist (Aloy) and the Let Me Set the Mood award for Best Atmospheric Soundtrack.
My controversial opinion of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is that it is a better game than many make it out to be. Admittedly, I haven't beaten it yet — I've spent over 90 hours and I'm in the middle of Chapter 6 — but many of the issues I've seen others mention haven't really bothered me. The only real disappointments so far have been Pyra's balloon boobs and a main story that, while good, doesn't quite live up to the original (though things are ramping up in such a way that my opinion on that matter could still change). The world is beautiful, despite the Switch's limitations, and the lore involved that informs the various cultures and their conflicts is right up there with the original's Bionis and Mechonis. The main cast meshes well with each other, and while not every character is as strong as I'd like, I've found things to love about just about all of them. The gameplay is at once familiar while also evolving from the formula set forth by the original Xenoblade — combat in particular is a lot of fun, requiring good timing but also strategy in order to pull off the different combos the game throws at you. And the music, by The Twelve, the music
! Hands down the best soundtrack of the year, and with powerhouses like Persona 5 and surprises like Night in the Woods in the mix, this is no small feat. Is Xenoblade Chronicles 2 a little rough around the edges? For sure. Is it still a great game despite said rough edges? For sure.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also wins the Vinny Gambini award for Most Nitpicked Game of 2017 and the Now That's What I Call Music award for Best Overall Soundtrack of 2017.
Have you ever gone to a movie and known very early on that it was going to be absolutely amazing? That was my experience with Night in the Woods, a game that I had no idea existed until E3 2016. It immediately caught my eye back then, but it wasn't until I started playing the game that I realized how truly special it is. From Mae's very first day back in Possum Springs, full of both her patented snark and the poignancy of coming back to a dying hometown, I knew I was in for a great time. And I was not mistaken. Mae's adventures with her friends as she comes to grips with both herself and the changes happening in her hometown feel utterly relatable, especially her strained but ultimately heartwarming relationship with Bea. The beautiful art style, smart writing, and incredibly catchy soundtrack all coalesce into an amazing experience that I was reluctant to see end.
Night in the Woods also wins the Bet You Thought You'd Seen the Last of Me award for Best Surprise and the Put Your Paws Together award for Catchiest Soundtrack.