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Monday, May 29, 2023
"Night in the Woods" presents a postmodern, coming-of-age story that amounts to a powerful story.

"Night in the Woods" presents a postmodern, coming-of-age story that amounts to a powerful story.

Best Entertainment of 2017: Video Games

“Night in the Woods”

If there were an award for the hardest game of the year to describe, this one would win it every time. In simplest terms, it’s a postmodern, platforming, coming-of-age, mystery story with rhythm game elements set in the dying fictional town of Possum Springs, where everyone is an anthropomorphic animal. You play a female cat named Mae who has just dropped out of college to come home and live with her parents. It’s awkward, and as a result, the vast majority of the game is spent outside the house, reconnecting with her old friends. In terms of strong central plotlines with a lot of drive to them, the game is lacking. But underneath all that is one of the most powerful stories told through the medium in years. Anyone interested in exploring themes surrounding modern economics, the role of labor unions, the importance of friends, LGBTQ+ acceptance, bad nostalgia and personal responsibility should give it a look.

“Persona 5”

Half dating social simulator, half turn-based JRPG exploration of Jungian psychology, “Persona 5” is weird. It’s a 90 to 100-hour grueling experience that serves to recreate the routine and anxiety that comes with actually living in high school. Every day is a heart-wrenching choice between doing homework, hanging out with friends or continuing to delve into the mental dungeon of the loner down the street who needs you and your Scooby-style gang of misfits to magically defeat his inner demons, lest the world end. In terms of simple interest, that choice may seem simple from the outside, but mechanically there’s a certain amount of hanging around and studying time that needs to be put in before your character can handle the dungeons. With a calendar ticking down the days left until the world ends, everyday life quickly becomes engagingly panicked. With such a unique atmosphere and generally fantastic writing to boot, “Persona 5” is worth the lengthy investment.

“Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”

This is Nintendo’s beautiful, open-world return to the design philosophy that governed the first installment of the “Legend of Zelda” series; exploration and freedom of choice are everything. Run right up to the final boss if you want, or forget about the main quest entirely and spend 100 hours wandering around finding random collectibles. All that matters is that you are able to take in the sights, fight some evil and manage to get away from the world for a while. Players set their own level of challenge and progression, and there’s some narrative problems with this framing. Logically, the collectibles should probably wait while there are world-ending threats to be defeated, but the game doesn’t push this line of thinking particularly hard. One of the advantages of the open-world approach is that plenty of more immediately engaging stories will appear on their own, and Nintendo has created a world where a vast variety of such encounters are possible.

“Super Mario Odyssey”

“Super Mario Odyssey” is a fantastic title that’s a must-have for anyone fortunate enough to own a Nintendo Switch. Compared to other entries on this list, it’s the one which succeeds most at being a game — plain and simple. Whereas “Night in the Woods” gives us a relatable storyline with well-developed characters, “Odyssey” is a reminder of why the video game medium was invented. Every second spent platforming and hunting for collectibles is basked in fun, while the new gameplay mechanics keep the Mario series from becoming a stagnant franchise. A lot of what’s in “Odyssey” is nonsensical and ridiculous, but the experience is made all the better for it.

"Horizon Zero Dawn”

In an age with countless sequels and reboots, a fresh face is always nice, and, in the case of 2017, “Horizon Zero Dawn” was the source of originality. At first, I was skeptical about the game. For one, every demo shown at conventions had the same format: we were presented with archery combat against giant, mechanical dinosaurs. Call me crazy for not being impressed by that premise, but I was looking for something more. A good story to go with the open-world, maybe? When I finally played the finished product, my expectations of the narrative were drastically exceeded, to the point where I believe “Horizon” will win “Best Narrative” at the Game Awards.

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