RPG Site Best of 2023 Awards - our picks for the best of the year
2023 was quite a momentous year for RPGs, and video games in general. The RPG release slate got hot early with Fire Emblem Engage and Octopath Traveler II, and things didn't let up all year. We saw big Japanese releases like Final Fantasy XVI and big Western releases like Baldur's Gate 3. We saw major expansions in Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. We also saw numerous independent efforts like Sea of Stars and World of Horror. There were titles from all across the RPG spectrum, and we at RPG Site had the fortunate opportunity to try and choose which RPGs were the best of the year.
In late December, the RPG Site staff got together to deliberate all of the RPG releases of 2023 for our RPG Site Best of 2023 Awards, our annual feature where we rank the best RPGs of the last year.
How RPG Site's End-of-the-Year Awards Work
If you've read through any previous end-of-the-year write-up from RPG Site, the general format should seem mostly the same -- our process has remained largely the same since 2018, only with minor tweaks each year. If you're new to the way we rank things, here's the run-down:
- First, we'll link a special edition of our Tetracast podcast, where we record all of the deliberations that resulted in the listings you'll find below. If you're curious how one game beat out another in any specific category, you can listen to exactly how the discussion unfolded!
- Second, there will be several Category Awards that highlight games that exhibit some specific excellence. These are most like the specific awards you'll find from other publications, but with an RPG-focused spin, of course.
- Note that for 2023, we have removed two categories: Best Non-RPG and Best Ongoing Support. We felt that these games, while deserving to be commended, didn't quite fit in with the rest of our deliberations.
- Past the category awards, you'll find five runners-up, games that we recognize as some of the best of the year, but did not land into our Top Five. You can think of these like our Top-Ten-but-Not-Top-Five, though that's a bit of a mouthful.
- Then we list our Top Five RPG releases of the year, specifically the four games which ended up falling just short of our overall winner, but remain RPG of the Year-caliber releases in their own right.
- Finally, at the very end, we list out the official RPG Site RPG of the Year 2023.
A couple of final important notes to consider:
- Our list includes games released between December 2022 and November 2023. This way we make sure late releases don't get completely snubbed due to lack of time to play. So titles released in December 2023 will be eligible in our 2024 deliberations.
- Only official English releases are eligible. Fan translations or imports might be discussed in passing during our podcast, but RPGs will only be in official contention with a formal English release.
- Outside of our overall RPG of the Year, our list is unranked within the Top Five and Top Ten categories.
- As always, we include some RPG-adjacent titles.
We also enjoy comparing our results with our readers! In the month of December, we hosted a 2023 Reader's Choice Poll via our Twitter page to determine your favorite RPGs of the year, along with your most anticipated RPGs for 2023. Finally, we've also published our own staff list of RPG Site's most anticipated RPGs of 2024 to round out our end-of-the-year feature slate.
As always, we start out the deliberations by listing out 50 or so RPGs that were released over the year with the goal of determining not only our Category winners, but our main RPG of the Year list as well. We started with a long list of games from across the RPG Site staff nominations - basically a complete listing of any game that our staff felt deserved to be in consideration.
Then we all whittled that list down to a list of about 20 contending games. From there, we narrowed it down to a final ten, then a final five, and finally a winner. Every year it's an incredibly grueling process with fervent discussions at practically every cut-off point about what games should remain in contention and which should be removed from the list. Because some of the discussion came down to the wire, for this year we've even included the Runner-Up in each of our categories.
Here's the good news: you can listen in to our entire hours-long deliberation on a special edition of our Tetracast podcast, because we recorded the entire thing. Find that special Best of 2023 edition of the Tetracast embedded below or available via iTunes or Google Podcasts, or Spotify! Also on YouTube!
- 0:00 - Intro
- 4:02 - A Look Back at 2023 and Outline
- 16:37 - Category Award Overview
- 18:52 - Best Re-release
- 1:07:46 - Best Writing or Storytelling
- 3:01:07 - Best Art
- 3:58:36 - Best Design and Immersion
- 4:41:28 - Best Music
- 5:47:33 - RPG of the Year Initial Cut
- 6:32:43 - RPG of the Year Top 10
- 7:30:02 - RPG of the Year Top 5
- 7:38:08 - RPG of the Year 2023
- 8:00:37 - Thank You and Signoff
Over the last few years, our small list of commendations for RPGs that excelled in one specific way or another has grown into a full-blown award slate of its own. While a game may not rank highly amongst our RPG of the Year listing, it might deserve mention for one specific thing that it does better than anything else.
