The best video games of 2023 so far
By some bizarre accident in the space-time continuum, we stepped out of 2022 and back into the early aughts. Everyone is playing Metroid Prime. The internet is in love with Leon S. Kennedy. Even Isaac Clarke is back, fully voiced and ready to express the thoughts he’s been keeping to himself since 2008.
These remakes from Retro Studios, Capcom, and Motive Studio serve as a reminder that everything — even in video games — is cyclical. Old ideas, which may have been ahead of the technical capabilities of their time, can reemerge with more pixels, better hardware, and more experienced developers to flesh them out. Action-oriented survival horror plays like a dream in 2023, and the Switch has proven to be a more than suitable home for Samus Aran’s exploration-based adventure.
Even Octopath Traveler 2, Company of Heroes 3, and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty prove just how well a group of designers can improve upon their previous ideas. We’re only three months into the year, but we’ve already seen remakes and sequels that show a deep understanding of their source material and prequels, and a willingness to question what came before in service of making the next great game.
It’s easy to point to remakes, sequels, and spiritual successors as evidence that we’re in a stagnant period — but so far, three months into 2023, the game release schedule has been anything but. Patch Quest, Phantom Brigade, and Season: A Letter to the Future, among others, have emerged from “under the radar” to make a name for themselves in their own right. It’s already been an exciting year for video games (which year in recent memory hasn’t been, by this point?) for original titles, daring sequels, and bold remakes. Here are the best so far. —Mike Mahardy
Resident Evil 4 Remake
It turns out, Capcom is good at remaking games.
The original Resident Evil remake all but set the bar for the format in 2002, with sleeker controls, more nuanced graphical details, and whole new areas to explore in the iconic Spencer Mansion. The Resident Evil 2 remake changed the entire perspective of its source material without sacrificing the focus on horror and survival. Resident Evil 3’s remake, as forgettable as it was, still brought the design conceits of the original game, warts and all, to a modern audience. And now we have Resident Evil 4 — and what a remake it is.
In this reimagined version of the 2005 action-survival-horror game, Capcom has managed to erase many of the blemishes on one of the most beloved games in the series, if not all time. The remake is full of new flourishes and extra details in each of its three sprawling areas, making it less of a remake and more of a dramatic reinterpretation. It has also managed to add even more survival elements to the original’s action-centric combat, without sacrificing the camp and cheese that have made it such an enduring presence throughout the years. A lesser game would have shrunk in the face of such intimidating source material, but the Resident Evil 4 remake achieved the balancing act in spades. —Mike Mahardy
Resident Evil 4 will be available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X on March 24.
Tchia, from developer Awaceb, is an open-world adventure game set in a fictional version of island nation New Caledonia — inspired by Awaceb’s co-founder’s childhood in the country.
Everything is filtered through the titular main character Tchia’s eyes, eyes with a special power that allows her to transform into any animals or objects in her environment. Birds, dolphins, a camera, or rocks… It’s all an option for Tchia.
The game, while clearly inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ends up standing on its own because of the innovative shapeshifting mechanics. Tchia isn’t as technically polished as a Nintendo title with hundreds of developers; Awaceb has a team of roughly a dozen. Still, it’s hard to innovate in such a ubiquitous genre, yet Awaceb has managed to do just that with Tchia, making it one of the best games so far this year. —Nicole Carpenter
Tchia is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
Lions and tigers and… hat-wearing armadillos? Oh my.
Patch Quest initially roped me in with its endearing creatures, but I stuck around for its expert blend of disparate genres. It borrows elements from Pokémon, Castlevania, The Binding of Isaac, and Enter the Gungeon to create a unique monster-taming roguelike in which you and your animal companions stitch the world back together one piece at a time. Tame deceptively cute monsters, explore the winding labyrinth of Patchlantis, and exterminate anyone who stands in your way with a fruit-ammo smoothie. Developer Lychee Game Labs (a one-person team, no less) stitched several pieces of cloth together to make Patch Quest, and the resulting quilt is a mesmerizing experience. —Johnny Yu
Patch Quest is available on Windows PC.
Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo
Square Enix has plenty of mega-franchises to fill its time (and its coffers). This year, we have new entries for Octopath Traveler and Final Fantasy, along with new Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts games in the not-so-distant future. Dayenu!
And yet, the publisher can’t help itself from bombarding us with surprising, interesting, sometimes great, often good-enough experiments. In 2022, we got an English-language remake of lost gem Live A Live, the surprisingly enjoyable tactical RPG DioField Chronicle, a bonkers Final Fantasy spinoff featuring the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit, and a pair of oddball card games lathered in lore from gaming’s best weirdo. This year, we have the Avengers of rhythm games, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, and Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo, an excellent riff on the visual novel penned by a beloved storyteller — whose best series has never appeared in the U.S.
What should you know about Paranormasight before you play? Well, ideally nothing. Why else would I by eating up my word count?
But if you insist: It’s a mystery — and a horror mystery at that. You travel to 1980s Japan, specifically the Tokyo neighborhood of Honjo, located not so far from the modern Tokyo Skytree. It’s hard to imagine that modern landmark ever towering alongside these streets, which are filled with shadows and lethal curses.
If you have even a passing interest in urban legends, spooky folklore, cults, and deadly rituals, or you’ve enjoyed series like Zero Escape and Danganronpa, Paranormasight is an easy recommendation. And if you just enjoy a good yarn and have access to basically any screen and $15, then you’re a perfect mark too. It runs as well on console and PC as it does on iOS and Android, so don’t fret about where you play, just do so and soon! Before Square Enix stops investing in all these oddities. —Chris Plante
Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is available on Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.
Phantom Brigade’s unique “turn-based real-time” battles feel like a revelation in the mecha genre. The most apt comparison is a video editor’s timeline, only instead of scrolling through a movie you’ve already made, you can effortlessly turn the tide of battle with a few smart moves. Once you’ve set up your five frenetic seconds of action, you get to sit back and watch it all play out in glorious slo-mo.
For mecha fans, it’ll be quickly apparent how deeply the developers revere giant robots. Your mecha can be intricately customized, right down to their generator, which directly affects things like how frequently they can fire their armaments. Speaking of, the game’s arsenal is both beautiful and brutal: frightfully devastating shotguns, graceful energy swords, and missile barrages that fire in a perfect Itano circus. Even though the game is played from a bird’s-eye view, your mechs feel big and weighty, stomping through the game world as they knock down buildings and shove tanks aside like toys. Even peering five seconds into the future to see your enemies’ movements feels like a reference to the ESP common in mecha anime.
This is not to mention the minimalist but evocative narratives you’ll get to enjoy on your campaign. While sometimes drawn with broad strokes, these stories are an important reminder that however cool your mechs may be, it’s the pilots inside who really count. —Clayton Ashley
Phantom Brigade is available on Windows PC.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Of all the developers borrowing heavily from the games of FromSoftware, perhaps none do so more cunningly than Team Ninja. If Nioh and Nioh 2 were Dark Souls as seen through the lens of Japanese myth, then Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (and a bit of Bloodborne) set in Three Kingdoms-era China. And it rules.
Not only does Wo Long deftly maneuver between awe-inspiring boss fights, spell-slinging brawls, and a litany of intricate areas across rural China — it also encourages exploration in a way that even some FromSoftware games haven’t. Wo Long’s morale system (which rewards you for building up your character’s confidence, so to speak, against hordes of lesser enemies before tackling a boss) ensures that no challenge is insurmountable. It’s the rare game that can both brutalize you and root for you every step of the way. Wo Long is one such game. —Mike Mahardy
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Company of Heroes 3
In 2006, Company of Heroes kicked down the door and strode into the real-time strategy scene with swagger and bravado. Its focus on squad-based tactics, as opposed to the movements of hordes of individual soldiers, set it cleanly apart from Starcraft, Warcraft, and Command & Conquer, and the ensuing spectacle was more than a little reminiscent of the choreographed World War II battles of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
But things have changed. 4X, grand strategy, and turn-based tactics have nudged RTS games out of their top spot in the strategy space. Despite its explosive original outing in 2006, and its excellent sequel in 2013, Relic Entertainment needed to adapt.
