As 2023 draws to a close, we at Gazettely have taken a look back at the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to role-playing games this year. It’s been an incredible 12 months for RPG fans, packed to the gills with hotly anticipated sequels, remakes of beloved classics, huge open worlds to explore, and innovative indies that are pushing the genre forward.
There’s truly something for everyone on this list – whether you want intense action, deep strategy gameplay, enchanting stories, or just a fun adventure to lose yourself in. We’ve laughed, cried, triumphed, and been awed over and over again while playing these games. And while it was incredibly tough to narrow it down, we feel this diverse collection of 10 RPGs represents the very best the genre had to offer in 2023.
So without further ado, here is Gazettely’s definitive list of the greatest RPG experiences you could have had over the past year. Let’s dive in and relive some of the most magical adventures in recent memory. We can’t wait to see you embark on these epic journeys for yourself!
10. Octopath Traveler 2: A Modern Twist on a Classic Formula
With its traditional JRPG turn-based gameplay, gorgeous HD-2D visuals, and engaging stories and characters, Octopath Traveler 2 makes the list at #10 for offering a phenomenal modern take on classic RPG mechanics. Rather than trying to revolutionize the genre, it instead delivers an impressive refinement of what worked so well in JRPG masterpieces of the 16-bit era.
In this outstanding sequel, players embark on an epic adventure across the continent of Solistia, taking control of one of eight unique travelers that soon cross paths in surprising ways. The ability to experience the journey from different narrative perspectives gives Octopath Traveler 2 incredible replay value. And its signature HD-2D graphical style, which blends retro pixel art with cutting edge lighting and textures, is more breathtaking than ever – you’ll frequently stop just to soak in the atmosphere of its beautiful environments.
But it’s the simplicity of the turn-based battles that we love most. Rather than getting bogged down with overly complex systems, Octopath Traveler 2 brings back the pure fun of taking turns to attack enemies with melee strikes, spells, skills, and items. Finding effective combinations tailored to your party is immensely satisfying. Topped off with one of the year’s best video game soundtracks, Octopath Traveler 2 is a must-play RPG that proves why the old ways still work so incredibly well.
“Embark on an underground adventure like no other in ‘Kingsvein’, a game that redefines tactical RPGs. Dive into our comprehensive Kingsvein Review to discover the depths of its immersive world, intricate combat, and rich lore. Click here to join the quest and unravel the secrets of Kingsvein’s alluring alien realm.”
9. Sea of Stars: A Heartfelt Retro Reimagining
Inspired by legendary 16-bit era RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, Sea of Stars stands out for its rich nostalgia and charm. With its vibrant pixel art style, playful humor, creative combat mechanics, and lovable party members, this indie packs a shocking amount of heart. Rarely has a turn-based RPG made us feel so connected to its world and characters.
You play as Valere and Zale, two “Children of the Solstice” whose quest takes them across a gorgeous overworld and into challenging dungeons brimming with clever enemies. The real-time flow of combat makes battles feel dynamic as you juggle meters and delay turns to maximize damage. Many fights play out almost like intricate puzzles. And Sabotage Studios further keeps you invested by letting Valere wield different fighting styles while Zale utilizes magical tomes to cast spells.
But it’s the ensemble cast that steals the show in Sea of Stars. Whether it’s the no-nonsense pirate captain or whimsical mushroom companion, interacting with these expressive characters as you learn their backstories is an absolute joy. This is 16-bit era storytelling and gameplay at its finest – boosted by incredible animation and one of the catchiest soundtracks ever. Sea of Stars will bring instant nostalgia to longtime RPG fans, while serving as the perfect introduction for newcomers seeking to discover why this genre has enthralled gamers for over 30 years.
8. Hogwarts Legacy: The Magic of the Wizarding World
Despite justified controversy surrounding harmful comments made by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, Hogwarts Legacy succeeds wildly as an immersive RPG experience. This ambitious open world game finally lets fans live out their ultimate fantasy of attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With its impressively deep customization, progression systems, and faithfully recreated locations, Hogwarts Legacy deserves recognition strictly for its accomplishments as a magical RPG adventure.
Stepping into the robes of a late-accepting Hogwarts student as they fully explore the famous castle and surrounding areas is instantly enchanting. Learning new spells and abilities feels impactful, especially when you use them to take down dark wizards or mythical beasts. An abundance of gear, talents, and cosmetics means you can create a character build uniquely your own. And small touches like class schedules, quidditch matches, secret passages, talking portraits, and hidden loot rewards maintain the illusion that you’re an actual pupil gaining power during your 5th year.
