THE MAGIC RAIN’s Best Video Games Of 2023

2023 has been a rollercoaster of a year for the gaming industry. On one hand, players enjoyed one of the most packed game release years since the pandemic grinded everything to a halt a few years ago. On the other hand, the industry continues to face ceaseless layoffs and the threat of AI replacing creatives has never been more apparent. 

Amidst these uncertainties, it has never been clearer that great games are driven by great people. From publishers supporting strong creative visions, to studios understanding the needs of modern day gamers, down to marketing departments creating a new life for their games online. 

Here are the games that have risen to the top of THE MAGIC RAIN’s writers desk (in no particular order!)

1. Baldur’s Gate 3 (Larian Studios)

The undisputed game of the year, Baldur’s Gate 3 tops our list for a couple of obvious reasons. The hundreds of hours of engaging gameplay, dynamic encounters that shapeshift with every choice you make, strategic mechanics that demand to be mastered, nuanced and relatable character writing, constant post-launch support from the studio — and the list could go on forever. 

However, the true magic of Baldur’s Gate 3 transcends its medium. In capturing the fantasy and chaos of Dungeons & Dragons on screen, Larian Studios has opened the floodgates to a whole new generation of D&D fans. Even months after the game’s initial release, fans continue to start new adventures, trade rare encounters and meta-breaking tips, and even bring their newly found love to the tabletop. For those reasons, Baldur’s Gate 3 is not just our game of the year; it’s going to be the game to beat for many years to come. — Nathalie 

2. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo)

It’s hard to imagine any Zelda game being able to top The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but Tears of the Kingdom manages to make its predecessor look like a poor first draft. Tears of the Kingdom is a marvel in gaming innovation that makes creativity accessible; boasting an incredibly powerful physics engine that encourages the most conservative players to think outside the box, while heavily rewarding the players that are willing to push the boundaries of their imagination. 

Although lacking in narrative — an unfortunate commonality between most Zelda games — Tears of the Kingdom more than makes up for it with a massive open world that’s three times larger than the first game, and a new verticality in movement that allows players to soar through the skies and dive into the depths in one single movement. For those looking for a truly open world experience, Tears of the Kingdom is a must-play. — Nathalie 

3. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (Insomniac Games)

The 2 in Spider-Man 2 means a lot of things in this sequel, and if you grew up with Spider-Man like I did, it is going to hit you differently than most other gamers. Insomniac Games has created a very believable world where 2 Spider-Man’s can exist, coupled with the essence that makes them uniquely relatable.

Gameplay-wise, there are 2 heroes for you to swap freely between alongside 2 playstyles for each hero. The villains also come in the form of an iconic pair, Kraven and Venom, which adds to the diverse interactions between characters (think Miles and Venom or Kraven). Duality being the main theme of this instalment feeds nicely into the future plans of the Marvel universe, with major teases of [redacted] and [redacted].

A technical showcase of the highest order, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 delivers thrilling, intense battles without sacrificing thoughtful and genuine heartfelt storytelling. Sadly, it is only the 2nd best game this year, just like its predecessor. Lightning does strike twice but maybe, just maybe, third time’s the charm. — CM Char

4. Resident Evil 4 Remake (Capcom)

When Capcom revealed this project, I was highly skeptical because I played the original Resident Evil 4 multiple times and it was already a perfect game. Imagine the irony I am feeling now as I place it on my personal top 3 games of 2023, and what an excellent job Capcom did with remaking one of the best games of all time. Surpassing the original source of inspiration notwithstanding, it does a nigh impossible balancing act of walking the fine line between action and horror.

Faithfully capturing the spirit and the legacy of its previous version, it adds crucial modernisation aspects packed together with top notch graphic quality, quality of life upgrades, and new challenging content. It feels extremely jarring to put a remake this high on my list but as far as contemporary horror titles go, this game will be the benchmark for at least the next decade. — CM Char

5. Final Fantasy XVI (Square Enix)

Taking a heavy cue from The Witcher 3, this game takes on a darker, grittier and mature story than any of its previous instalments and I can wholeheartedly agree that it is for the better. Mechanically, both graphically and gameplay wise, it feels like a true next generation game with crisp 120 frame rates in performance mode with a striking colourful display of elemental magic washing over your screen every so often.

Initially my only Game of the Year contender (until Baldur’s Gate 3 blew every other game out of the water), this marks a great return to form for the Final Fantasy franchise that has faltered in the past years with lackluster games like Crisis Core Reunion and Stranger of Paradise; Final Fantasy VII Remake being the only exception. Here is to hoping Final Fantasy XVII overtakes Final Fantasy XIV’s hot storytelling streak in the near future! — CM Char

6. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew (Mimimi Games)

(Warning: If you are allergic to careful planning, calculated thinking and following through with flawless execution, turn back time and learn those skillsets.)

One of the most underrated indie games to come out this year, and severely under represented, Shadow Gambit is an open world approach to real time stealth tactical RPG which provides bespoke introductions to each of its colourful cast of characters, smooth accessibility to beginners via a solid tutorial system, and a strong injection of sea faring, swashbuckling whimsical humour delivered by a stellar voice acting team coupled with beautifully drawn art.

