Game I Can’t Believe Released in the Last 12 Months: Fire Emblem Engage
The latest entry in the Fire Emblem franchise, Engage, released January 20th, 2023, but it feels much longer, likely due to the overshadowing influence of its predecessor. The megahit Fire Emblem: Three Houses may well be my favorite game of the last ten years, so it would be difficult for any sequel to fill its gargantuan shoes. However, Fire Emblem: Engage is a solid game in its own right. It takes a unique story approach by incorporating characters from throughout the series. Franchise stalwarts such as Marth, Ike, and Edelgard can all aid your party in the form of Emblem Rings (similar to summons in Final Fantasy). Three Houses was also my first foray into the Fire Emblem series, so I undoubtedly did not appreciate many cameos as much as series veterans would. I never felt like it took away anything from the story, though. Engage does not hold the same place on my all-time RPG list as Three Houses, but it was still one of my favorite games of 2023.
Game That Contained a Mashup of My Two Favorite Forms of Entertainment: WrestleQuest
I have pondered the concept of WrestleQuest in my head for many years. A turn-based RPG based around pro-wrestling would be a match made in heaven for myself and fellow wrestling/RPG nerds. (There are plenty of us, as evidenced by the number of gaming signs in modern wrestling crowds.) It turns out that Mega Cat Studios had a similar thought, and thus, WrestleQuest graced us with a release in 2023. While WrestleQuest is not a perfect game, vast amounts of wrestling references and easter eggs in its story, settings, and characters drowned out any flaws in its gameplay. The game’s creators are knowledgeable, passionate wrestling fans, and it shows. WrestleQuest, I acknowledge you.
Game I Had Most Fun Playing with My Family: Super Mario RPG
I expected to have fun sharing the experience of a remade Super Mario RPG with my kids because of my fondness for the original. I did not expect my whole family to love it as much as they did. It is a fantastic update to one of my earliest RPG experiences. The updates to the visuals and sound are particularly excellent, making it the new “best” version, in my opinion. What surprised me is how much shorter the game is than I remembered. I chalk this up to a change in perception that comes with age, like visiting your elementary school as an adult and realizing that everything is tiny. For me—a busy adult who sometimes struggles to complete long RPGs due to time constraints—Super Mario RPG is the perfect length. 2023 allowed me to add more fond memories to an already memorable gaming experience.
Game That Made Me Stop Complaining That Mainline Final Fantasy Games Aren’t Turn-Based Anymore (For Now at Least): Final Fantasy XVI
Yes, I’m that guy. The guy who does not care for Final Fantasy XV‘s combat. The guy who thinks the Final Fantasy VII Remake is inferior to the original. The guy who feels that action combat in Final Fantasy belongs in spinoff titles like Type-0 or Stranger of Paradise. Yet, I have decided to step down from my soapbox after having a truly enjoyable time with Final Fantasy XVI. XVI is a definite departure from the mainline classics that I cherish (namely IV-X), but sometimes change can be for the better. I made a conscious effort to give FFXVI a fair shot, and I was thoroughly impressed. The story is particularly good, venturing beyond high fantasy into grimdark territory. As for the combat, it is fast-paced, satisfying, and just feels right. Maybe action combat does work with the main series, but we’ll see how I feel when FFXVII comes around.
Game That Confirmed I Prefer Older Pokémon Games Over Newer Award: Cassette Beasts
Pokémon Scarlet & Violet deserve an honorable (or dishonorable?) mention here. Granted, those games released late 2022, but maybe they should have waited until 2023. The performance issues at launch were enough for me to fall off almost immediately. When a game has such glaring problems, it is hard for me to give it another shot (even if said issues are corrected). I guess I hold grudges?
Thankfully, a little indie game came out of nowhere to remind me how much I loved the classic Pokémon generations. Cassette Beasts feels like a love letter to the Game Boy Advance era. It takes what made those games great and adds a little flavor with a great art style and memorable creatures. Cassette Beasts is the most fun I’ve had with a monster-collecting RPG in a long time, perhaps ever for one without Pokémon in its title.