Make no mistake – experiencing this digitized slice of Hogwarts life firsthand is every Potterhead’s dream. Despite Rowling’s hurtful views, the world she created, now beautifully brought to life by Avalanche Software, overflows with magic and wonder. Hogwarts Legacy deserves praise on the merits of its immersive gameplay alone – and it will be remembered fondly by RPG fans seeking a one-of-a-kind wizarding adventure.
7. Diablo IV: The Darkest Crusade Yet
It’s no surprise that the latest entry in Blizzard’s seminal action RPG franchise brings intensely gory hack-and-slash chaos back to the forefront. But what is surprising is just how deep and engaging Diablo IV’s systems are for those seeking the long haul demon slaying journey. With five staggeringly dense regions to explore, randomized events and side dungeons, thousands of legendary items to hunt for, and Paragon endgame boards to max out – this sprawling adventure sinks its hooks in and refuses to let go.
Despite online issues marring its first Season, Diablo IV nails the most important aspect for an isometric ARPG: exceptionally fine-tuned combat dynamics enhanced by elemental reactions that feel fantastic. Whether you prefer obliterating hellspawn from a distance with Sorceress spells or getting up close and personal with the Barbarian’s seismic slams, carving through this dark, violent world never loses its visceral appeal. New PvP mode “Rite of Exile” also provides the ideal stage for testing builds against others.
For all the evolution in RPGs over the past decade, Diablo IV reiterates why the original formula still reigns supreme. Blizzard could have played it safe, but instead took bold risks in creating more depth than ever before, backed up by jaw-dropping visuals and effects. Demonic possession indeed – because once Diablo IV grips hold of your soul, it absolutely will not let go until you’ve reached the end of the eternal Shadow Wars conflict.
6. In Stars and Time: A Clever Twist on the Time Loop
While time loop narratives have become quite trendy in movies and shows recently, In Stars and Time stands out by integrating this clever mechanic directly into its gameplay. As the heroic Siffrin relieves the same final dungeon run repeatedly, you’re able relive key battles, experiment with strategies, and get to know the quirky personalities joining your party. It’s familiar RPG comfort food blended with a groundhog day style twist that keeps progression feeling fresh.
Beyond the hook of the looping structure allowing you to retry difficult sections or aim for better results, In Stars and Time thrives thanks to its lovable band of misfits. From Bonnie, an endearing tween who takes her adventuring far too seriously, to the brooding goth spellcaster Odile – the witty writing and character banter brings immense joy between battles. Much like classic JRPGs, it’s the interactions with this flawed but lovable party that leaves a lasting impression.
For anyone fatigued by the overabundance of 100+ hour RPG epics over the past decade, this indie darling delivers a concise and potent experience that can be finished in under 30 hours. Yet its memorable storytelling and characters linger long afterwards, urging replay just to spend more time with these new yet familiar friends. For a game centered around repetition, it’s a testament to In Stars and Time’s abundant charm that those loops never grow old.
5. Super Mario RPG: Everyone’s First RPG
25+ years after first gracing the SNES and blowing gamers’ minds by mashing up Mario’s platforming with Final Fantasy inspired RPG combat, Super Mario RPG has been gloriously remade for the Switch. And this lovingly crafted update serves as the perfect introduction for anyone seeking to understand why so many fell head over heels for the genre back in the ‘90s. Its cheerful world brimming with Toads, friendly faces, and classic enemies makes for one of gaming’s warmest comfort blankets.
Rather than complex stats or systems, Super Mario RPG keeps things simple with timed hits to maximize damage and transparent explanations of weaknesses. Battling iconic foes feels like a natural extension of jumping on Goombas or Koopas outside of combat. Meanwhile, the sparse but charming narrative hits the right nostalgic notes for longtime Nintendo fans, boosted by stellar voice acting and a vibrant new visual style.
Of all the classics brought back this year, Super Mario RPG remains the most inviting and accessible by far. Modern gamers unfamiliar with turn-based systems can ease right in while older fans get to relieve cherished memories. Nintendo’s mascots feel right at home in this genre. For many, this unexpected crossover marked the beginning of an RPG addiction that persists decades later. And now a new generation can discover the origination point of that obsession.
4. Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty – The Redemption Arc Completed
Considering it began life two years ago as one of gaming’s biggest disasters, Cyberpunk 2077 completing its road to redemption thanks to the phenomenal Phantom Liberty expansion is nothing short of extraordinary. The open world sci-fi thriller that initially promised so much finally delivers thanks to this ambitious DLC.
Set after the events of the main campaign, you once again take control of V in a completely bespoke adventure centered around a secret spy plot threatening Night City. After establishing engaging new characters, Phantom Liberty centers on a series of thrilling linear levels with set pieces that rival a Hollywood film. We’re talking death-defying jumps between skyscrapers, ax fights on top of cars racing at 100 mph, and story choices that made our jaws hit the floor.
