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Leon Chang's Top 5 Games of 2019

Will Star Ocean: The Second Story take Leon's top spot for a second year in a row? There's only one way to find out.

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Leon Chang is a New York-based musician. He's @leyawn on Twitter.

2019 was the year video games finally became popular. Rise up gamers. It’s our time.

Let’s take a look at some of the best games of the year. But first, we must recite the gamer’s salute, which we all know by heart of course: gamers unite, in games we trust, gamer’s delight, in games we must. Semper games.

Chrono Cross

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Everyone goes apeshit over Chrono Trigger, but if you haven’t played Chrono Cross you’re missing out on the better game. I like my RPGs to be a sprawling chaotic mess of characters and plot (except for Kingdom Hearts, I will never play Kingdom Hearts). There’s a billion characters and parallel worlds. The elemental combat system is weird. There’s multiple endings that unlock after you replay the game. Yasunori Mitsuda’s OST perfectly captures the feeling of multiple worlds. It’s strange, haunting, and lovely.

Favorite track: “Departed Souls”

Legend of Mana

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This is a strange game. You build your own story and world as you play by using artifacts on empty lands. Most of the game feels optional. The combat system is more like Double Dragon than Final Fantasy. But the storybook art and the OST, by Yoko Shimomura, is so vibrant and colorful. Also there’s a rabbit merchant named Niccolo who swindles everyone he sees.

Favorite track: “The Whereabouts of Truth”

Pokémon Black and White

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I still have my Nintendo 3DS. It was one of my favorite consoles (though I never had a PSP/Vita), both because I had it for most of my first years in New York City and mostly played it on the subway, and because it had backwards compatibility for all the DS games I missed out on. One of those games was Pokémon Black and White. The last Pokémon main title game I played before that was Gold and Silver. Black and White blew me away. The game felt like it had so much depth. Triple battles, seasons, new pokémon everywhere. The in-game world, Unova, was modeled after New York, so I had this surreal experience of wandering around in an alternate New York with my trusty Tepig. I dug out my 3DS this year and replayed Black and White and it still holds up.

Favorite track: “N’s Farewell”

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

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I’m playing the Ni No Kuni port on the Switch and it’s insanely good. I pull up a blanket, sit on the floor in front of my television, and get lost in this world for a few hours at a time. The animated cutscenes by Studio Ghibli and the OST by Joe Hisaishi really make you feel like you’re playing a Miyazaki game. The game feels fresh and bright and wondrous. It’s one of the few JRPGs I’ve played where I haven’t felt the need to look up a walkthrough. I’m just enjoying it as it is, taking my time. The best part? The Wizard’s Companion book, which is the source of the spells you learn, but also carries a bestiary, item list, and stories, growing each time you find another page. I’ve spent hours leafing through it, soaking in the lore.

Favorite track: “Miracle ~ Reunion ~”

Star Ocean: The Second Story

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That’s right, game of the year once again goes to Star Ocean: The Second Story. I’m on my third playthrough this year, after fucking up my second playthrough because I was aiming to get Chisato on disc two and forgot the very specific action you need to do to get her into your party. Multiple save states, idiot! Each time I play the game I try something new, use a different party, and go for a different set of endings. The combat is so satisfying (a mix of realtime and menu actions), and the postgame offers a ton of content. My current party is Claude, Opera, Chisato, and Precis. Every battle is full of bazooka shots, stun gun bullets, howling dragons, and robot-powered fists. The OST is more anime than other games--tons of organ, harpsichord, and choral arrangements that make combat feel like you’re fighting at the end of the world. Which, well, you are. You’re trying to kill God, after all.

Favorite track: “The Ultimate Terror”