Best Gameplay/Content/Story of 2017

Best Gameplay

Winner – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I really love XB2’s battle system, there’s so much depth to it and it feels like a hybrid of a lot of battle systems I like a lot, notably Paper Mario/Final Fantasy 12 with a really unique combo system. You start off auto-attacking when you enter battle and it charges your Blade arts, which are basically your special battle moves. The auto-attack combo has 3 attacks to it with each attack progressively becoming more strong, and you can cancel those with good timing to keep the damage multipliers onto your arts. By using Blade arts, you charge your special Arts, which in term do the most amounts of damage and are elemental typed from level 1 to 4.

Each driver (or main character), can be binded to up to 3 Blades, one which they get as their main story Blade, and two others which you can get randomly. While a lot of people dislike pulling for Blades, personally I loved it because it forces you to adapt to certain playstyles, as each Blade has it’s own class from Attacker/Tank/Healer and it’s own respective weapon and element. This is the sort of thing that adds an intense level of replayability to me.

The fun starts when the game teaches you how to do Blade combos, which are basically special arts chained in a certain order with elements, and levels from 1 to 3. So essentially, you start the chain off with a level 1 special, then to continue you have a set amount of time to do a level 2 special, then a level 3 special. If you manage to make it all the way to the end, you inflict major damage, a status effect of some sort, and create an orb that is shatter-able in chain attacks to extend the length of the chain attack by an extra round. Shown below a fire-fire-fire chain is completed, sealing self-destruct so monsters you face cannot self-destruct.

Another mechanic is the driver combo, which relies on the abilities of each driver in the game. This is kind of the basic status effect chain that each RPG has, in that you inflict status effects in a certain order to maximize out your damage. The standard driver combo is Break-Topple-Launch-Smash, which adds two extra attacks to the predecessor as XB1 only had Break and Topple. If you manage to use both Blade and Driver combos simultaneously, you achieve a Fusion Combo as shown below, which maximizes your damage while the enemy cannot retaliate.

Finally, the chain attack system allows each Driver to perform a Blade Special starting at level 1 and increasing a level each time you break an orb and extend the chain attack. This is what does the most damage and the sole reason life bars are so big in this game, but I think that makes the game way more fun albeit I can see the argument for why people dislike the HP sponges in this game. I feel like if you play optimally though, enemies shouldn’t last very long.

Since it took me 5 paragraphs to explain how the battle system works, I’m pretty sure you can see the depth of the combat system within this game. I could talk about it some more but it’s a lot better to just experience. I can confirm that watching other people play this game probably wouldn’t be too fun, but playing it yourself is truly an experience. As someone who thought XB1’s weak point was the combat, Monolith did something amazing and gave me a battle system I’ll probably never forget.

Runner-up – Persona 5

Persona 5 didn’t really change up the uniform systems of the Persona system too much, but the additions it did add I thought were very fun. Notably, the gun and ammunition system gave the players another resource to manage in order to hit weak points, and was noticeably stronger than the basic attack. Demon Negotiation as a way to obtain Personas instead of shuffling cards was also a welcome addition, despite my disdain for attempting to recruit demons without weaknesses before you meet the Tower Confidant.

The addition of Confidant skills was much appreciated as well, as the Star Confidant lets you swap party members into your party. One thing I disliked about prior Persona games is that fact that experience wasn’t shared, so you’d get punished for using more than a main core party, but in Persona 5 I was able to completely utilize my whole party and all their strengths, and it made progressing through dungeons more fun. I’m sure the developers made the dungeons longer as well to balance the game as well. Some of the boss fights actually made me use my entire party to maximize SP usage.

Best Content

Content refers to depth of content offered, and quality of it.

Winner – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I was really impressed with the level of content within the world of Alrest. XB2’s story is about 60-80~ hours even for a fast player like me, and the amount of affinity charts, sidequests, and rare Blades to find probably takes about as long as the main storyline itself. I really enjoy the sidequests in this game as they all force you to explore and find new areas, and the Xenoblade games are all about exploration. There’s always things to be doing, and I like to be preoccupied when I play video games, so there’s that. Merc Missions definitely could have been done better though.