But it’s the pillars holding these bombastic moments together that make the expansion shine. Roaming the open world in your tricked out quadra feels incredible thanks to new vehicle customization perks and expertly tuned driving mechanics. And refined gunplay along with additional cyberware abilities give you more options to approach firefights your way. Phantom Liberty doesn’t just offer 10 hours of slick action – it also completes Cyberpunk 2077’s redemption by finally delivering the game promised years ago.
3. Starfield: To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before
Very few games this decade have conjured a sense of limitless possibilities quite like Starfield. Bethesda’s first new IP in 25 years removes any shackles to offer complete freedom in charting your own course as an adventurous space explorer. With over 1,000 planets across 100 unique star systems to investigate, as well as dynamically generated encounters and rewards to uncover as you choose – this staggering creation supported by the talented minds at Arkane allows for near-endless customization and roleplaying potential.
Will you take up honest work as a intergalactic delivery driver, never worrying about conflicts beyond fuel costs and occasional space pirates? Attempt to eke out a living through less than lawful means by double-crossing factions and stripping valuable salvage from derelict satellites? Or serve dutifully as a Sol alliance officer tasked with establishing communication networks on newly discovered worlds and tracing signals of unknown origin? The beauty of Starfield is that all these paths and more are readily available depending on your preferred playstyle.
Very few games manage to truly offer the freedom to live a virtual second life tailored uniquely to you. Yet against all odds, Bethesda Austin’s incredibly ambitious vision has manifested as a triumph. Starfield assuredly propels the space exploration RPG concept lightyears ahead to serve as the new gold standard. To infinity and beyond, fellow travelers! Fortune and glory surely await us all in those stars.
2. Final Fantasy XVI: A Spectacular Evolution
While embodying the DNA of classic Final Fantasy entries with its summons, crystals, sweeping score, and kingdom-threatening villains – Final Fantasy XVI confidently charts its own groundbreaking path that signals a bright future for the long-running RPG icon. Rather than remaining shackled to outdated foundations that defined earlier eras, Square Enix’s latest raises the bar exponentially for presentation and real-time combat.
Gone are simple turn-based battles. In their place lies a blisteringly fast, fluid fighting system centered around weapon combos, elemental magic attacks, and summoning Eikons for screen-shattering super moves straight out of an anime. Whether battling soldiers mano-a-mano or facing towering bosses, FF16’s combat never fails to electrify.
And serving as its basis, the timeless story of brotherhood, love, revenge, and redemption stands among the most poignant in Final Fantasy history. Voice acting and facial capture reach new heights for the series, selling emotional gut punches around every corner. Jaw-dropping vistas you can get lost in for hours also showcase the visual splendor possible with cutting-edge tech.
Make no mistake, Final Fantasy XVI represents a line in the sand for Square Enix’s capabilities in crafting cinematic narrative adventures. Its combat raises the bar exponentially going forward. And the moving tale of Clive Rosfield overcoming inner demons shows a sophistication absent from most AAA games. Final Fantasy XVI isn’t just one of the most technically proficient and ambitious RPG efforts of this era – its emotional core strikes right at the heart to deliver an unforgettable experience destined to be discussed for years.
1. Baldur’s Gate III: The New Gold Standard
It feels fitting that in the same year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original Baldur’s Gate, Larian Studios releases a sequel that immediately cements itself as the crowning achievement in video game roleplaying, narrative branching, and player agency. Simply put, Baldur’s Gate 3 represents a titanic leap forward that creates an unprecedented benchmark. Nothing else comes close in terms of the breadth of freedom afforded to shape precisely the adventure you desire through choices spanning critical decision points to seemingly innocuous dialogue.
Backed by unprecedented budget and development time, Baldur’s Gate 3 realizes the full scope of Dungeons & Dragons lore and mechanics in enthralling fashion. Whether you wish to double-cross allies as an untrustworthy devil-manipulating Warlock or defend the weak as a noble paladin – the combinations of classes, races, companions, skills, spells, and story arcs results in limitless variation. Larian leaves no stone unturned in accounting for player preference. Matching that commitment to choice is some of gaming’s most impressive writing and voice acting that lures even non-RPG players into the Forgotten Realms’ immersive embrace.
While accusations of it pandering to niche hardcore fans hold merit, the mainstream crossover appeal achieved by memes stemming from romance subplots prove Baldur’s Gate 3 succeeding as pure interactive fantasy wish fulfillment unmatched in entertainment mediums. It may take another 25 years to top this staggeringly reactive CRPG masterwork that eclipses all peers. For now, Larian’s unprecedented triumph serves as the apex of roleplaying excellence that shan’t be matched anytime soon. The throne awaits you, heroes…provided you survive long enough to claim it.