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Jesse Vitelli's Top 10 Games of 2023

One of the hottest free agents in the league is here to share his top draft picks for best little freako.

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Hey, it’s ya boy, Jesse Vitelli, A.K.A Young Elmo. I’m here to run down my top ten games of the year, but I’d like to say a few words before we do that.

While it’s been an excellent year for video games, it’s also been an incredibly stressful and difficult one for the people who make them. My heart goes out to all the developers who were laid off, treated unfairly by their corporate overlords, or never saw their incredible project cross the finish line. As much as we celebrate the games of the year, we celebrate your hard work and dedication despite insurmountable odds.

Thanks to the GB Staff for having me and welcoming me into their slice of the internet, my friends for helping me through a tough year, and to all the weird little freakos in games this year that I will also celebrate below.

10. Nour Play With Your Food

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Sure, it’s an oddball pick in a year so stacked with games, but I’m not kidding you when I say Nour Play With Your Food is one of the best games I played this year. Harnessing your inner child, Nour asks you to metaphorically color on the linen tablecloth with crayons. There is something primal about tossing a hot dog across the table or putting your hand in a bowl of noodles and feeling them squeeze between your fingertips. Nour encourages this and creates a sandbox for expression through food.

Each level centers around a different theme, whether that is a meat grinder filled with gummy bears or a Bento Box with oversized meat. You can focus on creating the perfect table setting or use this moment to let loose the inner chaos of your imagination.

It’s a quick, breezy game, running about 45 minutes to an hour, but it’s one well worth the price of admission. Food can be art, food can be work, but above all else, playing with your food can be fun.

Best little Freako award for Nour goes to: The weird Jellyfish that ate my corn.

9. Street Fighter 6

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Street Fighter has been in a rut for a while, and I forgot what it’s like to have a truly excellent installment in the series. While SFV under-delivered in nearly every aspect, we saw glimpses of what could be by the end of its life cycle. However, Street Fighter 6 came in hot and kicked down the door.

Proving that the franchise still has great ideas and even better execution.

I’ve put more time into Street Fighter 6 this year than any other fighting game in my usual rotation. The roster, vibes, and overall feeling of “one more round” permeates every facet of its graffiti-littered streets. Whether I’m getting my face kicked in by Marissa or running rampant as Blanka, it’s been a blast to run sets with friends and newcomers alike.

Best little Freako Award for SF6 goes to: Blanka, my forever main.

8. Remnant II

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Remnant 2 is the sequel I never thought we would get. Remnant: From The Ashes is one of my favorite games of 2019, and despite the lackluster name, it was the cooperative third-person shooter I had been begging for.

So many games are interested in being live-service loot-driven experiences that we often forget just how incredible it feels to get boss-specific weapons and armor from a difficult fight, not an RNG roll.

Remnant 2 expands the ideas of the first game with more bosses, unique areas that feel distinct from one another, and satisfying combat. All while allowing you to experience and uncover the secrets with friends. It’s been a truly staggering year for releases, and Remnant 2 is one you shouldn’t miss.

Best little Freako in Remnant 2 goes to: The Small Golems in the Labyrinth that are always stanced up waiting for their turn on the Xbox.

7. Slay the Princess

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I first saw Slay the Princess at PAX East this year, and let me tell you, I had no idea what I was looking at. It’s a visual novel adventure with unsettling artwork and a vibe I couldn’t shake. The less you know about Slay the Princess going into it the better off you are. It’s a journey that stuck with me long after I finished. If you enjoy a lot of flowery prose and contemplation about the space we take up in this universe, check out Slay The Princess.

Best little freako in Slay the Princess goes to: The Nightmare variant of The Princess, where she's an evil doll who gave me nightmares for a week.

6. Final Fantasy XVI

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Final Fantasy XVI is a game of peaks and valleys. The jump back to high fantasy is a welcomed change, and while it often gets caught up in its Game of Thrones plotline a bit too much, it has moments of pure brilliance.

FFXVI fires on all cylinders when it wants to do Final Fantasy ass anime bullshit. The Bahamut sequence is hands down one of the best moments I’ve seen in a video game this year and the switch to hard-action combat is a nice reprieve from other combat styles we’ve seen in the series’ past.

The cast of FFXVI is stellar, with standouts like Dion, Mid, and Jill. While it has stumbles in its story department sometimes, it’s a game I played twice, and enjoyed the bonds forged through the fires of Ifrit.

