I'm struggling with how to recap 2023 because it was such a basic year. My day job was a little busier than recent years, not close to busier than ever fortunately. My kids are doing fine. They don't want me talking about them on this page so I won't go into details. My wife had another book published and we managed to sneak in a couple getaways together. There were some speed bumps and I spent more time dealing with house issues than I'd like to. Nothing remotely critical though, overall 2023 has been just peachy. I hope it was for you too.
I'm not touching world or political events. I can talk about technology trends briefly though. I originally wrote a lot more but it was long-winded and preachy. So to summarize:
Regarding the last point, just a quick reminder that this little insignificant site will be free and ad-free until something awful happens to me. I know that list sounded negative. Either I'm getting too old and cranky or the technology industry is going through a particularly bad dumpster-fire phase (or both).
Speaking of this site, did I accomplish anything noteworthy here in 2023?
Many times I've declared to be done scanning and posting old game store catalogs. This year I posted 7 more, although a couple were scanned in previous years. That's probably a single-year record for me. I think I'm done for good now. Oh, who am I kidding.
Programming-wise, I didn't accomplish much. I worked on a few projects that maybe I'll finish next year. Or maybe I'll give up on them. Things could go either way. It's not that I'm feeling unmotivated or lazy. 2023 had some game releases I was looking forward to that consumed most of my free time. Hmm... I suppose that means I was unmotivated and lazy. Alright, fine, I spent too much playing games to work on many side projects.
In the first half of the year I cranked out a few "interesting to me" articles. Although that really describes everything I post here. This year I was briefly obsessed with how odd the GTA remakes are, repurposing a Raspberry Pi, finding the names of paintings, and trying the X-Files DVD games. I'm already batting around some topics as random as these that might appear in 2024.
As has been the tradition since 2020, let's commence the annual viewing of ornaments.
There was one change this year. My holiday tree has grown too crowded so I unretired a small, unused in recent years, tree into a pro-wrestling themed one.
The red color and lights are the perfect choice for this theme. I have a complete set of these nWo ornaments from the 1990s. They were cheap when I got them. They are stupidly priced on eBay now.
This ornament is what finally pushed me over the edge into creating a dedicated pro-wrestling tree. It's a 2022 Hallmark ornament that I bought for at least half off in January. I debated buying it at full price but gambled that it wouldn't sell out.
As for the new Hallmark ornaments this year, the Dreamcast is my favorite. I'm 100% certain I'll see it for half off but also didn't want to risk missing out on it. The existence of a Dreamcast ornament raises the possibility of a TurboGrafx-16 ornament to 0.01%.
Hallmark also released a Samus ornament and it is huge. Here it is next to a Samus Amiibo for comparison.
I managed to find a spot for it though.
For the fourth year in a row they had a new Mario Kart ornament. I think they'll keep this going for ten years.
The last two Mario ornaments were very samey but this year they mixed it up with cat suit Mario. Super Mario 3D World is one of my favorites in the series so I couldn't pass this up.
Toad is the fourth miniature character they've released. It's as small as the previous Luigi, Link, and Zelda ones.
This is another 2022 clearance one. Only from February (or maybe later) when they're down to 90% off. I am a fan of the show but would have chosen something else for an ornament. Whatever, it was cheap and fits in with my theme.
In terms of gaming there was one change from recent years. Maybe reversion is a better term. I'm back to being a mostly Nintendo player again. Even with multi-platform games I've been choosing the Switch version over the PlayStation 4 version. I realize they are technically inferior but they are so much more convenient. There are Switch docks in two rooms over here. It's funny how such a small thing makes a big difference.
I already teased that I played some lengthy games this year. Almost all my gaming time was spent on four games. One to get through winter, one in spring, one that lasted all summer, and the last that covered fall until now.
The first game I played in 2023, also the last game I played in 2022, was Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion. Whew, I need a nap after typing the whole name out. I played the original on PlayStation Portable and couldn't believe it fit on the system. I realize the PlayStation Portable can handle things roughly equivalent to PlayStation 2 games but it still seemed like too much for a portable system. I didn't predict that in the near future portable systems would be indistinguishable from proper consoles.
