5. Please Knock on My Door
Levall Games AB
As someone who has struggled with depression before, and continues to find it creeping up behind him on occasion, Please Knock on My Door came as a powerful reminder of where mental illness can take us.
It is a game that presents itself simply: you are controlling an individual through their daily life, not unlike The Sims. You eat, shower, brush your teeth, and go to work. You run through your daily routine day in and day out, mostly sticking to the same formula. However, forces move against you that too many of us suffer through silently.
I played through the mode that obscured the stats and numbers from me, keeping me guessing as to how my character was doing exactly every day. I had to intuit my feelings from how I reacted to the world around me. I did my best but some days I slept in and was late for work. Some days I stayed up too late playing games to try to make myself happy. Once, I dropped my meal that I spent hours painstakingly making and it led to time just slipping away from me as I sank to the floor. The entire time, there is a voiced inner monologue, a narrator who acts as the subconscious. It is through this narration that you lie in bed and overthink, time slipping away as you try to push the day's thoughts away.
There is a narrative through-line that carries you through these motions, as you interact with your co-workers and talk to your Dad through your journal, having not worked up the courage to phone him yet. The game teases you with this option though, giving a greyed out option to mouse over and wonder what it takes to get there. The game successfully drives home the debilitating nature of depression through these game-ified methods. Your option of “Shower” becomes “Comfort”, your option of “Sleep” becomes “Safety”. Your inner monologue becomes darker and meaner, attacking you and belittling your choices and struggle as you slip further down. Time passes away from you as you struggle to eat a simple meal, or watch as dishes pile up. As the player, I struggled to help my character as best I could but found it so difficult, and that is the point.
There are words spoken by the inner monologue that my own mind has told me, there are moments and situations that I found brought back painful flashbacks. It is a game that gives a very clear idea of what struggling with depression is like, and it is hard to play, and hard to see because of that.
However, the game is also full of positivity and you see hope shine through sometimes. You see it through your co-workers who worry about you (despite convincing yourself they just feel sorry for you), and there is a path through the struggle. It comes from a few sources, from within and through getting help.
This is not a game for everyone, but, it gives a glimpse into something that is all too real for so many. Gaining understanding can be a the best first step into getting help, or giving help.
4. What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow, Annapurna Interactive
There are games and stories that stick with you long past the credits. Games for me like Firewatch, Gone Home, and now, Edith Finch. Telling the story of a “cursed” family, it finds young Edith going back to her family’s home in an attempt to tell their story.
The house itself is almost the star of the game. A precarious stack of stories, memories, and characters, the house is your sort of hubworld as you dive into the “worlds” of those who came before. Each room belongs to a former Finch family member, and in visiting these carefully kept rooms, you begin to piece out what happened to every Finch family member. As you explore, you are revealing Edith’s own story as well, and why she came back to the house in the first place.
Each family member’s story is unique and presented in a different way, from comic book to old viewfinder. Some die to circumstance, bad luck, or a bit of obliviousness on occasion. The curse is so prevalent that the graveyard was the first thing to be built, and the ruined remains of the old Finch home lay just off the coast, a grim reminder to where the family came from.
It is in exploring death and family in a fantastical and also at the same time, grounded way, that the game finds its heart. After people pass, it is the stories we tell of them to each other that are who they were. It isn’t their stuff, or their legacy, it is who they were to each of us and What Remains of Edith Finch carries that heart on its sleeve. In not shying away from certain aspects of death, we get a sad but moving tale of a family and their loss.
3. Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Deck Nine, Square Enix
This game could all but fall apart in its third act and it would still be here on the list. Having not played the final episode of the season it feels a bit strange to write about it, but here I go.
The original Life is Strange is part coming of age story, and part supernatural murder mystery and tells a story that is refreshing for games, and introduces a place and characters that still remain some of the best I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Before the Storm continues that tradition and while the periphery characters fall short slightly, the core relationship of Chloe and Rachel is so powerful, it even strengthens the previous game in the series in retrospect.
I’ve spoken at length on the first episode, so I want to focus on one moment in particular in the second episode. (Spoilers ahead!)
As Chloe, you find yourself filling in temporarily in the school play, “The Tempest”. You fill the role of Ariel, while Rachel plays the lead role of Prospera. The play ends up being the moment that the entire season revolves around, with the episode titles even originating from lines from the play. It is a moment that sees Chloe in awe of Rachel, as she masterfully performs in her role and shows Rachel what Chloe is capable of in a pinch, filling the role of Ariel better than both of them could have expected.
