We at VGKAMI want to talk about the video games in 2023 that have found their way into a special place within our hearts. Gaming isn’t a topic we write about for page views; it’s part of our minds, bodies, and souls. We do what we do out of passion.
Table Of Contents
Our Favorite Games Make Us Who We Are
All of us grew up with our eyes glued to some sort of screen while our little fingers mashed buttons and keys furiously. Our first video games shaped how we saw the world around us and influenced how we developed in critical ways.
Any flower with red petals could be a piranha plant and we’d sometimes question whether or not the chicken served at dinner was recently hidden in a wall. Video games are more than a form of media; they are works of art, enjoyable mental stimulation, training simulators for our budding motor functions, and much more.
Now, as adults, we are so ingrained in these digital worlds that our memories of our first games aren’t things we witnessed—they are things we experienced. In 2023, we still love video games as much as we did when we were young. No, actually, we love them even more!
We’re lucky enough to see the development in this industry first-hand. The graphics have become insanely realistic, the controllers now immerse us with terrific tactility, and we can dive head-first into our chosen virtual worlds through the use of VR.
Let us tell you about some of the titles released this year that mean the most to us. They aren’t necessarily video games we’re recommending; they’re pixel-born adventures that mean a lot to us for one reason or another.
Games for Which Reyadh Is Thankful
The first video game in 2023 that grabbed me by the brain and wouldn’t let go was DREDGE. I’ve always been a huge fan of dark and creepy games, as well as those involving the sea and sailing. As such, DREDGE conceptually hit the best possible notes for me. I found everything about it to be satisfying, interesting, and fun. There’s not a single bad thing I can say about it. From its gameplay to its graphics and sound design—it’s become one of my favorite games ever.
Next, as a big fan of the older Final Fantasy games (specifically the first and second), I kind of regret not getting into most of the franchise. However, that changed when I played Final Fantasy XV—I greatly appreciated the depth of storytelling and innovative mechanics. As such, I tried out Final Fantasy XVI as soon as it was released and fell in love with its world design, charismatic characters, fulfilling gameplay, and charming dialogue. Kupo!
While the above-mentioned titles definitely have their fair share of action, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is on a whole different level. As a big fan of mechs of all kinds growing up, I really like games that put me in the cockpit of a giant mechanical suit. The sheer exhilaration that comes with flying about a battlefield at breakneck speed while simultaneously dodging swarms of missiles and blasting foes with lasers satisfies the warrior spirit within me.
I’ve always found fishing to be extremely fulfilling—but only in video games. I’ve never gone fishing once in real life, as I’m a strict vegetarian (fish are friends, not food). With that said, the task of reaching down into the depths and snaring valuables is an act that ticks many boxes in my mind.
The satisfaction of reeling in a big catch and then selling it for a big profit is immense; however, doing so in order to use the in-game currency for upgrades raises the contentment levels to even greater heights. There are few things more gratifying in a video game than upgrades.
In DREDGE, you can upgrade your ship for very tangible effects. By increasing your storage capacity, optimizing your engine setup, and much more, you’ll genuinely feel yourself becoming a better and better angler. That’s covering but a handful of the mechanics in this wonderful game. There’s much more to explore and enjoy!
DREDGE also has an atmosphere that is somehow both sinister and relaxing—a mixture the game balances better than any I’ve ever experienced. One moment, you’ll be cruising the cresting waves and enjoying the scenery while anticipating your next big haul, and, the next, you’ll be pushing your ship to the limits to evade the oncoming charge of an ethereal shark fiend.
The graphics, sound design, and storytelling components are all very fitting; the developers of DREDGE knew exactly how to put together an eldritch seafaring adventure that meets all the right marks. As such, this title has become one of my favorite video games—not just in 2023, but of all time.
Final Fantasy XVI
The world design in Final Fantasy games has always been superb—and Final Fantasy 16 is no exception. I like the angle the storyline took in that the protagonists have to shift a paradigm that’s been held firmly by the various countries in the setting. It’s always fun to tear down corrupted systems!
Throughout the game, the introduction of interesting characters really helped me get immersed. Their distinct personalities and witty dialogue often had me smiling and empathizing with them. This is definitely a game to play for its narrative elements—but the gameplay is great as well.
