Baldur’s Gate 3, Sea Of Stars, And More


The last few years have been full of amazing RPGs, but 2023 took things to a whole new level. It was the year we got Final Fantasy XVI, Diablo 4, and Bethesda’s long awaited Starfield. It was also the year Baldur’s Gate 3 appeared and blew them all out of the water. Fans of stat-based combat, meandering side-quests, and spending way too much time navigating menu systems are eating well.

Not everything that may have deserved a spot on this list made the final cut. If you feel there’s a deserving game that’s not recognized here, more likely than not it was because we simply did not have the time to get to it. 2023 was a packed year, especially for games that take dozens of hours to complete. Honkai: Star Rail, The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie, and Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed are three releases that are noticeably absent from the below. I plan to make more time for each of them heading into the new year. For now, here are our 12 favorite RPGs from 2023.


Final Fantasy XVI

Joshua speaks to Clive.

Image: Square Enix

The latest installment of Square Enix’s decades-spanning franchise was developed by the creative minds behind FF5, 12, and 14. You can see evidence of that in the MMO-inspired, rapid-fire combat, which riffs on the series’ job system. Final Fantasy XVI is perhaps the most gorgeous graphical showcase we’ve seen yet on the PlayStation 5, with massive kaiju battles depicting brutal slugfests between deities and demons.

Square Enix wants you to know that this Final Fantasy is for adults. Because of that, there’s a lot of sex, swearing, incest, and even the occasional child murder. (At least one of those dead kids totally had it coming, for what it’s worth.) For the most part, this grown-up glow-up works better than you’d expect.

Yet for all its Game of Thrones trappings and potty-mouth interludes, the plot of FF16 reminds me most of Final Fantasy IV. Betrayals, presumed deaths, and secret identity reveals come thick and fast. Yes, FF16’s depiction of slavery is just as clumsy as you’ve surely heard, but thinking of the experience as a high-res reimagining of the game’s SNES-era storytelling makes it a bit easier to swallow. — Jen Glennon

Fire Emblem Engage

Two blue-haired warriors touch a wall.

Image: Nintendo

Back in 2019, Fire Emblem: Three Houses brought Nintendo’s long-running handheld RPG series into the mainstream, with a branching story that blended the social-sim elements of Persona with a sweeping story that follows a cast of schoolmates from the classroom to a continent-spanning war. Many fans who jumped on the bandwagon with Three Houses (myself included) were expecting the next installment of the series to serve up more of the same.

That’s not what you’re going to get from 2023’s Fire Emblem Engage. The story is a serviceable jumble of RPG clichés that will have you rolling your eyes on more than one occasion. Compared to Three Houses’ individual riffs on school uniforms, the character designs feel overworked and busy. In so many ways, it’s a step back. But despite that, I played Engage for more than 70 hours last year. That’s because the combat is relentlessly fun and tactically satisfying, and there’s precious little story to wade through in order to get to it. While I have a bigger soft spot in my heart for Three Houses, I’m far more likely to revisit its faster, dumber sibling when I need a quick strategy hit. – Jen Glennon

Like a Dragon: Ishin!

A samurai shoots a man at a train station.

Image: Sega

There’s a lot of Yakuza games out there. The ninth (!) mainline installment in Sega’s gangster soap opera, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, launches in January 2024. With a timeline more intricate than the MCU and more characters than a Dostoyevsky novel, it’s daunting trying to figure out where to dive into the series that spawned countless memes. Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a standalone spin-off set during the waning days of Japan’s samurai era, during the mid-19th century.

Despite the veneer of educational value and historical import, Ishin retains the Yakuza series’ beloved goofball humor and affinity for bizarre minigames. You’ll have to prevent innocent rubes from joining a dance-crazed cult, chop cannonballs in half with a katana, and gamble on high-stakes chicken racing. Yakuza’s trademark batshit, button-mashing combat will be familiar to series vets but is intuitive enough for newcomers to pick up on the fly. Better still: You can wield a sword and a pistol at the same time.— Jen Glennon

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

A woman stands at the counter in a futuristic bar.