One category, in particular, is worth calling out ahead of time - Best Remaster or Re-Release. For this category, the RPG Site Staff picks the best remaster or re-release of the year to recognize, but with a caveat that the chosen title will not be found in our main list Top Ten list. Ultimately. this category allows us to look at games that were originally released prior to 2023, but made newly available or refreshed in some way worth commending. However, we decided that we wanted to keep our Top Ten RPGs of 2023 for brand-new games re-released within that year, even though a remaster might be excellent. So, in short, re-releases are considered for the category award, but not among our Top Ten list itself.
Best Remaster or Re-release - Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Runner-Up: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion
Star Ocean: The Second Story R was an easy favorite to win in this category. In fact, this re-release makes so many substantial changes to battle mechanics, progression systems, map design, and quality-of-life, that much of our deliberation was spent deciding if this game should actually be considered in our main list of 2023 games for a Top Ten spot. Ultimately, we decided to crown The Second Story R as a re-release — separate from brand-new titles in our top ten — but let us be clear: Star Ocean: The Second Story R is an excellent example of a re-release that understood the assignment.
The original Star Ocean 2 is well-regarded for many things, including a charming cast of characters, energetic combat, excellent presentation, and dense progression systems. The team at Gemdrops knew exactly what to improve and what to tweak in its remake. The character art is better than ever, several quality-of-life additions throughout iron out nearly all of the rough spots of the original, new battle system mechanics improve combat encounters by a significant degree, and many of the game's Item Creation & Skill systems have been overhauled to be much more intuitive than before. Breaking the game wide open has never been easier!
All in all, Star Ocean: The Second Story R is an excellent example of what a re-release should be. It's one of those re-releases that more-or-less completely replaces the original with no caveats. If you have yet to play Star Ocean 2, go straight to The Second Story R, and don't look back. [Adam Vitale]
Best Writing - In Stars and Time
Runner-Up: Baldur's Gate 3
In Stars and Time's greatest strength is its narrative. Starting at the end of a journey, with a pre-developed cast who've already grown to feel like a family to each other. From that base, the main character Siffrin is thrown into a time loop. Turning a simple RPG Maker game into a meta-narrative wherein the main character's thoughts and feelings are reflected upon the player. As the repetition becomes grating, so do the formerly cute jokes as Sif becomes disaffected and out of touch with themselves. In a story about relationships, memories, and our converging paths through life, In Stars And Time masterfully makes use of the medium of video games to deliver a story in a way, that wouldn't feel anywhere as impactful any other way. [Paige Chamberlain]
Best Art - World of Horror
Runner-Up: Baldur's Gate 3
While there were many visually impressive RPGs in 2023, there was a single game that truly caught your attention the moment you saw it. World of Horror finally saw its full release out of early access this year and regardless if you jive with its roguelike structure, it is undeniable that its artstyle distinguishes itself from the rest of its RPG peers.
Polish developer Paweł Koźmiński produced its 1-bit and 2-bit art in MS Paint in a way that captured the visual appeal of early Macintosh games. He applied this approach to a rural Japanese setting that’s filled with mythological horrors. Though its “default” color palette is grayscale, there are a plethora of interchangeable color palettes to alter the visual feel of your experience to your liking. It’s a bold approach that provides World of Horror its own unforgettable identity for years to come. [Josh Torres]
Best Music - Octopath Traveler II
Runner-Up: Fate/Samurai Remnant
As always, choosing Best Music in a year of fantastic RPG releases feels like picking a favorite child. So, so many of the RPGs showcased on this page, and even several not represented here, had excellent soundtracks by numerous talented composers and musicians. But in the end, Yasunori Nishiki's work on Octopath Traveler II stands above the rest in 2023.
With eight separate storylines, Nishiki had his work cut out for him in creating memorable and varied music across each character in the game. Octopath Traveler II has it all: fantastic battle themes, moving character melodies, excellent use of leitmotifs at key moments of the game, and use of full-fledged orchestras. With more than 120 musicians and sound engineers credited on the game, both in Japan and the U.S., the score for Octopath Traveler II is an astounding collaborative achievement. It goes without saying that with are looking forward to what Nishiki and his team work on next. [Adam Vitale]
Best Design and Immersion - The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Runner-Up: Baldur's Gate 3
Admittedly, and somewhat intentionally, this category is a bit up to interpretation. We use this category at RPG Site to spotlight a game with some specific intent in its game design or structure that’s worth recognizing. This year, we have to give props to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
The addition of a lite builder mode to a Zelda title is probably not something most people expected for The Sequel to Breath of the Wild. And even when the Ultrahand mechanic was first shown off publically, reactions at the time were somewhat apprehensive about how well it all would be incorporated into the BotW formula. Coming away from it months later, though, it's more-or-less brilliantly executed.
