By Rick Warren / Gfn2112
In the gaming industry, the term "indie" is thrown around constantly. What defines an indie game? Is it simply the independence of a game studio? Unlikely, as games like The Witcher 3 are never considered indies. Is it the price, or is it the length? Again, I'd answer no to both of those suggestions. In most cases, indie games are a combination of those three. They're smaller, cheaper and made by a studio that is not owned by one of the many large game publishers. These are the kind of games that I'll be looking at for this week's list, and I'm excited to share my favorites.
Time to kick things off with #5!
5.) Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition
Having finally played Three Fourths Home myself earlier this year, I now look back on it fondly as one of the more unique and thought-provoking indie games that I've ever played. In this bite-sized, two-hour game, I was surprised by how little there was to do. The entire game revolved around pressing R2 to move my car forward and choosing dialogue options. There were no other mechanics. Further, there was no voice acting and no faces given to the family the story focused on (which likely was because the developers wanted players to picture the characters on their own/put their own family in the characters' shoes). The art style was extremely minimalistic, using only black and white to create the Nebraska setting. With all this simplicity, Three Fourths Home should have felt like a waste of two hours. Instead, it told the deepest story I've seen told in such a short game.
Rather than hurting the game, the lack of voice acting and simplified visual style enhanced it. They both made me focus more on the dialogue itself, which managed to be poignant and meaningful entirely on its own. Even if I could not see or hear the characters, I grew attached to them. Ultimately, it achieved an interesting blend between a video game and a book that I haven't seen anywhere else (and may never see again). The post-game pictures, stories, and epilogue in the extended edition all helped to enhance the game. The soundtrack was tremendous, perfectly working in tandem with the story. In the end, Three Fourths Home made me thankful for the people in my life, more so than any other piece of art has. If you're a gamer who prioritizes visuals, normal storytelling and deep gameplay, you'd likely hate this game. However, if you're looking for something new and something that makes you feel something, Three Fourths Home delivers.
For number four, a modern classic that is soon making its way to the Nintendo Switch...
With this spiritual successor to Limbo, Playdead managed to create a game that vastly improved upon their previous work. Puzzles were deeper and more satisfying to complete, the art style was far more detailed (though I do still love Limbo's simplicity on that front), and an ambiguous ending that is still thoroughly debated to this day. Simply put, Inside is as close to perfection as a video game can be. It may be short and simple, but those are far from flaws. Due to these traits, the developers could create an experience that succeeded at everything it was trying to do.
To be completely honest, I understood very little of Inside. Without any dialogue (the game instead relied on environmental storytelling), it was hard to piece together what was going on. The people chasing my character were unexplained, as was the boy that I was playing as. The ending (or more specifically, both endings) seemed entirely random, and the short scenes offered little closure. While I personally would have liked something more concrete to begin piecing together the story on my own, I fully understand that this was not the goal of Inside. The developers strived to make the entire story ambiguous and open-ended, and they certainly succeeded. I've read many strong theories online that are all believable, as they all interpret the events of Inside in their own way. It also speaks to the greatness of the gameplay that I could love this game so much even though I did not understand what was going on around me. I never needed any guides, as the puzzles were the perfect level of difficulty. I would get stumped temporarily, but a few minutes later I would be in a completely different section with brand new concepts. These perfectly balanced, unique puzzles led to the terrific pacing that made Inside a blast to play.
Up next, the most difficult game I've ever played...
When Furi released as a free game for PlayStation Plus users, I was excited to try it out. It looked visually appealing, stylish and it seemed to have a nice soundtrack. These things proved true, yet the gameplay of Furi is what shined the most. Like Shadow of the Colossus, the game was entirely made up off boss fights. The only difference, really, was how damn tough the bosses of Furi were.