Image: CD Projekt Red

Phantom Liberty re-examines everything Cyberpunk 2077 went through to become the game it is today. The expansion’s spy-thriller framing allows V and Johnny Silverhand to wrestle with complicated questions about patriotism and what it means to give yourself to your country. All of this is interwoven in reflections on the original game, all culminating in a new ending that re-examines all other outcomes. But on top of an excellent new story, Phantom Liberty was accompanied by the 2.0 update, which completely restructured the game’s progression systems, allowing for skills, tactics, and builds that weren’t possible before. Now, everyone’s V’s can have a distinct playstyle, and it feels like the actualization of the game fans were dreaming of. It’s still not perfect, but it’s gone from a busted mess to a really respectable RPG. — Kenneth Shepard

Baldur’s Gate 3

Shadowheart examines a relic.

Image: Larian Studios

Larian Studios has filled the BioWare-shaped hole in RPG fans’ hearts with Baldur’s Gate 3. Not only is it a deep, reactive, and incredibly customizable RPG, but it also has one of the best casts in recent memory. By taking the Dungeons & Dragons framework and emulating the tabletop experience as best it can within a video game’s code, Larian has achieved something most RPGs only ever dream of attaining. Its systems are so dense and its options so vast that it accommodates more strategies, solutions, and decisions than most games of its style or production value. Even though every fan experiences the same overarching story, few will remember Baldur’s Gate 3 the same way. — Kenneth Shepard

Persona 5 Tactica

Joker unleashes his Persona.

Image: Atlus

Persona spin-offs have always stood out for how they’ve been able to adapt the base game’s mechanics into new formats, and Persona 5 Tactica is no different. P-Studio has taken Persona 5‘s classic turn-based leanings and retooled them into a snappy, strategic tactics RPG. The Phantom Thieves you know and love are still here, but they’re all operating on a completely different level this time around. On top of remixing the turn-based fights, Tactica also remixes the subseries’ themes of rebellion to poignant ends. The game may be exposing some Persona 5 fatigue, but it at least shows there’s still some gas in the tank. — Kenneth Shepard

Octopath Traveler II

Pixel sprite characters float down a river.

Image: Square Enix

Octopath Traveler II, the sequel to Square Enix’s 2018 homage to the classic turn-based RPGs of the SNES era, has quietly been one of the best RPGs of the year since it launched in February. While it may not have exploded the way Final Fantasy XVI or Baldur’s Gate 3 did, the Canterbury Tales-esque story has characters just as deep and writing just as sharp, and although its turn-based battles may seem simple on the surface, their complexity deepens over its many hours just as its cast of eight adventurers does. Perhaps it’s a result of bigger names and budgets overshadowing it, but Octopath Traveler II should have been in a lot of year-end conversations, and it stands tall alongside its flashier contemporaries. — Kenneth Shepard

Asgard’s Wrath 2

A first-person view shows someone riding toward a temple.

Image: Sanzaru Games

Virtual Reality has a triple-A game gap: No one’s making meaty, sprawling adventures with the length and scope of high-budget console games…or even of a typical console RPG. For a certain type of player, VR’s relative lack of this type of “triple-A” experience is a big turn-off.

Asgard’s Wrath 2, the new, wide-open RPG from Meta-acquired Sanzaru Games, seeks to prove that VR and triple-A need not be mutually exclusive, throwing you into a decidedly massive world filled with allies to befriend, dungeons to plunder, and gods to dethrone. The scope is there and the game is fun, easy to lose yourself in for hours. If you were only going to play a single new VR game this year, Wrath 2 would be a strong choice.

