As 2023 comes to a close, the games industry once again prepares for another ceremony recognizing the year’s line-up of adventures that made us laugh, cry, and everything in between. While we all have our personal lists, The Game Awards (TGA) packages that into something a little more formal.
We’ve crafted our way through Hyrule, rolled in the Forgotten Realms, explored the Settled Systems, and swung through New York. As a massive celebration of video games, TGA acts as a sign-off and spotlight for things to come. With its formal list of nominees planned for a November 13 reveal, I figured I’d highlight a few of 2023’s dark horse candidates. Commit the box art to memory ’cause I’m hoping for some snubs, surprises, and success stories out of these.
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Series X/S
Potential Nominations: Game of the Year, Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Score/Music, Best RPG, and Best Indie Game
It’s an understatement to say Sea of Stars hit big upon release. Created by Game Award winner Sabotage Studio (The Messenger), the RPG felt like it came out of nowhere and surprised everyone, myself included. It’s a turn-based 2D RPG harkening back to classics like Chrono Trigger in more ways than one. Andrea Shearon, who reviewed Sea of Stars and awarded it a 9/10, noted how it manages not only to capture what made retro-RPGs special but also charts its own path.
As for what titles it may run for, it’s no stretch to pin it in the Game of the Year category. Its Metacritic score, 91, ranks second among the other contenders here. There’s plenty else it works as a nominee for, too, like Best Indie Game, Best RPG, Best Soundtrack, and Best Art Direction. One that wouldn’t be too surprising to see it up for is Best Game Direction, as, for an indie studio, the amount of work and polish Sea of Stars has is impressive. There are plenty of stars in the sky right now, but this one might outshine others just enough.
Platforms: PC, Switch
Potential Nominations: Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Indie Game, and Best Debut Indie Game
The second indie on this list, Mintrocket’s Dave the Diver captured hearts (and fish) aplenty when it arrived in June. The subnautical adventures of deep-sea diver and sushi restaurant manager Dave as he fishes for the best product was a sleeper hit on PC. Its endearing themes, beautiful graphics, and fun gameplay got many critics (including Christine Choi) ‘hooked’. Now, with its release on Nintendo Switch, many more people have taken the dive and fallen in love with its variety and charm.
Dave the Diver has a little edge over some due to its massive popularity and continued updates. Of course, the pixel art and graphics are prime for a nod in Best Art Direction. It’s easily one for Best Indie Game and Best Debut Indie Game, too, as this is Mintrocket’s first game. We may see it given a Best Direction nomination, as some indie studios made the mark in years past. Most recently, BlueTwelve Studio was nominated for its indie darling Stray last year and, in years past, games like Hades and Outer Wilds have garnered a spot in the category.
Hi-Fi Rush (Tango Gameworks/Bethesda)
Platforms: PC, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Series X/S
Potential Nominations: Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Audio Design, and Best Score/Music
Like a Beyonce album, Hi-Fi Rush dropped out of nowhere and surprised everybody. Created by Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), the action-rhythm game was revealed and released the same day on Game Pass. It follows Chai, a wannabe rockstar with a ‘heart’ for music, dismantling a large corporation alongside a team of fun misfits with his trusty scrap-metal guitar and killer beat. The rhythm-based gameplay was a hit with many critics, including Cheri Faulkner, who applauded the creativity. For audiences, the art style and characters were charming and kept us moving and grooving to its fantastic soundtrack.
There is a possibility that Hi-Fi Rush could get some big nods this Game Awards. As the game was available on Game Pass, the title’s got a sizeable reach. Nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Audio Design, and Best Soundtrack seem like easy targets for the music-based game. With the game being the last for iconic director Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, God Hand), Hi-Fi Rush easily makes the case for a Best Direction nod. Either way, the rock n’ roll adventure is sure to hit some high notes come nominations Monday.
Cocoon (Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive)
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Series X/S
Potential Nominations: Game of the Year, Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, Best Score/Music, Best Indie Game, and Best Debut Indie Game
Out of all the titles on this list, Cocoon may be the most silent but deadly. The Annapurna Interactive-published platformer blossomed from lead Inside and Limbo gameplay designer Jeppe Carlsen. As a world-hopping beetle, you’ll explore various settings via mysterious orbs and solve puzzles to unlock the universe’s secrets. Cocoon boasts a 92 on Metacritic, ranking the best of these entries and even some AAA releases this year. Much like the games Jeppe has been part of, Cocoon has followed suit in becoming a staple indie gem.
While indies are a bit foreign for big categories, it’s possible Cocoon could sneak up and take some giants down. Best Debut Indie and Best Indie are gimmes. There are strong contenders for Best Soundtrack, Best Art Direction, and Best Game Direction, but the high praise from critics may lead to it being in at least one. Furthermore, when it comes to Game of the Year, indies have been known to sneak in there occasionally, like 2022’s Stray and 2020’s Hades. Cocoon is one of those titles that may do just that.
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, and Switch (Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S in 2024)
Potential Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Score/Music, and Best RPG
Much like its predecessor, Octopath Traveler II continues its reign as a beacon for 2.5D titles. The classic RPG charm from decades ago shines here as the sequel maintains its eight unique protagonists, gorgeous music, and beautiful art style. This time, though, it essentially one-uped the original with more intertwined narratives and new gameplay mechanics. Eric Van Allen found the title captivating, with loads of content and a landmark title for the fairly new franchise. Octopath Traveler II sets the bar for 2.5D games and shows that classic RPGs never went out of style; they’ve just evolved.
At the 2018 Game Awards, Octopath Traveler was nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Soundtrack, and Best RPG. This year, we may have a case of deja vu. I predict Octopath Traveler II will find itself back in its predecessor’s nominated categories. Much of the game’s praise revolves around its classic RPG gameplay and 2.5D art direction, all done with a fantastic soundtrack. Like the rest of the entries, its competition is very solid but not irreplaceable. To that end, Octopath Traveler II could stand up to those and earn a highly-coveted spot.
Jusant (Don’t Nod)
Platforms: PC, PS5, Xbox Game Pass, and Xbox Series X/S
Potential Nominations: Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, and Best Narrative
French for ebb (the motion of waves), Jusant paints a new horizon for Don’t Nod. The company known for narrative-driven titles like Tell Me Why and Life is Strange took a risk when announcing a rock-climbing platformer as their next title. However, people fell in love with its simple and endearing gameplay and art style, alongside its usage of environmental storytelling.
As a lone wanderer, you climb up an abandoned tower and discover relics of another time. Smangaliso Simelane highlights the simplistic yet thoughtful gameplay, as it makes for a wholesome and pleasurable experience. Jusant is proof that Don’t Nod can go outside the box, and this is just the tip of the iceberg for new ideas and concepts.
With Jusant‘s recent release, it may hinder its chances at big nominations. However, Don’t Nod’s departure from the norm and risk-taking could pay off. The game’s narrative is a hit or miss for some, but truth be told, it’s reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus in terms of using the environment as a narrative device. In terms of its direction, both art and game, it’s the risks that come in, as the simplistic art and gameplay make for an accessible experience.
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Eugen Boglaru is an AI aficionado covering the fascinating and rapidly advancing field of Artificial Intelligence. From machine learning breakthroughs to ethical considerations, Eugen provides readers with a deep dive into the world of AI, demystifying complex concepts and exploring the transformative impact of intelligent technologies.