It’s no understatement to say 2023 was one of the best years in video games to date. There was a consistent stream of big-name releases, all of high quality, among several surprises that would be any other year’s Game of the Year. Normally when I compile my list, I create what I call the “Devin Sevens” a list comprising my top seven games, most new but some old, that represent my year in gaming. This is often because I don’t have seven full games I can say are worthy to be considered the best the year has to offer but, this time around, I had more a full 10 and then some. Condensing the list took many difficult decisions and ordering them even more so. Ultimately, however, I’m very happy with the list I’ve compiled so without further ado, let’s dive directly into ATB-Gaming’s Top 10 Games of 2023.

10. Dredge

There’s really nothing like a satisfying fishing mini-game and Dredge has that in spades. Being a mixture of a Lovecraftian setting, a fishing game, and a management sim sporting a “Resident Evil 4” style inventory system, Dredge checked all the boxes of my crazed mind. The loop of fishing for unknown horrors to fund boat upgrades to sail to new locations to fish for newer and larger creatures scratched a particularly satisfying itch during the weekend I blasted through it. It’s short and sweet, and exactly the type of game that reminds me of what makes this industry so special. I mean, in how many other industries can something with such a mixture of ideas and concepts sit among your top 10 of the year? During a year of absolute bangers, Dredge still manages to stay above water as a unique experience that I can recommend to just about anyone.

9. Super Mario RPG (2023)

Every once in a while, between all the serious stories and rampant murderous gameplay, there’s a need for something cozy and comfortable. That’s what Super Mario RPG is: JRPG comfort food. As the unexpected child of Nintendo and SquareSoft, at the time of the original for SNES, Super Mario RPG has always been a quirky game that planted the seeds for what would be one of my favorite games of all time, Paper Mario. Going back to see how it all started for the first time and in re-imagined form has been an absolute delight as I can see just how much this game pioneered. Between the charming yet out-of-place new heroes and villains, and the often zany enemies that barely fit in the Mario world, Super Mario RPG is a special time and place game that I hope Nintendo sees more potential in going forward. That’s not to mention the traditional turn-based JRPG gameplay that’s just challenging enough to be meaningful yet relaxing to seasoned players of the genre. Between this release and the Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door “Remake” I hope Nintendo is finally ready to return to classic-style RPGs that don’t rely on gimmicks to sell.

8. Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed

Let’s hear three cheers for anime because, with each new entry of the Xenoblade series, Monolift continues to ramp up the anime factor. After the incredible journey offered by Xenoblade Chronicles last year, I had high expectations for the DLC, and, boy, did it deliver. XC3: Future Redeemed is the end cap to the three-game journey that serves not only to expand the lore of the base game but to reunite us with some older yet very familiar faces to tie up loose ends. For a Xenoblade fan, it’s the ultimate piece of fan service that provided us an additional 20ish hours of content, a more specific yet refined version of the XC3’s combat systems, and a vastly improved open-world experience. It distilled all my favorite parts of the series into a neat package that left me incredibly “full of beans” by the end so, as a fan, what more could you really ask for? (Heh, gotta love those battle quotes.)

7. Final Fantasy XVI

When I think back on my time with Final Fantasy XVI, I have a bad habit of thinking about what it’s not before what it is. Is it exactly what I wanted from a new mainline entry in the storied JRPG franchise? Not necessarily but what we got should be celebrated for all that it manages to achieve. Final Fantasy XVI is a spectacle. It’s bombastic and loud and emotional in all the right ways, pushing the medium to new heights as one of the most “epic” journeys one can take in gaming. It’s not an RPG, no it’s an action game first, but it is surely a Final Fantasy game worthy of the name. My only gripe or criticism of the game is that there’s not enough variety in combat and part of that comes from the unshakable feeling that a game so close to it manages to do it better, Final Fantasy VII Remake. I wish the game let me take control of Clive’s allies in combat, even if only for specific sections, similar to VII Remake, and I think all my issues would be satisfied. Alas, that’s not what we got but, at the end of the day, it’s one of the strongest experiences I’ve had out of the last few numbered Final Fantasy games. Between the insanity that is the Eikon fights, the darker narrative filled with expectation-breaking turns, and the shared companionship of Clive and his ruffians, Final Fantasy XVI will fold a special place among the series as a whole.

6. Fire Emblem Engage

2023 was an important year for me as a die-hard Fire Emblem fan. It simultaneously saw my resignation from Fire Emblem Heroes after many years of dedication and brought me one of my favorite entries in the series in recent years. Fire Emblem Engage is flawed, no doubt about it, but, at its core, it’s a love letter to fans that have stuck around over its many entries and is one the finest and most polished examples of Fire Emblem’s tactical RPG gameplay. Compared to its predecessors, the cast of characters is weaker and the story doesn’t find its footing until the 3rd act, a problem that pits it as the polar opposite of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, an entry rich in story but lacking in gameplay. Despite all that, however, Fire Emblem Engage is a blast to play, especially at harder difficulties, and forced me to truly play strategically, if you can believe it. With the return of the classic Weapon Triangle and the introduction of the new “Engage” mechanic that teams your characters with classic heroes from the series’ past, every battle was both punishing and heavenly for a boy like me. But more importantly, now that it’s on the mind once again, it may be time for a fresh, new playthrough.