Maybe this is controversial but I prefer Crisis Core to Final Fantasy VII. I think because Zack is a better protagonist than Cloud. Hmm.. is he my favorite lead in the entire series? Probably. VI is my overall favorite in the series. IX, X, X-2 and Crisis Core are all clustered together next and tough to rank. It's not important.
Despite how much I enjoyed Crisis Core, I couldn't 100% it. Like many Final Fantasy games, there are superbosses who require absurd amounts of grinding to defeat. I finished with 95% of the missions complete. That was about 20% higher than my PlayStation Portable playthrough. Maybe I'll grind through the last 5% on a long flight someday. I'll definitely play through the main story on new game+ before that.
There were two games coming in the spring that I've been waiting a long time for. I decided to knock a couple shorter games off my backlog until they arrived. Shantae: Risky's Revenge was up first, it had been sitting on the shelf too long. I started the series with the two most recent releases and was curious about the older games. It's not much of a downgrade going to something that was originally a DS game. All the games after it could have been DS games really. Cutting-edge is not a requirement for a game to be fun. Risky's Revenge is a little short but reminded me of Wonder Boy: Dragon's Trap/Curse which is a compliment.
I bought an Analogue Pocket last year with the intention of getting through my huge Game Boy family backlog. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have many ways to play Game Boy games already. I just wanted one of these. The two Bonk games were the first things I played on it. I bought the Japanese versions forever ago when they were just a couple dollars.
They are both entirely new games. They look and play like Bonk games but have different levels. The first is a straight-up Bonk game, not too many changes from the basic concept. The second is a little zany. There are transformations and the level design is often confusing. These probably go for way more now than they did in early eBay days. If you can somehow get them cheap they're fun for a few hours.
On to another remake of a PlayStation Portable game...
Trails to Azure follows the same formula as Trails in the Sky SC, Trails of Cold Steel IV, or Final Fantasy X-2. It reuses the entire world of the previous game and expands on the story. It's a nearly identical game to Trails from Zero. It adds a few new areas and songs but nothing drastic. There's nothing wrong with that. If you found the characters and world interesting the first time you'll enjoy a new story in that setting. Falcom games of the past 20 years have a ton of similarities across them. For example, the last dungeon of Trails to Azure is extremely similar to the last dungeon of Ys VIII.
There are some RPG engines & settings where there could be 100 games in that style and I wouldn't get bored with them. The PlayStation Portable era of the Trails series is one of them. I don't care that they are all roughly the same game. They have a battle system that I think is perfect, amazing soundtracks, and fun characters. There's not really anything that needs to be improved on.
Playing this series out of order makes the story of Trails to Azure predictable. It occurs alongside Trails of Cold Steel I&II and the main characters return throughout parts III&IV. The major events are not a mystery. It's all the minor events that make this series addictive. Behind the main story are dozens of side quests and character arcs. There's a saying about the journey being more important than the destination. That's definitely the case here. I knew how Trails to Azure ended before I started it. I just didn't know how all the steps to the ending would go. I especially didn't anticipate the plot twist that links all the way back to the prologue of Trails from Zero.
Alright, time for another sequel that reuses a lot of content from the original... Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. My first impression - it's Breath of the Wild but harder. Some of that is because of the approach I took. With Breath of the Wild I followed the main story which has a gradual increase in difficulty. With Tears of the Kingdom I decided to explore everything before starting the main story. That included mapping all of the underworld which is a nightmare with three hearts and basic gear. Even if I played in the order the game steers you toward, the enemies are leveled-up from the previous game.
My kids are getting a little past the age of spending time with their parents. One is off at college 2/3 of the year and the other is in high school with a busy after-school schedule. Tears of Kingdom was released near the start of summer break and became something we all sort of played together. Meaning I splurged on 3 copies and we all played through it in our own way and traded notes. I tackled the underworld first while my oldest avoided it until after completing the main story. My youngest wanted to rescue Gerudo Village first and I saved that region for last.
