In an amazingly convenient twist, every game on this particular list also had an incredible soundtrack, so consider this both a list of my favorite soundtracks as well as other games I enjoyed in 2017.
Like 2016's Doom, Prey was a game I feel nobody believed in but me. From the moment it was announced, I decided it was going to be great. Let me tell you, it feels great to be right two years in a row.
Although it's not quite the best game of the year like Doom was in 2016, Prey is an amazing sci-fi experience. I've seen it described as "science fiction BioShock" which is completely accurate. According to a report from Kotaku, the game was designed as a spiritual successor to System Shock, which is apparently old enough now that gamers today have never heard of it despite the fact that BioShock was also designed to be a spiritual successor to System Shock. Anyway, Prey does some cool stuff of it's own that makes it more in between BioShock and Dead Space, which are two games I coincidentally I found to be very similar any way.
In Prey, you're trapped on a derelict space station with creepy space monsters and you have to unravel the mystery while also shooting said monsters in the face. The shooting is serviceable, but it's not really the point. The point is the atmosphere and the crazy alien powers you can obtain. Did I forget to mention that? BioShock may have plasmids, but does it let you possess a coffee cup? I don't think so.
I think the main reason this game went ignored is that it acts as a reboot, replacing the highly anticipated Prey 2. I attended my first PAX back in 2011, and while waiting in (the very long) line for Skyrim, I got to watch a live stage demo of Prey 2 a couple of times. The game was a loose sequel to the original Prey, in which you played a guy who was abducted by the aliens from the original game and became a bounty hunter on an alien world. It seemed pretty far along to me, but apparently didn't meat Bethesda's "quality standards" and was cancelled.
Getting this game instead was kind of an insult to fans considering it's vastly different from both Prey 2 and the original Prey. What seems likely to me is that Arkane was working on this game already and then Bethesda realized they needed to exercise their Prey trademark and slapped the name on to this game. I really would love to see the original Prey 2 concept get made some day, but definitely do not overlook this Prey just because it's not the game you may have expected.
Prey's soundtrack was composed by the brilliant Mick Gordon, responsible for games like Killer Instinct, Doom, and Wolfenstein.
Mick Gordon's Prey soundtrack grabbed me pretty immediately from the title screen, featuring a very eerie distorted guitar tune with droning synth:
This soon leads into some of the most memorable opening credits I've probably ever experienced:
The music is often pretty atmospheric and tense, but also occasionally melancholy with its surprising use of acoustic guitar or piano.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
I got into Fire Emblem, as I think a lot of people did, with 2013's Awakening. My eyes were finally opened to Nintendo's excellent strategy series! The one aspect that really attracted me and many others to that particular installment was the addition of a "casual" mode that eliminated permadeath. Normally, when a unit dies in battle that character literally dies in the game and is gone forever. That stresses me the hell out. Luckily, this casual feature is something that's been carried over to subsequent games so I can continue to enjoy them. Echoes has this, but it also does the series one better.
Fire Emblem Echoes is a remake of the second game in the series that was never released outside of Japan. When I say remake, I mean remake. It's basically a new game, but more in the style of the old games. It doesn't have the now-traditional weapon triangle or any of the more "visual novel" elements wherein you can fall in love and make babies. I kind of like both these changes, honestly, but it's the turnwheel that really sets this game apart and allowed me to play with the classic permadeath experience in a less stressful way.
The turnwheel allows you to rewind time during a battle to any previous turn, but it has a limited number of uses per battle. Hidden in the game's world, you'll occasionally come across upgrades for it that allow you more uses per battle. This is an absolute game changer to me, like exp share was in Pokemon. Now if I make a stupid move or something goes horribly wrong that's out of my control, I can rethink my strategy and try again without having to reload my save file. I feel like, with this option, I'm willing to live with the consequences if one of my characters dies. It gives me opportunities to prevent tragedy, combined with a real punishment for failure. If someone dies, and I can't save their life after retrying five times, then I don't deserve to.
Besides that, though, there's a lot of other features that make the game stand out. There's towns you can visit with people to interact with, two parallel story lines, dungeons you can explore through direct third-person control, and more. It might actually be my favorite of the 3DS' Fire Emblem games.
