Anime finance sim Stonks-9800 is the best game you didn’t play this year

Personal Pick

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2023, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We’ll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

In another world, I’m Michael Douglas standing on a beach, barking monologues into a phone you could knock out a horse with. My life revolves around blue chips, bulls, and bears, and when the cholesterol in my arteries hardens and kills me—bursting like the blood-fattened parasite I am—they will bury me in my suspenders. In another world.

It’s probably for the best that I don’t live in that world, as they would assuredly and rightly take my head when the revolution comes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love to get a taste of it every now and then. The world of high finance is exotic and alluring and alien to me, a man who whispers a little prayer every time he submits a meter reading, and I’m invariably hooked whenever games give me a chance to dip a toe into it. 

Take it as the recommendation of a connoisseur, then, when I tell you Stonks-9800: Stock Market Simulator is my favourite game I played all year. 

(Image credit: Ternox)

Financial times 

At its heart, Stonks-9800 is a text-based stock-trading sim, which is the kind of marketing sell you’d come up with if you were actively trying to euthanise your audience, but give me a minute to sell you on it. Stonks-9800 tasks you with seizing your bootstraps and pulling yourself from rags to riches just by sitting and trading stocks in front of a rinky-dink PC-9800. 

Don’t worry, though. It’s set in the unstoppable Japan of the 1980s, where you could barely step outside your front door without amassing an oligarch’s fortune. If you’re not up on your history, here’s a chart to show just where the Japanese economy stood vis a vis the rest of the world at the birth of neoliberalism.

(Image credit: Future / Joshua Wolens)

We’re talking Great Gatsby levels of indulgence, and that spirit of indefatigable sunniness spreads out over the entire game, from the garish neon UI whose hue shifts with the seasons to the jaunty city-pop soundtrack that resolutely refuses to drop the poptimism, even when you crash your expensive new car after a saké binge or go to prison for insider trading.

That goes an incredibly long way. Stonks-9800 is an excellent game to just be in. Its mock PC-9800 interface and Saturday morning anime artstyle make it an actual pleasure to sit and monitor a series of price charts for the likes of, ah, Komami, Panasenic, and Kanon stock. 

(Image credit: Ternox)

Greed for life 

None of which is to suggest I only fell in love with this game because of my long-held and secret regret that I am not a Japanese salaryman 40 years ago. That’s only like 75% of the reason. Stonks is responsible for the most simple, unalloyed fun I had with a game all year. It’s essentially a kind of idle game—which I suppose is true of real-life stock trading as well—where your main verbs are buy, sell, short, and hold, but a smattering of life sim elements and a constant stream of updates (the game is still in early access) expands what you can do while you gain and lose liquidity in a whole bunch of smart ways.

The highlight of the whole thing has to be Amy, your assistant, for whom I would kill and die.

There’s a lot of those. You can go to the bar with your contacts (a good way to pick up stock tips), hit up the pachinko parlour, go horse racing, and even manage your own corporation after the most recent major update. They all add a bit of body to your main tasks of 1: amassing wealth and 2: not losing wealth. But the highlight of the whole thing has to be Amy, your assistant, for whom I would kill and die.

Making smart decisions, behaving ethically, and chatting will all drive up your friendship meter with Amy, eventually letting you go out on short walks with her to take in the Tokyo skyline at sunset. It’s an unexpected dating sim element that (thankfully) never really gets anywhere beyond light flirting, but it’s a fun human element to add to a game that’s mostly about accruing expendable contacts for your Rolodex and turning money into more money. What Amy thinks about you matters far more than what your Pachinko buddy Kazuya from the Sani Corporation thinks about you. You don’t have to look Kazuya in the eye every day you come into the office.

(Image credit: Ternox)

Not, to be clear, that I can discern much of a gameplay impact from Amy’s opinion of you in this version of the game. I think I wrote basically the same thing in my Stonks-9800 impressions piece back in July, but I’ll say it again: It’s almost entirely a tone thing that sees Amy get a little friendlier as you climb the friendship ranks. Nevertheless, I have never felt that it was more important to do anything in my life. 

Short, sweet, Stonks 

2023 was a year of giants. Goliaths. Absolute units. Games like Baldur’s Gate 3, a game they keep making more of like they’re laying track in front of a moving train. Starfield, with its one thousand remarkably uncluttered planets. Alan Wake 2, which I think was also a film? Not sure what’s going on there.

(Image credit: Ternox)

But despite all those games, two of which I really enjoyed, it was Stonks’ neon-slick stock-flipping weirdness that captured my heart. Also, it captured me. And sent me to prison for finance crimes. But that’s just life on Wall Street, baby.

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