You definitely don’t need me to tell you that 2023 was a ridiculously good year for gaming unless you literally live under a rock (which, I’m not judging; I bet the rent is affordable!). Where last year, I struggled to name five titles and ended up putting Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, of all things on the list, I could probably name a top fifteen this year without breaking a sweat. But, in the interest of fairness, everyone else gets five, so I do, too.
Lots of games got cut, such as Final Fantasy XVI, Street Fighter 6, Hi-Fi Rush, and Like a Dragon Gaiden, and those are just of the stuff I’ve played because I’ve barely dipped my toes into Baldur’s Gate 3 and completely missed Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Super Mario Wonder. But, even with all of that said, I’ve got five absolute bangers to count down here, ending on not just my Game of the Year but maybe my Game of the Decade. Here we go.
The finale to one of the greatest redemption arcs in gaming history, Phantom Liberty, was always going to be good, but I was frankly unprepared for it to be as good as it is. In my review, I said it was the best representation of what we were promised in the original game, distilled down into a 20-30-hour runtime where every single ounce of content is thoughtful, thematic, and driven by the players’ actions.
Everything from the very beginning, with Songbird asking you to save her and the President from an impending plane crash, to the end of the story, with the player forced to take a side without either of them being “right,” and even beyond into the full ending, where V is forced to change their entire life completely, blew me away. And hey, it’s even getting a physical release this month!
My entry for the “Best Game You’ve Never Heard Of” award, Mediterranea Inferno, was so good that I’m still thinking about it four months later. This colorful, tragic, and mind-annihilating tale of a hot, gay, Italian summer gripped me with its visuals and refused to let go for even a second.
It’s not often that I go back to play a game more than once for a review, but after finishing my first play, I absolutely had to see this experience through to the end and understand what Mediterranea had to say about the world we live in and the aftermath of us all being shut inside while the plague ravaged the planet. I’m begging you, yes, you, to give this game a shot. Well, unless you have epilepsy.
3. Star Wars: Jedi Survivor (…the console versions)
I didn’t get around to playing Jedi Fallen Order until a few years after it came out, and I liked it fine. The story was predictable but still introduced some novel concepts to my favorite universe. The combat was effective, and the exploration was fun, if not heavily weighed down by a poor map system and no fast travel. I was not at all expecting Survivor to utterly thrash the first game in terms of scope, playability, and story, with a twist I did not see coming and a brilliant, emotional conclusion.
I held off on finishing it, not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t want it to be over. Unfortunately, this only holds true for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions, as the PC version of the game is to this day a broken mess, but if you can access a console, this stands right up there with LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga as one of the best Star Wars games of all time.
In a list otherwise full of darkness, Theatrhythm returned this year to shine a brilliant light that ate up dozens of hours of my time without me even finishing everything it had to offer. As a massive celebration of Final Fantasy from the beginning to the almost-present (the game still lacks FFXIV: Endwalker tracks and only recently got songs from FFXVI but no playable characters), this absolute high point for Square Enix rhythm games is the kind of title someone could devote months to without getting bored, and it’s all presented so joyously that even my jaded ass couldn’t resist bouncing along to the theme tune.
1. Alan Wake 2
Remedy Entertainment’s long-awaited sequel blew my mind out of my skull over and over and over. Even if it’s never getting a physical launch and the PC version is forever trapped on the Epic Games Store, I would be lying if I said that Alan Wake 2 wasn’t worth every second of the wait, and I’m absolutely overjoyed that my inner monologue going “I think this is one of the best games ever?” every hour or so was not just fanboy behavior. The story may not be over yet, but I’ve never been more excited by that idea.
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