Hello, RPG friends! This year, I continued my grand tradition of playing short, 5 to 20-hour games, mostly on Steam and Xbox Game Pass. Below are some of my top choices from 2023, featuring new games and backlog classics!
Best Fairytale World: Ravenlok
In the ninth month of 2023, I wandered through an enchanted mirror stashed in a dusty barn and ended up in the most beautiful little voxel world, much like Alice’s Wonderland infused with Disney and Steampunk aesthetics. I fought angry mushrooms, befriended giant Siamese cats, found dozens of collectible bunnies, and even traversed a dangerous swamp not unlike Xenoblade Chronicles‘ Satorl Marsh. While I kept my blade sharp and my favorite spells on hand (an evil queen was lurking nearby, after all), I rarely felt any stress during my quest; even amateur adventurers would feel at ease here! Eventually, I had to make my way back to reality, but all things considered I had a wonderful time in Ravenlok’s world, thanks to developer Cococucumber and the magic of Xbox Game Pass.
Best Vacation Substitute: Dordogne
Though I’ve never had the pleasure of exploring the French countryside (or any part of France, for that matter), I can admit I’ve enjoyed a lovely preview this year through the power of my desktop computer.
A relaxing narrative adventure, Dordogne tells a tale of summer breaks and missing memories, all presented in a beautiful watercolor style. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a perfect gaming choice for the warm months; taking photos, collecting words and stickers, and enjoying the rural ambiance felt almost as good as a real summer vacation.
Best Use of Save States: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (included with the Castlevania Advance Collection)
While I’m aware that Circle of the Moon is a divisive entry in the Castlevania series, I never expected it to be so heckin’ difficult. I played it for the first time this December through the Castlevania Advance Collection (released in 2021), and all I can say is thank Konami for adding save states! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the game; exploring Dracula’s castle is always an excellent use of time. But from my experience, I honestly don’t know how I would have managed the GBA original. Dracula and his friends kicked my pants to outer space and back, and I only emerged victorious through questionable use of the game’s new features. Yikes.
Best Skeleton Unearthed From My Steam Backlog: Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
Imagine an NES Dragon Quest game with a wisecracking undead cast and modern quality-of-life features and you get Breath of Death VII, a 2011 game that I finally got around to playing this year…and I loved it! Improving on its classic forebears, battles are smooth and fast, grinding is never a chore (partly thanks to the game’s encounter counter), and you can save progress anywhere (yay!). Meanwhile, the soundtrack is snappy (I could have sworn I heard The Cure in an early dungeon), the towns are brimming with nostalgic charm, and the dialogue is undeniably humerus. As the first RPG from Zeboyd Games, it definitely stands the test of time; I’m glad I didn’t let these skeletons stay buried!