Legend of the Five Rings
I play Legend of the Five Rings with my regular group. We started this game with our group in Colorado about seven years ago. After Krista and I moved to New Jersey, we started up with a new group, with Krista keeping her character from the old game. This has been a long, dramatic, and fun game, with the characters reaching a level of power now that they are going to shake the foundations of the Empire.
This experience leads to the point of this post. I have read a number of critiques of L5R, including this rather disastrous account of a GenCon game. The main thing I keep asking myself is why are we having such a good experience with this game, when others are obviously not? I don't think the game is particularly poorly written, it is a good example of a large RPG publisher's design-by-committee method. It does get a bit muddled when it comes to source material, and the high-ranking NPCs really seem to fall easily into "GM PC" disfunction.
I really have two points here. The first is that the game has a very coherent point to play, which is to accumulate Honor and Glory and increase your character's station in society. There are a number of discrete mechanics which directly support this, and they work pretty well. They could certainly use better guidelines, beyond pure GM fiat, but if implemented as it seems they were intended, they do this. This has been some of the most satisfying advancement in my own game, and now that the characters are all fourth and fifth rank samurai, they are well-established, famous, and esteemed members of their respective clans.
Second, L5R works best if you don't hew too closely to the metaplot. My game works well because I use all of those rich NPCs as accessories to my player characters, not the other way 'round. Why have seven NPC Thunders when the PCs could perform that function just as well? I have found in setting-rich games that it is best if the setting revolves around the characters and their actions. That's where the fun is.
In conclusion, I have a somewhat ambiguous review of the game. If protagonizing GM techniques are used, you can get some rewarding play out of this game. The text does support a very spectator-based game as well, and may in fact slip that direction most of the time. I don't have enough direct evidence to say one way or another.