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My 2023 Video Game List

December 26, 2023
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Like last year, I’ve been actively healthy and sporty, but that still hasn’t stopped me from playing video games. I suspect that next year will be a bit busier after my sabbatical, so I may not be able to dedicate this much free time to gaming then.

This year was a really impressive year with some truly incredible games. As always, I was unable to play many of the big hitters, but then again, this is a list of the best games I completed this year. That means that various games from previous years can be found on this list, including really old ones.

Previous Editions: 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015


The Talos Principle 2

Played on PC. Released in 2023.

I have always felt that a human being
could only be saved by another human being.

I loved playing through The Talos Principle 2. I ended up clearing a bunch of puzzles every day for a good two weeks or so. I could have rushed it more, but I decided against doing that. There’s something to be said about savouring a particular game.

About a decade ago, I played the original and loved it. I never got around to playing The Road to Gehenna, an expansion for that game. Earlier this year I learned about the upcoming sequel… and so prior to that launch, I decided to take a whack at beating the expansion of that first game… and I did! It was a ton of fun, with challenging puzzles, more challenging than the base game’s content, at least.

A little later (but still prior to release), Croteam released a brief demo of the sequel, which let you play through 8 puzzles of the full game. This demo is no longer available, but it was a great demonstration of the new engine and immediately sold me on the game.

I was instantly hooked and certain that I was going to love this game. The Talos Principle 2 ended up being the perfect distraction when it was released: it was engaging and difficult enough to put my brain to work and distract me from some of the stupid stuff that was going on at the time.

The first game was a pretty fun puzzler with tons of philosophical material. One of my favorite aspects of the game was when the game had you chat with the Milton Library Assistant, which would attempt to do some psychological profiling on you, based on the answers you provided to the (philosophical) questions it asked.

Whereas the first game took place in a virtual world, you start the sequel with a revisit of your escape from the virtual world, and discover there’s a real world out there. After a few tutorial puzzles you find yourself in New Jerusalem exploring a world without humans (but filled with robots who call themselves human).

Out in the real world, it doesn’t take long before you are sent on an expedition to a remarkable structure (dubbed The Megastructure) and it appears as if solving puzzles — for some reason — is an important part to gain access to the inner workings of this structure.

As you progress, you engage with other robots in philosophical discussion… and put your brain to use as you visit different regions each containing novel puzzle mechanics to challenge your thinking.

I liked how the developer removed some of the most annoying puzzle mechanics from the first game and added a plethora of fun new mechanics and systems that encourage lateral thinking.

The game also has a few challenge puzzles which are quite difficult, but offer an important (story) reward at the end of the game.

The visual quality of Talos 2 is a significant improvement over the original: in fact, this game uses the brand-new Unreal Engine 5, and you can tell!

It’s actually quite graphically intensive if you want it to be, which makes for a very impressive presentation. The music, too, has some great tracks that elevates the game beyond its predecessor in key moments.

I do think that, having finished the first game’s expansion, there is some potential for making even more difficult puzzles. The game was not as difficult as its predecessor… or so I felt. I am about ten years older now, so perhaps I’ve just gotten wiser.

That being said, did feel like the difficulty of the game was fair: not too difficult, but also not too hard — and the challenge puzzles were actually challenging.

I really hope that this one gets an expansion or a sequel. It certainly deserves it. What a great game, and what a fun and beautiful ride.


Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Played on PC. Released in 2019.

If you had the strength to take another step, could you do it?
Could you save our worlds?

Oh, man. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is the hardest hitting expansion of Final Fantasy XIV that I’ve played so far. That makes sense, because I’ve invested so much time into this game and at this point, the payoff needs to be great.

I played this early on in the year, and perhaps then this would have been my #1 pick, if I’d played it more recently. The final sequence of this expansion is perfectly delivered, but I think in general my FFXIV experience has never been better.1

Shadowbringers, from a narrative point of view, immediately sends you to a different world that is not too dissimilar to that of the main setting of FFXIV. During the first hour of this expansion, it becomes obvious that something is very wrong on this shard — there is no day and night cycle on this new world.

On Eorzea, your role as Warrior of Light has always been to ensure that the Darkness does not overtake or corrupt the Light. The two must be in balance. Unfortunately, on this world (called “The First”) half of the known world has been corrupted… not by Darkness, no, but by Light!

As it turns out, to save the world you will now need to take on the mantle of a Warrior of Darkness… and this brings with it various twists and turns that will keep you busy until the climactic last few missions of the main story.