It’s enjoyed a largely positive critical reception, echoing that of its 2019 PC-only predecessor. While Wrath 2’s budget is unknown, it got a relatively large ad campaign, is the first Quest VR game to retail for $60, and is included free with every Quest 3 headset. Meta’s clearly chasing a certain sort of mainstream appeal here, and in this case, seems to be succeeding. — Alexandra Hall

Sea of Stars

Pixel characters walk around an overworld map.

Image: Sabotage Studio

If it looks like Chrono Trigger and plays like Chrono Trigger, it just might be Sea of Stars. The homage to 16-bit SNES RPGs by Sabotage Studio combines lush environments and beautiful pixel sprites with Mario & Luigi-style turn-based battles. Timed button presses can make regular attacks more powerful or shave off damage from incoming enemy ones, and instead of a standard revive system, characters automatically come back to life at regular intervals in battle, adding an extra layer of strategy to otherwise straightforward fights. Sea of Stars is a flashy game with clever dungeon designs and great music. Even if its story isn’t as imaginative as its aesthetics, the overall package delivers more than just a hit of retro nostalgia. — Ethan Gach

Starfield

A lone astronaut wanders through ruins.

Image: Bethesda

There are plenty of things that hold Bethesda’s latest open-world RPG back from all-time greatness, but inside the cozy confines of the genre it holds its own. Starfield lets you explore the stars in a custom ship, double-crossing rival gangs on one planet and infiltrating the ranks of infamous space pirates on another. The real-time combat is cleaner and more polished than that in any other Bethesda RPG, and sports a range of space powers that help make you feel like more than just another gun-toting sci-fi jarhead. Its greatest trick is an inventive new game plus mode which I won’t spoil here but is well worth racing through the main campaign to experience for yourself.

But perhaps where Starfield excels the most is in giving players the complete freedom to roam around the galaxy collecting scrap, building tiny space colonies, and leaving your small mark on a universe too sprawling to notice. Composer Inon Zur’s soundtrack imbues some of the game’s most chill and lonely scenes with a beautiful sense of empty vastness. Where many open-world games are championed for the breadth and density of their to-do lists, Starfield isn’t afraid to ignore you and let you toil away on your own projects uninterrupted by overly-chatty characters or climactic plot arcs. — Ethan Gach

Diablo IV

Characters oversee a blood ritual.

Image: Blizzard

Like any live-service grindfest, Diablo IV feels hopelessly flawed. But as a six-act RPG campaign with a beginning, middle, and end, Blizzard’s latest sequel offers an irresistibly grim playground for satisfying character progression and memorable showdowns. The game’s presentation, from the music and voice acting to the art and ambiance is top-notch. Memorable characters like Donan, Lorath, and Lilith give the top-down loot clicker the gravitas and panache to elevate it beyond just a dopamine drip-fest. It’s completely satisfying when approached as a mindless arcade action game as well, though, just slashing, electrocuting, and shooting your way through fields and dungeons galore in search of that next level up and or synergistic gear boost. I never left a Diablo IV play session feeling disappointed or like I’d just wasted an hour of my life, which is not something I can say for most games of its ilk. — Ethan Gach

Star Ocean: Second Story R

Characters fight in a retro-looking battlefield.

Image: Square Enix

We’ve received a bunch of modern remasters of classic RPGs in recent years. None of them are as good as the Star Ocean: Second Story R remake though. New mechanics, plenty of quality-of-life improvements, and an entirely overhauled visual style make it the definitive version of a PS1-era gem. Second Story spans two planets, 13 party members, and 99 different endings. Most of them aren’t worth seeing, but it speaks to the breadth of detail and options crammed into the 1999 game, from a dense crafting system to an eight-piece marching band that you can use to summon an all-powerful secret end-game boss. Second Story looks gorgeous in HD-2D and sports an under-appreciated soundtrack. The remake isn’t just a great RPG, it’s a roadmap for how publisher Square Enix should treat the rest of its back catalog. — Ethan Gach

           



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