Herald looks pretty badass, doesn’t she?

Runner-up – The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd

I really enjoyed the Door system in Trails in the Sky the 3rd, as each door offers story content for specific party members, and there’s 25 of them to expand on the very large cast (20~) playable characters. The presentation of each of the door’s stories is quite good as well, and it really fleshes out the world of Zemuria. The doors are also optional, but easy to find which is really nice, as the majority of Trails 3rd is spent dungeon crawling. That means whenever you want a break from the dungeon crawling, you can open the door for some story content and extra rewards (money/equips) when you feel like it.

Have a wholesome Estelle. x)

Best Story

Winner – Nier: Automata

Taro Yoko is a genius for evicting so many emotions in me, and the presentation of Nier: Automata’s story along with Keiichi Okabe’s music was nothing short of stellar. The premise of androids trying to fight invaders that drove the humans off quickly becomes a story where you question the humanity of everything that exists, and the actions and motivations that drive people. This game is capable of evicting basically every single emotion from a player, and for me I definitely felt the impact of all this games hard-hitting decisions and scenes.

Runner-up – The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd

I knew kind of how this game operated before I bought it, but the execution of it still surprised me. Kevin Graham, as a priest of the Church gets tasked to retrieve an artifact and analyze it while pulling off some crazy stunts, and manages to get himself pulled into an alternate universe where the entire Sky cast also ends up. As the artifact’s world is shaped by the denizens of it, the characters experience fragments of their past and various other surprises as they try to escape and get back to their own world. The highlight for me is obviously Kevin’s character and story, as he doesn’t get a lot of screen-time in SC but is shown to be doing some very important things behind the scenes.

Best Gameplay/Content/Story of 2017

Best Presentation/Cutscenes/Graphics in 2017

Best Presentation/UI

subject to change as I play more games

Winner – Persona 5

Is this even a surprise? Persona 5 was lacking in a couple of things for me, but UI and overall feel of the game was definitely not. The theme of red and black in menus and flipping artwork of the MC was way too clean for me to not put this as the winner, as it should be. The thematic definitely carried all the way through and everything just felt right, from Takemi’s blue shop menu to Iwai’s green weapons shop aesthetics and all the color contrasts were done beautifully. A complete overhaul of the battle menu system is what games should be looking to utilize in the near future as well.

Runnerup – Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Fire Emblem Echoes went for a minimalistic and nice visual feel using maroon-like colors. Stats were easy to read and the palette with the full portrait of each character’s art (which Hidari did beautifully) was always very nice to look at.

 

Most Appealing Graphics

Winner – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

While this game might not run optimally on the hardware it’s on, I can say without a doubt Alrest is a world I never want to leave. It’s truly beautiful, as well as all the 3D Models are environments that come with it, and the world is truly expansive enough to keep you in that wanderlust of wanting to see what comes next because everything looks so nice.

Runnerup – Probably every other game released this year

I’ll be honest, my eyes didn’t hurt playing any game this year and in fact I’m pretty sure my eyes were pleasured by looking at all the different aesthetics, artstyles, and general graphics this year. From the slick artstyle of Persona 5 to the mechanic and sharp feel of Nier: Automata.. nothing could go wrong this year.

Best Cutscenes

Winner – Xenoblade Chronicles 2

One of the things I was most excited about when XC2 was announced was the return to the style of XB1, and not Xenoblade Chronicles X for the very reason that XC1 had very enticing cutscene direction and music was composed to fit the cutscenes, kind of like how movie composers get to work with film. Monolith definitely didn’t disappoint me either, cause this game had a plethora of cutscenes and they were very fun to watch. The music syncing of Counterattack with the fight scene below is truly astonishing.

Runnerup – Nier: Automata

This game’s cutscenes were heartwrenching and impactful, and if you played the game you’d know exactly what I mean and which cutscenes I’m probably envisioning as I type this up. I won’t link anything as the game is very concise so it’s already easy to look up what you need, but you should just play the game.

