Welcome to 2023, everyone!
As is tradition, I start every new year by looking back and taking stock of last year’s experiences. I played many games in 2022, and they’re all very different from each other. Some games were from familiar franchises like Splatoon 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles 3. However, for most of 2022, I played entirely new games, and I expanded my horizons. I tried out dozens of new indie games thanks to Game Pass. Furthermore, I tried critically-lauded games such as The Witcher III and Doom (1993). Finally, I finished games in genres that I used to dislike, including Rouguelikes and First-Person Shooters.
My game collection also grew quite a bit last year. I bought over a dozen 3DS games as preparation for the eShop closing. I also found my childhood Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance while visiting my sister this summer. I bought several Switch and PC games on sale, and now I’ve amassed a substantial backlog. I like having it, though. It feels nice browsing my library, knowing I could pick up any one of these games.
In the past I held an awards ceremony to highlight the best 4 or 5 games of the year. This time, though, I’d like to do a bit of a twist. We’re going to give these awards as yearbook superlatives. The games I played this year were so different that it’s unfair to compare them directly to each other, so instead I’m creating individual categories that some games excelled at. I have 10 outstanding titles that I have nominated for you:
Class Clown: Splatoon 3
It’s easy to start playing Splatoon 3 thinking you’ll only finish a handful of Turf War matches, but then hours will pass without you noticing it. I think I had just as much fun, if not more fun, watching my partner play. She’s getting rather good with the roller. However, the one element that earns Splatoon 3 a spot in the yearbook is the more robust single-player campaign. The levels are so creative and well-designed that I’m still thinking about them months later. And the final boss fight was the perfect over-the-top ending to it all. Splatoon 3 is sure to get you to laugh, just like a Class Clown should. For more on Splatoon 3, you can either check out my review of the single-player campaign here, or the multiplayer review here.
Teacher’s Pet: Stray
Okay this superlative is a bit on the nose. However, like any Teacher’s Pet, Stray excels in some areas but maybe not so much in others. And despite their persnickety attitude, you can’t help but love them all the same. In its favor, the simulation of the cat’s movement and mannerisms is a remarkable technical and artistic achievement. The cat glides effortlessly across its environment. The android characters and their dwellings are impressively detailed. The environmental designers certainly did their homework. While I disliked the tacked-on stealth sections and wished the main plot went in a different direction, I still find myself wanting to go back and explore those cities. For all these reasons, Stray earns its proper title as Teacher’s Pet. For more about Stray, you can read my review here.
Most Likely to Go Into Politics: Shin Megami Tensei V
This superlative doesn’t really do the game justice. Shin Megami Tensei V is arguably more about existentialism, religion, and philosophy than it is about politics. But we’ll make do with what we have. Shin Megami Tensei V is a tense and oppressive experience. It is about coming face-to-face with the gods and monsters of humanity’s several myths and traditions. It’s about finding your place in a world turned upside-down. Role-Playing Games tend to emphasize decision-making, and Shin Megami Tensei V raises the stakes of those decisions. It’s about big ideas, ethics, and radicalization. While Atlus’s Persona series is the life of the party with its charisma and style, the mainline Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series is the dude in the corner genuinely asking you how you’d, hypothetically, prefer to die. I love both Persona and SMT, and sometimes I’d rather chat with the dude in the corner. If you’re interested in hearing more about this odd game, click here.
Best Dressed: 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim
Even more impressive than the technical realism of Stray is the animated painting that is 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. The afternoon sun warmly casting its beams through the high school windows makes me remember those cozy hours when school was done for the day, and I could finally walk over to my friend’s house. And that’s just from one scene in the game. The synergy between writing and voice acting are also reasons why this game earns its superlative of Best Dressed. Every character delivers their dialogue so superbly, it makes the outlandish SciFi mashup actually believable. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim may not be the most graphically-impressive game I played in 2022, but it was definitely the most beautiful. For more about 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, you can read my full review here.
Cutest Couple: Fire Emblem Warriors Three Hopes
Cutest Couple is essentially my partner’s pick for the year. And of course it would be this game. What else could it be?
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes impressed me as well, though. The Warriors formula is a remarkably good fit for Fire Emblem’s Strategy RPG gameplay, only now you’re on the ground hacking and slashing through waves of enemies in addition to making tactical decisions. Each character’s moveset is tied to one of the dozens of classes, but there’s also unique abilities and moves that still make each person feel unique on the battlefield. And the downtime you have between battles has been made even better thanks to the quality-of-life changes to your camp. You can go on picnics and bring along adorable meals with you and your date! What’s not to love? For more about this Cutest Couple, you can click on my full review here.
