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Staff Picks for Sam's 2014 Backlog Challenge

Nathan Schlothan's Recommendation(s): Phantasy Star Generations and Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song: I played through this one myself for the first time just last year, and it was quite an interesting experience that made for a lot of fun stories. Each of the first three Phantasy Star games are very unique, and while they have quite a few problems and can be rather difficult to approach at first, they offer something completely different from modern RPGs. Make sure to bring a lot of mapping supplies, though. As for Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song its because SaGa games are awesome. Well, this one is rather unpolished and pretty much demands you look online for information on quests and game mechanics, but it is really quite amazing once you understand how it actually works. It has a range of different characters to recruit, a lot of great character customization, equipment customization, a lot of quests, nice music, and great battles. It's the rare kind of RPG that rewards knowing the game and actively punishes simple grinding, and I love it for that.

Paul Engemann's Recommendation: Revelations: The Demon Slayer / Last Bible: According to Sam's Backloggery Account, it's the last GB/GBC game on the list, and it'll knock that system off the backlog!

Trent Seely's Recommendation: The Last Remnant: I can understand why The Last Remnant wasn't a popular RPG. At launch, this game was known mostly for its technical flaws, battle complexity, and difficulty spikes. It breaks from a lot of conventions, and can easily slide out of gamer comfort zones. To start, the depth to this unorthodox adventure is downright staggering. The central campaign can take roughly 70 hours to beat, but to explore everything you must invest at least 130, per playthrough. It's impossible to see and do everything in one sit-down, as side-quests can be mutually exclusive and only available at certain points. Even if you have a guide to tell you which paths to take, progression likely won't be any easier. Thanks to a scaling difficulty, early game grinding is actually a very poor choice and can make latter game skirmishes blisteringly hard. Careful planning and a meticulous attention to detail are required, as customization will be the main decider over whether your party lives or dies. There are over 15 active party members to manage, each with their own weapons, skill trees, and strengths. Providing you understand what strengths and skills can play off each other well, your party may survive. It's all about experimentation and subtle tweaking. With that in mind, The Last Remnant doesn't do any hand-holding. So, why play? Well, The Last Remnant is probably the most unique and content-rich RPG I've ever played. In spite of its steep learning curve, it nails a lot of what it sets out to do and completion actually feels rewarding. Plus, this game has a race of pissed-off four-armed cat-men. Which, to me, is just badass.

Becky Cunningham's Recommendation: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the best example in this generation of a choices and consequences RPG that doesn't beat the player over the head with a morality system. It's a world in which life is nasty, brutal, and short, filled with fascinating characters who are all spectacularly flawed. While it contains themes and scenes that are problematic from a feminist standpoint, it also has female characters who are written to be just as morally complex and human as the male characters, which is a rarity in video gaming. Play it on the easiest combat setting for the best story-focused experience. On a more frivolous note, Sam totally needs to learn about the wonders of Lesbomancy and how to sing the "Plough 'em All" song.

Michael Cunningham's Recommendation: Ys Seven: Because it's a totally different Ys game than Felghana, which you didn't like and I understand why. It got me into the series, and I think you should play it.

Cassandra Ramos' Recommendation: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: In my opinion, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is not only the best of the Paper Mario games, but the best Mario RPG and one of the GameCube's best titles as well. This is a whimsical, charming game with a unique art style, excellent battle system, a mostly lighthearted story with great writing, and amiable, memorable characters. The game also has many genuine laughs, both in the main story and in the background. Even if you aren't big on Mario, The Thousand-Year Door is a great title even without the gaming icon.

Mike Moehnke's Recommendation: Skies of Arcadia Legends: I have more memories of it on the Dreamcast, but the GameCube version adds even more and is probably the way to play it so you don't hear the silly machine spinning really loud every time a random battle comes along. The cast and tale were a lot of fun to spend time around, and just because it deals with a quest to collect some mystical objects doesn't mean it feels tired or dull. This is definitely one of the best games I've ever played for making the player feel the sense of exploration and the joy of looking somewhere new to discover places and objects for the world at large. The ship battles are awesome too, and while its visuals aren't progressive any more they sure do a good job of making everything look unique and captivating. Time commitment is required, but I played it multiple times and don't regret it.

Michael Baker's Recommendation: Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana: Even though I haven't played it, I would recommend Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, because we all could use a little more Gust in our lives. I know how much you've enjoyed the majority of Gust's translated works, so this could make for a refreshing break between heavier titles. Plus, from what I recall, you get to run around whacking random stuff with a staff to gain mana. That sounds cathartic to me, right there!

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