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  • 2023 has been a year with a lot of ups and downs, both in the industry with its stellar releases and soul crushing layoffs, but also just for me personally. As I looked back on the games I played this year, many of the titles I was hotly anticipating didn’t end up having the impact on me that I expected, perhaps due to the rough first half of the year I experienced in my real-life. However, the titles that did end up charming me the most were the ones I didn’t see coming, the games that surprised me with their quality.

    I think the game that most exemplifies this was Paranormasight. It may not be the most flashy game released this year, being a budget title released by a small team within Square Enix, but it felt like a game made specifically for me. I grew up playing Japanese adventure games on the Nintendo DS and I went through a whole phase in the late 2000s where I was playing horror adventure titles like Clock Tower and Famicom Detective Club Part II. I have a deep love for the games I played during that period in my life and Partanormasight felt like a loving call-back to those games without necessarily trying to be. While not perfect, Paranormasight really felt like it was punching above its weight class and was somehow able to compete with much bigger titles created by more established creators with far more resources. It was a real out-of-left-field release for me and it even appealed to my love of game history with the title’s director having a fascinating career in the adventure genre that I really enjoyed learning about and sharing online. For all those reasons, Paranormasight is my favorite game I played this year.

  • Back when I was a kid, I would often think about a game I was really into every moment I wasn’t playing it. Nowadays, that seldom happens, even for games I really enjoy, but Baldur’s Gate 3 managed to reawaken that obsessive tendency within me. The first couple of weeks after the game’s release, BG3 was pretty much the only thing I thought about, whether it be the fun characters or the huge possibilities of its gameplay. I haven’t played a game in a while where I felt like I was both engaged by the actual narrative written by the developers and the narrative I was creating through my own actions in-game. It was quite the experience and it in some ways made the later half of my year very DnD themed. I saw and greatly enjoyed the DnD movie and I even began playing table-top campaigns with my family and coworkers. I still haven’t finished the game, currently starting Act 3, but BG3 is definitely a title that really defined my year in terms of games.

  • I’m often attracted to very story heavy games and RPGs that end up being super long experiences. However, Pseudoregalia reminded me that a short game that is light on story and focuses purely on satisfying character movement can also be just as fulfilling. I went into Regalia thinking I was just going to fiddle with it for a few minutes and ended up getting really invested. It was a game that didn’t overstay its welcome and executed its core ideas almost perfectly. I just really liked it a lot.

  • I was actually kind of upset when this game was announced as I thought RE4 didn’t need a remake. But when I actually got my hands on it, I was really surprised at how fun it was. While not as exciting as experiencing the original RE4 back when I was a teenager, RE4 Remake was a joy to play through. It was also one of the few games where my brother was playing it around the same time I was and it was super fun to compare notes and talk about our experiences as we played. Good spooky fun.

  • Every couple of years there is a game I play during the final week of December that hits me like a truck. In 2008 that game was Hotel Dusk, in 2012 it was Asura's Wrath, and in 2015 it was Tales from the Borderlands. The end of the year is a special time where it is easier for me to fully immerse myself in a game, or any other form of media, that I sometimes can’t do at any other time of the year. So when I play a game that I really connects with me during that period, it can feel more special than if I had played it at any other time of the year. And this year I think A Space for the Unbound is going to be another one of those games that I experienced at the end of the year that really sticks with me in the years to follow. Even if it doesn’t, it has certainly touched my heart at this specific moment in time in a way few games have in 2023.

  • I didn’t think this game would end up on my list but Private Eye Dol was a game that stuck with me throughout the year. It is another example of a great surprise as I had no idea the game even existed when suddenly a beautifully done fan translation was released at the beginning of 2023. The game certainly has its share of jank you would expect from a retro adventure game but it’s also full to the brim with charm and ideas. Every chapter usually had some new gameplay concept, setting, and mystery. The variety on display in Private Eye Dol was really cool to see and it led to me thinking about the game every time I played another adventure game this year. “Oh, what if this game had a map system like the 2nd chapter of Private Eye Dol?” Thoughts like that raced through my head throughout the year. Few games really stick in my mind like that and that’s why it was one of my favorite games from this year. It’s not the best of its class, but it was really memorable for me personally.

  • (Runner-up):

    I love everything about Hi-Fi Rush. The characters, presentation, story, and everything else. I’m just terrible at character action games and I don’t have a good sense of rhythm so actually playing the game was really challenging for me. When I was actually hitting combos in time with the music, I felt like the coolest person in the world but most of the time I was falling flat on my face. Regardless, I still had a really good time with Hi-Fi Rush and I left the game with a warm cozy feeling in my heart.

  • (Runner-up):

    The opening hours of Alan Wake 2 contained some of the most amazing stuff I’ve seen in a survival horror title. The game was really going for it in a way that blew me away. Moment to moment, I was just thinking “Wow, I can’t believe they're actually doing this!” However, later on in the game, it felt like the story was sort of repeating itself, the constant flashing of screaming faces started to become more annoying than scary, and the gameplay started to become more and more frustrating as I entered more complex combat encounters. There were plenty of moments where I hated Alan Wake 2 and I was often frustrated when I ran into bugs that blocked my progress in one or two instances. Ultimately, when the credits rolled, I enjoyed my time with Alan Wake 2 a great deal but I just wish it had been a few hours shorter and a bit more polished in a few areas. But still, no game is currently doing what Alan Wake 2 did. It’s an incredible achievement and I respect it a lot for that.