Best Presentation/Cutscenes/Graphics in 2017

Favorite Boss Themes of 2017

This one’s always fun to do.

10) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Torna Boss Theme

This one is actually so sick to listen to, it plays for most major villain fights that aren’t the two major antagonists, and it really gets you pumped. The intro is pretty unique, and the main riff that kicks in at 0:50 is also too good.
9) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – Pride and Arrogance

My boy Berkut’s theme. Well, his first one anyways. The vocals fit his character perfectly and this theme builds him up as the first strong and real menacing foe in this game for Alm. You hear a lot of variations of this song in the game, but this one is my favorite out of them.
8) Nier: Automata – Sound of the End

The final boss theme of Automata, and otherwise the large event theme. At times this was hard to listen to due to in-game noises as it’s largely atmospheric music but once you get some headphones on this song is insanely good. The repetition of notes and strong percussion sounds really give a sense of impending doom, right?
7) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – The Fallen Knight

Fernand gets a pretty sick battle theme too. I really love the intro to this song, and it’s surprisingly how long it is considering FE battles are really short. That’s just how it is sometimes I guess.
6) Persona 5 – Keeper of Lust

My favorite patented guitar feature Shoji Meguro boss theme on this OST. The electric guitar is way too nutty at 0:36. My favorite part is how much you get to listen to this banger, considering it’s played for basically every mid/mini boss in the game. My favorite part about this song is probably the fact that the background riff never stops for any moment though.
5) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Zeke’s Theme

My boy the Zekenator. I fucking love this song, I’ve been listening to it like once a day for the past two weeks, the guitar is just too hammy and the intro is too perfect for every time you run into this guy with the screen cracks lmao. It’s like the most hammy song, but it goes so hard too. The main melody is too good.
4) Persona 5 – Rivers in the Desert

This one’s a classic, honestly I didn’t find a majority of P5’s OST to be amazing.. but this one got me to play the rest of the game through easily. It’s only fitting that it played for the first major villain in this game, though I have an issue with the fact it plays for the final boss lmao. The bass and the violin strings really do setup the vocal line though, and the vocals do deliver.
3) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Incoming!!

The first couple of times I listened to this from the early reveals of the OST, this wasn’t one that I was too impressed by. But once you get past the intro (which works incredibly well in game), and the song opens up at 0:40, personally I got really into it. This has Kenji Hiramatsu written all over it with the hard guitars, and this is the other song that plays for basically every major boss fight in the game. It never gets old either, I’m a little sad I beat the game since I can’t hear this anymore.
2) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Jin Boss Theme

That intro gets me every time, the violin harmonies with the sad piano melody really make a good mock-up of everything Jin’s character is about. When the violins and woodwinds kick in at 0:50, you get a sense of freedom which is everything his character is trying to fight for, into harsh vocals which make up how much of a badass he is. This is my favorite epic theme for me this year.
1) Nier: Automata – A Beautiful Song

I vividly remember hearing this song in a gameplay demo prior to the game’s release.. and this song in conjunction with the gameplay versus the opera boss automatically made me know the game was going to be amazing. It’s fitting the opera boss would have such a sick song with great vocals to listen to, and the fact that there are so many stages to the boss make this boss insanely fun to fight, with all the variations of this song that plays as well. The vocals at 1:40 are chilling, and the transition back into the main melody is nothing short of genius.

Favorite Boss Themes of 2017

Favorite Field/Dungeon Themes of 2017

A field to me is denoted as a place where you can find enemies but also explore! This year has some of my personal favorites which I’m excited to share. Also I get to shill a lot for the Xenoblade 2 soundtrack here (not that I haven’t already), can’t wait to add games I haven’t played yet like YS8 to this list. Same bold palette means the positions are pretty interchangeable for me.

16) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – Where the Wind Rustles

Such a great song to open the game up to, I really like trumpet lead-ins as I’m a trumpet player myself and it just leaves you wanting to explore just like Alm does. The modern touch-ups to Gaiden’s OSTs are really beautiful, and this song is no exception.