As is common for newer Final Fantasy games, FF16 implements an action RPG style of gameplay that feels similar to Final Fantasy 15 and other recent titles from the franchise. Due to this, it was easy to get into the combat mechanics and begin optimizing my tactics once I had a grasp of the basics. I love that traditional spells are used in a more active manner. All of the Notorious Mark hunts were satisfying to complete as well—especially the S-Rank ones.
On a more personal note: I played this game with one of my closest friends. I can’t spend that much time with them these days, so being able to hang out and play a story-driven title while physically next to them made FF16 special to me. There’s no multiplayer function, so enjoying this title with my close friend involved me handling the action and them making the decisions on what we do in-game (and how we do it).
This type of playstyle allowed us to have fun with FF16 as if we were watching a TV show or a series of movies. We laughed at the comedic moments, frowned at the tragic events, and grew to greatly admire the characters, music, lore, and much more. For these reasons, FF16 is one of the video games in 2023 that will always have a fond place in my heart.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
As someone who always fixates on the most minute details of their surroundings, the Armored Core series scratches the deep itch in my psyche to optimize everything. While it’s not necessary to do so in order to beat Armored Core 6, doing so is helpful and—more importantly—fun. Sure, stats and mechanics such as Firearm Specialization and Attitude Stability aren’t the most intuitive to wrap your head around; however, learning about them in order to improve your AC feels right from both a gameplay perspective as well as for immersion into this game’s setting.
After customizing my AC to the point where I felt it was an extension of my body, I was very happy with the way it performed in battle. FromSoftware yet again delivers a fantastic combat experience (as they usually do). The controls are responsive, the enemies are challenging yet fair, and the level design allows for lots of maneuverability as well as provides tactical options when engaging adversaries.
There were times this year when I needed to lose myself in a violent rampage. When I’m upset, I seek destruction—but it’s never okay to unleash such emotions recklessly. Armored Core 6 allowed me to focus my rage on appropriate targets (I’m looking at you, V.II Snail!) so that I could vent in a healthy and harmless way. Dueling skilled opponents, laying waste to entire military compounds, and striving for a future of my making really made AC6 the perfect title for those who are frustrated and need to excise some anger.
With that said, it’s not all about releasing my rage. The connections I made with the NPCs were important as well. Despite no characters making physical appearances, the voice acting and dialogue writing were both excellent and made me care about the various persons—regardless of what side they were on. There were moments of betrayal that truly stung, turning points of enemies becoming friends, and many other situations that felt more alive than many real-world interactions I’ve had. Nothing creates a lasting impression like developing an emotional attachment.
Games for Which Carley Is Thankful
Three games drained the majority of my free time in 2023, and these titles couldn’t have less in common with one another. Variety is the spice of life, and while it’s always effortless to get stuck in my usual pattern of JRPG after JRPG, it’s much more rewarding to explore other genres and experiences. It was a year of unexpected surprises—which is much preferred to the standard and predictable.
Baldur’s Gate 3 likely needs no introduction, and I’d expect to find the story-rich CRPG on many people’s “favorites” lists this year. Larian Studios managed to craft what many believe should be awarded Game of the Year, with the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired romp garnering over 875,000 concurrent players on Steam the week of its release in August. In a year filled with strong contenders for the coveted title, Baldur’s Gate 3 currently sits at an astounding 96 on Metacritic, beating another beloved 2023 title The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
While rhythm games typically target a more niche selection of gamers, February’s Theatrhythm Final Bar Line was a blessing for Final Fantasy fans. The fifth entry in the Theatrhythm series, Final Bar Line is full to the brim with 385 tracks carefully chosen from the entirety of the Final Fantasy series, from mainline titles to fan favorites like Final Fantasy Tactics and the Dissidia series. Add to that plenty of other Square Enix songs via DLC and tons of unlockable characters to make this one tough title to put down. As a 25-year fan of the franchise, the nostalgia packed into this title has been powerful enough to bring a tear to my eye more than once.
