In 2023, I found myself most inspired by games with excellent writing. That is how I arrived at my top three picks for the year:
Top 3 Games of 2023
Hush Hush – Only Your Love Can Save Them
On its surface, Hush Hush appears to be a “fanservicey anime schlock” visual novel based on characters from an incremental “clicker” game (Crush Crush), but that couldn’t be more wrong. Hush Hush‘s brilliant writing elevated it to one of the best visual novels I’ve played in a long time. When I’ve done everything that needs to be done in a game, I usually uninstall it and move on. Not so with Hush Hush. Not only did I come back to it several times, but I was not satisfied simply reliving my favorite cherry-picked scenes and dialogues. I needed to relive the entire Hush Hush odyssey from beginning to end every time I played through it, because every line of dialogue is so well-written, and every scene is wonderfully scripted.
Thirsty Suitors deals with complex themes around a complicated ethnic demographic. An endeavor like this must tread carefully to avoid falling into the traps of insensitive stereotyping. It’s clear that developer Outer Loop (which has an ethnically diverse team) put in an exhaustive effort to portray the internal struggles young South Asian adults face regarding growing up in the West while having traditional parents. As a South Asian born and raised in the West, this game spoke to me. It takes a deftly skilled hand to write a video game script that’s both authentic and engaging, and Thirsty Suitors‘ writers have done it. Oh, and it’s LGBTQIA+ positive as well. Even better!
WrestleQuest is a great game in all regards, but what makes it such a wonderful love letter to pro wrestling, classic JRPGs, and upturned toy boxes is its writing and event scripting. As with pro wrestling itself, colorful characters and their storylines drive this game. Surprisingly epic storyline events with charismatic characters like Muchacho Man and Brink Logan are truly memorable thanks to personality-filled writing.
2021 Game I Finally Played in 2023: Cabin Fever
Team members of Sad Panda Studios created Cabin Fever as practice for Hush Hush. Yet, this little experiment was a brief yet emotionally stirring VN that gut-punched me with its evocative writing.
2023 Game I Want to Play in the Future (But Probably Can’t) – Master Detective Archives: Rain Code
This game piqued my interest due to its quirkiness, but I cannot play it because I don’t have a Switch, and there are no plans yet to bring it to other platforms. If this game makes it to Steam, I want to check it out.
Favorite Non-RPG of 2023: Venba
This brief yet emotionally charged game was fantastic. Crafting South Indian recipes Cooking Mama-style amidst the evocatively written narrative of an Indian immigrant couple rearing a child in Canada is something I NEVER thought I’d do in a video game. Yet here we are! I love that authentic South Asian representation in video games is on the rise.
Disappointment of 2023: Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner
I really wanted to like this Tactics Ogre-inspired SRPG from India-based developer Black March Studios. Sadly, the seemingly unfinished game fell flat in almost every regard. To add insult to injury, the developer completely mishandled the game’s promotion, making it feel like a bait-and-switch. Long story short, Black March Studios promised (and charged for) a complete game, only to quickly scale back the game, and were not transparent or forthright about this. At least the music was decent.