Best Athlete: Halo The Master Chief Collection
I get it now. I get why Halo is such a beloved franchise. The Master Chief Collection taught me that even if I turned my nose up at a game in the past, it doesn’t mean that I won’t love it in the future. I’m glad I decided to step outside of my comfort zone this year and let myself experience this sweeping space opera with remarkably fun gameplay. Halo: The Master Chief Collection single-handedly carried my esteem of First-Person Shooters from the lowly Valley of Apathy and Dislike up to the Mountain of Respect. For such a Herculean feat, I’d say this game earns its superlative as the Best Athlete. For more on my journey through Halo: The Master Chief Collection, click here.
Most Improved: Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Pokemon sure has taken us on a roller coaster ride these past few years, hasn’t it? And while it seems like the technical issues in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet reveal that Game Freak still has work to do with properly managing their time and resources, we had a brief moment of respite with Pokemon Legends: Arceus. The game isn’t the best-looking title on the Nintendo Switch, but it successfully breathed new life into the Pokemon series with its immersive action and open-ended exploration. The only time I would pause from my never-ending catching and crafting spree was to watch the sun rise, and I could almost feel the fog water droplets on my face as I did so. So many important tweaks and design improvements in Pokemon Legends: Arceus have convinced me that Game Freak really is a talented group of developers; they just need to take their time and not rush themselves when they make a Pokemon game. For more of my thoughts about Pokemon Legends: Arceus, click here.
Biggest Flirt: Hades
Last year Hades was my partner’s favorite game of the year, and in 2022 I finally got around to playing it myself. I’m very glad that I did.
Hades has some of the smoothest combat I’ve ever experienced in a video game. It’s so polished, if it were a waxed floor, you’d probably see the night sky in it. Every weapon takes some time to understand, but once you’ve found a groove, you can just shred through enemies like a godly prince of the Underworld. But what truly sets Hades apart from other Roguelikes is the way the story seamlessly integrates with everything you do. The quips that the Olympians say when you accept their gifts, the banter between you and the bosses, the way your stupid dad Hades goads you into thinking there’s no possible way out of the Underworld. Shut up, dad, what do you know?! Hades gets me to role-play as the protagonist Zagreus, despite it being 90% Action game. It easily earns its title as Biggest Flirt. For more of my thoughts about Hades, click here.
Best Smile: Kirby and the Forgotten Land
“Best Smile” is unofficially my title for Runner Up of the Year. Kirby and the Forgotten Land, despite being a cutesy 3D Platformer, also has quite a robust Action system of its own under the hood. You could probably coast through most of the levels and not even realize it until you come into the later boss fights, optional challenges, and post-game campaign. Here, Kirby’s solid controls and mechanics truly get their chance to shine. The sheer cute creativity of the game, from the amusement park, to the Mouthful Mode abominations, to the abandoned malls, gets me to grin every time I turn the game on. It truly gave me the Best Smile of the year. For more of my thoughts about Kirby and the Forgotten Land, click here.
Most Likely to Succeed: Xenoblade Chronicles 3
“Most Likely to Succeed” is basically my Game of the Year. And yeah, it’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Eat your heart out, Geoff Keighley! You could’ve at least awarded Xenoblade Chronicles 3 the Best RPG instead of giving yet another medal to Elden Ring…
Anyway, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 makes me excited to talk about video games. It makes me excited to draw connections between Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, Faith, Science, Politics, and tie it all together inside our favorite interactive medium. It makes me reflect about my own personal experiences, including my fears, my shortcomings, and my frustrations. Video games don’t exist in a vacuum. They can and should inspire us, make us develop emotionally, and provide a new perspective. It’s refreshing to see a game like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 tackle such difficult themes in complex and nuanced ways. It also helps that its open-world exploration, class system, story-rich side quests, and dynamic combat are the best in the series so far. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has convinced me that we should pause and talk more about the thematic material that video games are giving us. It’s a rich feast that we’re still leaving untouched on the table. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is certainly the Most Likely to Succeed out of 2022’s cohort, and my Game of the Year. For more of my thoughts on the game, you can read my spoiler-free review here, or dive into my discussion of its themes here.
We have a new year ahead of us! I wonder what new things it has in store?