Prior to this moment I would have said Breath of the Wild was my favorite game of all time. Is that still the case? Tears of the Kingdom is a much bigger game than Breath of the Wild, which is saying a lot. The counterpoint to that is right now I can't imagine starting it all over again, something I did with Breath of the Wild. You know what, it doesn't matter. Tears of the Kingdom was everything I wanted from a Zelda game and many things I didn't know I wanted. Like the crafting system for example. I couldn't have imagined I'd enjoy that aspect as much as I did. I spent hours building dumb weapons and unsafe vehicles. Whenever I go back to this game it will be to spend more time trying build ideas.
So hey, there was a We Love Katamari remake this year. It wasn't long and that's totally great. These games are so much fun but grow repetitive after a while. They really are best played in small doses. Spending 8-10 hours on one every year or two is about right.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was something I played on vacation. On the airplane ride to be specific. I liked the Danganronpa games enough to try their obvious inspiration. Good stories, kind of easy to solve. I'll probably try the others on a future flight.
Nintendo added the Game Boy line to their classics collections on the Switch. Like their NES and Super Nintendo collections, the selection is an assortment of greatest hits and total oddball games. I got into the Burgertime Game Boy version for a little bit. It's a good time for the first dozen-ish stages then gets absurdly difficult. Even with heavy save state abuse I got stuck after a while.
The prevailing theme of this year for me is sequel games with heavy asset reuse. That trend continued with Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie.
I'll start by noting that Treasure of Tarmin (AKA "Minotaur") was my most-played Intellivision game by a solid margin. Despite that I don't play many random dungeon games. The last one I spent any real time on was, well, Trails of Cold Steel II. I logged a ton of time in the Reverie Corridor then and did again now. It's a random dungeon with characters and a battle system I enjoy. I would have been OK without there even being a plot.
The story felt like it started as an unfinished "Trails from Zero the 3rd". Like maybe this was an idea they had all the way back in the PlayStation Portable era that was shelved. For starters, it is set almost entirely in the Crossbell region and the plot revolves around events there. The Reverie Corridor portion of the game is quite similar to Trails in the Sky the 3rd with all the side-stories and mini-games.
I have one complaint. Falcom games are usually known for having outstanding soundtracks. That is roughly half true for Trails into Reverie. There are some nice new tracks or remixes of old favorites. The arguably best battle music in the whole series is in Reverie. The boss themes though are mostly awful, many sound like someone threw an electric guitar in a wood chipper. I'd rather they make 1 solid boss fight song that's reused 10 times instead of cranking out 10 unique ones of varying quality.
There were a few games I played in the background throughout the year. Two of these could have been included in last year's recap too.
Arcade Paradise.. I'm conflicted about this game. The arcade games are mostly alright. Stack Overflow was my favorite. If it was simply a collection of knock-off arcade games it would be fine. Not awesome, just fine. All the daily chores the game requires is tiring. I felt like I was working retail again and not in a good way. I played it off and on until I couldn't take any more.
I'm a total sucker for retro game collections and Atari 50 is the best so far. The amount of content is overwhelming. It has all the greatest hits and deep cuts. About once a week I'll fire-up something on it for a few minutes. Sometimes it's an old favorite, other times it's something I missed when it was new. I've been critical of the company that calls themselves Atari for a while but this made me reconsider. They really nailed this one.
Although I just complained about doing chores, Powerwash Simulator is a game I went back to many times. I bought it at the start of the year, perhaps out of craving summer weather. It's a remarkably calming game. Like Katamari Damacy, I could play an endless number of stages in this game but not all in a row.
Alright, now for the zero people who care, here's what I apparently listened to this year.
OK, I put this soundtrack on quite a bit and this is the first song so it makes sense.
My top artists list doesn't change at this point so it's kind of boring. My podcast ranking changed a little bit though. For items 3 & 4 on this list, one roadtrip that cleared-out my backlog was responsible for their high positions.
Huh, interesting. I don't know what other city I would have guessed for this combination of artists.
I think that's all I can say about 2023. I hope anyone who made it this far has a happy & safe holiday season.