Breath of the Wild already felt a bit like an immersive sim at times, allowing for creative solutions to the game's various shrine puzzles and navigation elements. Ultrahand, as some would put it, feels like "adding verbs" to the game's vocabulary, allowing a further dimension of player freedom and creativity. Whether it's solving even more devious shrine puzzles, navigating the new sky or underground locations, or getting a lost Korok back to their friend, Tears of the Kingdom comes out on top as our winner for Best Design and Immersion. [Adam Vitale]
These next five titles made their way into our Top Ten RPGs of 2023, but did not quite reach our Top Five. Either they had one specific minor shortcoming or they were simply beaten out by later games on this list. However, they remain excellent games and are all titles we would highly recommend as some of the best of the year. In no particular order, our Runners-Up for RPG of the Year 2023 are as follows:
Fate/Samurai Remnant - Top Ten of 2023
Fans of Type-Moon have been eating well in recent years, and Fate/Samurai Remnant is one of the tastier, more novel dishes in that banquet. Koei Tecmo and Omega Force have not only managed to adapt familiar Musou gameplay mechanics suited to the Fate world of superpowered Servants and Holy Grail Wars, but also created what might be the best gateway game to Fate itself, short of reading a visual novel that isn’t officially available outside Japan. Where most other Fate spin-offs tend to focus on their twists on a presumed-familiar Fate structure, Fate/Samurai Remnant brings things back to basics by grounding its Waxing Moon Ritual in a different, underexplored setting and surrounding protagonist Miyamoto Iori with new characters capable of introducing Fate to a player unfamiliar with years of built-up lore and cultural spillover.
And beyond its ties to a larger franchise, Fate/Samurai Remnant stands alone well, with a strong sense of historical identity, an endearing cast of characters, a cohesive narrative that unfolds over three distinct routes, and the famous focus on character that’s helped Fate grow from humble doujin routes into a globally popular multiverse. [Josh Tolentino]
Lies of P - Top Ten of 2023
Much of the discussion surrounding Souls-like games tends to be focused on how well or how poorly any given Souls-like fits in what many see as the genre From Software built. Whether that’s fair or not is often a moot point: They’re the standards by which nearly any new game aiming for similar targets is judged. By that measure, though, Lies of P is an admirable and engaging second fiddle to the best of From’s output.
Its responsive gameplay and tight, almost obsessive focus on parrying are tempered by a generally friendlier approach to frustration and its fascinating weapon customization options. And it’s all set against the grim, yet goofy background of a seeming universe of public domain fairy tale figures (play ‘till you hit the credits teaser!), led by the titular P (for Pinnochio, if you haven’t already guessed). Lies of P may be a little too faithful a devotee to truly take Bloodborne’s house away from it, but it lives in that same space so well that it might be considered a roommate of honor. [Josh Tolentino]
Lies of P placed 10th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2023.
Developer Gunfire Games impressed all the RPG Site staff members that got a chance to play Remnant II. It’s a remarkable sequel that overhauls many of the systems from its predecessor, Remnant: From the Ashes, in an intelligent, creative manner. Experimenting with its new dual-class approach to Archetypes can lead to many hours of fun theorycrafting in how weapons, perks, and modifiers can synergize with one another to annihilate enemies in new ways.
Plus, Remnant II further refines the procedurally generated environments to a degree that it borderline feels like all the tilesets were handcrafted into the map design organically. Exploring each world and biome doesn’t feel like it was thrown together haphazardly; it simply feels like everything fits without players actively noticing it unless they’ve run that same world dozens of times. Remnant II retains the core strengths of what made Remnant: From the Ashes memorable, and expands upon it to craft an experience that is simply fun to play immediately every time you boot it up. [Josh Torres]
Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society - Top Ten of 2023
Nippon Ichi Software impressed us in 2018 when Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk ended up on our Top Five of that year; to the point where I personally went out of my way to play Labyrinth of Galleria: The Moon Society’s Japanese release back in 2020. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for the proper chance to give the sequel it's just dues. Good sequels can expand upon what made the original beloved to begin with, but Galleria’s greatest strength is what it does so very differently from not just its predecessor - but almost any other game in the medium.