Level design is expertly done with tons of player choices and creative gameplay options. I strongly recommend this game to anyone and is definitely my indie game of the year though the studio has disbanded (sad). — CM Char

7. Dredge (Black Salt Games)

Boasting a high affinity with fans of the eldritch horror and unknown mystery genres, Dredge will actively engage you with otherworldly tasks and disturbingly charming low-poly graphics. Never would I have thought a fishing simulator could be this phenomenal but 2023 is one helluva drug, and as far as idle games go, this only takes a backseat to Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew.

Immersion is the name of the game as Dredge takes you on an emotionally charged roller coaster of a ride via its deeply heartfelt story, where no matter what you do, Eldritch horror always wins. Featuring the unconventional mix of innovation that is a piece of a fishing simulator, Pokemon-esque catch em’ all vibes, and Lovecraftian horror, the game delivers point-to-point gameplay that never wastes your time. Here’s to more masterpieces from Black Salt Games! — CM Char

8. A Space For The Unbound (Mojiken Studio)

Being such an underrepresented region on the global stage, it feels like every Southeast Asian studio has the duty to include some part of the culture into their games, whether it’s the occasional “lah” in dialogue or a surprise teh tarik cameo. But it is the games like A Space For The Unbound that showcase the power that representation can hold; as a vehicle to introduce players around the world to our version of reality.

A Space For The Unbound is set in late 90s rural Indonesia, where you spend most of the game exploring a quaint, quiet town and interacting with its inhabitants. The game is packed with plenty of 90s era nostalgia, even for Malaysians playing the game, but it is the main mechanic of “space diving into people’s minds” that separates it from the rest. The end result is a masterful blend of the mundane and magical, a gripping and empathetic tale about our inner demons and how we overcome them. — Nathalie

9. Homebody (Game Grumps)

Taking inspiration from cult slasher films and retro horror games, Homebody is a puzzle horror game that traps you in a time loop with a serial killer. It has a simple premise but its execution works incredibly well, forcing you into high-adrenaline time management as you unravel logic puzzles in different areas of the house. Interspersed between time loops are eerie, surreal cutscenes that hint at a larger narrative, one surrounding some heavy topics including anxiety, PTSD, and agoraphobia.

I’ll admit Homebody is a personal favourite, perhaps a personal bias, because it was developed by the Game Grumps. Although better known for their Youtube channel, their games have always had impeccable art direction, polished gameplay mechanics, and an attention to detail that makes them a studio worth watching. In the case of Homebody, it is a short horror experience that’s worth picking up for any mystery or horror fan. — Nathalie

10. Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly (Toge Productions)

It isn’t easy to follow up on a successful first game, but Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly leaves you wishing for another cuppa. The sequel to the highly popular visual novel slash barista simulator perfectly encapsulates the feeling of sitting down with an old friend; from the warm nostalgia of reminiscing on the good ol’ days, to the excitement of introducing new faces to the circle.

Although its narrative feels slightly smaller in scale compared to the first, considering its predecessor tackled heavier topics of racism and classism, the game still remains much of its charm with a loveable cast of new characters and the same introspective approach to storytelling. Plus an improved menu of drinks and even more cozy lo-fi beats, what more could you want? — Nathalie

11. Honkai: Star Rail (HoYoverse)

Even before Honkai: Star Rail first came out, many netizens were anticipating the release of the newest game by HoYoverse. Pairing role-playing and strategy, along with the anime-style visuals was truly a fresh sight to see. Whether you are a casual lore enjoyer or a brave combat challenger, there is something for everyone in the game!

Not only does the game offer interesting storylines for casual players to enjoy, but also challenging end-game content like the Memory of Chaos or Simulated Universe for those who are up for it. Being a free game as well, the rewards offered by the game is truly generous, with 10 free Star Rail Special Passes to players who login in diligently on top of the Stellar Jades you can get through limited events.

If I were to point out my favourite part of the game, it would definitely be the dynamic and visually appealing character animation when they use their ultimates during battle. The awesome original soundtracks produced by HoyoMix paired with the exciting cutscenes from the stories were definitely a treat as well. I’m looking forward to what Honkai: Star Rail has to offer in the future! — Dionne

12. Brown Dust 2 (Neowiz Games)

The sequel to Brave Nine, Brown Dust 2 is a gridbase RPG and a truly unique gacha game that takes what’s good about gridbase gameplay and makes it better with great storytelling, excellent live 2D animation, and thoughtful gameplay where unit placements actually matter. The entire package makes this one of the best gacha games of 2023. — Aliff

13. Aether Gazer (Yostar Games)

Aether Gazer is an action role playing game that takes what’s great about the genre and not only makes it look stunningly polished, but also features a robust combat system that makes a lot of other ARPGs pale in comparison. The diverse character selection and varying playstyles make this game an ideal prospect for those who love this genre. — Aliff

14. Reverse: 1999 (Bluepoch)

Reverse: 1999 isn’t your typical turn-based trading card slash role playing game. Instead, it has great gameplay mechanics, a solid story with superb dubbing, stunning cast of characters, and other quality of life systems that many other mobile games don’t have in the first place. Also, who wouldn’t want the chance to gacha for a pet dog? — Aliff

Did your favourite games from 2023 make the list? Let us know which were your favourite picks in the comments below!

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