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Leon Chang’s Top 5 Games of 2023

The composer of Bird World and the planet's leading expert on Star Ocean Second Story is back. Will it be GOTY for the FOURTH time?!

Leon Chang is a New York-based musician whose work you can find on Bandcamp. He's @leyawn on Twitter and can be found on Twitch several times a week.

Before we start I have to preface that I have not yet played Star Ocean: The Second Story R, the remake of Star Ocean: The Second Story. So don’t get mad that I did not put Star Ocean: The Second Story R, the remake of Star Ocean: The Second Story on my games of the year list. Now we can proceed.

The Mahjong Minigame in Yakuza 0

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If you asked me what were my most played games in 2023, a lot of excellent games would be on the list. I put hours into JRPGs, grinded runes in Elden Ring, and got flamed by zoomers in Valorant every week. But for about a month, I found myself in a dirty basement playing mahjong with a bunch of old Japanese dudes night after night. The Yakuza series is known for its minigames, which include anything from phone dating to hitting the batting cages. And then there’s mahjong. I actually play mahjong in real life with my family and friends, a Taiwanese variant that seems tame now compared to riichi mahjong, the Japanese version. I got my ass whooped the first couple times, and vowed revenge on the low life gamblers who mocked my weak hands. I studied strategy guides and even printed out a cheat sheet of the various scoring hands. I would beat up gangsters by day and go back to the Mahjong basement at night. I climbed the ranks and became the mahjong champion of Tokyo. My reward? A necklace.

Pizza Tower

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Pizza Tower kicks ass and chews bubble gum and all the bubble gum has been turned into pizza toppings. This game is sick, it’s awesome, it’s got electric guitar riffs and you have to go as fast as you can through each level. The art looks like a kid at Chuck E. Cheese had too much Mountain Dew and started drawing on his mom’s iPad. The frantic panic that passed through me every time I hit the stone pillar guy at the end of a level and triggered Pizza Time haunts my dreams. This is a Newgrounds flash game from 2003 and we are all so lucky to have this in 2023.

Disco Elysium

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I know I’m massively late on this one, but I played through Disco Elysium on stream earlier this year and it was a blast. I died of a heart attack before leaving the first room because I failed a check while trying to retrieve a necktie. To the first woman I encountered, I said “I would like to have fuck with you” and promptly died of embarrassment. I soon became a drug-addled Marxist hell bent on killing myself in ways I did not think was possible. The rich lore and backstories of each character drew me in, as I uncovered a murder mystery that led me to question anything and everything. My greatest moment was rolling a natural 20 and convincing my detective partner, the venerable Kim Kitsuragi, to dance to hardcore trance music played by some ravers in an abandoned church.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

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The Legend of Zelda series is full of beauty and wonder. Nintendo has built a world that rivals the magic of Studio Ghibli films. Breath of the Wild, with its sweeping soundtrack and incredible vistas in an open world environment, led gamers through a path of charm and whimsy. The sounds of rock being mined in Goron City, the calm of a waterfall in Zora’s Domain, the eerie fog that floats through the Lost Woods - all of this bringing a sublime experience in gaming that many have aspired to, but few have achieved. Then along came Tears of the Kingdom and along came gamers. The first things built were torture devices for Koroks. I spent hours trying to perfect what I called “Tall Car”, which was the tallest car I could build (five trees tall with one Korok tied to the very top). I've seen contraptions you people wouldn't believe... catapults launching Koroks off the shores of Lake Hylia... I watched Koroks roast over an open fire device near the Lanayru Wetlands. All those Koroks will be lost in time, like tears of the kingdom... time to die.

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon

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Giant robots and giant guns and giant swords. Mechs are cool as hell. Building your own mech is cool as hell. Customizing your mech to look like Asuka’s Evangelion unit and also creating a custom emblem of Asuka saying “baka” is cool as hell. Armored Core 6 is a game series I had no knowledge of, but I jumped right in and felt right at home. At first the combat system was overwhelming, with all of its weapon options and the information overload it slams in your face. But soon I was whizzing around Rubicon, strafing around my enemies and blasting them with pistols, shotguns, laser rifles, and missiles galore. Armored Core 6 might be a perfect game. Fighting the final boss on a massive spaceship hurtling towards the planet was one of the coolest fights I’ve ever fought. It’s such a perfect experience that when the end credits rolled, I closed the game and decided to never play it again.