Shadows of Valentia is a remake of the second Fire Emblem game that was never released outside of Japan. As such, a lot of the music is remade too. It has a different sound to it than recent fire Emblem Games, but the new audio team for the series has made some excellent arrangements. Several of the classic tunes have been expanded upon as well, because of the original game's NES hardware limitations.
Regardless, the Fire Emblem soundtracks have been some of my favorites from Nintendo ever since Awakening, and Echoes does nothing to change that fact.
The game's battle themes are pretty different too, but damn if they aren't amazing anyway!
Metroid: Samus Returns
Who could have seen this coming? I mean really. I was so convinced there would never be another side-scrolling Metroid game ever again, yet here we are. And it's a Metroid 2 remake, and it's developed by MercurySteam. And it's amazing. Wow. Seriously, it's clear Samus Returns was developed with a lot of love and passion. It's a remake only in concept, really, where you're hunting down the Metroids on their home world. Everything else was built entirely from scratch, and it's all excellent. The new free aim mechanic? Excellent. The melee counter? Excellent. New powers and items? Excellent. Reimagined environments? Excellent. 3D visuals? Excellent. New fast travel system? Excellent. Map and weapon swap on the touch screen? Excellent. New music? Excellent. This game is absolutely up to Nintendo's standards as far as quality goes. In fact, I don't think I've seen such an excellent 3rd party entry for Nintendo IP since F-Zero GX from Sega.
I know the original version of Metroid 2 was for Game Boy, but I must say the design is just perfect for play on the go. Metroid games are large, sprawling adventure, but Samus Returns is designed around hunting Metroids and the process of locating one and taking it down is perfect for playing in short bursts. Zero Mission will always be special to me, but Samus Returns might just be the best 2D Metorid game.
Metroid 2 is known for having a notoriously bad soundtrack, except for one beloved overworld track. Samus Returns features almost entirely new music that falls in line with Metroid Prime's style.
The popular "tunnel" song sounds great and fits right in with its new arragement:
What more is there to say about Mario Odyssey? It's an incredible game that didn't make it higher on my list because Nintendo spoiled too much of it for me in their promotional materials. You can read my review for more thoughts and check out some of my favorite music tracks below.
I think the ruins theme from Sand Kingdom is legitimately one of my favorite desert themes of all time.
This song took me completely by surprise because it sounded so uncharacteristically Mario to me.
A little bit spoilery here if you haven't heard it, but Bower's music in this game is the most unique it's ever been.
The theme from Steam Gardens is the best level theme in the game by far. Definitely in my top favorite Mario songs ever.
An incredibly unique lava theme for an incredibly unique lava stage!
Everybody knows the vocal theme "Jump Up, Superstar!" but the theme that plays at the end of the game is way better!
From its initial announcement, I always thought Arms looked fun. When I finally got to play it during the beta, it was confirmed for me: Arms is fun as hell. It's a fighting game the way only Nintendo could do it, and like Splatoon it's a game I can actually be good at. I'm sure when Nintndo's crazy idea machine came up with the idea for a 3rd person behind-the-back fighting game where you have stretch arms, it sounded insane. Hell, it still sounds insane! But once you play it, everything becomes clear. It's one of those games that anyone can pick up and play because it's so easy to learn, but it's full of advanced techniques that will keep serious players coming back.
It's true, Arms is light on single-player content. It's a game designed to be played against people, and luckily there's plenty of variety to be had in that respect. I really love Nitnendo's lobby system for this game. You'll be thrown into a screen with a number of different avatars all floating around in a void, and you'll get grouped up to play different game types based on the number of free combatants. They really thought this system out, so of course there's different matches to be played for two to four people. The three-person free-for-alls are especially chaotic, but props to Nitnendo for designing a game where everyone can spend more time playing and less time sitting at menus (as visually interesting as they are).
Props to them for the six months of free content to begin with that added five characters, five stages, 12 weapons, three new modes, a new boss fight, a replay feature, player statistics, collectible badges, an a new secret boss. Although Nintendo recently said they would stop adding content and only release balance patches going forward, they keep adding additional features anyway including some new unlockable artwork and modes for local play, as well as the ongoing "party crash" event where you can earn extra in-game rewards and bonuses.