In 2020, Coffee Talk utterly rocked my world with its Lofi beats and visual novel aesthetic. It was worth the wait for April’s Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly—Toge Productions managed to keep the same chill vibes while introducing even more loveable characters and bolstering the barista’s bag of tricks behind the bar. During times of stress, when life demands too much and too many choices need to be made, it can help to sit back and relax with a title in which gameplay takes a back seat.
As unpredictable as my obsessions were for the year, each is representative of a section of the gaming sphere that I love dearly. One for active adventuring and deep lore, one for wistful nostalgia of my younger years with the medium, and one for simple and atmospheric storytelling.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Lore and choice—even a well-camouflaged illusion of choice—are my weaknesses when it comes to video games. I want a game that I can quite literally spend hundreds of hours exploring. I want tomes to read, history to learn, and a small army of characters to meet. While I see more and more people taking to the internet to petition for shorter RPGs, I remain stubbornly on the other side of the fence. Life is busy and it may take me a year to finish, but I’m fine with a completely jam-packed and story-driven title.
I’ve seen it said by countless fans over the past few months, but Baldur’s Gate 3 is truly all of my gaming dreams made manifest. Its world brims with life, its characters feel like friends, and each playthrough can bring its own set of challenges and discoveries. When booting it up for the first time, the emotions I felt were identical to a certain date in 2011, starting Skyrim on my low-quality laptop in a dorm room at Florida State. I hung on each and every word spoken, lost myself in the confident notes of Borislav Slavov’s fantastical soundtrack, and found it more and more impossible to keep to my bedtime as I explored the Forgotten Realms.
Fiction is how we can cope and make sense of the world around us, and Baldur’s Gate 3 has proven to be a sturdy rock in a storm. Though the year was dotted with hardships and uncertainty, I was comforted to know that Astarion would be waiting in a land of escape.
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line
Rhythm games aren’t for everyone, but I’ve always found myself attracted to their ease and predictability. Growing up as a piano player, I can trust myself to follow the metronome and stick to the beat, even if my fingers don’t always cooperate. A much-used Dance Dance Revolution mat was a staple in my childhood bedroom, and my parents were supportive of my obsession, just thankful that I was getting some exercise in the midst of my gaming or book-reading fogs.
Since playing Final Fantasy VII in elementary school, I’ve been dedicated to the franchise, sure to play each new mainline title on release day and buy the soundtrack as soon as possible. Music helps me recall memories better than anything else—I can remember what song was playing when I was accepted into college, when I went through my first breakup, and even when I landed in Japan after accepting a position in Tokyo. Two out of three of those songs happened to be from the Final Fantasy series.
There have been other Theatrhythm titles released in the past, and one tempted me to purchase a special Theatrhyhtm Edition Nintendo 3DS back in the day. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line just happened to be released at the perfect time: just after I had moved to a new place and needed to plant my roots. Parked in front of my PlayStation, wrapped in a blanket on my comfy couch with snow falling outside, I spent the first few days after launch utterly bewitched by so many classic tracks from years past. Final Fantasy is so interwoven with so many events in my life, both large and small. Playing this title just happens to be another happy memory to add to the list.
Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly
I love coffee, storytelling, Lofi, and fantasy. Coffee Talk had my number from the very beginning, and the three years of waiting for the second installment was worth it. In my review, I noted how realistic the characters’ issues were, and plenty of those problems resonated with me in an instant during the first playthrough. From worrying about job security to loathing the neverending toxicity of social media, Coffee Talk feels like an understanding love letter to modern youth. The late-night shop is a place to kick up your feet, have a hot drink, and complain about life.
But the game isn’t gloomy or defeatist by any means. The characters have their issues to deal with, but they do deal with them—often thanks to a good friend or two. There’s optimism galore in Toge Productions’ world, and it’s the kind of rare optimism many people struggle to find now in a life lived behind screens. It feels warm and safe inside this alternate version of Seattle, and I couldn’t imagine 2023 without spending plenty of time there.
At VGKAMI, there’s nothing we like to do more than curl up with one of our favorite titles. We’re eternally thankful to video games as a form of media, as they bring us comfort, fulfillment, and tons of fun experiences. Without a doubt, this is certainly true for a great number of our readers as well! If a title has struck a crucial chord with you, feel free to drop a comment about it below. We’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences regarding the video games in 2023 for which you’re the most thankful.