One of the things I love most when writing about video games is the opportunity I’m given to play all kinds of titles. I’m playing more games than ever, with my time split between review titles, research opportunities, personal favorites, and games I always meant to catch up on. This helps me avoid burnout, and, in the latter case, allows me to keep up with some really great games I’d otherwise miss.
However, my backlog is gigantic, and the more games I play, the more others keep popping up, like a weird game of wack-a-mole. I need to keep beating games so this list can move, but for every one that goes down, a game I’ve been waiting an even longer time to play takes its place. I could choose to stop buying so many games, but in order to stay as current and varied on gaming as possible, I don’t know if that’ll work out.
In any case, this list consists of the five games that are at the top of my backlog. They’re all RPGs, which probably won’t surprise people, but that’s not always the case. My number six choice might as well be “any Need for Speed game” because I’ve bought so many over the years fully intending to play the career mode. That hasn’t happened yet, but it most likely will.
That’s kind of the motto for this whole piece – I haven’t finished these games yet, but I most likely will.
Phantom Dust (Xbox)
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
I have fond memories of this video store half a mile from my house, where I could go almost every day and buy one of the old games no one rented anymore for five bucks a pop. Of the countless games I got from there, Phantom Dust always interested me because no one had heard of it, but it just seemed like one of those titles everyone should know about. A remaster was released on Xbox One not long ago, but I don’t feel like I can just skip to that version. It feels rude, like this old disc has patiently waited its turn to show me everything it has. I can’t just let it down – I owe it more than that.
What left me on the hook after all these years is the game’s approach to combat. Players are deposited into these little arenas with their enemies, and run around the map collecting attacks and skills to use against the opponent. Players could mix and match different powers as the game progressed, which gave it a certain collectible card game vibe, but it was its own unique thing I haven’t seen before or since. I’m aiming to play this sometime in 2019, but that’s not a hard date by any means.
Chrono Cross (PS1)
Publisher: Square Electronic Arts
Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
Chrono Cross is an important game to me. Yasunori Mitsuda’s incredible soundtrack is the most beautiful score ever made, and the game is pivotal in the creation of my favorite development studio, Monolith Soft. Thanks to decisions made during the development of Xenogears, Monolith was established by the creators of that game, with many team members leaving Squaresoft for Monolith when they finished work on Chrono Cross. Through the studio’s changes in ownership over the years, they’ve maintained a consistent lineage of RPGs that spreads from the roots of Chrono Trigger, to the new blossoming fruits of today with titles like Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
While I’m fine with Chrono Cross as a sequel to Chrono Trigger, my real issue is with the difficulty. I’ve had three or four playthroughs stop because I just keep getting stuck. Every time I make it to new territory in the game, I always feel like something’s just waiting to trip me up. I’d like to think I’m a pretty patient person, but to keep getting stuck on a boss fight or in a dungeon in the same game over and over can be annoying. Which is why I haven’t beat the thing, even though I probably got it last decade. Surely, for the amount of love I have for the game, giving it one more shot should do it.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (GCN)
Developer: Monolith Soft
Speaking of Monolith Soft, for being such a fan of theirs, I’m a little annoyed I haven’t finished both Baten Kaitos games yet. They’ve been sitting in my Gamecube collection for years now, but like Chrono Cross, I always get stuck. There’s one boss fight in particular in the first game that starts off the second disc, and if you don’t use multiple save slots, you can basically make the game unwinnable if you aren’t ready to win. Between the amount of times I’ve been defeated by this game and Chrono Cross, I feel like I have something to prove. I would never claim to be the greatest gamer, but I want to take another shot again, at least to prove myself that I can finally do it this time. This is one mountain that I will conquer
I’m only putting the first BK on this list because if there’s anything I learned from playing the Xenosaga series, you want to play Monolith RPGs in order. The second BK game, Origins, is a prequel, but I’m just going to overlook that for now. More to the point, another reason I’m hanging back on these games more than others is their weird card-based battle system. Demanding a good amount of patience and strategy from the player, it feels like they amount to the luck of the draw, but there has to be more to it than that. Perhaps using a guide can help me.
Tsugunai: Atonement (PS2)
Developer: Cattle Call
My relationship with Tsugunai: Atonement is pretty circumstantial and weird. I initially found out the game when an iTunes search for Yasunori Mitsuda soundtracks only turned up an album for this game. A short time later, I realized that my local Gamestop had had a new copy of the game sitting on the shelves for over a decade, When they started to phase out their PS2 section, I couldn’t help but buy it out of pity. I’ve only touched it a little bit since then, but I feel a certain obligation to play it. Like, by doing that, I’m somehow supporting Mitsuda and his work – even though that can probably be better accomplished elsewhere.
Surprisingly, even though Japanese developer Cattle Call is pretty obscure, they were also responsible for The Alliance Alive, a 3DS RPG I reviewed earlier this year. While time and skill separate Tsugunai and Alliance by a decade and a half, I’m more willing to try Tsugunai now than ever thanks to my increasing familiarity with the team. If it turns out to be as good as Alliance, I’ll be happy. At the very least, I don’t regret purchasing the soundtrack.
Spectral Souls: Resurrection of the Ethereal Empires (PSP)
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Idea Factory
Spectral Souls is a special case. Call it a “grass is greener” sort of thing, but ever since I sold my copy recently, I’ve been thinking about it non-stop and I don’t know why. It’s optimized poorly for the PSP, with laggy framerate and seconds-long load times for the simplest of actions. The story is bland and generic, and it feels like I could be spending my time with a lot of better RPGs out there. Yet my mind persists – put Spectral Souls on the list! Write about Spectral Souls!
I’m not sure what it is about PSP games that make me doggedly loyal, but I was like this with Fate/Extra, too. That game, while better than Spectral Souls, isn’t very good either, but I kept thinking about it, which which kept me playing, which then made me beat it. I’m not sure I want to spend the hundred hours or whatever it takes to beat Spectral, especially when I can’t play it for long without getting frustrated by its slowness, but my mind demands it. I guess I should rebuy it sooner rather than later…
You can reach Dominic Cichocki, the writer of this article on Twitter. You can also email him at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com.