The 2017 RPG Of The Year Awards
Last year was packed with great RPGs. We finally got to play the long-awaited Persona 5, Divinity: Original Sin 2 wowed PC players, and Nier saw a hell of a resurgence. Let’s not forget indie darlings like Pyre to Golf Story, which both combined sports with role-playing to great effect. The genre continues to grow, improve, and try new things. The trends still point to bigger worlds, choice-driven narratives, and genre blending as modern RPG staples, but more linear experiences such as Persona 5 and Nier: Automata show that these games are hardly going out of style. Since RPGs require huge time investments, they have the hardest job at hooking us for the full ride. Below are the games we thought did it best in a wide variety of areas.
Best Narrative: Persona 5
Playing a Persona game is like reading a good book. It gives you just enough reveals to keep turning the pages even when it feels like there’s no end in sight. Persona 5 changes things up by making your band of teenagers into the agents of change instead of the vanguard against it. In an all-too-real commentary on the world and society, you see corruption all around you. Coming together as the Phantom Thieves, you take matters into your own hands, but not everything is as it seems or works in your favor. The twists are clever and, true to the series, the game doesn’t shy away from complicated themes like freedom, identity, and pride. Persona 5 is an engaging and enjoyable ride from start to finish.
Best Action Combat System: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
Nihon Falcom has made a name for itself with its flashy action-based combat, and Ys VIII certainly lives up to that legacy. Battles are fast and smooth, with plenty of strategy. From choosing the best weapon for the creature you’re battling to timing special moves, fighting never gets dull. Chaining together specials allows you to unleash a barrage of powerful attacks that are especially satisfying, particularly in big boss fights.
Best Turn-Based Combat: Divinity: Original Sin 2
Battles in Divinity: Original Sin 2 build on the first game’s already-successful formula in every way. The element-focused system allows you combine attributes like fire and water to create diverse effects, such as steam blocking an enemy’s vision. Throw in an interesting take on the turn-based tradition by having action points that factor into everything from movement to more impressive moves you can do, and you have a unique system that makes battles a blast.
Best Cast: Persona 5
A Persona game is only ever as strong as its cast, and Persona 5 is no exception. While the gameplay and story are superb, the true strength of the game is its characters. As your ragtag group of teenage misfits bond through your supernatural activities as Phantom Thieves, you slowly learn more about each of them. Every member of your criminal crew is fueled by a desire to create a better world where people – and adults, specifically – are held accountable for their actions. Watching these teenagers mature is compelling, be it through accepting the death of a loved one or through finding their own identities. A strange sense of pride can be felt in watching this cast grow up, and that's a feeling games rarely achieve.
Best Setting: Torment: Tides of Numenera
Mixing sci-fi and fantasy elements, Torment transports you to a world in the distant future in which a resurgent humanity lives at a medieval technology level amid the detritus of many fallen civilizations. Part of this journey is figuring out more about the science and other mysteries left behind. Torment constantly surprises by integrating its setting into the character arcs and quests. From a living city of mouth portals to a bar frequented by veterans of a telepathic psionic war, every new location you visit is bizarre and interesting. Torment perfectly captures the tone of one of the tabletop RPG world’s most intriguing settings of the last decade, and then puts its own twist on that deep and complex fiction.
Best Side Quests: Divinity: Original Sin 2
Rewarding and interesting side quests are hard to get right in RPGs, but Divinity: Original Sin 2 does an excellent job of providing storylines with meaningful choice alongside big rewards. From figuring out how to cross a bridge owned by business-savvy trolls to discovering the secrets of a mysterious toy maker, you have oodles of ways to handle each situation. You can kill, negotiate, or use crafty ways to skip obstacles altogether – such as simply flying past them.
Biggest Surprise: Golf Story
This charming gem came out of left field and completely won over Switch players. Golf Story's success comes from its ability to combine golfing with typical RPG mechanics, such as leveling and side quests. However, its true triumph is a hilarious script full of zany characters and great one-liners. Golf Story went from being a game on no one's radar to a must-own Switch title overnight, and rightfully so.
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Best Main Character: Goro Majima (Yakuza 0)
This year, we just couldn’t get enough of Majima. The complicated showman has always been intriguing. He’s comedic, tragic, and effortlessly cool, but 0 is where he stands out the most. Not only is he a badass who can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, but we also see as a softer side to him, which is evident when he gets a toy out of a crane machine to cheer up a young girl. However, where Yakuza 0 really shines is how it lets us discover the events that turned him into the "The Mad Dog of Shimano.”
Best Sidekick: 9S
Androids aren’t supposed to have feelings; their duty is just to complete missions, but 9S’s devotion to 2B never sways. He puts her safety above all else, coming to the rescue in the heat of battles and calming her down when things get chaotic. Loyal, kind, and intelligent, 9S is the kind of "person" you want by your side when you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Best Indie: Pyre
Supergiant Games, the creators of darlings such as Bastion and Transistor, switched things up with an innovative concept that gave meaning to your choices. In Pyre, you play in NBA Jam-style battles to liberate prisoners from a hellish wasteland. The way the gameplay and story intertwine makes the experience worthwhile. Do you free the team members you think deserve it, or selfishly keep them to make battles easier? In a way, you’re almost playing God, deciding who gets another shot at a decent life or who will stay trudging along in this awful locale. The result is a fresh experience that has you thinking before, during, and after each match. However, the real payoff is seeing how your choices change people’s lives all the way until the very end.
Best Collectibles: South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Nothing makes walking around South Park more fun than what you find in The Fractured But Whole. Whether it is new superhero costumes, yaoi art pieces, or big gay cats, stumbling upon these collectibles always brings a smile on your face. They are true to South Park, right down to finding all the toilets to poop in.
Best Remaster: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Final Fantasy XII is one of the more divisive entries in the series, playing more like an MMORPG than a traditional Final Fantasy game. The Zodiac Age is an example of a remaster done right. This new version is hardly just a visual upgrade, adding important improvements to make the game more accessible. A dual job system and easier-to-understand license board were the main additions, with a new trial mode and handy tweaks like fast-forwarding traversal making the game even better than its first outing.
Best Soundtrack: Nier: Automata
This was the most debated category of this list. From Persona 5 to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, we had some of the best music in RPGs this year. However, the way Nier: Automata uses music to tell its story stands out the most. It touches on many themes while capturing the emotions of each moment wonderfully. Parts wacky, violent, and somber, the soundtrack has a memorable track for every occasion. Songs like “Machine Village” and “Amusement Park” breathe life and personality into these unique locales, while “Weight of the World” encompasses the emotions from the entire journey, making the ending hit even harder. And these are only a small portion of the great songs in this game.
Best Post-Launch Support: Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV launched over a year ago, but that hasn’t stopped Square Enix from constantly improving the game and adding exciting new content. This year we got the Assassin’s Festival and Moogle Chocobo Carnival alongside Comrades, a fun multiplayer expansion. Throw in paid character DLC for Noctis’ best buds, and you had more than enough reason to revisit Final Fantasy XV.
RPG of the Year: Persona 5
We had to wait a long time for a new game in the long-running series, but Persona 5 delivered in every way imaginable. The game oozes style and creativity, but also improves in many areas, from intricate and elaborate dungeons to more complex persona fusion. The sense of progression is also top notch; watching the Phantom Thieves grow in notoriety, forming deeper bonds with characters, and finding new personas to fuse never ceases to excite. The story also has its share of twists and leaves you satisfied with the answers. No RPG excelled in as many areas as Persona 5 did this year, proving Japanese RPGs can be more than niche.