And adapt it did. Company of Heroes 3 makes real-time strategy more approachable than ever, with a “tactical pause” option that allows you to stop time and issue orders to your troops in hectic moments. It also introduces a Total War-esque turn-based overworld map, allowing you to maneuver armies, capture key installations, and provide a bevy of support bonuses to the real-time battles, away from the firm guidance of the team’s (still excellent) linear campaign writers. —Mike Mahardy
Company of Heroes 3 is available on Windows PC.
Octopath Traveler 2
The first Octopath Traveler was one of those games that was as enjoyable to play as it was painful: enjoyable because so much of it kicked ass, but painful because so much of it dragged the positive aspects down. In other words, it stood on the precipice of excellence, but couldn’t quite cross the line.
Octopath Traveler 2 leaps across that boundary. In place of the original game’s repetitive level design, monotonous narrative structure, and sometimes awkward characterization, the sequel demonstrates an expert ability to challenge your expectations at every turn. Yes, your general goal is still to recruit eight playable characters (hence the name) and follow each of their separate plot threads to their respective conclusions, participating in turn-based battles and side quests along the way. But said plots vary greatly from character to character, and if you so choose, you can see a handful of characters through several major plot points before recruiting the whole gang. Octopath Traveler 2 finely toes the line between that comfort food-esque repetition of the best JRPGs, and the subversive nature of great genre storytelling. —Mike Mahardy
Octopath Traveler 2 is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
Metroid Prime Remastered
Few games from 2002 hold up as well as Metroid Prime, and the remastered version of the game — which was surprise-dropped during February’s Nintendo Direct — proves that Samus Aran’s first-person adventure is still worth experiencing, whether it’s for the first time or (in my case) the fourth.
Retro Studios’ take on one of sci-fi’s most famous intergalactic bounty hunters controversially took her out of the 2D puzzle-platformer realm that made her famous (although Metroid Fusion also came out in 2002 — a gift for the 2D Metroid purists — which may also be why Fusion joined Nintendo Switch Online’s catalog shortly after Prime Remastered was released). By placing the player inside Samus’ helmet, Metroid Prime recontextualized the bounty hunter’s relationship with the hostile planets around her.
As we donned Samus’ suit and explored strange planets, aggressive alien lifeforms could now get right in our faces, forcing us to dodge, strafe, and roll (in morph ball form, naturally) using all three dimensions. No longer would we sit back and watch as Samus dipped her toe into a pool of lava; in first-person, as molten fire spread over our visor, we’d really feel the pressure to find that Varia Suit upgrade. And perhaps most importantly, from behind Samus’ visor, we gained the ability to scan our enemies and environment, collecting and translating logs from the long-dead Chozo aliens who once inhabited these now-hostile places.
The world of Prime is harsh and unrelenting. (Save points will, at times, be quite far from one another.) But it’s worth buckling down and pushing through the pain points to discover this world’s secrets. —Maddy Myers
Metroid Prime Remastered is available on Nintendo Switch.
With The Last of Us on HBO and Resident Evil 4 back in the conversation, it’s already a banner year for survival horror. Motive Studio’s Dead Space remake is no exception. Following in the footsteps of Capcom’s aforementioned title, the original Dead Space brought the third-person-action focus of Resident Evil 4’s formula to a deteriorating ship in outer space. In the vein of Event Horizon, Sunshine, and Alien, Dead Space was a paragon for sci-fi horror in a confined and claustrophobic setting. Its remake has brought that same vision to gorgeous new life, bringing quality-of-life changes and underappreciated updates (it has made several previously useless weapons into viable tools in protagonist Isaac Clarke’s arsenal), making it hard to imagine ever going back to Visceral Games’ phenomenal original. —Mike Mahardy
Dead Space is available on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.
Season: A Letter to the Future
Everyone you meet in Season is already dead. The story opens in the far-distant future of a world that resembles our own. A history researcher reads a travel diary belonging to a young woman who documented the end of her era.
The game has you writing that travel diary, documenting the end of a culture and its people with the help of a bike and some S-tier scrapbooking skills.
