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[Gamer's World] Was 2023 the Best Year for Videogames — or the Worst?

An almost unprecedented number of high-quality games, tempered by mass industry layoffs, made 2023 a rollercoaster year for gamers and professionals alike.



Daniel Robson at IGN's head office in Los Angeles (©Daniel Robson)

In my predictions for the game industry in 2023, published in JAPAN Forward back in January, I wrote that "2023 should be much, much better" than 2022. Yeah, about that.

2023 has been a severely dissonant year for videogames. From The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to Baldur's Gate 3, the sheer number of incredibly high-quality games is possibly unparalleled. Many consider 2023 to be one of the very best in the history of gaming. I'll get to all that fun stuff shortly.

The business side, meanwhile, was a shambles. A trend for mergers and acquisitions boomed throughout the pandemic. It reached its peak with Microsoft finally winning approval for its $68.7 billion USD purchase of Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard. But in general, the nehaws was far less rosy. Embracer Group fumbled a $2 billion USD deal that led it to shutter or downsize many of the dozens of studios it had gobbled up over the past few years. This, along with restructuring at Ubisoft, Bungie, Epic Games, and many others, led to a whopping 9,000 layoffs.

Videogames in Japan

In the context of these turbulent global events, the Japanese game industry was actually fairly stable. Big-money acquisitions are fairly rare here to begin with, and Sega Sammy's relatively modest purchase of Angry Birds maker Rovio for $776 million USD was about as extravagant as it got in 2023. 

Sure, we saw some cash splashed by Chinese game giant NetEase, which announced new Japanese subsidiaries. One was Studio Flare, cofounded by former Marvelous vice-president Toshinori Aoki and BlazBlue producer Toshimichi Mori. Another was PinCool, led by longtime Dragon Quest producer Ryutaro Ichimura. NetEase also announced the new game Rusty Rabbit from Gen Urobuchi — a renowned anime creator joining other high-pedigree Japanese studios such as Grasshopper Manufacture and Nagoshi Studio under the growing NetEase umbrella. But all in all, the business side of gaming was fairly steady in Japan in 2023.

And despite Japan's long-stagnant economy, some publishers even increased average salaries: Nintendo by 10% and Sega by 30%. This follows similar moves in 2022 by Bandai Namco and Capcom.

Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya

Perhaps the most shocking moves were Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami leaving his studio Tango Gameworks and Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya leaving PlatinumGames, which he co-founded in 2007. Coincidentally, Mikami and Kamiya worked together at Capcom many years back, on games like Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, and Okami. Neither has announced what he will work on next, but fans are already baying for them to work together again. I asked Kamiya about his plans for when his one-year garden leave period is over. He said he already had his next game in mind — so I guess we'll find out next fall. In the meantime, his newly launched YouTube channel is lots of fun.

Nintendo Shines

But yeah, what a year for great games. By far the most highly anticipated game of 2023 was The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — and Nintendo certainly delivered. The previous Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, has topped many polls to be crowned the best game of all time. Tears of the Kingdom arguably surpassed it, building on that game's sense of adventure with massive new areas to explore. Its liberating crafting system lets players explore in their own way.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom by Nintendo

And Nintendo didn't stop there — it also launched Super Mario Bros. Wonder, its first new 2D Mario platformer in over a decade, rich with variety and challenge. It also released Pikmin 4, which expanded the mechanics of previous entries and became the best-selling Pikmin game to date. A bunch of reworked classics such as Super Mario RPG and Metroid Prime Remastered were also released. The long-rumored successor to Nintendo Switch did not materialize this year, but various evidence points to an imminent announcement in 2024. If 2023 really is the last year of the Switch, it's bowing out on one hell of a crescendo.

Nintendo did great in theaters, too, with The Super Mario Bros. Movie surpassing all expectations to rake in an unbelievable $1.36 billion USD at the global box office. It easily became the all-time highest-grossing movie based on a videogame. I thought the storyline was a little flimsy, and it bothered me that the titular brothers, Mario and Luigi, spent so much time apart. But it's a fun family movie, and its success reaffirmed Mario's stature as gaming's most beloved mascot.

