Staff Picks: Pyre’s Top 5 Games of 2023 – Mechs, Tactics, & Soul

Staff Picks: Pyre’s Top 5 Games of 2023 – Mechs, Tactics, & Soul

2023. Games. There were lots of them. I could use this time to talk about other things, but is that my job?

It’s the job of prominent influences like The Game Awards to be talking about the well over 6000 jobs lost over the course of this year because the execs want some extra pay, not some tired schmuck online who’s trying to balance way too much work so they can afford to live.

Y’know, like the industry workers who helped make a ton of fantastic games this year and then got laid off for their efforts.

Anyway, here’s a list of my top 5 games from this year.

5. Armored Core VI

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Armored Core VI marks the first Armored Core release since 2013, the first one easily accessible on Steam, and the first one to inform many people that FromSoft also made games that weren’t built on a foundation of swords, magic, and ‘prepare to die.’

I’m being hyperbolic, but Bandai Namco’s marketing of Dark Souls with the ‘Prepare To Die’ subtitle did irreparable damage to how that series and titles like Sekiro are perceived.

Anyway, that’s not the point here; Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is not a fantasy game of swords and magic but a science fiction game where you fight guys in giant mechs (called Armored Cores). Apparently, they made a bunch of other ones before this, which I need to find and play now.

You, a mercenary with the callsign Raven, are in serious debt and complete missions for corporations to earn your life back—completed by laying waste to those around you in a custom-designed mech with various weapons.

It’s weighty combat, all depending on how you build that mech. Bosses are challenging, but you’re free to change and alter your build between attempts to find the best methods of destruction.

And then the plot is told pretty much exclusively through corporate calls. Like from people giving you jobs. It’s a pristine political mess you can see every side of. Stuff like doing a mission for the Rubicon Liberation Front to lay the groundwork for ‘claiming the wall’ when you’re the one who claimed it for Arquebus in a previous chapter. The tone is one where you’re the unequivocally a villain, but what else are you able to do? The tone is phenomenal.

4. Persona 5 Tactica 

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After a re-release of the original game, a sequel in Persona 5 Strikers, and two spin-offs in the Persona Q2 crossover game alongside Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, audiences might be slightly tired of Persona 5. Not great.

Luckily, however, I don’t tend to tire of Atlus games, and there is a trend for these sorts of spin-off games to focus primarily on whatever new characters are in the cast for their emotional story beats (Persona Q/2, Persona 4 Dancing All Night, Persona 4 Arena, etc).

So when Persona 5 Tactica opened up with the Phantom Thieves being transported to an alternate world overrun by tyrants, then rescuing a regular dude with the help of a mysterious girl, you know that the plot is going to be focusing on the dude and girl over the Phantom Thieves; they’re going to be what’s really compelling.

They are. I love Erina and Toshiro so much.

So, whilst you unravel the mysteries of the newcomers and save these strange kingdoms from their evil overlords, you can play some excellent tactical RPG combat because if there’s one thing Atlus always nails, it’s the combat.

And also the soundtrack, which in this case has its own new flair to fit the change in combat and gameplay.

If you want more details on the game, you can check out our review from earlier in the year.

3. El Paso Elsewhere 

El Paso Elsewhere

Your ex is a vampire that’s performing a ritual to destroy the world from inside a motel. You have a gun and painkillers.

Have fun.

El Paso Elsewhere puts you in the barely-together shoes of James Savage, a folklore researcher who stars in this action-packed third-person shooter by Strange Scaffold, where you spend your time running through motel rooms filled with vampire mummies, werewolves, and small children who are out to kill you.

So you put a bullet in their head before that happens, Max Payne style.

The soundtrack makes these gunfights feel like a music video as you exploit your tons of movement options: jumps, slides, rolls, and slow motion to nail your shots. The variety of these only increases as you find new weapons.

As you go to slaughter, you get to listen to the unhinged monologues of James, as you find out about his past, about Dracula- I mean Draculae (his ex), and generally a whole lot of relationship drama. James is an absolutely fabulous protagonist, and his monologues effectively carry the game’s narrative and emotional beats, so it’s essential that they work. They do.

The soul in this game is phenomenal. You can check our full review here.

2. Fate/Samurai Remnant

fate samurai remnant

The Fate series is a subseries of the overall TYPE-MOON franchise that is quite difficult to get into.

I mean, look, the best entry points into it are the original Fate/Stay Night (2004) visual novel, which does not have an official translation, thus requiring fan patches, the anime adaptations that are detrimental to their source material, or a PSP game with rock-paper-scissors combat from 2010 (Fate Extra).

I’ve been a fan of TYPE-MOON works for a while and felt that a Warriors game could be stellar for the series, in how the gameplay systems of mowing down tons of enemies really line up with how powerful ‘servants’ are within the stories. Some similar titles have been released in Fate/Extella and Fate/Extella Link. Still, these hack-and-slash titles are both very fanservice-heavy in which fighting polygon amalgamations don’t sell how powerful a servant is.

And then Koei Tecmo and Omega Force released Fate/Samurai Remnant and changed everything.

You play as the ronin Miyamoto Iori, who has the noble goal of mastering the sword and spends his time in Edo-period Japan dealing with bandits, rogue samurai, and monsters.

And then he gets engulfed in a battle royale between people using supernatural beings over a wish-granting device whilst summoning the powerful saber-class servant himself….

From there on, it’s just a simple case of dealing with all the opponents and their supernaturally powerful servants.

Iori is powerful; he’s able to fight off groups of enemies by himself, but Koei Tecmo is able to depict Servants amazingly as being on this whole other level by virtue of turning the title into a direct Warriors game whenever you summon Saber, effectively as a super mode. This kind of gameplay and story integration is just the start of what makes Fate/Samurai Remnant so good. And then you get into the game’s writing, and it is up there…

1. Amarantus

Amarantus 3

Games like Witch On The Holy Night, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and Necrobarista all have highly unique ways of presentation as visual novels to convey their particular stories.

But there was one I’d been following for a while: Amarantus.

It’s an indie game with a handful of people on the production team who have created a title that uses its medium like a theatre.

Arik is woken up one night and tossed out the window of his house by his father- The Caudat’s men are here for his parents. They’ve been too outspoken against the Caudat’s policies, and thus, the Caudat has decided that some force is needed.
That’s enough for the young lad, as he decides to make a crack team to try and cause a revolution.
Your job in his shoes is simple: manage them all and successfully complete the mission.

Except revolutions are messy. And relationships are even messier.

You have tons of choices throughout the game, which will let you push and pull the narrative, with the relationships and ties with people ‘tying’ into the general themes of the game.
It’s a short game, but having so much control heavily entices replays just to see how else you can shift it.

The presentation and cast are immaculate, too. The art breathes so much life into the cast that other visual novels are desperate to capture, with subtle movements, spaced emphasis on portraits changing mid-line, and even musical transitions.

This kind of style makes emotional beats so much more immersive and compelling than they otherwise would have been in something with just the same good story. It makes for one of the best visual novel experiences I’ve ever had, and it’s why it’s my game of the year.
(Find our full review here)

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