While nearly all of the boss fights were a challenge, one in particular was so frustratingly difficult that I rage quit. After four hours of failed attempts, I took the day off. It's one of the only times I've ever stopped playing a game due to frustration... but I don't hate Furi for it. In fact, it's the reason I love Furi. I've never been more satisfied to defeat an enemy than I was when I beat that boss. It's rare to find truly challenging experiences in today's gaming industry that aren't simple hard modes with health and damage increases. It's one of the reasons why the Souls series has become so beloved. Furi, too, deserves that same attention. It rewards skill, and at times it demands perfection. With a surprisingly interesting story and truly great boss-only gameplay, I recommend playing Furi as soon as possible... if you're up to the challenge.
In my #2 spot sits a walking simulator that manages to be different from the others...
2.) What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is the only walking simulator that I played on launch day. I had the game pre-ordered, thanks mostly to the great trailers and Giant Sparrow's previous game: The Unfinished Swan. I remember being sick the day it came out, yet through that constant distraction I chose to push on. I'm glad that I did, as I'd hate for this game to be sitting unplayed on my backlog. Despite this great gaming year, Edith Finch remains one of my favorite games of 2017.
There are so many things that make this game great, from the perfect voice acting to the unbelievable level of detail in the Finch home. Yet the thing that makes this game special is the fact that it tackles the concept of death in a way that I haven't seen done before. The entire story deals with Edith moving through her family's old home, telling the stories of her relatives' deaths. The family seemed to be cursed, and many of them died in ridiculous ways. Yet, this game never felt too depressing or too comical. There are moments of both, but the story moves in such a way that I never felt like I couldn't move on. This is likely because of the interesting way that their final moments are told, and it's something that could only be done in a video game. Each story featured different mechanics (with some even featuring different art styles) that made them unique. Not only were new mechanics constantly making the game fun to play, but they enhanced the stories. Some offered ridiculous interpretations of the stories, while others were grimly realistic. In the end, it was up to players to interpret if the Finch Family curse was real, and the same goes for their individual stories. The game was brilliantly written and executed, making it both my favorite walking simulator and one of my favorite indie games.
Finally, it's time for this week's top spot!
Journey is certainly an interesting game. I had heard many positive reviews, but for whatever reason I never got around to playing through myself until it released on PS4. While I may have been late to the party, I'm still so glad that I finally got around to it. The magic of Journey is that everyone who plays it has a different experience. That key idea fully explains why Journey could be my #1 indie game, yet not even make the list for another person. To have a great experience with Journey, you need to rely on another person. This person is randomly selected, though; you cannot invite a friend. You do not know the other player's PSN ID, and you won't find out until the credits role. Journey places with a person you don't know, and you need to learn how to work with them to progress. In a few of my friend's cases, this system failed and they ended up playing alone. For me, though, this buddy system worked brilliantly.
I met my partner early on, and it didn't take us long to start working together well. He seemed to like exploring as much as I did, and even helped me find some easter eggs/earn some trophies along the way. We always waited for one another to catch up, and stuck together through the entire story. Well, almost. When the tale came to its last section, I was placed in a snowy environment where it was harder to see and move. I pushed forward. Everything seemed fine, but then I turned around and realized that the partner I had spent the entire game with was gone. I looked for him, but found nobody. It was such an odd thing, looking back... but I truly began to feel alone. My unknown friend's disappearance made the harsh snowy section feel even more barren. Eventually, I had to move on. I progressed on my own, and I truly expected to finish on my own. Then, after my character's "rebirth", I was shocked to see someone by my side once again. To this day, I have no idea if this was the same person I had been playing with or if I merged into a game with someone entirely new. In the end, though, I don't think the answer would matter. It felt great to have someone to play the game with again, and I'm glad to have finished Journey with another person. This moment of loneliness transforming into a feeling of happiness is one I'll never forget. The gorgeous art direction and beautiful soundtrack do not define Journey for me; my own, personal experience with the game does.
That's it, everyone! I hope you enjoyed this week's Top 5, and I'd love to know what your favorite indie game is (feel free to leave it in the comments). Next week, I'm excited to share my top 5 horror games with you. See you then. - Rick