A bad year for almost everything, but a great year for games.
Detention is a title that is sure to be overlooked this year: it released quietly back in January, and it's a modest point and click indie in a year filled with spectacle. Missing out on this one is a mistake, however, as it's one of the most unique horror games I've ever played. The debut from Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games, Detention takes place in a high school overrun by wandering spirits. What sets Detention apart from its high school horror contemporaries is the fact that it's set in the middle of the White Terror, the second longest period of martial law in modern history. As far as I know this is a subject that no games have touched before, and Detention does a fantastic job mixing the supernatural with the banality of evil. What results is a compelling horror adventure with a lot to say. It won't be a game for everyone (even our own Bob Richardson didn't feel strongly about it
), and there are a few narrative missteps about "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" along the way, but Detention is an outstanding debut game that effectively explores how everyday people act under an authoritarian regime.
Yoshiro Kimura is a developer whose name should be more widely known. You've probably heard of his quirky adventures Chulip and Little King's Story, and if you have any affection for those games, you'll be pleased to hear he's back at it with Dandy Dungeon, a free-to-play mobile game that's a surprising amount of fun. Aging shut-in game dev Yamada is in love with his next-door neighbor, and being a socially awkward creep, he decides to win her love by... making a bunch of RPGs in which he rescues her from monsters. You take on the role of Yamada's beta tester, and each of his games is a puzzle in which you guide Knight Yamada in an effort to step on every tile on an individual board. While there are microtransactions, I didn't have to spend a dime to see it through from start to finish, and even now I find myself going back to its seemingly endless parade of seasonal events. Dandy Dungeon, like Chulip before it, is an incredibly funny Dadaist adventure worth your attention.
I was a little worried going into NieR: Automata. Don't get me wrong, I was excited, but I wasn't convinced a sequel to 2010's NieR was necessary, nor was I sure a sequel could reach the thematic heights of its predecessor. Fortunately, I was dead wrong. Automata is the perfect sequel — it encapsulates what made NieR special and builds on its themes to raise numerous important questions, not just of RPG quest design, but of human performativity and purpose. 2B and 9S's mission to fulfill The Glory of Mankind is deeply sorrowful and incredibly powerful. Automata is a title that will keep you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.
Playful, thoughtful, and one of the most daring titles of the year. Some will no doubt see the divisive Danganronpa V3 as the Metal Gear Solid 2 of its franchise, yet it's so much more than that. The Danganronpa series has always been metatextual; V3 takes this metatextuality to its logical conclusion in an unflinching manner that I completely fell in love with. The overarching narrative is almost akin to a crass, anime-tinged take on Lumet's Network
, and it's magnificent. Danganronpa V3 dares to state that its narrative doesn't matter, and that makes it matter the most.
Everything about Night in the Woods hits a note with me: It's an adventure game centered around exploration and social interaction; it's set in a run-down Rust Belt town, it stars a bunch of cute animal punks, and it's counter-cultural as heck and boasts the medium's most effective criticisms of late-stage capitalism this side of Mother 3. Mae Borowski's autumn-colored return to Possum Springs to connect with her family and friends as she gets her life back together is charming and wonderfully written, with believable dialogue and relatable scenarios. Few games feel as authentic and honest as Night in the Woods, and its equal portions of bleakness and hope resonate with me in ways that few other game have.
A remake of 2001's groundbreaking-yet-little-known horror adventure of the same name, White Day sends lovestruck teenager Lee Hee-Min into his high school under the cover of darkness to leave a box of White Day
chocolates on the desk of his crush, Han So-Young. Unfortunately for Lee, the school janitors don't take kindly to this, and trespassers are punished by being bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat. To make matters worse, the school also seems to be haunted...
White Day takes place from a first person perspective as you sneak around in an effort to solve puzzles and make progress, all the while avoiding your ghastly pursuers. The horror truly dawned when I realized trickery was more effective than hiding: baiting a pursuer into a room with two exits and crouching under desks to stealthily make it to the opposite exit never failed to get my heart pounding. There's some janky programming and design choices along the way: Somebody had the bright idea to gate story content behind higher difficulty settings, which is a particularly egregious decision, but I jumped back in on Hard after clearing Normal because the tension almost never stops. There were numerous occasions when White Day became too much for me and I just had to turn it off. It's a game I've wanted to experience ever since its original localization was silently announced and cancelled in 2004, and while it's not perfect by any means, it's a one-of-a-kind experience. With White Day 2 in production (with VR support!), hopefully the most glaring kinks will be ironed out.
Okay, deep breath... 2064: Read Only Memories, Arc Symphony, Doki Doki Literature Club, Etrian Odyssey V, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, LOCALHOST, Persona 5, Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition, Prey, Pyre, Romancing SaGa 2, Tales of Berseria, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Yakuza 0, Ys VIII, Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, and probably some others. Which brings me to my next award...
Well, it's disappointing that The Good Life, SWERY65's adventure game about a freelance cat detective, didn't meet its funding goal (you're all monsters), but the true disappointing MVP of 2017 is time.
Time is linear, limited, and ever fleeting, and 2017 was a year filled with incredible games. Many titles I felt strongly about I didn't have a chance to finish, and many more I didn't have the time or money to pick up. The Proud Mary of releases just never stopped rolling on, so I'm actually hopeful for the winter doldrums to give me a chance to get through my backlo — huh? Monster Hunter: World is about to come out? Oof.
Mamazon, dot mom: Even when you have your pajamas on, dot mom.