Hello there, and welcome to the final Save State column of the year for 2023. Since this is the last entry of this column for the year, I thought it might be a good idea to acknowledge some of the games I found most entertaining this year. A lot of absolutely incredible games released in the last year, and generally I love to write about these titles as I experience them. Unfortunately, due to my inclination toward RPGs, many of my favorite ones each year require a considerable time investment. This sometimes isn’t conducive toward a bimonthly column while having other life responsibilities like a family and full-time job, as by the time I finally beat those titles, no one is really talking about them anymore.
That’s not exactly something I’d call fair, so for the last Save State of 2023, I’d like to share with you some of the games I enjoyed this year, but didn’t have a chance to speak about in a timely fashion. First up is Chained Echoes, a JRPG heavily inspired by SNES/PSX era RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Suikoden. The twists and turns in its story are quite laudable, as it goes out of its way to present some mysteries that act as signposts for future events, but it’s oftentimes difficult to nail down quite what’s going to happen. Plus, it was made almost entirely by one person, which is absolutely incredible in terms of game development, as with Astlibra, I’m always fascinated when I see that someone was able to make their dream come to life on their own with only some outside help.
Chained Echoes looks a lot like those older JRPGs you’d see on the SNES and PSOne, too, but what’s so interesting is that it plays nothing like them once you get into a battle. When in combat, your primary goal is to use attacks to fill up a meter to reach a status called Overdrive, which enhances the damage your party deals. If you continue spamming powerful attacks, you can wind up Overheating, which increases the damage your party takes, which makes it very important to manage the meter.
You can lower the Overdrive gauge by switching characters in battle, which doesn’t even take a turn, using an Ultra Move, using the Defend command, or just using a technique that lowers Overdrive at that time. If you actually pay attention to the tools the system gives you, you’ll basically never have to choose between healing and lowering the meter outside of the first couple hours of gameplay. It’s fascinating how such a simple gameplay addition makes Chained Echoes feel so interesting and fresh when compared to a lot of other indie JRPGs, and it received a lot of deserved praise through word of mouth that unfortunately disappeared very quickly, in spite of the quality of this game.
Which, speaking of, Sea of Stars also released in the last year and is an absolute amazing indie JRPG. A bit of controversy has come the developer’s way recently due to an unfortunate connection to a Youtuber that’s currently going through a scandal, but make no mistake: the quality of Sea of Stars is untouched, and has some of the best visuals for 2023 JRPGs. This is a JRPG that hits all the right notes of a 16-bit era game, with music made by Yasunori Mitsuda, whose discography includes Chrono Trigger, Shadow Hearts, Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade, and lots, lots more. Sea of Stars does a lot right in its brief playtime, making it another title I would absolutely recommend at length for classic JRPG fans.
Chants of Sennaar is a game that released in September of 2023, and is a puzzle game focused on languages. As you progress in the title, you’ll find several languages you’ll need to understand to proceed, and intermixes stealth gameplay in to break up the pacing very well. If you’ve ever played a title like Return to Obra Dinn, Chants of Sennaar is a very similar kind of puzzle game where you’ll be expected to think outside of the box, even if the effort you’re putting in is to learn the grammar and syntax of another language just to call another character stupid.
Chants of Sennaar primarily takes place in a tower that has five levels, and each of those levels has its own language and grammar rules you’ll need to figure out and make connections in common parlance, so you’ll do a lot of listening to people’s conversations, learning sentence structure, and identifying glyphs. Thankfully, Chants of Sennaar gives you a notebook that even offers you the option to leave some notes about the various glyphs and rules you record so you can keep these things straight in your mind as you progress. Chants of Sennaar is an incredibly clever and unique experience, easily something I would recommend to fans of adventure and puzzle titles, alike.
A game genre that I’m actually not very good with is horror. While I can greatly enjoy things horror-adjacent, such as Resident Evil, I’m not great at handling jump scares which I consider to be the Dane Cook of horror. Junji Ito has basically been one of the mangaka kings of drawing unsettling images, and a game from this year called World of Horror took heavy inspiration from both his art and H.P. Lovecraft’s writing. A completely black-and-white roguelike that hearkens back to the genre from the 80s or early 90s, this is a title that’s primarily text based where your goal is to stop a cult from summoning something into this world.
World of Horror uses older point and click adventure mechanics, and even has a retro-inspired JRPG combat system, to boot. You play as one of five characters whose main goal is to investigate a bunch of terrifying occurrences and come up with a plan for how to stop the cult’s main goal. In one mode of the game, you play through five distinct cases which all tie together at the end, but if you take too long, things in the city get worse and worse until you reach a game over state.
World of Horror is a game I didn’t think I would enjoy, but apparently if you slap JRPG mechanics into anything, I’ll play it. It was actually pretty addicting to search areas for clues, battle eldritch horrors, and finally see an ending to all the mysteries I managed to solve. Managing your character’s reason and stamina, determining when to rest at home, or even just deciding what resources to use in combat, there’s a lot of interesting mechanics to balance as you solve mysteries in World of Horror. Plus, its delightful 1-bit art style and haunting chiptune soundtrack really leaves an impression long after you’ve closed out the game.
The last title I’ll mention on this final Save State entry for the year is Moonstone Island. It’s one part creature-collector, like what you’d do in Pokemon or Cassette Beasts, another part card battler, and all of that gets mixed into a big ‘ol pot of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. Moonstone Island pulls from a lot of different inspirations, but the end result is actually an extremely tranquil, cozy game that you can kind of enjoy at your own pace while you build up your farm, army of monsters, or just date residents of the island.
There were some flaws in Moonstone Island around release, but the developer seems very open to feedback and has introduced totems so you can select your fast travel point, a larger barn for storing your monsters, and loads of new decorative items are added to the game seemingly all the time. If you’ve been looking for a nice title to relax with, perhaps on a Steam Deck, Moonstone Island may absolutely be the perfect game to just spend some time growing crops and crafting potions.
Aaaaaand that’s it! Thanks for reading this final edition of Save State for the year of 2023. Hopefully you enjoyed this last year of listening to me drone on about older or lesser-known titles, and I hope that you’ll join us next year in 2024, as well. Until next time, happy holidays and happy New Year!