It is a moment of triumph and ends with a very familiar scene, of Rachel and Chloe strolling down a darkened town street, feeling like they are on top of the world. A memory I have from my own teenage years, that feeling of feeling invincible after conquering the odds. Also, the feeling of falling in love and falling in with someone who defies all expectations. The game captures these teenage moments so well and the intimacy shared between Chloe and Rachel is something that is too rare in games.
It becomes even more bittersweet, knowing how their story ends.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Nintendo EPD, Nintendo
I have never played a 3D Mario game before, and Odyssey blew me away. The sheer amount of charm and fun packed into this game astounded me. It is hard to play this game without a huge smile on your face.
Odyssey is full of nooks and crannies that are packed to the brim with good game design. It all feels so natural, and rewarding, and the worlds are a joy to explore. Coins lead to moons, and moons whisk Mario away on a new adventure. Along for the ride is Cappy, a game mechanic that vastly improves the usual Mario formula in a not-gimmicky way. Being able to toss the hat to extend jumps, take out foes, and activate devices gives our old plumber new tricks. That’s not even mentioning the ability to take over enemies and objects with Cappy to explore the environment in even new ways.
Not only is a blast to puzzle out the moons and interact with the environment, but the game is full of small little touches that are so charming and so smart that they elevate the experience even further. Being able to toss Cappy and have a new dog friend bring it back to me is a small moment of joy in an already joyous game. Mario’s little shuffle to the New Donk City band injects personality into our otherwise mute protagonist.
Odyssey is filled with clever touches and charm and fun outfits in a mishmash of cultures, and references and game mechanics. It was the most fun I had with games in 2017.
1. Persona 5
Bored in science class again, I look out the window at as the sun gleams off Tokyo highrises. I’m trying to ignore the teacher as he drones on, while I also I try to keep my talking cat Morgana hidden in my desk much to his displeasure. My thoughts drift to my after school plans instead, of the world I am about to enter. A world of someone’s mind, a palace to their dark deeds. My phone buzzes in my pocket and I bring it subtly into view, Ryuji is rambling on about something in the group chat but what sticks out to me is my team. This group that has been assembled to fight these injustices. We’re all still teenagers, but we’re also friends and allies and maybe even more. We fight with the manifestations of our subconscious, our inner personality, a Persona. We steal people’s hearts and change their ways. We are the Phantom Thieves. But, I might just go the bathhouse tonight instead. Makoto keeps saying I’m not charming enough.
If you have listened to the podcast, this choice won’t surprise you. A game that I still have yet to beat (I’m so close though!), it still finds its way to the top of my list for being a game that is so unlike any other, even if it does fall slightly short of the series’ previous entry, Persona 4 Golden.
On the surface, Persona 5 is a JRPG mashed up with a slice of life anime. What propels it to the top of my list is the marriage of all of these systems and mechanics in a way that feels intuitive and complex but an uncomplicated way. To give an example: as I hangout with my friends and become closer with them, I improve our relationship which leads to even better combat bonuses in the dungeons with them. I improve my social skills to better understand and be with my confidants, and as our rank improves, I take that with me into the Velvet Room, where I can fuse better Personas from the Arcana they associate with.
That all sort of sounds like I might have made a bit of it up, but it is this gameplay loop that drives the game and it becomes second nature before long. Persona 5 becomes a life simulator, with the dungeons and combat becoming a strange metaphor for life’s struggle.
There never seems to enough time, or enough money, to do everything we want. However, we fight through any ways and cherish our time with our friends and loved ones. Persona 5 captures this feeling and gives a chance to explore relationships with those in your life, while also capturing the struggle and triumph of overcoming life’s obstacles. It also gives a bit of cultural tourism, giving a glimpse into life in Tokyo and Japanese culture.
Persona is a series like no other, and it’s charm can be found in the characters and the world presented. As you build your relationships with those around you, you reveal their stories and get to know them better. It is this exact method that endears so many of these characters to players. You don’t learn about them through strife or adversity (only initially for the most part), but through the quieter moments.
It is these quieter moments that elevate the game above others. It may seem like a typical JRPG, but Persona 5 has hidden depths and stories to tell and explore that are unlike no other game. It may have been that Persona 5 hit me less hard as Persona 4 Golden came at a time where I was lonely and looking for friends and escape, but, it still was a world and story that I kept wanting to visit all year and still want to see to the end in 2018.
Games I need to play in 2018:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Yakuza 0
Localhost, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny 2, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.
Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.
When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.
Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4