Branching Path: James Galizio’s Top 10 Games of 2023

This probably won’t come at any surprise to any readers who actually pay attention to bylines; but 2023 has been one of the busiest years of my entire life, to the point where I’m shocked I managed to play as many games as I did between all of the events I ended up covering across the year. I played over 40 newly released games in 2023; and that’s not even including some games that are remaining on my backlog, such as Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, Lies of P, and Star Ocean: The Second Story R.

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2024, for everyone here at RPG Site, is looking to be one of the busiest years for the site as a whole. Thankfully, there were only a few games from 2023 that I still have yet to finish… some of which will be mentioned on my list of Honorable Mentions. That being said, with how many of 2024’s RPGs are scheduled for the first few months of next year there’s a fat chance I’ll get to them all before I’m swamped by the deluge of 2024’s lineup.

As a side note; this has been the hardest year to shave down my list to just 10 games in a very, very long time. Ask me this time next month and there’s a very real chance which games made the list and their positions on the list might be different. For as terrible as 2023 was for the industry, it really can’t be overstated just how incredible it has been for game releases.

Honorable Mentions

First things first; Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line was the first game of 2023 that didn’t quite make the case. Not because of its quality, of course, but ultimately because of its similarity to the Arcade cabinet Theatrhythm: All-Star Carnival. As for everything else… well, I enjoyed Lords of the Fallen quite a bit earlier in the year, though issues with some enemy placement at the endgame held it back from making the cut. Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2 was an excellent follow-up, but ultimately a little too similar to the original release to merit inclusion on the list – Pseudoregalia was an incredible 3D Platformer/Metroidvania, but it just didn’t resonate with me quite as much as the other games on this list. In any other year it might’ve made the cut. Ys X: Nordics was an excellent Action RPG out of Falcom again, but the game just didn’t hold up to the rest of 2023’s releases, RPG and otherwise. Folks still have a ton to look forward to whenever it gets localized.

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Finally – Baldur’s Gate 3. I put 70+ hours into the game since launch, and I did make it to Act 3… but I didn’t quite finish the game. I got busy once I hit Act 3; other games came out, I took a trip to Japan, and I just didn’t have the chance to get back to it before the end of the year. If I had finished it then it would’ve absolutely landed on the list. It’s an incredible game, to absolutely no one’s surprise. I had a ton of fun spending time with my dad on a separate campaign, and the game well deserves all the praise it’s received over the last few months.

As for games I’d played this year that hadn’t come out in 2023? Surprisingly, there were very few this year compared to those prior. Go figure. Anyways, onto my top 10 of the year!

10) Lunacid

I’ve never played the games that most directly inspired Lunacid, but I didn’t need to in order to understand just how good the game is. I recently went into it with my review, but Lunacid’s world is a joy to explore, with excellent level design and fascinating puzzles around every corner. While the game’s combat becomes a bit of a liability once you challenge the few boss fights it holds, it still feels like a bit of a nitpick when so much of the game is such a great experience otherwise. Though, it’s a great example of the type of Indie releases you’ll very rarely see leave PC.

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Of course, with how well the game appears to have done on Steam, perhaps there’s a hope for consoles ports in the future? Even if that never materializes, Lunacid is a game I’d heartedly recommend to anyone willing to play games on PC. While it might be the lowest rated game on my list, that doesn’t mean all that much when this year has been so strong overall.

9) Wild Hearts

This game could have, and arguably should have, been higher on this list. As a longtime fan of the Monster Hunter series, I absolutely love Wild Hearts – but boy, does it feel like work to love it with so much working against it. The game launched in a frankly unacceptable state, and it’s still not where it needs to be on PC. My hardware has generally been enough to power through some of the worst of the performance issues, but there’s still unacceptable stuttering that will plague literally anyone touching the game on PC. Visually, the game arguably looks worse than 2018’s Monster Hunter: World, too.