Mario and Luigi on the big screen in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie". (©2023 Nintendo and Universal Studios)

Zelda vs Baldur's Gate 3

Tears of the Kingdom scored an incredible 96% average review score according to aggregator site Metacritic. This made it the highest-rated game of the year alongside Baldur's Gate 3, a more traditional Western RPG game based on Dungeons & Dragons. Heading into 2023, it had seemed inevitable that Zelda would be crowned game of the year, and indeed it was in many awards (including both IGN Japan and IGN US). But dark horse Baldur's Gate 3 gave it a healthy run for its money, picking up the coveted GOTY prize at The Game Awards 2023. 

Zelda may not have been the dead cert we thought it would be, but that's no shade on Zelda. There were so, so many great games released in 2023. And many of them came from Japan. Indeed, according to Metacritic, six out of the Top 10 highest-rated games of 2023 were made in Japan.

Capcom's Double Triumph

Capcom released two of them. Street Fighter 6 was a triumphant return to form for the long-running fighting game series. It has a whole suite of new features that make it more relevant than ever to modern audiences: a simplified control system that allows newcomers to battle toe-to-toe with seasoned pros, an innovative commentator system that makes it feel like watching an e-sports match, and a solo campaign mode that allows players to level up their skills in fun new ways. And of course, the gorgeous and vibrant art style makes it really fun to watch. 

Street Fighter 6 by Capcom

Capcom's modern remake of its classic survival-horror game Resident Evil 4, on the other hand, continued the Resi series' endless string of top-quality releases these past several years. It was lauded by IGN Japan's reviewer as "simply one of the best remakes out there."

FromSoftware's Global Success

And speaking of continuing a hot streak, Dark Souls developer FromSoftware followed up the 2022 runaway success of Elden Ring with Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. This was the first entry in FromSoftware's classic mech combat series since the studio truly hit the big leagues. Despite mech games traditionally being pretty niche, especially outside of Japan, ACVI reached a huge global audience. It sold nearly 3 million copies in its first six weeks or so on sale. 

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon by FromSoftware

FromSoftware has carefully built a reputation as a developer of extremely well-made games that offer a tough but fair challenge. While its games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro and Elden Ring are each based on a shared template, Armored Core VI proved that the studio can apply its DNA to a very different type of game and players will still show up.

Other Updates From Japan

Square Enix had a slightly rockier year, beginning with the release of its brand-new action-RPG Forspoken to mixed reviews and poor sales. This led development studio Luminous Productions to be dissolved and merged into the company. Final Fantasy XVI, meanwhile, offered an exciting new take on the fantasy RPG genre, with a cool combat system and an epic story. The game reviewed well and sold 3 million copies at launch, but Square Enix later admitted it did not live up to sales expectations. Were those expectations too high? It's hard to know, but as more and more PlayStation 5 consoles enter gamers' homes, I think FFXVI will be a long-selling fan favorite.

Konami, meanwhile, announced a remake of its beloved classic hit Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It also released Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1, a compilation of the first few games in the series. Between that and a slew of Silent Hill games announced for 2024, it feels like Konami is preparing to return to glory.

Fun Surprise From Tango Gameworks

Oh, and personally I loved Hi-Fi Rush. While developer Tango Gameworks is best known for making horror games like The Evil Within and Ghostwire Tokyo, Hi-Fi Rush is a bright and colorful anime-style action game filled with irreverent humor.

Hi-Fi Rush by Tango Gameworks

While it's not exactly a rhythm-action game, you're encouraged to play in time to its rocking soundtrack, which is right up my street. The game's sudden announcement and same-day release made it one of the year's happiest surprises.

So, was 2023 better than 2022? On the one hand, the deep, painful cuts we saw this year seem likely to continue, and their effects will be felt in 2024 and beyond. But on the other hand, there's no denying we had a ton of great games to play. So, I guess I was half right?



Author: Daniel Robson

Daniel Robson is the chief editor of videogame news site IGN Japan. Read his series Gamer's World on JAPAN Forward, and find him on X (formerly Twitter).

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