Staff Picks: Orpheus Joshua’s Top 5 Games of 2023 – Trails, Lies & Dreams

Staff Picks: Orpheus Joshua’s Top 5 Games of 2023 – Trails, Lies & Dreams

2023 was not a wholly positive year for gaming when considering the severe degree of layoffs and other concerns throughout the industry. Yet, it’s undeniable that for several crowds, the releases throughout the year were some of the best in recent memory.

We all have our own takes and affinities for specific IPs and franchises, so many members of our staff have crafted top-five lists to highlight these numerous titles.

With all that said, let’s dive into my personal top five games of 2023.

5. Lies of P

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Lies of P is probably the launch I was most surprised by this year. I’m usually not a fan of Souls games since they all tend to feel similar in ways that I never particularly enjoy. I love the gameplay philosophies they embody, yet the creators at the helm seem to play it safe with ambiance, which doesn’t compel me.

In a few ways, Lies of P has the familiar Souls-like notions actualized, but almost everything about this title’s execution had me fall in love with it. The first and most vital facet is the movement. Lies of P feels distinct from several other Souls games I’ve played, such as Bloodborne and Dark Souls. The movement of Lies of P is delectably smooth and swift in ways that loosely remind me of Sekiro. However, Lies of P doesn’t punish you for learning at your own pace since there isn’t a mechanic that takes away integral facets as you die.

Lies of P also feels significantly more approachable and easier than FromSoftware’s titles, making it abundantly more welcoming. Plus, having no character creator played an immensely valuable role in tethering me to the world. Usually, I don’t feel immersed if I have to make my own character from scratch since it comes across as the character themself having no natural, initial place in the world. So, having a preestablished character as the protagonist, even if silent, does wonders for making me care about the narrative by extension.

Lies of P is familiarly dreary with its tone, like basically every other Souls game, but the soundtrack really stood out. The records you obtain for Hotel Krat are not only individually terrific, but they give the game an audio-centric identity that sets itself apart from genre contemporaries. Admittedly, the game does suffer from the typical Souls fault of not respwaning you near bosses in a few instances, but I was able to stomach it because of how much right it did in other avenues.

Moreover, the final boss is one of the best I’ve faced in any video game, with the second phase reminding me of Yozora’s second phase in Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind, the cream of the crop of boss battles in the entire medium. Having gotten the Platinum trophy across three playthroughs without ever getting tired of it, Lies of P deserves a place on this list.

4. The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails

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Save for the Crossbell duology being a collective notable exception, I’ve been a fan of almost every Nihon Falcom release. Ys, Trails, Zwei, Gagharv, and more have been pleasant, memorable experiences I deeply cherish. Still, I do miss the older-era Falcom titles. The developer is stuck with Ys and Trails on a predictable basis, which doesn’t make their growing catalog as exciting as it once was.

However, the newly localized title, The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails, reminds me of their past. This Trails spinoff, with a brand new cast in a brand new setting and action gameplay instead of turn-based systems, is a much-welcome reprieve. The gameplay loop with stages that never overstay their welcome, constant upgrades, satisfying collectibles, and a fantastic new game plus mode that adds a whole other upgrade system on its own makes this game absolutely phenomenal.

Plus, the food experience system akin to the Zwei series makes progression pretty unique, and the narrative was surprisingly grim, rivaling mainline Trails in terms of tone. Nayuta himself has also become one of my favorite protagonists, rivaling the likes of Rean, Kevin, and Estelle. Speaking of, I’m practically sure that Nayuta will connect to mainline Trails down the road. Still, on its own, it’s a terrific time.

3. Star Ocean The Second Story R

star ocean the second story r

Seeing the revival of the Star Ocean series after such a lukewarm fifth mainline entry and abandoned gacha game has been a relieving, exciting time for someone like me who’s followed this franchise for well over a decade. Star Ocean The Second Story was the odd one out for a while, with no modern release in the West despite it being the fan favorite. Thankfully, that’s been changed with an unexpected full remake that keeps the original’s charm intact.

Everything about this remake is spectacular. The sublime presentation, altered combat elements, and other changed gameplay facets make this my favorite example of a faithful remake while ensuring it isn’t a dull retread for veteran fans.

Granted, the core game itself has its flaws, notably the relatively weak narrative. However, the experience is more about the cast than anything else, and that grows increasingly prominent the further you progress. As one who cares more about the characters in JRPGs rather than the plot, the former definitely hit its mark in ways I appreciate even more now than when I played the PSP release a decade ago.

I never thought I’d ever say this, but the future of the Star Ocean series is looking brighter than ever, so I’m thrilled to see what it receives down the line. Here’s hoping for remakes of Blue Sphere and Till the End of Time. The latter is one of my favorite games of all time; the thought of seeing a fully revamped version has me salivating. 

2. Anonymous;Code

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Since my early teen years, the Science Adventure franchise has been close to my heart. While I first discovered it thanks to the terrific Steins;Gate anime adaptation, I’ve grown to enjoy almost every other entry more than that personal origin point. 

In fact, Chaos;Head Noah remains my favorite visual novel of time, with my favorite protagonist of all time, Takumi Nishijou. He has a personality you rarely see approached and pursued in media, especially in a protagonist role.

Granted, Anonymous;Code isn’t quite on the same level as Chaos;Head Noah for me, but it’s undoubtedly right behind it. This climactic entry is constantly magnificent thanks to a fantastic cast that has no stragglers in endearment and a continually gripping narrative that does not forget to highlight its characters. 

The story of Anoynmous;Code simultaneously caters to veteran fans while developing its own contained events, instilling it with wholehearted distinction. Albeit, there was an unnecessary overreliance on Steins;Gate chiefly for the sake of it, but aside from that gripe, everything about this journey was terrific, remaining fresh in my mind. Plus, the stellar English dub and quality localization gave the adventure necessary flair.

I’m thrilled to see further developments in the Science Adventure franchise, which, according to an interview we conducted with series creator Chiyomaru Shikura, includes a crossover of sorts

1. The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie

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Crafting a fulfilling coalescence involving numerous games worth of characters is no simple feat, so the fact that Trails into Reverie managed to do so in such masterful ways deserves no shortage of praise. Bringing key characters from the previous three sagas, Trails into Reverie manages not to be a stale bloat of vapid fanservice. Instead, it tells a new story that’s only possible using the past games as stepping stones. 

Trails is my second favorite gaming franchise of all time, and that’s primarily due to the characters. The utilization of the casts from Erebonia and Crossbell, alongside the new C route members, is superb, with everyone naturally fitting into this grand yet compact adventure. Still, what I found the most impressive on a personal level is how this entry actually made me care for the Crossbell characters, who, save for a handful of exceptions, I have found to be the weakest in terms of writing and player attachment. 

Moreover, the vast degree of engaging, optional gameplay content, the fully realized combat system, and the tearful finality of countless threads before moving on to a new journey in the land of Calvard only serve to collectively bolster this outstanding experience. 

Trails into Reverie is, without exaggeration, my favorite game of all time. It is a culmination of my love for this precious franchise and excels at displaying why I love JRPGs. 

 

So, that about does it for my top five video games of 2023. To be honest, I only really knew that Reverie would be on here before starting. The sheer number of releases throughout 2023 made it challenging to finalize a list of just five. 

Other games that deserve honorable mentions for being potential considerations on this list are the following:

I, unfortunately, missed out on a few games that could have made this list, like Octopath Traveler II and Master Detective Archives: Rain Code. Thankfully, I’ve been catching up somewhat and am at least almost done with Rain Code

Regardless, 2024 is looking to be another exciting year for video games, so let’s get reasonably hyped. 

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