15) Persona 5 – The Whims of Fate

My personal favorite palace theme, and my 2nd favorite palace to play-through because of it and one other factor. Definitely the most groovy palace song, as befitting as the area it’s in. The lyrics are really apt too, and for such a long palace I didn’t get sick of the song either like some other palaces did for me.

14) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Stairway to Gehenna

This is probably the complete opposite of the song above in terms of groove, as this song is honestly just depressing to listen to. The bells and strings are used perfectly to drain this area of any life and as you’re walking around you truly feel like you are in a place people shouldn’t ever be able to go to. The violin solo at 1:15 is particularly noteworthy.

13) Xenoblade Chronicles – Leftherian Archipelago (Day)

This song is honestly beautiful and so is the area it comes with. I haven’t spent too much time in this area yet as it’s pretty easy to walk through, but I can’t wait to spend more time in it. The flute melody at 0:29 is definitely very nice to listen to, and it just has that magical Xenoblade aura to it.

12) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – A Song for Bygone Days

This is the wind-down song for the game and it lets you know it’s coming to a close by bringing in vocals and a more intense piano line than any of the previous Act themes. The transition into the major vocal focus with string backings at 0:48 is really well done, and I feel like this theme matches what both Alm and Celica have to go through at this stage of the game.

11) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Gormott (Day)

To a lot of people, this song embodies the Xenoblade spirit as it sounds a lot like it’s predecessor “Gaur Plains”. It is pretty much the perfect roaming theme, and I really love the violin melodies in this song and the drum beat. The strings at 1:03 with the harmonies in the background leading into the next phase of the song is probably my favorite part about it, but you can tell the composers probably spent an insane amount of time getting this song right. There are even vocals that kick in at 3:40, so for a game song having a loop this long is pretty crazy.

10) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – The Ark of Dawn

I really like this song, as I was most interested in Celica prior to playing FE15. But more importantly, this song features basically every instrument I love in the harp/strings/woodwinds combo. I don’t hate boat maps either, so this way a really fun section for me to play. I was really impressed by the reimagining of this song, and the composers for FE15 are both really impressive arrangers but composers as well.

9) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – Undiscovered Horizons

This song makes me tear up with how majestic it is and how there’s a leitmotif in this song of the Fire Emblem theme. This song basically is the embodiment of Gaiden’s Fire Emblem Theme, as it’s the game that doesn’t feature it. The part at 0:50 is honestly too good and gets me every time. Also trumpet leads.

8) Xenoblade 2 – Uraya (Day)

This song makes me tear up but in another way. I think this song has easily the best opening verse in any of the songs on this list, and the woodwinds that come in literally make this sound like it came out of a Studio Ghibli film. My opinion of this song changes frequently, but whenever I enter the area I always forget about that and remember it’s too good.

7) Xenoblade 2 – Mor Ardain (Day)

This is the real “Gaur Plains” of Xenoblade to me though, that intro into a strong melody just screams the same combination to me. This song switches up instrument focuses a lot which makes me really enjoy the song on a personal level. Can’t get any another more hype than brass instruments, after all! The piano/trumpet solos are actually too good though. When I got to this area, it was actually night, so I changed the time to day and just sat there.

6) Xenoblade 2 – Kingdom of Tantal (Night)

This song is actually so chill to listen to.. Tantal is probably my favorite area in the game if we combine both day and night themes. I’m a sucker for good acoustic guitar sounds as I play fingerstyle myself. Nothing like walking in a snow area with 1:36 going though. The piano at 2:06 leading into a perfect loop of this song is actually mindblowing.

5) Xenoblade 2 – Gormott Lower Level

This song is actually too pretty. The amount of woodwind usage in this soundtrack made me really happy, since I honestly think they are capable of being lead in so many more nice themes in game music, but they tend to be underused in general. I like this one a lot, despite it’s simplicity compared to the songs around it. Sometimes simple compositions feel the most magical and 1:38 is such a magical transition back to the main section to the song.