Best little freako in FFXVI goes to: The Goblin Mugger. Have you heard that sounds this thing makes??

5. Chants of Sennaar

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I’ll be the first person to tell you that Outer Wilds is a perfect video game. Every piece of that game is crafted exquisitely, like a Swiss watch. The gears all work in tandem, and when you break it down to its bare components, each tick along in unison.

Chants of Sennarr, while not nearly complex in its systems, offers the same sort of satisfaction in discovery as Outer Wilds of Return of The Obra Dinn. Breaking a language down to its raw components and learning the intricacies within is satisfying and provides a contextualized look at how we approach learning languages.

I promise it’s much more of a game than I am explaining, but this is the portion of Chants of Sennarr that fascinated me all the way through—learning how modifiers work on words, seeing how those can be translated to other languages or cultures, and putting all the pieces together to bridge the language gap between me and the characters of this world.

Best little freako in Chants of Sennarr goes to: My own brain, which turned me into a gremlin for 24 hours as I could not stop playing.

4. Alan Wake II

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Speaking of sequels we never thought we would get Alan Wake 2, am I right?

Of all of the games on this list, discussing Alan Wake 2 in detail would rob so many of you who haven’t played it yet of the joy of experiencing this truly unique and strange adventure.

What stuck with me this year were games that provided something distinct. I don’t think you get any more distinct than Alan Wake 2. It’s hard to compare it to anything else out there because it somehow manages to blend FMV, gameplay, music, and a vibe all into something that shouldn’t work but does so anyway.

Sam Lake is a treasure that must be protected at all costs.

Best little freako in Alan Wake 2 goes to: The people in black morph suits during the We Sing musical number.

3. Octopath Traveler II

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I’ll be real: Octopath Traveler 2 was nowhere on my radar this year. I enjoyed the first one well enough, but never felt like I needed another one.

Fast forward to Eric Van Allen of Destructoid and Michael Higham of Gamespot chewing my ear off about this game for almost an entire year until I caved and played it.

Let me tell you, they were right. Octopath Traveler 2 has everything you could ever want from a JRPG. It has a killer soundtrack, fantastic character arcs, and a lot of heart.

Octopath 2 is filled with surprises, big and small. From the gorgeous pixel art to the engaging battle system, I was never bored of Octopath Traveler 2, even 60 hours into my adventure.

The game also features one of the best boss fights this year. The final fight of Octopath Traveler 2 is a sight to behold and helped skyrocket this game up my top ten of the year. When the music swells just right, and your party is ready to finish the fight, I couldn’t help but tear up on our journey together.

Best little freako in Octopath Traveler 2 goes to: The Octopuffs and their cute little hats.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom

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I think all of us were skeptical about how Nintendo would capture lightning in a bottle twice with Zelda. After Breath of the Wild, I did not think Nintendo could evoke the same sense of discovery again, yet somehow they did.

I am a sucker for games that produce a set of systems and let you run wild. Tears of The Kingdom allows you to take the physics and rule set the game lays out for you and manipulate them however you want.

Whether I was strapping 15 rockets to a backpack Korok or building the world's sickest skateboard out of a minecart, the game never told me “no” when playing within its own rules.

Pair that with the Sky Islands and Underground; the team really cooked on this one. If you made it to the finale of Tears of the Kingdom, you’ll know that the final section culminates musically, visually, and thematically into one of the most cohesive endings I’ve seen in a video game.

Best little freako in Tears of the Kingdom goes to: Those weird Gibdos and their bones that I have 99 of in my inventory.

1. Baldur’s Gate 3

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Baldur’s Gate 3 reigns supreme due to one thing and one thing only: my hot tiefling wife, Karlach. She is everything to me.

Larian Studios not only crafted a believable and enticing world for me to get lost in but also one I’ve found myself coming back to time and time again to tell a new story.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a triumph and easily the game of the decade. When discussing what games are important from a year, I’m hard-pressed to find a game that did more to push the boundaries of the medium forward.

Much like Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3 has an expansive rule set pulled from Dungeons & Dragons and molded to fit the video game space. Most of your boundaries are your own imagination, and even then, you’ll be surprised at what you can find.

Plus, one time, I complained about Gnomes being unable to kiss their loved ones because they wouldn’t bend down, and then Larian put Short King Summer back on the menu, so thanks for that.

Best little freako of Baldur’s Gate 3 goes to: Valeria, the Hollyphant detective, who is both a flying elephant and a detective solving a murder