To specify the exact reasons how and why would be to spoil the surprise. What we can say is that refinements to the game’s core gameplay loop, some impressive storytelling, and some truly inspired core game design changes make Labyrinth of Galleria an unforgettable experience. Not everything lands as strongly for everyone, but it’s a testament to its success that Galleria has managed to make it on our Top Ten in what surely must be one of the most stacked years for RPG gaming. [James Galizio]
Wild Hearts - Top Ten of 2023
For as popular as Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise has been, there have never truly been any competitors that have managed to come anywhere close to the quality that the father of the Hunting Action sub-genre has offered - until now. As a longtime fan of Monster Hunter, Wild Hearts managed what I’d previously thought was impossible; offering a game that could stand toe-to-toe with Capcom’s best.
Unfortunately, for how good Wild Hearts is, numerous issues did hold it back in the end; uneven graphics, exceptionally poor performance on both consoles and PC, and numerous little bugs; including a frankly inexcusable rendering bug on PC for certain systems that took weeks to be patched. That being said, the game - while still not in a perfect, or even fully acceptable state - has improved in the months since launch, and for those of on staff who have played it, the game comes with our hearty recommendation. [James Galizio]
Finally, we have our Top Five RPGs of 2023. These are the cream of the crop, and all RPG of the Year contenders. If our discussions were held again, any one of these titles could have genuinely been our RPG of the Year for 2023. With the exception of our Winner listed at the very end, the following are RPG Site's Top Five RPGs of 2023:
Wandering Sword - Top Five of 2023
It feels like every year there is at least one game that seemingly comes out of nowhere and jumps straight into our hearts. This year, that RPG was Wandering Sword, an indie-scale pixel-art RPG from Chinese developer The Swordman Studio. Inspired by Chinese Wuxia martial arts stories, this RPG places you in the shoes of Yuwen Yi, a young martial artist who ultimately finds himself in the center of a massive nationwide conflict involving varying sects and cults of Jianghu.
While the Wuxia-inspired storyline, characters, and locale are all interesting and memorable in their own right, one of the most compelling components of Wandering Sword is its open-ended structure and non-linear character progression. Rather than gaining levels or stats directly by battling, you instead gain stats and stronger abilities by meeting various martial arts masters and learning from them - very appropriate for the subject matter at hand. You also have the freedom to explore essentially anywhere from the game's opening section. Where do you find party members or masters to learn from? Just pick a direction go explore! There's a clear front-to-back storyline in place, but a lot of the game's open-ended design allows players to satiate their wanderlust in a beautiful pixel-art world. Honestly, there aren't many games quite like Wandering Sword.
Although an excellent and unique RPG already, some usability issues could use some polish - things like localization quality, user interface, and gamepad controls. However, since launch, The Swordman Studio has already bolstered the game significantly with updates, and the studio has even shared a roadmap for more future work, so it looks like Wandering Sword will only get better with time. [Adam Vitale]
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty - Top Five of 2023
It’s a rare game that gets a second chance to make a first impression on the public, but the release of Phantom Liberty netted CD Projekt RED that opportunity for Cyberpunk 2077. There’s no denying the game needed it, as even if you were on team “Cyberpunk was always good,” the game’s rough launch had put into place a narrative that took over three years to fully clear out.
CD Projekt RED made good on some of its earlier, unfulfilled promises by taking the opportunity of Cyberpunk 2077’s first and only expansion to go back to the drawing board on most of the game’s systems as well. The 2.0 patch is practically inseparable from Phantom Liberty, as its ground-up reworking of virtually all of the game’s progression and character building makes the game feel very different from the one players got their hands on back at launch. Cyberpunk 2077 was good in 2020, but it’s vastly better in 2023.
Nowhere else is that felt than in Phantom Liberty and its new environs of Dogtown. The confidence of years spent polishing out the original release’s kinks can be seen in Phantom Liberty’s excellent mission design, to the point that even its less-relevant gig missions carry more storytelling weight than some of the launch-era main storyline quests. Phantom Liberty uses its main plot to evoke the energy of a high-stakes spy mission in dangerous territory - a far cry from the core plot - but never forgets the cyberpunk atmosphere lying at the game’s heart. It may be a new, less familiar side of Night City, but Phantom Liberty, like the game it expands on, is still about the flourishing, broken society its people are trapped in, surrounding them with hard choices and harder consequences. [Josh Tolentino]
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty placed 6th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2023.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Top Five of 2023
How do you follow up on one of the most groundbreaking games in recent memory? We've been looking forward to The Sequel to Breath of the Wild for years, but we could only imagine how it would tweak the formula of the original until shortly before the game was released.
