The quality of video game releases in 2023 has been discussed in detail by many, and it will absolutely go down as one of the best years the medium has experienced, strictly in terms of the excellent games that were released. The larger industry and its members will always look back on 2023 with justified frustration.
Patterns in any year are always a given. Trends inspire entire genres to be prevalent, and we also have events like 2009, where there were two high-profile open-world games about super-powered humans: Infamous and Prototype. This year will certainly be remembered for games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur’s Gate 3, among others, but I can’t help but notice that RPGs citing a specific era of the genre were also, inexplicably, hugely popular.
Earlier this year, we featured Sea of Stars on the cover of Game Informer magazine. Talking to the team at Sabotage about its inspirations, it specifically cited the classic Super Nintendo game, Super Mario RPG. And when I played Sea of Stars a few months later, I could clearly see how the developer pulled from that game. One of the reasons Sea of Stars exists is because games like it are rare today, which makes it all the more surprising that Nintendo would announce a full remake of the game shortly after. What are the odds?
And then, within weeks, Square Enix saw it fit to announce and release an excellent remake of the beloved 1998 Star Ocean sequel, Second Story. That game fits right alongside Sea of Stars and Super Mario RPG as an RPG of a specific era – one interested in telling a linear story without overcomplicating its primary mechanics.
Before all of these games, however, we had Octopath Traveler II, a well-liked sequel to a game that may have served as a strong indicator to people and publishers with money that, “Hey – we miss these kinds of games. We want our characters and environments to look like a bundle of squares while going on an adventure. In fact, maybe it is the game to point to that started this whole thing.
It was admittedly less successful than the others mentioned here, but even WrestleQuest from earlier this year was another game playing in the throwback RPG medium. Late 2022 also saw the release of Chained Echoes. We also have the Dragon Quest III HD-2D remake coming at some point in the future.
So why is all this happening now? Why has this sub-genre of RPGs – inspired by the 16 and early 32-bit – become so popular all of a sudden? Or was it always there, and I just wasn’t paying attention?
I have a few ideas to put forward with little basis in scientific research. Video games, even compared to other entertainment mediums, are much more focused on nostalgia. Reliving the TV shows and movies you watched or books you read as a child simply isn’t as strong as the emotions related to existing within an interactive world. I didn’t just passively play Super Mario RPG when I was young – I lived in its universe. And RPGs are particularly good at that. They encourage players to exist within them and take them at a slower pace. The age we are now (i.e. old) has now placed us in a position where the experiences we are looking to remember are less the action-packed platformer challenges of our youth and more the relaxed vacations. We’re too old for the exciting amusement park of memory. Those rides make me nauseated at this age. But the old beach house where I just hung around and swam when the mood hit me? That sounds great. I want to play that video game, and apparently, it’s an old RPG where reaction time isn’t as important as making sure you have the right sword equipped.
It’s either that, or they are just selling really well, and people are buying them. I accept either explanation, both, or neither. Whatever gets me an HD-2D remake of Chrono Trigger the fastest.
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