5. Baldur’s Gate 3

Of all the games on this list, Baldur’s Gate 3 was a genuine surprise that ended up taking over my every waking moment for a month straight. Despite the RPG pedigree of Larian Studios, I had no anticipation for the game until after the word of mouth crept in from the PC release, and what an ignorant fool I almost was. Baldur’s Gate 3 is easily one of the greatest, if not the best, traditional RPGs I’ve ever experienced, which I attribute in equal parts to the masterful creative vision and high-quality production value that is often tempered in niche CRPGs. It seems silly but I don’t know that I could stomach an over 100-hour adventure without the full voice acting keeping my mind from wandering. Even without it, however, the game would still be a massive feat in RPG gameplay that marries the Dungeons and Dragons freedom to a single-player adventure anyone can experience. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that Baldur’s Gate 3 is sweeping most people’s Game of the Year 2023 top slot, even in a year with some of the biggest names in the industry. It was a truly unforgettable time as my arcane trickster, Kalneiros Milner, wine and dined Shadowheart and saved the world from pending destruction, but only because there was enough coin in it for him.

4. Lies of P

From Demon Souls to Elden Ring, the Soulsborne genre has been dominated by its original creators, From Software, for over a decade and, despite many attempts to clone that unique feel, next to none hold a candle to them until now. At its core, Lies of P is a masterful and flattering imitation of Bloodborne and it wears it on its sleeve. From the moment-to-moment feel of the game to the atmospheric, cryptic streets of Krat, Bloodborne’s influence oozes out of every corner but what sets Lies of Pitself apart, in my eyes, is the smart quality-of-life improvements that do make the experience less obtuse, which can be a negative for some, but, ultimately, create a finely tuned FromSoft experience in an insane Pinocchio package. Lies of P and the developer, Neowiz, understand what makes a Souls game. It’s not throwing endless nonsense at you to make the game “challenging”, as seen by most others that make the mistake but, instead, carefully hand-crafting a world with a defined set of rules and never breaking them so the player can learn and grow within its boundaries. Lies of P is the perfect example of a studio that can carry on the Soulsborne legacy and what the game teases at the end has me excited for whatever it is they have in store next.

3. Alan Wake 2

It’s impossible to discuss the merits of Alan Wake 2 without deeply tying the history of the studio, Remedy Entertainment, into the conversation. Alan Wake 2 is the pinnacle of all Remedy has built towards through the past decade, merging multimedia live-action segments naturally into a video game while making it, frankly, just feel right. Alan Wake 2 has an unmatched vibe that’s different from its original game but is still unmistakably Remedy and Sam Lake, the creative director of the studio. The journey of Saga and Alan returning to the eerie Bright Falls is one of the games that defined 2023 for me and exceeded my every expectation. From the shift to true survival horror to the dual-protagonist spin, every moment was a joy to play so much so that I couldn’t wait for more and immediately replayed Control afterwards. Alan Wake 2 is a masterclass in creative design and world-building that was able to elevate the original Alan Wake from a cult classic to something new and celebrated.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

For Tears of the Kingdom to not be my definitive game of the year for 2023 came as a surprise, especially to me when I sat down to write my list. This game was a rollercoaster of emotions, from doubt and anger to genuine love and excitement. For the first ten hours of Tears of the Kingdom, I was at odds with the game, unsure why so much effort went into it despite how much more it maintained from Breath of the Wild than I expected. For most of that first ten hours, Tears of the Kingdom is just Breath of the Wild again, the Great Sky Island is just the Great Plateau. But then, ten more hours were played and another ten, and so on because Tears of the Kingdom is masterful at everything it does. It surprised me just how much changing the toolset by giving the player creative freedom to build, phase through ceilings, and reverse time on objects could so vastly improve the experience.

At its core, Tear of the Kingdom is that extremely polished toolset unleashed into a remixed Breath of the Wild sandbox while adding in new sky islands and underground caverns. It’s a complete physics sandbox that takes everything mundane in the original, like the random inventory items, and gives them genuine purpose as anything and everything can be used as a piece of something greater. All I can say about Tears of the Kingdom is that’s is masterfully done and a game I keep coming back to live in for another 10 to 20 hours as it’s so digestible. It has some flaws, mainly in its structure still heavily using the Breath of the Wild formula but that’s minor to the overall experience. A part of me goes back and forth on what my Game of the Year should be and Tears of the Kingdom makes that conversation so incredibly difficult but, at the end of the day, Tears is a game that everyone deserves to experience as an industry touchpoint.

1. Resident Evil 4 Remake

It may be controversial to have a “remake” as my game of the year, especially in a year that will go down as one of the greatest in video game history but, even so, no game in 2023 overtook the immense joy I experienced in every waking moment I spent in Resident Evil 4 Remake. Just fighting my way to save the president’s daughter while overcoming hordes of parasite-infused enemies was one of the most immaculately designed and polished games I’ve played to date. Sure, the groundwork for Resident Evil 4 was laid out 18 years ago in what was, at the time, one of the core pillars of gaming that influenced years to come but the destiny of this remake was not set in stone and what was once a classic could have been “perverted” in any number of ways. It’s there that we can thank modern-day Capcom for continuing to treat their IP carefully and consistently over the last 6 or 7 years. Between Resident Evil 7, 8, and 2 Remake, I had high hopes for RE4 and it exceeded my every expectation and then some.

From the very first moments that you take control of the now jaded, action hero Leon S. Kennedy, you can see the modernization of this classic take hold. In many ways, it stays faithful to the original but, in others, it evolves past it and elevates to brand-new heights. From the gunplay to the story and characters, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t miss a beat. Characters from Ashley to Luis are more fleshed out and enjoyable and even antagonists such as Krauser are given more time to explore, a character I can’t even remember being in the original. Parts that made less sense have also been cut and new additions such as side questions help to create what is the perfect version of Resident Evil 4. It’s a tightly paced and fine-tuned Survival Horror experience with an over-the-top action movie filter that shows Capcom at its absolute finest. At the end of the day, Resident Evil 4 being my Game of the Year isn’t that deep or complicated. It checks all the boxes of what I find a fun video game and I find myself constantly wanting to replay it. In my eyes, Resident Evil 4 Remake is a perfect, capital “V”, video game.