What sounds sad is quite enlivening. The world isn’t drab or apocalyptic. In fact, you wouldn’t know change waits at the door of this epoch if not for the prologue. The sky and oceans are lush complementary blues. Animals go about their days without a care, grazing on wheat and twittering in the trees. The few people you encounter react to the mysterious prophesied sea change the way most folks approach moving from one apartment to another.
Season is fiction for a generation that believes the end of society as we understand it is inevitable. Maybe in our lifetime, maybe a century from now. Waters will rise, governments will fail, or corporations will mine every last resource from the planet. But also, alongside that terror, there’s also a peace to be found in visualizing a life beyond.
Dark! But what else would you expect from a game about being the documentarian for a world you, the player, already know has run its course?
That there’s so much beauty in the world of Season makes the burden of historical curation all the more challenging. You can take pictures, record sounds, and select sketches and bits of text to include in your diary. Though space is limited. You won’t fit in most of your photos and notes, let alone the entire experience of this world. Should people in the future know about the small, personal dramas of this era? Should you pass along lessons from other eras past, like a baton to be carried from one generation to the next? Or should you leave the book largely empty, affording this culture some sort of cosmic privacy? —Chris Plante
Season: A Letter to the Future is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC.
Fire Emblem Engage
Fire Emblem Engage was designed for a very specific kind of sicko: one not particularly interested in the origin stories of a horde of teenagers, or the politics of a bourgeoise academy, or what kind of tea a teacher prefers, but instead one obsessed with the endless minutiae of combat stats, weapon loadouts, and team composition. I know this because I am one such sicko.
If you’ve read any of my reviews or essays on Polygon, then you know I prefer strategy games that can get out of their own way. More precisely, I love when strategy developers can put their pens down, throw their hands up, and admit that the stories unfolding in the player’s head will almost always be more powerful than anything they could write. Fire Emblem Engage is one of the foremost proponents of this idea. It hurls an excess of characters, weapons, battle scenarios, and stat-boosting abilities at you, leaving the door open for you to observe character interactions on the battlefield and create the resulting fanfiction in your head. Its actual script is a quagmire of nonsensical JRPG tropes, and each cutscene is more skippable than the next. But if you’re looking for an excellent turn-based tactics game that gets out of the player’s way, you can do a whole lot worse than Fire Emblem Engage. —Mike Mahardy
Fire Emblem Engage is available on Nintendo Switch.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
[Ed. note: Marvel’s Midnight Suns was released in 2022, but it just barely missed the cutoff for our best video games of 2022 list, so it’s eligible for our 2023 awards.]
I know what you’re thinking: Another licensed Marvel game? Come on, right? But hear me out. I played Marvel’s Avengers, too, and this isn’t that. It might seem like it’s going to be at first, because Midnight Suns makes the grave error of introducing Iron Man and Doctor Strange as its tutorial characters, and these two might just be the most irritating characters in the entire video game. (I have beaten the game, so I am allowed to make this call.) You must press on and give Midnight Suns time to win you over. Because it has so, so much more to offer than it may appear in its first few hours.
Picture the romance and humor of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, combined with the high-stakes tactical battles of XCOM 2 — that’s what Midnight Suns becomes in its mid-game and endgame. It’s a card-based strategy game, and each hero has their own customizable deck. I started off favoring Captain Marvel, Magik, and Blade, simply because their moves and hilarious dialogue kept me entertained, but I soon realized that every single character has something exciting or unexpected to bring to the battlefront. Over 100 hours later, I’ve leveled up every single character and played all the main story missions and an unknowable number of optional missions, and I’m still not sick of this combat… or the kooky cast of characters that grows all the time (shoutout to the Deadpool DLC).
No matter how sick of Marvel you might be, give Midnight Suns the chance to win you over with its clever combat. And once you’ve gotten hooked, you might find yourself sticking around to chuckle at Wolverine attending Blade’s book club (yes, that’s a storyline in this game). It’s worth your time, and you can take that from me, a person who — again — spent over 100 hours on it. —Maddy Myers
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.