Another year is on its way out, and it’s time once again to talk about my favorite games of the year. 2023 was a rollercoaster of a year, with the exhilarating highs of the games themselves offset by the industry-wide lows of layoffs and money issues. It was a fantastic year for me as a gamer — as someone with close ties to the community that makes the games, not so much. That being said, this is a moment for celebration, and I can say with no exaggeration that picking my Top 10 for this year has been one of the most enjoyably frustrating experiences of my professional life.
Narrowing my most-loved games down to just ten was difficult because I would love to talk to you about all of them — so that’s what I’m doing. In a few days, I’ll publish my year-end ranking of every game I’ve played this year, which should be in excess of 85 games — possibly 90 (I still need to do a final headcount). And keep in mind that this list is based on my opinion, my own personal experiences with each game.
10. Sea of Stars
I didn’t play Chrono Trigger until I was an adult, so I confess that I don’t often feel that particularly nostalgic itch towards top-down, pixel-art, turn-based RPGs. But playing Sea of Stars, I can get something similar to that feeling. The game just has those vibes, the sense that it’s both an old favorite and a new delight at the same time, and it won me over pretty quickly. It’s an easy game to return to after a long day and has a warm kind of feeling to it that I find hard to describe.
It helps that Sea of Stars is beautiful and feels good to play. Turn-based RPGs are tricky for me — I either like them or I find them tedious. Luckily Sea of Stars is the former. The story didn’t immediately hook me, but I did get into it after a short time playing (around the time Garl was introduced). It wasn’t my favorite RPG experience of the year, but it came very close and it was working with a bit of a disadvantage given my lack of experience with the games it’s clearly referencing.
9. Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Unlike the previous entry in this article, I do have childhood nostalgia associated with the Mario series (like a very large portion of the world’s population). So Super Mario Bros Wonder didn’t have to do that much to win me over. It just had to be a competent Mario game and it would have cracked my Top 30 without trying. But it did try. Nintendo made possibly loveliest, trippiest game it possibly could, and it shot up my list as soon as I played that first level. Wonder is exactly as silly and delightful as a Mario game should be, and surpassed all my expectations.
But Wonder is more than just a nostalgia trip, giving the animations and art design an overall upgrade to modernize it (for lack of a better word), particularly with regards to the characters. I assumed, after seeing the trailer, that Elephant Mario was going to be a one-stage wonder (no pun intended), but no — the Elephant gameplay is a staple. I have no idea who came up with the original concept that, but they deserve a ribbon.
8. Final Fantasy XVI
You’re going to swiftly get tired of me saying this, but being a big fan of action games, I’m happy that Final Fantasy XVI went the way of action-RPG. The game’s European Gothic art design combined with its fast-paced combat and open-world exploration is a trip down the list of my personal loves in gaming, so I quickly fell in love. The story is a bit on the clumsy side, in that it’s aiming for allegories about subject matter that’s a bit beyond the scope of a hacky-slashy fantasy game, but I appreciate that it tried.
This might sound like an arbitrary reason to like a game, but I also really connected with Clive. He kind of reminded me of Amicia from A Plague Tale (whose actress makes a cameo in the game, so this might have been intentional), and he reminded me of myself for the same reason: I’m also a violently overprotective older sibling and Clive’s early defining characteristic being his abiding and sacrificial love for his little brother was something I could relate to. He may be a lunkhead, but that’s a far more compelling personal quest than some other FF protagonists I could mention.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
I’m the type of gamer who can often overlook gameplay deficiencies if the story and characters are compelling enough. Tears of the Kingdom is the opposite: I love the gameplay so much I’m willing to overlook any lack in the story department. The new mechanics introduced in TotK are so complex and well-designed that I could toy around with them for hours without touching on the central quest … and I did.
I also enjoyed the new verticality of Hyrule. As the saying goes, there was nowhere for Breath of the Wild to go but up, and up it went. I wish, with just a small part of my heart, that the story had been a little more polished. It wasn’t bad by any means — and I concede I might be alone in this regard because I’ve heard people I respect and appreciate praise the story — but I felt it could have had a little more complexity to it to match what the gameplay was giving.
6. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
No, I didn’t put this game here because of the number, but it’s nice when those things work out! As a lover of the action genre, I was eating well this year, and especially so when Armored Core VI came out. I’ve never played a game in the series before, but now I can’t help but wonder what I was missing out. Armored Core VI was great at pretty much everything it needed to be good at, and I almost wished it could have gotten a smidgen of the attention that Elden Ring did last year.
