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Jason Fanelli's Top 10 Games of 2023

Freelancer Jason Fanelli took a break from chanting E-A-G-L-E-S to give us his favorite games from 2023 in alphabetical order.

Hey! I'm one of the newer faces around these parts, but Jeff reached out and asked if I wanted to regale the Giant Bomb audience with my favorite games of the year. Thanks Grubb, you're a real one.

A quick caveat: If there's a game missing from this list, it is most likely because I simply haven't been able to play it yet. Apologies, for example, to Baldur's Gate 3 fans; it's not you, it's me.

Now, on with my Alphabetical Top 10 Games Of 2023!

Alan Wake II

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Let's start by calling myself out: I don't do horror well. Call it being a sissy, call it a fear fueled by a knowledge of my family history combined with my, uh, above-average stature, but horror games and I don't mix. As such, while Alan Wake 2 figures to feature on a lot of GOTY lists, its appearance here honestly surprises me.

I've always ranked a gripping story as the most important part of a game's success--way above graphics and even slightly above gameplay--and Alan Wake 2 is a storytelling wonderland. I also saw The Dark Place as a parallel to my aforementioned fear of horror games, and helping Alan fight through his prison helped me conquer mine. Alan Wake 2 is one I'll think about for years.

(Also, not for nothing, but it boggles my mind that one of the main things we'll carry on from this year is a rock song where the second lyric contains the phrase "and Mama gave me a magic clicker." That has to count for something.)

Disney Dreamlight Valley

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This may be considered cheating, as Dreamlight Valley technically launched in Early Access in 2022, but the majority of the game's story and content updates all hit this year, so dang it I'm bringing it in. On the surface, DDLV is an Animal Crossing life sim infused with Disney magic, which on its own gives it some weight. Running errands for Mickey and Minnie, it turns out, is more satisfying than doing them for some greedy-ass tanuki.

More importantly though, the game hides a surprisingly deep and dark storyline on the transition of growing up, which is embodied in The Forgotten--a dark and twisted version of the player who is feeling some BIG feelings. I did not expect to be told such a heavy tale--or to have to explain said tale to my kids, who played the entire game with me--but it makes Disney Dreamlight Valley more than just Disney Animal Crossing, and I appreciate the effort..

The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom

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I knew Tears Of The Kingdom would be good. Zelda games, more often than not, are the best experiences in gaming--and that includes the CD-i titles in a "best of the worst games ever" way. Despite that, I wasn't sure how TOTK would be able to top Breath Of The Wild…but good Lord did it get the job done.

The game has everything a Zelda fan could want: More freedom to explore Hyrule as they please, more Hyrule to explore including the amazing underworld of the Depths, and even new cosplay goals in Oh No He's Hot Ganondorf. What puts it over the top for me, to no one's surprise, in its story; rare is the Zelda game which throws a bonafide "holy crap" twist into the mix, and TOTK knocked my socks off in that regard. This is a game I'll be playing for years.

Mortal Kombat 1

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It takes real cajones to press the reset button on a storied franchise, especially one with three decades of history that's already pressed that button in the past, but NetherRealm crushed it with Mortal Kombat 1. The entire roster feels brand new despite none of them actually being new, and yet all of them also feel true to their lineage. That shouldn't make sense, but it does!

I love the Kameo fighter system and how it completely morphs how certain characters fare against one another. I love the over-the-top Fatalities, I love the final chapter of the kampaign, which is PlayStation 2 camp at its very best. MK1 pays tribute to his lengthy history while also setting up an interesting future, and I hope I talk about it again this time next year when that story expansion drops.

Pokémon Sleep

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Alright, hear me out: I had little interest in a Pokémon-themed sleep tracker when it was first announced either. However, no one told me this game was essentially Pokémon Tamagotchi, where I and a party of helpers raise a new digital pet every week. Once I found that out and dug in, I was hooked.

The mechanics around raising a Snorlax from a cute little guy to a big beefy boi are simple--cooking meals, gathering berries and ingredients, etc--but there's something satisfying about watching him grow as the week goes on. It's a weird choice, I know, but Pokémon Sleep has been a nice surprise in a year of heavyweight launches.