That being said – gameplay, especially where it counts, makes Wild Hearts one of the best competitors in the “Hunting Action” genre, and if I’m being honest I probably have enjoyed my time with it more than Monster Hunter: Rise. The Karakuri system is a ton of fun once you get accustomed to it, the monster roster is inventive and strong, and the different maps are all a ton of fun to explore. Wild Hearts is so close to being a homerun; it’s such a shame that it didn’t quite hit the mark where it counts. I still love it, though.

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8) Exoprimal

Look, before you say anything, I know. But hear me out; Exoprimal is secretly one of the best games of the year, and it’s a shame that I can’t exactly recommend folks to try and play it now that anyone that had actually gave the game a shot with Game Pass near the title’s launch have long since left the game behind. When the game was new, though? Yeah, Exoprimal was awesome. Each Exosuit felt great to play as, the different objectives that get added to the game as you progress through the story really started stressing you to understand your role on the team, and even the PvP was pretty fun to boot.

But what really made Exoprimal sing was the story, and the scant few times that the game would abandon all pretenses and let all 10 players in a match cooperate in a raid boss. The game’s final boss is one of the best from the entire year, and one that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. It’s such a shame most players will never give it a chance; even moreso that there’s not much reason for anyone to give it one as the playerbase has dwindled.

7) The Talos Principle II

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I didn’t know what to expect from The Talos Principle II – I enjoyed the first game well enough, including the story, but some issues with how homogenized the puzzle solutions felt at the end of the first game, and a concern about how the story could continue. Shockingly, not only are the variety of puzzles much better in the follow-up, but the story – as different as it might be from the first game – feels like the natural next question for the philosophy that grounds The Talos Principle as a series. How would a society of sentient robots, created by humanity after their extinction, would feel about humanity – and their legacy – as a concept?

The combination of so many incredible locations to explore, creative puzzles, and a genuinely touching story all came together to make the sequel to a game that I merely enjoyed one of my favorite games of the year. If you’re at all a fan of puzzle games, you owe it to yourself to play The Talos Principle 2.

6) The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

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I’m still not sure if saying I enjoyed The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom more than Breath of the Wild is a hot take, but while I enjoyed Link’s first outing on the Switch, for whatever reason I burnt out “only” 40 hours in. Meanwhile, I dumped over 100 hours into Tears of the Kingdom and if it weren’t for the rest of the games that released this year I’d probably have sunk 100 more into it. The new abilities, combined with the addition of the sky, the Depths and caves dotted throughout Hyrule were all I needed to truly fall in love with the same Hyrule that made Breath of the Wild so beloved.

Of course, even with all these changes – Tears of the Kingdom’s world is still at its core the same as Breath of the Wild, even if it might have been overhauled quite a bit. That, combined with quite frankly terrible delivery for the games story, held things back from taking the top spot on my list. It’s still an incredible game, but I ended up mostly drawn to the truly fresh and new games that some of the year’s other releases managed to deliver.

5) Alan Wake II

I’ve never been a huge fan of horror games; yet, one rumbling I kept hearing during press events over the year, was how incredible Alan Wake 2 was looking to be. So, when we were randomly sent a code for the gameprior to its release I was excited to boot it up and see it for myself. I enjoyed my time with Remedy’s previous games in Alan Wake 1 and Control, but make no mistake – Alan Wake 2 is the best game they’ve released in their modern history.

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It goes without saying, but if I had an award for the best looking game I’ve played this year – Alan Wake 2 takes the cake. I managed to play it fully maxed out on PC, and to say it helped elevate the atmosphere would be putting it lightly. Cobmined with some incredible audio design, this RE2 Remake-style horror action game managed to fire on all cylinders from beginning to end. If anything, with how much I enjoyed Alan Wake 2 I’m pretty interested in checking out some of the other horror games on my backlog. I still need to return for the recently released New Game+, too.