I understand why it didn’t, though: Armored Core VI is slightly more niche than its older sibling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s still one of the best action games this year and I appreciated that it’s not the sort of game to get bogged down in talking and cutscenes. Put me in a giant mech suit and don’t put any roadblocks in my way and I’m a happy lady!
5. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon
Yeah, yeah, if you know me even slightly, then you saw this one coming. It wouldn’t be an authentic Rachel Kaser list if a Bayonetta game came out and I didn’t include it in my top list. But this is not about my love for my favorite character — well, it’s not just about that. Because Cereza and the Lost Demon isn’t a typical Bayonetta game. In fact, if you were to see it in isolation, I’m willing to bet it’d take a few guesses before you named which IP it’s part of. But the fact it’s different is part of the reason I like it so much.
Bayonetta Origins takes the artistic elements of the Bayonetta series and remixes them into a action-puzzle platformer, and it loses none of its beauty and joy in the process. Little Cereza is still every bit as powerful and wonderful as her adult counterpart, and the gameplay shared between her and Cheshire is delightful. It’s not as challenging as the mainline games, but given how sweet and childlike the adventure overall is, that doesn’t feel like it matters.
4. Hi-Fi Rush
Tango Gameworks, what gave you the right to come in and, with no preparation, drop a bombshell like Hi-Fi Rush four days before my birthday? Now I will expect — nay, demand — that the games industry do this more often, preferably around the same time of year. I would have been excited for Hi-Fi Rush even if it’d been announced years in advance and had several pre-launch trailers, but the fact that it was such a pleasant surprise just made it shine that much brighter.
I’m not even really a rhythm game person. But I am an action game person, and Hi-Fi Rush’s gameplay is exactly the sort of fast-paced whack-em-up goodness I need in my life at least once a year. And, best of all, the rhythm aspects are delivered well enough that I could follow along anyway. Couple that with genuinely funny dialogue, fantastic soundtrack, colorful art design, and I’m not surprised that the game is still stuck in my head 11 months after it launched.
3. Resident Evil 4 Remake
I said it already in my review, but I officially rescind my reservations about Capcom remaking one of the greatest survival horror games of all time. I didn’t ask for Resident Evil 4 Remake, but Capcom still delivered, somehow managing to make a great game even better. Numbers 1 & 2 on this list may have been more enjoyable experiences overall, but Resident Evil 4 gave me more smiles per minute than any other game this year. It’s not just a good game because it’s Resident Evil 4 again, it’s because it’s Resident Evil 4 plus more.
My favorite part about the remake is that, while it does eschew some of the original’s campier elements, it doesn’t act like it’s above them, either. It doesn’t feign grimdark seriousness, but instead adds new elements of fun and joy. Also, it somehow manages to make the whole game scarier too. My favorite part RE4 was the cabin fight, where Luis and Leon fend off hordes of hostile villagers with no apparent end in sight. The remake ramps this up even more with a harrowing soundtrack (complete with chanting that ratchets up to literal screaming point) and a whole new ending.
2. Alan Wake II
Alan Wake II was marketed as and almost had me convinced it was mostly a horror game. And while I do respect that label, it was not my first thought when I booted the game up. Alan Wake II is a mystery game — the mystery game I’ve always wanted. Even the (literally) darker part of the game made me feel like I was 15-years-old, curled up on an armchair reading a pulpy paperback. The sequel gave us the complex and intriguing Saga Anderson as a lead and made Alan, a character I had trouble connecting with the first game, a properly interesting protagonist.
The first time I stepped into Saga’s Mind Place, I was immediately hooked. It’s the first time since the Nancy Drew games that I truly felt like I was playing a detective. It took me a little bit longer to warm to the game’s combat, but once I understood the mechanics, I had no problem with them. And that musical number? At my age, I’m not surprised by much anymore, let alone by something so glorious and over the top as the Old Gods of Asgard.
1. Baldur’s Gate 3
The best way I can think to illustrate to you how much I loved and enjoyed Baldur’s Gate 3 is to point this out: 2023 had truly awesome games. Most of the other games on this list would be Game of the Year material any other year. Baldur’s Gate 3 beats them all by miles. It’s not even close — it’s Secretariat at the Belmont, ahead by 31 lengths and not even slowing down. Admittedly, I’ve been playing BG3 off and on since it launched in early access, so my relationship with the game goes beyond this year, but that doesn’t diminish its specialness in my eyes.
There’s something wonderful and pure about the adventure of Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s been a while since I’ve felt such a strong connection with a world and a cast of characters as I did with this game, even within the RPG genre. I feel like my first Tav and I didn’t sample even half of what BG3 had to offer, and I look forward to doing a Dark Urge playthrough sometime in 2024. Astarion and Halsin, to answer your question.
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