One of these days, the theme song for Arms is going to be considered as iconic as the rest of Nintendo's music. They really knocked it out of the park with this one. It's 2017's best theme by far!
Most of the character/stage themes are variations on the main theme, with some straying farther than others.
And then of course, there's the best theme in the game:
Nier Automata is the "sequel" to an RPG from last generation that wasn't particularly well received but has a devoted cult following. Automata, though, was developed by Platinum Games which meant of course I had to play it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I played sure as hell wasn't it. I've played for many hours and I still can't pin down what type of game this is. It's a 3rd person action hack-and-slash, but sometimes it's a side-scroller, but it's also an open world RPG. It's a behind-the-back on-rails shooter, but also a top-down shoot 'em up, but also a top-down twin-stick shooter. Nier Automata is all things to all people, and it does everything surprisingly well.
You're just kind of thrown into the game without any context at all and told to kill robots, at which point things go off the rails very quickly. There's a series of games dating back to the PS2 games called Drakengard, and the original Nier was a spinoff set after the fifth ending from the first game in that series. Automata takes place after the original Nier's fourth ending. In case you couldn't tell, these games are all about multiple endings and alternate timelines, which also carries over into Automata. I once ended the game just by deciding to putz around instead of hurrying to an objective which resulted in the world basically being destroyed. I thought it was pretty funny, actually, and the game spit me back to my last checkpoint so I didn't lose any progress.
The story of Automata involves some aliens wrecking Earth so humanity flees to the moon and creates a bunch of androids to fight a war against the alien's robots on Earth. It has a surprisingly interesting and deep philosophical story about the nature of being, but at the same time is over the top in a way only Platinum can deliver. It's a little like Platinum's own Metal Gear Rising in that way.
Basically, I've never played anything like it before, and I appreciate it for that.
If any game is deserving of the "soundtrack of the year" award, it's Nier Automata. It's a little bit difficult to properly convey it like this, since it's actually dynamic and the music changes depending on what's happening.
A lot of the tracks even have vocals written in a fictional language based on Gaelic.
The opening moments of the game begin with a song I can't get out of my head:
Then there's this track, which is the first time I've been blown away by a piece of music in a long time.
Automata also has one of the best town themes I think I've ever heard (there's also a version without lyrics, but I like 'em!):
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
I talked a little about this one in my recommended Switch games article, but Xenoblade Chronicles 2 kind of blew me away. I wasn't a fan of the first Xenoblade, though I've always wished I was. I thought the premise and the world were very interesting, but I found the gameplay to be pretty unappealing. Xenoblade Chronicles X was a little bit of the opposite. I gave it a shot because it seemed different enough, and while I didn't like the de-emphasis on story I thought the gameplay was much improved. Although it probably remains the most complicated game I've ever played, I had fun with it.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2, thankfully, takes the best aspects from both games. It has a colorful cast of likable characters and an extremely anime story paired with the most refined gameplay in the series. Battles play out sort like puzzles, where you must determine the best combination of partners and attacks to maximize your damage. Although, yes, the battle system is still kind of complicated, it helps that they've simplified most other aspects like leveling and equipment. The game also has some very long cutscenes, but they're all so enjoyable that I found myself anticipating them.
I will also say that I'm one of those weird people who enjoys the exciting mystery of obtaining items by random chance, so getting new blades (which in this game are basically people who empower you with weapons) randomly by activating crystals is pretty addictive and enjoyable. I thought initially that blades being characters was a cool idea that would work like Soul Eater, but it turns out that they actually just stand in the background shooting energy towards you while you fight. There's a reason for this, but I initially thought it was stupid and would be too cluttered. The screen is kind of cluttered with characters and UI elements, especially in handheld mode, but I somehow never found it to be overwhelmingly busy. Making the weapons characters that travel with you is actually really cool, not to mention an integral part of the story.
I'm not usually a JRPG guy, but this one is definitely for me. Then again, I am a pretty big anime fan which is what this game very much reminds me of.