I played far fewer new games this year than typical. My backlog is enormous, and I didn’t get to three very important remakes that I wanted to play before declaring the best remake of 2023 (Super Mario RPG, Front Mission 2, Star Ocean: The Second Story R). However, there were a handful of stand-out titles that I had the opportunity to enjoy. So, here are my personal awards.
Best RPG of 2023: Octopath Traveler II
I will begin by referring the reader to our Retro Encounter episode 373, Octopath Traveler II Spoilercast. In this podcast, I predicted that this would be my game of the year and that nothing could possibly top it. And, again, my clear rate of 2023 titles is painfully low, so take my opinion with a Baldur’s Gate-sized grain of salt.
The thing is, the original Octopath Traveler is a marvel and a gem. Nonetheless, it had its flaws. I didn’t always agree with people’s complaints about the endgame and the loose ties between the eight protagonists, but I understand their perspective. This particular concern was, in my opinion, addressed sufficiently in OTII. Add to that the beauty of the game, its day/night cycle (with accompanying great music), and the endlessly enjoyable combat mechanics of break and boost expanded with fun new features, and you’ve got a winner.
Best Ongoing/Mobile Title: Octopath Traveler: Champions of the Continent
Am I letting my bias show?
Look: when this mobile title first launched, it felt like a lot of recycled assets (graphics, music) from the first game matched with uninspired voiceless protagonists and a trio of interesting antagonists.
Over time, however, Champions of the Continent has made steady improvements, particularly in the story-telling department. The main story has done a fantastic job expanding the world and lore of Orsterra, its deities, its history. The character of Finis himself and his infamous “Gate” to another realm becomes central to the latest story arc, and the localization has stayed strong throughout the course of development.
Add to that a total of six hours’ worth of new music from series composer Yasunori Nishiki, and once again, we have a winner. It’s free. Play it, especially if you enjoyed the two main titles.
Best Visual Novel of 2023: Slay the Princess
“You’re on a path, in the woods…”
There were so many great visual novel and hybrid adventure games this year. But, right at the tail end, indie developer Black Tabby Games snuck in with a marvelous, mind-bending “love story” (as they brand it). The vast majority of the art assets are in grayscale, hand-drawn, while the dialogue is fully voice acted and one of the game’s greatest draws.
It’s hard to talk about what makes this experience so great without truly spoiling it. So, before you too get spoiled, go play Slay the Princess! Or, if you can stand to wait, I understand there’s an expanded version of the game coming in early 2024 (the “Pristine Cut”).