I don’t want to spoil the excellent story too much, but I do want to say that I was very happy to continue my journey on Eorzea and on The First, this brand new world. As always, the story is excellent, the music is outstanding and the new content has been quite varied and fun.

(There are some moments during the latter half of the expansion that are so well done, that when combined with the stellar soundtrack, it probably makes for some of the best pay-off I’ve seen in a game, ever. That is high praise, obviously.)

Next up: Endwalker: the expansion that ties together ten years of storytelling… I very much look forward to it. I’m not sure when I will have or make the time to work my way through that expansion, but that’ll probably be during my sabbatical.


Fire Emblem: Jugdral Duology

Emulated on Steam Deck. Released in ’96, ’99.

Thus the threshold of fate is cast open; nobody could have known then that a simple disturbance was but the first of countless calamities to come.

This entry encompasses both 1996’s Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War and 1999’s Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Both of these take place on the same continent (story-wise) and have various characters that appear in both titles. Grouping them together for this ranking then seemed reasonable, after all.2

I played a fan translation of both games, since neither were ever officially released outside of Japan. Especially Thracia 776 has an interesting history since its (fan) translation had been nearly twenty years in the making.

There have been rumours of a remake of Genealogy of the Holy War, but frankly I wasn’t going to wait, since this year’s Fire Emblem Engage featured both of these games’ protagonists as key “Emblem” characters.3

Genealogy of the Holy War

The fourth entry in the Fire Emblem series. Genealogy of the Holy War tells the larger tale about the conflict surrounding Sigurd and his son, Seliph. It’s a continent-spanning adventure with numerous legendary characters.

This entry in the tactical game genre is known for its incredibly big maps, fantastic storytelling and it was actually the first entry in the series to introduce skills: modifiers that give various units abilities that can help turn the tide of battle.

For example, various units in the game that are mounted (on horses) get the Canto ability, which allows them to move after attacking. This is an incredibly powerful ability, but not every mounted unit has this ability.

This entry also introduces romance: male and female units eventually end up in relationships together should they spend enough time together on the battlefield by the end of the first half of the campaign.

These couples then produce “child units” which you eventually end up using, just like in Fire Emblem Awakening (which also had child units). These children play a significant role in the second half of the game.

The game is rather slow compared to the other entries in franchise, in part because of the large maps. Fortunately, you can save the game every turn. That means the game isn’t actually that difficult, just tedious at times.

With a varied cast and excellent writing (probably the best in any Fire Emblem game ever) I now understand why this game is so beloved, and also considered a tedious affair on replays.

Thracia 776

Thracia 776 then (narratively) acts a sort of midquel, where the game tells the story of what happened to the native lord of Thracia, Leif, during a key time period that connects the two halves of Genealogy of the Holy War.

Whereas the previous game had many large maps, this game is much more personal and smaller in scale than its predecessor. In particular, this game sports much smaller maps, some of which can be quite challenging!

If you don’t know what you are doing, you can end up really screwing yourself over. For that reason, playing with a guide is considered to be a good idea — even if it is your first time playing the game. I highly recommend this spoiler-free guide that you can use for every chapter.

After playing Genealogy of the Holy War, this is actually a really nice return to a more classic Fire Emblem formula, with a few twists that will keep you on your toes. I probably enjoyed Thracia 776 more than its predecessor, simply because mechanically it is a more engaging game.

Playing this game and its predecessor really made me appreciate how well these games have aged. I really hope that the rumors about the remake are true: these games deserve to be modernized and played by new audiences.


Xenoblade Chronicles X

Played on Wii U. Released in 2015.

The planet Mira… there’s something special about this place.

Look, I even got my Wii U out of the closet and dusted it off one more time to play this interesting game. I did end up buying my Wii U with the intention of playing Xenoblade X… a decade ago. Better late than never. You see, my Wii U came with this game, and it took me until this year to finally play it.4

I can’t believe that it took me this long to play Xenoblade Chronicles X (pronounced “cross”). At first, I was going to make sure to play the original first (Xenoblade Chronicles, which originally released on the Wii) but I eventually decided against that when Xenoblade Chronicles 3 released last year.

Instead, I’m going to play all three of those back-to-back at some point: they are all available on the Switch now. However, this game is not… so I decided I needed to play it first.