4) Nier: Automata – Amusement Park (Dynamic, Vocals)

The top 4 of this list is definitely interchangeable for me, music this year has been way too good. Automata’s first song on this list though is the Amusement Park, and this song just builds a sense of wonder and fun. The bass drum kicks at 0:25 really emphasize a strong beat with the harmonics and vocals and it’s something I appreciate so much. The strings and the mallet instrument at 1:48 are really good too.

3) Xenoblade 2 – Tantal (Day)

My favorite standard field theme in Xenoblade 2. Since I already mentioned Tantal is my favorite area for music, and the night theme was above.. it’s no surprise the day theme is higher. This is basically a more intense version of the night theme with strings and vocals for added tension. The Kingdom of Tantal is known to be a place that is very unkind to it’s denizens, and I think the harsh nature of this song conveys that. The bass drop at 1:30 into the main melody of the song is actually so nutty though.

2) Xenoblade 2 – Spirit Crucible Elpys

If there’s anything I was really happy about, it was seeing Manami Kiyota on the composer list for this game. I love Mitsuda, and all the members of ACE+.. but the calming themes that Kiyota made are some of my favorites in gaming in general and this song is no different. The place this song plays in made the entire area worth it, and that’s how much I love it. It’s like she mashed up all her best songs from the past games into this one, and the vocals hit me in all the right spots. It’s really great how none of the songs feel like they’re out of place in the world either, even though so many different composers worked on the game.

1) Nier: Automata – Rays of Light (Dynamic, Vocals)

It was really hard to decide what to put as #1, but this version of the City Ruins theme is actually too good. The piano melody is simple, but it provides the perfect backing for the vocals while also being a strong part of the song. The strings provide a good amount of tension, to depict the struggles the cast is struggling through as this version of the song appears in game. All the dynamics of the song are perfect to me, and it’s really emphasized at 1:28 when the main vocal theme of the song comes online. ty Keiichi Okabe.

Favorite Field/Dungeon Themes of 2017

Favorite Town Themes of 2017

2017 had a lot of great battle themes, but some of the town themes this year have been amazing. In this list I’ll put all non-interactive (no combat) areas from games this year.

8) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – The Hermit’s Garden

The hub area theme has a nice beat goin’ on with a general futuristic vibe that you don’t hear in a lot of video games. It uses the signature Falcom keys and a Trails in the Sky leitmotif at 2:20, which is personally why I like it so much.

7) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Fonsett Village (Day)

This song just screams home to me, which it is. When I arrived at this area after playing for some time, the woodwinds actually brought a tear to my eye :’)

6) Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia –  Sea Winds and Travelers

I love this song so much actually, it’s pretty unreal. The entire mixture of instruments used in the song, really makes it feel like you’re by the sea or about the set out on an adventure–which Celica is about to do. Even just adding the guitar at 1:35 for the loop is such a nice touch.

5) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Aster House

This is also home, but in another way. This song is so majestic, but still manages to leave you with that feeling of longing or sadness, or at least that’s how it is for me. A really beautiful composition, that’s for sure. The ending of the song helps the player realize that there’s many more hidden layers revolving around the area.

4) Persona 5 – Beneath the Mask

This is the song you can always jam out to because you know if you’re roaming around home in P5, this song is playing x). The vocal and bass combination truly is a deadly and smooth one; befitting of the leader of the Phantom Thieves.

3) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Torigoth (Night)

Honestly, I don’t know how the XB composer team does it, but they always manage to make both the night and day themes capture such different moods. The guitar really takes a lead in this song, and it takes the day theme’s melody and converts it into a really beautiful chordal melody. 1:16 is a piece of art.

