I love my job for plenty of reasons, and one of them is that I get hyperfixate professionally. My leisure gaming is always lax, occupied by The Sims (which is usually chaotic) or a few only moderately tense rounds of Mario Party with my partner (which he usually wins), but when I play a game on my own, I play it.
Choosing a top ten in 2023 is tough for a lot of us! But for me, it’s not because I’m torn between triple-A titles like Alan Wake 2 or Baldur’s Gate 3 – it’s because I spent dozens of hours on the farm this year, and I can’t choose which gaggle of loveable townsfolk I liked the best.
While I’m excited to be writing my own GOTY list, mine is only one of the 30 staff picks we’ll have this year! We’ll be tallying our results and publishing TheGamer’s official GOTY list on December 18, so be sure to check back then.
Silent Hope is a charming, colorful beat-’em-up that sees seven distinct heroes battle to find the reason a king forbade his subjects from speaking long, long ago. The story is cute and the characters are unique in a way that requires strategizing with each to make it through.
For me, Silent Hope came after a summer of farming games, so getting to be a ninja and teleport-slash enemies after spending weeks tending to crops was invigorating.
Sun Haven is a lot to take in off the top – there are 40-something crafting machines and more than a dozen romance options – but once you’re in the groove, you find yourself continuously enchanted.
With an expansive skill tree, additional regions, and plenty of friends to make, Sun Haven will definitely keep you busy enough to be worth its price. Besides, it’s not often that farming sims have a final boss, right?
Samba De Amigo: Party Central
I loved DDR so much growing up that I spent every day after high school dancing in my silly little circles on a cheap PS2 mat in my basement. Samba de Amigo was made for people like me, ready to shake the cobwebs out of those dancing shoes, ignore the screams of our aging spines, and shimmy the hours away.
After a demo over the summer left a lasting impression on me (and thankfully not on the Joy-Con I hucked across the room), I had the house to myself when Samba launched. Free to pose and prance and give it my all, I enjoyed a few sweaty nights in front of the TV – because the game is best when you pour your heart and soul into your performance.
My Time At Sandrock
I like My Time at Sandrock despite itself. The characters are some of the most amusing and endearing I’ve seen in a slice of life game and the environment is gorgeous, but I’m playing on Switch and my god, could it really use some graphical TLC.
So many of the issues I had in my review are still happening a month after launch, and I keep coming back despite them all. I love watching my work breathe life back into a dying desert town, but Pathea, why the hell am I watching it happen from the inside of my builder’s mouth?
I didn’t expect to enjoy Fae Farm as much as I did. It was another for me in a long progression of farming sims, and after some of the other titles I’ve included in my list, I was nervous it wouldn’t live up to the rest.
But what I played was a cute, colorful game rife with both mystical and agricultural things to enjoy. Once I got my wings, the game took off along with me as I leaped into new realms, saved new kinds of beings, and harmonized the region I’d come to love.
Persona 5 Tactica
As excited as I was for Persona 5 Tactica, I didn’t expect to put it only halfway up my list. I enjoyed the game, but for as much as I love this group, I’m growing a little weary of Phantom Thieves spinoffs. Tactica itself was fun, but it wasn’t a challenge, even for someone whose approach is usually less than tactical.
But I liked getting to think differently with the Persona skills I’ve already mastered, and the reveal at the end was more emotional than I expected, having put it together on the way. If this is farewell to the Phantom Thieves, after almost eight years, it was definitely an enjoyable one.
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
Easily one of the most unique games I’ve played, I agreed to cover Stray Gods as soon as I read the words “Roleplaying Musical” in my boss’ email. Not knowing exactly what that meant, I was transfixed to discover an ensemble of prominent voice actors singing their way through the dramas of the Greek pantheon.
You make key decisions after seeing characters’ life-altering decisions, betrayals, and brilliantly-done musical numbers, making choosing a favorite god all but impossible. I played it through four times for the sake of covering all the different decisions and was singing along wholeheartedly by the end.
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life
The original Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life on GameCube was absolutely pivotal to my development as a gamer. As a kid, I used to rent it from Blockbuster and did all the math so I could keep notes on looseleaf paper about the crop prices, what sold the best, and when to plant what.
I was so taken by the game that it instilled in me a lifelong love of slice of life games. And in 2023, a delightfully updated sequel of this lovable farming sim came out, and I got paid to do the math and keep notes about crop prices, what sold the best, and when to plant what. Life comes at you fast.
Persona 3 Portable
Until recently, I was torn for my top spot, but then, Atlus announced Persona 3 Reload, a fully 3D modern remake of the original Persona 3. I got to try a demo for the game, and between that and the trailers we’ve been getting, all signs point to excellent. The story is great and I loved FemC, but a visual novel style dampened the message of the game a bit.
Was I excited for P3P to come to Switch? Absolutely – it’s my favorite Persona game, it was my first major project here at TheGamer, and it was cool to have P3 widely available in the West. Is it getting my number one spot? No, because Persona 3 Reload comes out in February – check out my GOTY list next year, though.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
I was six when I first played Ocarina of Time in 1999, and as my first real RPG, Zelda shaped how I view gaming. I’ve got multiple Zelda tattoos, my home is decorated with Zelda art, and one of the first things I did when I started here at TG was iron out the entire Zelda timeline.
I was almost 30 when Tears of the Kingdom came out this year. And I got to take Sidon, my very favorite himbo, aboard dozens of gloriously lopsided vehicles I made as we explored above, below, and throughout a Hyrule that feels more alive than ever. Six year old me would be proud of where I, and her favorite series, ended up.