This Xenoblade game is, I’m told, not like the others. It features a huge open world and a sci-fi story that you can’t find in any of the others. You see, the other games in the series are a little less futuristic and this one has you exploring a mysterious planet in flying mechs.

Xenoblade Chronicles X requires quite a bit of a time investment to really get off the ground, especially if you want to be taking off in a mech. In general, I recommend playing this one with a guide to avoid wasting time.

I liked how unique the game is from a gameplay and setting perspective, but it does get quite repetitive after a while. The combat also isn’t exactly challenging, but I did my party wiped quite a few times due to entering zones where I was clearly underleveled. Some of the game’s systems can be quite obtuse, too.

I mostly like playing games for their story and setting, though, and this is where Xenoblade Chronicles X delivers in spades. The different areas of the world are stunning and varied (yet a bit barren at times), but the overall atmosphere is great. The banger soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano left quite the impression.

That being said, I now understand why the developers said that they think Xenoblade Chronicles X needs some extra work in order for it to be playable on the Switch, since it does really feel like a game where the scope of the game outgrew what the console generation was possible of at the time.

The dynamic map component that is integral to the gameplay experience makes use of the Wii U’s gamepad screen. It uses that secondary display to show the map at all times, which is nice but a bit annoying when you need to look down to see where you are.

I suspect available screen real-estate is an actual issue when it comes to getting this game on one screen, not to mention the scope of the game likely being another problem.

Getting this game to run on the Switch while maintaining all of the unique aspects of the game should not be impossible, but I do think it’d be challenging.5

Perhaps this game was only possible on the Wii U, and it’ll never make it to the Switch. It certainly looks that way at this point… To be honest, I’m certainly glad I did not have to resort to emulation in order to play it, and that I was able to play it as it was initially intended, on the original hardware.

It felt like a great way to send off my Wii U: with a banger of a game, on that it came originally bundled with.


Starfield

Played on PC. Released in 2023.

The wonder is, not that the field of stars is so vast, but that man has measured it.

Starfield suffers from numerous issues that prevents it from ranking any higher in my list, but somehow I ended up spending over a hundred hours working my way through the classic Bethesda questlines while exploring the galaxy.

In various ways, Starfield holds up as a game with a bunch of fun systems, a game you can get lost in… but it also has myriad flaws, many of which can be shelved under the “it’s a Bethesda game” criticism.6

The rest of this section will sound rather negative, but I want to emphasize that the game does have a variety of fun systems that I enjoyed during the time I played it. Unlike Skyrim, however, I suspect this game will hold little replay value for me.

You may be wondering why.

The game suffers, at times, from poor writing, repetitive worlds, little variety in companion alignment, and delivers an underwhelming main quest. It does nail the feeling of space, and it does have some fun side quests, some of which I enjoyed. Exploration in general was underwhelming after the first ten hours or so.

And so it is that Starfield — especially in retrospect — just feels quite shallow, a bit like Skyrim did a decade ago. (“Ocean wide, but puddle deep”, as someone once put it.) If you’re willing to put in the work to do a little bit of roleplaying, that does not need to be a massive issue, though, and you may still have fun.

So… no, Starfield is by no means a bad game. I do think that plenty of people who played the game have levied various valid criticisms against the game, and I think that the initial review scores were actually right on the money: this is a solid 7/10 game with lots of playtime if you want to see the majority of what the game has on offer.

How much you will enjoy this game depends on what you seek from it. I wanted a bit of space escapism, and the game certainly delivered that. I do believe that it is true that Bethesda has done better work in various ways in some of their other games… and those have not aged as well as you’d think.

Bethesda have committed to releasing additional patches for the game in 2024, so I will likely return to the game if some of the complaints have been addressed.

Especially now, when games (in general) are far more likely to receive a multitude of patches over time, Bethesda has the opportunity to set things right and improve the base game in ways they could not do a decade ago when Skyrim first released.

I am hopeful for the future, but no matter what happens I did end up having fun with this game, so… I can’t complain too much.


Still playing…

Fire Emblem Engage

Playing on Switch. Released in 2023.

I’m still working on completing Fire Emblem Engage. It’s a great game from a gameplay perspective: it can be quite challenging. I must admit that I am less enthusiastic about the character designs which I find to be a bit garish. The narrative is, as always with Fire Emblem games, rather predicable, too.

Playing FE4 and FE5 prior to playing this game has been a good decision on my part, however, as some of the references to the older games can be rather fun.