2) Nier Automata – Peaceful Sleep (Vocals)

I’ll be completely honest, I actually didn’t like this song that much when I first visited the Resistance Camp. Knowing the context of the song as the game progresses, and changing my pair of headphones really changed my mind about it though, and I listen to it all the time now. The Uilleann Pipes that form the melody along with the vocals at 1:16 are incredible, and make me wanna cry everytime I hear them :<

1) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Torigoth (Day)

This is probably the town you spend the most time in, and god it makes me so happy to listen to this song everytime I visit. Unlike the soft guitar in the night theme, the violins take the melody in this version and they do an amazing job. The preparation at 1:35 for the setup of violins at 1:45 is what makes this song a masterpiece in my opinion.

Favorite Town Themes of 2017

Favorite Battle Music of 2017

2017 was a great year in gaming, one of my personal favorites! Until the new year I’ll be making a post of favorites everyday, and there’s no better place to start than soundtracks and battle music in particular! The basis for qualifying games for the rest of my lists will be on NA releases in 2017.

notables that may be missing from this list due to incompletion: Tokyo Xanadu EX+, YS8, Tales of Berseria, Gravity Rush 2, Atelier Firis,

(All titles pending for Xenoblade 2)

8) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Driver Battle Theme

This isn’t a song you hear too often, but I think the fact you don’t hear it that often makes it way more fun to listen to. Unlike a lot of the other fighting themes in this game, the violin takes the spotlight and it really does run away with the song. In particular, the violin parts around 1:14 are really outstanding to me. The drivers that you fight to this song are way stronger than the regular mobs, so it’s pretty sick they get their own song.

7) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Fighting Right On

This is actually the first battle theme you hear in this game, but it’s not the main one. This one really does get you in the mood to do some fighting, and the fact that Kevin gets this theme shows he’s not a guy you can fuck around with. It’s sad the loop is so short, but the main riff more than makes up for that.

6) Persona 5 – Will Power

The standard awakening song has a really good intro riff that I really enjoy to show your characters powering up. With Shoji Meguro’s flexible style, might as well put this guy’s name in a museum for musicians to be remembered as he is truly a magician of modern day video game music. The guitar is all stuff we’ve heard before from him, but it also never gets old.

5) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Battle!!

For being the song that follows you throughout the first half, I really really like this song and it never got old. The beginning keys are really fun to listen to when you start the battle, and it really fits the battle system quite well unlike the initial battle music in XB1. The mashup of guitar and violin is pretty great as well, and it’s just plain fun to listen to which is what your standard battle music should be.

4) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Determination of Fight

If you’ve ever listened to FC or SC’s theme, you’d notice right away the feeling of this song is way different. I think it’s calmer and more beat focused nuances fit Kevin as a character way more though, since he’s older and more experienced than Estelle and Joshua are. A really fun listen, and considering the touchups to the battle system the 3rd did, it really did make me have a blast while playing this. The piano is actually too good in this song.

3) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Battle Theme 3

This one plays towards the end of the game, and really sets the tone for the mood of your party. I’m not sure who composed this between Kenji Hiramatsu or ACE, but either way the guitars are your standard Xenoblade-fare which is always good. The song kicks in at about a minute in, and ironically enough that’s usually when you get your combos setup so it always feels perfect to fight to, and this made the really long fights bearable in this area.

2) Persona 5 – Last Surprise

Well, it’s certainly no surprise that this made the list. Out of the post Persona 2 era, this is easily the best regular battle theme, which is good because it’s the only one you get as is tradition from the Persona series. The intro string transition when you get a surprise attack is honestly too perfect, and this is honestly the style I think of when I think of Shoji Meguro. He’s always been good at making these suave themes, and no one I know doesn’t like the drop in this song.

1) Nier Automata – Song of the Ancients – Atonement (Vocals)

This song is amazing, and truly fitting for the scene it plays in if you consider the fact that the original song was derived off the two characters this song plays for in Automata. It’s a shame it only plays once, and while it’s not much of a battle it gets the point across–an extremely dire situation that no one wants to be in, but also a cause worth fighting for. I’m a sucker for the combination of mixed vocals and strings, so this just hits the spot. The ratio in terms of the depths of the sound levels per instrument is astounding too, but that’s just Keiichi Okabe for you.

 

Favorite Battle Music of 2017