The Best Games I Played in 2023

13 December, 2023

Tags: games

I made a list on Backloggd of the best games I played in 2023 and figure some more words about why would be a good exercise.

1 • The Caligula Effect 2

It's really refreshing to play a game that takes elements of other series, removes the homophobia and mysogyny and adds loads of empathy for its women and queer characters. On top of that, you get an incredible soundtrack, one of the coolest RPG battle systems since Resonance of Fate and you get one of my favourite games I played in 2023.

The Go-Home Club standing in a hallway. Niko exclaims 'Yahoo! You're the burglar of the century,χ! All those other phantom thieves got nothin' on you!'

1 • Blue Reflection: Second Light

In a joint first with Caligula 2, we've got the magical girlfriends RPG. Summer vacation vibes, yet again a fantastic soundtrack, girls loving girls, and just hanging out. I couldn't pick a favourite between this and Caligula 2. The casts are so likeable, you spend so much time getting to know everyone and their personalities, quirks, and concerns. BRSL really shines in the character interactions, and I really appreciated the mechanical connection between building those relationships and their powers for battle growing. Literally the power of friendship!

Ao telling Mio she wants to make her her wife

2 • Final Fantasy XIII

What a tremendous game. I'd written it off for years because of the bad rep it had, but I'd grown increasingly curious over the last few years. Now it's quite probably my favourite of the series (we'll see how the other FFXIII games fare!).

The combat, once it really opens up and lets you play with it, is thrilling. It can become a bit routine as you follow a sequence of commands when you encounter a new enemy, but I found that to barely matter. The rhythm of combat, switching paradigms, finding the right timing to air combo an enemy for the duration of its health (or stagger) bar without letting it touch the ground was immensely satisfying.

The music is fantastic throughout, from swelling strings to smooth jazz. Hamauzu doesn't miss.

3 • Nioh 2

A sublime action game. The depths and nuance in the battles, the ability to tailor your fighting style to how you want to play, there's so little like it. There's a thrill to pulling off that perfect combo and tearing through hordes of enemies unscathed then facing down a demonic boss and being able to see through its attacks and take it down.

4 • Signalis

The vibes are immaculate. A solid survival horror game with a minimalist narrative and great atmosphere. I don't really have a lot to say about it aside from: it's great.

5 • The Case of the Golden Idol

One of the cleverer recent puzzle games. I greatly appreciate when a game trusts you to be able to figure things out and allows you to do so unimpeded. The game doesn't hide any information for you, rather, your task is to use the information to determine what happened in each case.

6 • Shinsekai: Into the Depths

There's something about being underwater on an alien world. Being in a place you don't know is already oppressive without the literal added pressure from being underwater. Eeriness interspersed with beauty, both in visuals and in the soundtrack (also provides great atmosphere for studying). The game reinforces that sense of oppression by linking your health with your mobility. As you're underwater, you're wearing a bulky diving suit with limited air capacity. Take too many hits and that capacity is reduced. You can also expend air to propel yourself around rather than trudge along the ground, but until you've upgraded, your range of exploration is limited. It creates a neat rhythm to play, emphasizing that risk/reward. Should you push ahead and will you find a pocket of air in time to survive or should you turn back before it's too late?

7 • Little Witch Nobeta

A lot of the ways in which we talk about games is broken, or at least limiting. Nobeta is frequently refered to as an anime Soulslike, a term that is becoming increasingly meaningless. Rather than only try to immitate other games, Nobeta plays with the formula.

Rather than being melee focused as games labeled "soulslike" frequently are, your main attacks are magic. This makes you reliant on your limited mana pool. Balancing melee, parrying and dodging in order to more quickly replenish mana stores, allowing for more frequent and more devastating magical attacks incentivizes taking bigger risks in a way that I found very enjoyable.

8 • NeverAwake

Fantastic art direction and soundtrack. It's a fun stage-based twin stick shoot 'em up. The item upgrading and equipment selection allows you to tailor the game's difficulty, with later challenges requiring specific combinations. There's a lot to do here and it's a great time the whole way through.

9 • Nostalgic Train

I wrote a review about this game and rather than rehash that, please just go read it.