4) Bayonetta Origins: Cereza & the Lost Demon

Nintendo of America randomly sent us a code for Bayonetta Origins: Cereza & the Lost Demon at the game’s launch, all the way back in March. Nobody else expressed an interest in playing it, so I grabbed the code for myself – deciding I would play it eventually. That time finally came… this week. I regret not having played it far sooner, as it’s quite simply the best Platinum game I’ve played. Trust me, I’ve played Wonderful 101 and Anarchy Reigns; I’m an expert. All jokes aside, Bayonetta Origins is a heartfelt, insanely creative game that by all rights should not exist. A fairy tale, family-friendly origin story for Bayonetta? That Bayonetta? How did that even get greenlit?

Regardless of the how and why, I’m glad that Bayonetta Origins exists. The unique gameplay – you control Cereza and Chesire seperately with each control stick, and must use them in tandom in order to progress through the game – the incredible environements, the heartfelt story, and some of the best boss fights in Platinum’s history. It’s depressing that the game feels like it has fallen so under the radar. I’m sure part of it was Bayonetta 3′s poor reception among fans, and the stigma against games of this style being full price, but regardless of the reasons Bayonetta Origins is a game that is well worth playing. If you have the ability to do so, please give it a shot. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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3) Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed

Ok, so while most of the games on this list were something fresh and new – Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed is the opposite. I am not, in fact, immune to fanservice; and Future Redeemed is a near-perfect sendoff to the Xenoblade Chronicles (Klaus) Trilogy. I’d even go as far as to say I might’ve enjoyed most of it more than last year’s basegame, Xenoblade Chronicles 3. The brand new world, combined with the excellent soundtrack, was especially great this go around; while the new story helped fill in some of the lingering holes from Xenoblade 3‘s story needed filling. 

I won’t go too in-depth with this one, as I just put up our (belated) review for the game as prep for this list; but needless to say, if you’re a fan of the series you should take the time to play it, assuming you haven’t already done so. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Monolith Soft. Even if it isn’t a return to Xenoblade Chronicles X.

2) Pikmin 4

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I forgot just how much I loved this series until I finally got my hands on the Pikmin 4 demo, before its launch; and man, is Pikmin  4 an incredible game. It’s not even a question if it’s the best in the series, but all of the additions to the gameplay – the progression of finding Castaways, upgrades for your Pikmin Onion, and exploring the returning caves works like a charm to make the gameplay loop way more addicting than ever. Perhaps the only complaint I might have is that Pikmin 4 is also the easiest in the series, and by a rather large margin – but I’m not exactly opposed to it, and there’s still plenty of late-game challenges to stress those left wanting for a challenge.

For a year as stacked as 2023 was – especially for Nintendo – Pikmin 4 was, for my money, the best game to release on Switch. Hopefully with the games strong success, it won’t be another decade’s wait for an eventual Pikmin 5.

1) Octopath Traveler II

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I was not expecting to love Octopath Traveler II anywhere near as much as I did. I bought the first game at launch, but after a few hours I dropped it; never to return. Yet something about Octopath Traveler II kept me enamored where the original game couldn’t. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but if I had to guess, the better connection between each of the main character’s stories was only part of it. Better sidequests throughout the world, including a shockingly great implementation of the Day and Night system made exploration engaging and rewarding; something as simple as characters reacting and calling out to each other in battle helped make everything feel all the more like a cohesive adventure. Maybe I just vibed with the characters this time around.

Whatever the core reason was, I enjoyed every moment I spent with Octopath Traveler II, all the way to the ending. Gosh, what an ending that was! The way the game ties all of the character’s stories together, and the lead-up to perhaps the coolest Final Boss I’ve fought in an RPG, really solidified my love for the game as a whole. I love listening to game music, and I think the best sign for just how much of an impression the game left on me is thinking back to just how often I returned to the game’s soundtrack for my regular rotation. Hell, I even went out of my way to get a signed copy of the soundtrack at Tokyo Game Show. 

I can’t rightly say if Octopath Traveler II was the best game that released this year, but for my money it was the one I enjoyed the most, and which had the longest-lasting impression on me. Here’s hoping we can see an Octopath Traveler III in a few years’ time; Square Enix has something special going here, and I’d like to hope they recognize it.

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