Sea Of Stars

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One of two games to hit me right in the nostalgia this year, Sea Of Stars is every bit as incredible as I hoped when it was first announced. Its developer, Sabotage Studio, was coming off of The Messenger--another fantastic retro rewind you should all play--but I did have concerns about the change in genre. Those concerns were quickly proven to be unfounded.

Everything about this game, from the pixel art to the soundtrack to the old school SNES gameplay, feels like someone at Sabotage went back in time and stole it from a past studio's archive. I love the combat mechanics, I love the world Sabotage has built, and I love the characters they've created. Garl, in particular, is a treasure, and I will defend that guy to the death. The more retro-minded among us have a lot to chew on with Sea Of Stars; it's a true blast from the past.

Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical

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I would have paid good money to be a fly on the wall during the Stray Gods pitch meeting. "OK, so we're going to take well-known gods and goddesses, make them secretly live among the people, and make them sing." It's a wild idea, but I'm glad it's real, because Stray Gods is awesome.

Admittedly, you won't be doing a lot with your controller in this one. It's an interactive dialogue tree at its core, and sometimes I can choose different locations and find new people to speak with there. However, I'm a sucker for musicals, and the fact this dialogue tree includes creating Broadway-caliber songs on the fly is so damn cool. Granted, giving me the option to shape the songs how I want disrupts the musical flow at times, but it still works. Plus, it helps that the people tasked with singing these tunes have some damn good pipes.

Stray Gods is one of the most unique games I've played this year, and it's one I suggest you don't overlook.

Street Fighter 6

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I had the honor of reviewing Street Fighter 6 for GameSpot, and everything I said back in June still holds true today: Street Fighter 6 is exactly what this series needed. SF5, as anyone in the fighting game scene will tell you, was one of the most pitiful launches in franchise history, and while it eventually rebounded, that bad taste remained in our mouths.

SF6 brings life and personality back into Street Fighter, with its hip-hop-infused presentation and eye-popping visuals. The Drive system is one of the best ever made for a fighting game, the World Tour is surprisingly silly--being able to Shoryuken a rando standing on a corner is always funny, not sure what that says about me--and the roster offers plenty for players of any style to sink their teeth into. SF6 marks a new era for Capcom's flagship fighter, and I plan on hitting the streets over and over again for years to come.

(Also, if Capcom wanted to take lessons learned from this successful fighting game and apply to another one in their portfolio--one with, I dunno, a "Vs." in the name--I'd be super grateful.)

Super Mario Bros. Wonder

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Super Mario Bros. Wonder is one of my favorite games of the year, and I haven't played a single minute of it. That statement will raise some eyebrows on its own, but I'll up the ante: Super Mario Bros. Wonder will likely end up being one of my favorite games of all time when all is said and done, despite my lack of play time.

Why? Simple: Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the first game my seven-year-old daughter has taken on all by herself, with no input from me, and she's crushing it. She's gathered Wonder Seeds, beaten bosses, and run through tough courses with no guidance, and it has been wonderful to watch. I had my Super Mario World moment at her age; she's having her Super Mario Wonder moment now, and I get to see it in real time. I couldn't ask for more.

I will eventually play through Wonder, and I'd wager its spot on this list will only be solidified, but for now, watching my daughter conquer it has been a dream come true.

Super Mario RPG

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This Mario game, meanwhile, I couldn't get enough of. I played the original SNES release of Mario RPG once a year, every year, for a decade, so I had intimate knowledge of it going into this new version. The Switch remake improves on every facet of that original launch, while also maintaining the game's unique charm and silliness, and I've fallen in love all over again.

Every addition to the game feels measured and thought out, when they easily could have broken the original game's formula. At the same time, the foundation of SMRPG has been made stronger thanks to improved visuals, a beautifully-remixed soundtrack, and a few new challenges after the credits have rolled. I cried tears of joy when this was announced back in June, an announcement 27 years in the making, and the final product was worthy of those tears.