I’m playing through the game on Hard difficulty, and finding it quite enjoyable. I must admit that the additional skirmishes are annoyingly difficult, which is unfortunate — this has to do with the way the game scales w/ the average level of the recruited characters. (You can’t really play catch-up with units that fall behind. You have to replace them with better units you get later on, which is unfortunate.)

Fire Emblem Engage feels kind of like an inverse of Three Houses; that game had strong character designs and a great narrative. However, its gameplay was quite repetitive and bland at times. This most recent entry is not narratively as strong, but definitely a ton of fun to play, which is ultimately what matters.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Playing on PC. Released in 2014.

I bet you weren’t expecting one of my 2015 picks to reappear on this list almost a decade later, huh? Well, I wasn’t expecting this either. Dragon Age Inquisition has aged quite well, to be honest, and I certainly did not start the year expecting to replay it.

As part of the discourse about why Baldur’s Gate 3 was received so well, one of the theories that I heard was that there’s this incredible craving in the RPG market for a character-driven, Bioware-like experience. That makes sense, as Bioware was responsible for the original Baldur’s Gate and its sequel.

So… in order to test this theory, I wanted to replay this Dragon Age game prior to starting Baldur’s Gate 3. I was originally going to play for just a bit but the game ended up hooking me again. (I’ve been playing on my handheld.)

As I’m still working my way through Inquisition, this time aiming for a different run. I’m taking my time in ways I probably didn’t when I first played the game back when. This time I’m playing as an Elf mage, which is quite fun.

I’ve also made some more varied choices, like (for example) siding with the Templars at the beginning of the story. I remember being in favor of pursuing the Mages plotline back when, but I like how some of the game changes based on this key decision. (The composition of the antagonist’s forces changes drastically.)

It’s certainly fun to revisit this entry. It makes me sad that I don’t have more time to revisit Dragon Age Origins as well, but I’m afraid that due to time constraints, as well as the fact that the game is a bit dated at this point, I won’t get around to that. I’m also considering doing an “alternate” Mass Effect trilogy run after this.


I also finished…

Atelier Meruru DX

Played on Switch. Released in 2018.

This is the final entry in the Arland trilogy, and I had a fun time playing it, just like I had a fun time playing the first two entries in the series. A solid JRPG, and a great experience on the Switch.

I played this for the first two weeks of the year, as I was finishing up the Arland trilogy at the end of 2022. The trilogy ended up being a bit too pink for my liking, but ended up being mildly amusing, which is good enough for me.

Sakura Wars

Played on PS5. Released in 2019.

This game is 33% dating sim, 33% visual novel and 33% hack & slash gameplay. A bizarre mix, but it is a modern reimagining of the classic Sakura Wars that unfortunately did not do well outside of Japan.

This is a bit of a shame, since I really ended up enjoying the direction of Sakura Wars. It didn’t come across as a waifu-bait game, like so many modern anime-style games tend to be, lately.

I really liked the setting and art direction. The combat was really the weakest link. Only available on the PS4, but I did play it on my PS5.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly

Played on PC. Released in 2023.

The original Coffee Talk offered me a moment of quiet during an emotional rollercoaster in 2021, so I was glad to be able to revisit my favorite café and enjoy the sequel to one of the most chill games I’ve ever played.

In Coffee Talk, you basically brew coffee and talk to people. That’s it. That’s the game. With a bunch of new characters and various new brews available, this was a fun sequel with more of the same.

Available on various platforms, but I played on PC and revisited the original Coffee Talk prior. I hope to see more episodes release in the future.

Divinity Original Sin

Played on PS5. Released in 2015.

I must admit I never finished the original before finishing Divinity Original Sin II a few years ago, and this year I rectified that mistake. I finally made it out of the first area and completed Larian’s big break game.

For me, this was preparation for Baldur’s Gate 3, of course. I knew that going back to older games would probably be difficult after dipping my toes in the water of Larian’s recent masterpiece, so I figured I’d best finish this first.

I had a great time, and ended up binging my way through the game in a week or two during a vacation. Good times.

Final Fantasy XVI

Played on PS5. Released in 2023.

I had incredibly high expectations of Final Fantasy XIV. I ended up spending many hours with the game, and thought it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I even had a good time. Good enough to make my way through 60+ hours of quests, side quests and combat.

While this game has incredibly high highs, its lows can be a bit of an issue. You can also probably safely skip playing most, if not all, of the sidequests, as many of them feel quite unimportant.