As our winner of Best Design and Immersion due to the well-incorporated Ultrahand mechanic, Tears of the Kingdom stands tall among the best games of 2023 while doing what some may though to have been impossible, matching or even surpassing Breath of the Wild. Not only is Ultrahand a fantastic addition to the formula, but several other components of the game also received some polish in terms of the game's structure and storyline. Nintendo took an excellent game and iterated on it remarkably.
Tears of the Kingdom may not fit as nicely into the 'RPG' genre bucket as other games on this list do. But it's pretty evident that it is the most RPG the series has been, possibly since Adventure of Link. With numerous side quests & side adventures, character progression through completing shrines & equipment upgrades, player choice, resource management, and more, Tears of the Kingdom is all-around excellent. Now we play the waiting game once again to see if Nintendo can one-up themselves yet again in the next Zelda entry. [Adam Vitale]
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom placed 9th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2023.
Octopath Traveler II - Top Five of 2023
We don’t officially rank our RPG of the Year lists between 1 and 10, but if we did, Octopath Traveler II would be a clear overall runner-up for our 2023 deliberations, and is a worthy Game of the Year in its own right. When Octopath Traveler II was announced, many of us had varying opinions on how the follow-up could address the rough edges of the original game. Square Enix and Team Asano smartly took what worked in the first game, and polished it up to a mirror shine without compromising the series identity. Nothing was completely overhauled, but virtually every little component was addressed and made that much better.
Small, smart gameplay additions and a huge step up in story-telling confidence is what nearly vaulted Octopath Traveler II to the top of our list. On the gameplay front, latent powers added one final piece to the solid battle gameplay of the original, and exploration systems like the day and night cycle, two path actions per character, even the use of boats helped to make micro-puzzles during every moment of exploration outside of combat. Personally, I constantly found excuses to revisit old cities to try to find people to steal from, Hikari abilities to learn, locate new jobs or job shrines, or just browse the items to buy from various NPCs.
However, the elevation in writing is the keystone of Octopath Traveler II’s success. Every single one of the eight stories is compelling, and many of us would struggle to pick a favorite from numerous excellent candidates. From Partitio’s boundless generosity and attempting to do whatever he can to improve the lives of those around him, to the bittersweet-but-hopeful writing around Castti trying to regain her memories as she confronts a former ally, nearly every story chapter felt worthwhile.
Finally, Yasunori Nishiki’s soundtrack is just as incredible and immaculate as the original game — the one place we thought the sequel couldn’t possibly improve on but managed to anyway — also winning our Category Award for Best Music. From Partitio’s smooth sax perfectly capturing his gentle nature, to Agnea’s evolving Song of Hope, to the imminent energy and sadness of Ochette’s final story encounter, we're already feeling nostalgic for a game we played only a few short months ago. [Bryan Vitale]
Octopath Traveler II placed 2nd in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2023.
Sometimes here at RPG Site, our chosen RPG of the Year is something a little unexpected (just ask 2019's SaGa Scarlet Grace Ambitions or 2021's Fantasian). But sometimes, there's a game that so clearly deserves the label of RPG of the Year that its position here was never really ever in doubt. Baldur's Gate 3 is our choice as the Best RPG of 2023.
There are many reasons to adore Baldur's Gate 3. It has a wonderful cast of complex and well-written characters, both in and out of the playable party. It has an excellent and flexible tactical turn-based combat system. It has varying interesting and interwoven quests with numerous avenues in how to approach completing them. The game's visual presentation, music, and voice-work are all outstanding. Player choice and consequence can be found everywhere. The game is even fully playable in multiplayer with friends.
When Baldur's Gate 3 was first announced (at a Google Stadia event even, remember that?), the response towards it was considerably more muted than its overwhelming praise now. Despite Larian's good track record, having a new developer on a beloved CRPG franchise nearly 20 years removed from its predecessor wasn't an automatic homerun to many. But clearly, Larian knew what they signed up for, and Baldur's Gate 3 feels like it came at a very opportune time. Western-style RPGs of this kind have been more sparse in recent years, and those longing for a game like this struck gold. The three-year Early Access period did wonders in constructing a dense RPG while considering early purchaser feedback, and Larian continues to both polish out rough spots while adding bits of new content with persisting game updates.
We feel Baldur's Gate 3 will be a game talked about for years and years. Its impact on the RPG community is undeniable, and the game also easily ran away with the top spot in our Reader Poll as our readers' favorite RPG of the year.
Larian RPGs have been excellent and well-regarded for years now — Divinity Original Sin 2 was in our Top Five in a packed 2017 — but Baldur's Gate 3 feels like the studio's coming out party. It goes without saying that we will wait patiently for whatever Larian decides to do next.
Baldur's Gate 3 placed 1st in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2023.