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PAX East 2023: 5 RPGs to Keep on Your Radar

PAX East 2023 Preview

To many, Boston is a city of callous drivers, hard-nosed sports fans, and pricey lobster rolls. But, to me, it’s home to one of my favorite annual rituals: PAX East. 

As a Boston native, I’ve attended PAX East for over a decade. Each year, I walk the halls of Boston’s exhibition center in search of upcoming gaming gems, big and small. 

PAX East 2023 was no exception. From retro-inspired turn-based games to sprawling action RPGs, Paper Mario-likes to Persona-style dungeon crawlers, the magic was in full supply at this year’s show.

Here are the five best role-playing games I played at PAX East 2023:

Wrestle Story screenshot showing colorful wrestlers in turn-based combat

Wrestle Story

Wrestle Story was a surprise announcement from PAX East 2023 and a top highlight from my time at the show. As I waited to try the 15-minute demo the developers at Tic Toc Games had prepared for attendees, I asked about some of the studio’s biggest inspirations. 

The recurring theme in the answers I received: classic SNES RPGs with great humor and heart. Super Mario RPG, EarthBound, and Chrono Trigger had top billing as spiritual influences on the game. 

My time playing Wrestle Story soon proved those comparisons apt. As a player avatar, I navigated a fictitious city, battling fellow wrestlers for fame and glory. Combat was snappy, with contextual button taps serving as nice flavor. (For example, an atomic drop might involve flicking the joystick down.) Tag-team attacks provided added flair, letting me combine character abilities for Chrono Trigger-style finishers.

Add in Persona’s elemental weaknesses and a vibrant color palette, and Wrestle Story is a turn-based RPG to watch. (Just don’t confuse it with next month’s release of WrestleQuest, another promising RPG.)

Demonschool screenshot of four young adults facing creepy demons in an isometric grid battle


If Wrestle Story scratches that modern Persona itch, then Demonschool caters to fans of old-school Atlus. Developed by Necrosoft Games, Demonschool wears its Shin Megami Tensei fervor on its sleeve.

In this tactical turn-based game, you’ll attend school, build relationships with classmates, and vanquish demons after hours. The latter plays out via position-based combat scenarios. Faye and her friends each have unique move sets and abilities. One character, for instance, might deal damage at close range (i.e., one adjacent square), while another might attack at range, but diagonally. Others might heal those in proximity to them.

Unlike SMT and other turn-based games, you can position your companions and “preview” the end result before actually executing your turn. This adds a welcome layer of strategy to the mix while ensuring every turn feels like its own choreographed action sequence.

Demonschool doesn’t shy away from its mature themes. While I didn’t experience much of the story, I’m excited to see more of this gory, gothic world.

Alterium Shift screenshot of a girl named Pyra using a Triple Strike attack on a plant monster and snake in a lush forest

Alterium Shift

I stumbled upon Alterium Shift during the last day of PAX East 2023, and I’m glad I did. Developed by just two creators, Alterium Shift is a small but mighty effort that pays homage to classic RPGs without cribbing from them.

At the game’s onset, you select one of three friends. There’s Pyra, the scrupulous leader; Atlas, the impressionable youngster; and Sage, the suave jokester. While each character’s story intersects, they’re all unique. Like Octopath Traveler, you’ll want to experience each story path to understand the full weight of the narrative.

Thankfully, Alterium Shift’s story is one I see myself getting glued to. The demo I played (which is also available on Steam) was stuffed with branching dialogue choices with meaningful payoffs. Everything, from an NPC to a lamp, has multiple lines of dialogue or description, most of which subverted my expectations of “typical” RPG storytelling. (“Check the cabinet,” a developer told me as I explored a room. I wasn’t disappointed.)

Tying the experience together was a snappy turn-based combat system that promises a hearty challenge without dominating the narrative. And with an estimated 20 hours of story per character, Alterium Shift seems like a tale well worth experiencing.

Atlas Fallen screenshot of an intimidating warrior in shining armor, hood and cloak wielding a flaming sword in a dusty western town

Atlas Fallen

The highest-profile RPG on this list, Atlas Fallen is also arguably the most ambitious. Set in a vast desert open world, Atlas Fallen lets you navigate and control the sands as you complete quests, befriend NPCs, and fight monsters. 

Developed by Deck13 (best known for Souls-likes such as Lords of the Fallen), Atlas Fallen eschews the realistic combat of its predecessors in favor of a lighter RPG experience. Players have access to three weapons (a sword, axe, and whip) and a series of cooldown abilities. As you explore the world, you’ll encounter everything from monster hunts to dune-racing time trials. Everything you do rewards you with XP and materials to reinvest into your character build.

It’s standard RPG fare, but Atlas Fallen stands out thanks to its desert setting, engaging traversal mechanics, and robust character creator. If you enjoy games like Kingdoms of Amalur and love the aesthetic of Dune, Atlas Fallen will feel right at home.

Born of Bread Screenshot

Born of Bread

There are plenty of promising Paper Mario-likes on the market, but few capture the humor and style of Nintendo’s hit franchise as well as Born of Bread.

Developed by WildArts Studio, Born of Bread stars Loaf, a boy brought to life from a royal castle’s kitchen oven. After a brief intro sequence, Loaf is flung from the castle by a group of mischievous sorcerers and propelled on a hero’s journey.

Paper Mario-isms abounded during my PAX East 2023 demo. As Loaf, I navigated a forest on the outskirts of the kingdom, battling creatures in turn-based combat (accentuated by contextual button taps). Before long, I befriended a companion: Lint Longtale, a raccoon and aspiring writer who can dig through rocks to reveal secrets and open up new pathways.

Born of Bread is planned for release this summer. It remains to be seen whether the game can capture the full breadth of Paper Mario’s wit and charm, but based on my time playing, it certainly has a chance.

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David Silbert

David Silbert

David Silbert is a content marketer, product writer, and professional storyteller. A lifelong fan of RPGs, David got his start when his brother gifted him a copy of Final Fantasy XII, explaining, "I wasn't sure what to get you, so I asked the guy at GameStop to recommend a game a nerd would like." The rest was history. When David isn't writing for RPGFan, he's writing for his own entertainment website, The Punished Backlog. Outside of writing and gaming, David likes to sing, play basketball, and listen to jazz.

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