FFXVI was a slight disappointment because it ended up being a mixed bag. I probably could have skipped some of the content and it would’ve been fine. Overall, a 7/10 experience.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (I & II)

Played on PS5. Released in 2020 & 2022.

It’s been a while since I played a Call of Duty campaign. I had a good enough time playing the remakes, but after poor reception of the third game in the series (which released this year) I decided to save my money instead.

It’s a shame that Modern Warfare III was rushed through incredibly quickly, or this would have been a banger game to conclude the remake trilogy. Unfortunate.

What’s next…

A word on Baldur’s Gate 3

I am a bit ashamed to say that I have not properly started this year’s GOTY for many people, Baldur’s Gate 3. I have been waiting for the perfect time to play the game, and due to the various other games that I played this year, that moment hasn’t arrived yet.

As such, I’ve only played it for a little bit so far. I also wanted to make sure I’d finished Divinity Original Sin, as well as Dragon Age Inquisition, prior to starting this adventure. Since I’m not done with Dragon Age yet, this will have to wait.

I’m quite sure that it would otherwise have been my #1 pick, given previous years. I do know a fair bit about the game and I’m quite proud of what Larian (a company founded here in Belgium!) has accomplished with this absolute behemoth. Swen Vincke must be so proud of what he and his team were able to deliver.

You can tell a lot of love was poured into the game, from game developers, to character artists, to voice actors. It’s really quite incredible. Any praise they get is certainly well-deserved, and their Game Awards GOTY win was absolutely warranted, in my opinion.

Also important: the number of patches and additions that Larian has made to their game post-release, for free, is pretty much unseen in the industry. Compare that to the few fixes we’ve seen for something like Starfield and you can understand why this studio is something really special.

Next year’s games

Next year I will (likely) have less time to play video games, at least during the latter half of the year. I am most looking forward to two JRPGs next year, both of which are remakes of some kind: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and Persona 3 RELOAD.

Assuming they didn’t totally mess up the remasters, these should be a good time regardless, as we know that the story (and gameplay) for both of these is pretty damn good.

I originally played Persona 3 FES in 2018. Final Fantasy VII Remake, the first part of this reimagined version of Final Fantasy VII, also released a few years ago, which I also really enjoyed playing at the time.

I suspect I will also devote a good chunk of my sabbatical to finishing Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, assuming I can get back into the MMO. Maybe I will just play the main story and call it quits after that, who knows.

I do have a massive backlog of games that I would like to tackle, but I’m not sure what games will take precedence just yet. There’s a good chance I may wind down my gaming habits in order to make some other changes in my life.


  1. Whereas Stormblood didn’t rank that highly in last year’s list of games, I’d be doing this expansion a disservice if I didn’t rank it highly. It’s likely the best Final Fantasy writing in the series. (This is an aside, but I was very disappointed in the writing of FF16, but more on that later.) 

  2. These are entries 4 (Genealogy) and 5 (Thracia) in the franchise respectively, and the oldest entries I’ve played at this point, since the older games have all received remakes as Shadow Dragon (NDS), Shadows in Valentia (3DS) and New Mystery of the Emblem (NDS, though never released in the West; a fan translation is available). 

  3. It is clear that Engage was intended as an anniversary game of sorts. I only recently started playing it, so it won’t be on this list. I do like it, it is quite challenging in terms of gameplay, and the addition of the so-called Emblems (effectively ghostly representations of lords from previous games) is rather fun. 

  4. The more games I have, the longer it takes to get to those older games that I said I wanted to play. Sometimes that means that I try something older and I find it just doesn’t hold up enough for me to finish it. It’s a shame, but every now and then a game does hold up, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of those cases. 

  5. You see, the game’s massive map (which is actually massive) is divided into sectors, many of which have their own challenges. While you navigate the world of Mira, you can look at the gamepad to see where you are, and where the next objective is. Unlike a small mini-map (which is usually not very useful until you open up a larger map in a menu somewhere) this separate screen is a major component of the game. You do not just navigation, but also resource management from this screen. I think it’s possible to take this screen and turn it into a separate menu, but if the experience remains as intended after such changes remains to be seen. Xenoblade X is also really big and would need to be optimized more for it to fit on a Switch cartridge. 

  6. Classic Bethesda complaints include: issues with the physics engine, lots of loading screens, stilted (written by committee?) dialogue trees, lots of small and weird bugs that have been in various Bethesda games now, and more. 

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