Okay, I finally played this game and it’s really good (Retro Encounter GOTY) – Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht
Xenosaga is a series that’s been sitting on my backlog for years. It’s long stared at me, saying, “You love Takahashi. You need to play me.” Years of hearing up and down things has kept me from taking the plunge, but I’m so glad I finally did. Sure, all the things you’ve heard about Xenosaga are accurate: the cutscenes are overly long, the pacing is all over the place, and nothing really resolves. But there are incredible moments littered throughout Xenosaga Episode I. The world-building is stellar, and while the combat isn’t my favorite, it’s fun (and breakable) enough for me to have a good time. I can see that Takahashi is setting me up for yet another wild ride, and I fully expect to see more Xenosaga on this list next year.
Okay, maybe I do like TRPGs that aren’t named Final Fantasy Tactics – Triangle Strategy
So, I love Final Fantasy Tactics. I’ve played it almost a dozen times, and I’ve been trying to find something that captures that game’s unique energy for a long time. The sequels couldn’t. Fire Emblem isn’t for me. And Tactics Ogre was…okay (please don’t throw anything at me).
Triangle Strategy is the game I’ve been searching for. It doesn’t reach the heights of FFT with its story or gameplay, but it gets close. The narrative is filled with political intrigue, a variety of “morally gray” choices, and plenty of strong characters. The various endings give the game a ton of replay value, and level scaling allows the game to feel challenging and fresh every time. Combat is well-balanced, too—no character feels completely useless, and adjusting your strategy for the given situation makes even the most difficult fights feel like something you can conquer. It’s a brilliantly realized game and a worthy successor to Final Fantasy Tactics.
Okay, this was pretty good, but just wait – Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising
There’s no question that Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes is my most anticipated game of 2023 (or ever), so I was excited, if trepidatious, to play this little prequel game. After all, it’s smaller in scope and largely developed by a different team. Was Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising everything I hoped it would be? Not quite. It’s a “slight” experience, and the Metroidvania-style gameplay is a little repetitive, but I enjoyed it. Importantly, the narrative does a nice job setting the stage for a larger conflict, making the wait for Hundred Heroes much tougher.
But really, the thing I liked best about Rising is the pace. Rising is simply bursting with sidequests, and while none of them tell particularly great stories, the game does a great job of making you feel like you’re helping out the town of New Naveah. It helps the world feel truly alive. Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising may never win any GOTY votes, but it’s still a fun, quick little game that lays the groundwork for the greatness we all hope will follow.
Okay, I just started playing this game but I’m confident it belongs on this list – Chained Echoes
Chained Echoes has been on my radar for a while, but honestly, I was afraid it would turn out like almost every other RPG inspired by the 16-bit greats: tired, too iterative, and generally just not very fun. But, oh my, was I wrong to worry.
I think the key early on is that Chained Echoes knows it has to be its own thing. Clearly, developer Matthias Linda has played all my old favorites, but he does an amazing job of cherry-picking what makes those classics work. Snappy and strategic combat? Check. Great side content with meaningful rewards? Check. Excellent pacing? Check. Everything has been tossed together to create a rewarding, fast-paced, and brilliant new experience, and I can’t wait to pick it back up and see what else it has in store. Chained Echoes does more than honor the greats of that bygone era, and it’s a triumph.
Okay, there’s no way this wasn’t going to be my Game of the Year – Xenoblade Chronicles 3
In my Xenoblade Chronicles 3 review, I called it a masterpiece, and I stand by that. Takahashi and MonolithSoft have taken everything that worked in the prior Xenoblade games, and even the broader Xeno series in some cases, carefully put the puzzle pieces in place, and polished it to a high sheen. The combat is accessible, strategic, and fantastic. The story gets off to a fast start and hits some unbelievable highs. The world is bigger than ever and still a joy to explore. The music rivals the best soundtracks of all time. And the characters? Oh, the characters are delightful and are the best cast MonolithSoft has ever put together.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a must play for all RPG fans, and more than worthy of winning our (and my) Game of the Year. Was there ever any doubt?