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Patrick Gann
Editorial: Handhelds: The End of Console Wars
Why the DS and PSP are making your home arguments moot.
10.31.09 - 1:36 PM

"Where should I go to get my RPG fix?" The topic has come up often in the last few years. And I thought I would just, definitively, lay down the answer for this console generation. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

HANDHELDS.

Twice, our editor-in-chief has written editorials about the leg-up that the Xbox 360 has had on the RPG market. That hype seems to have died down, as many "360 exclusives" have been ported (as superior versions of the same game) to PS3. But the PS3 and 360 RPG libraries are relatively small. And the Wii? Well, let's not even go there. As for PC? You can get ports of 360 and PS3 games, and you can play loads of MMOs for free. If you turn your PC into a high-end gaming machine, it may still be your best RPG-playing device. But for everyone else? The DS and the PSP -- That's where you need to go if you want RPGs.

First, there are the ports and remakes. And yes, I know, lots of people are tired of ports and remakes. But there's been some great stuff on our handhelds. Matrix Software's DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV (particularly the latter) were done from scratch and came out great. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for PSP is now the definitive version, especially if you want to know and understand the plot properly. Two Star Ocean titles on PSP came along, one a full remake, the other an enhanced port. Those games were certainly worthwhile. And don't forget about NISA's ports of Disgaea for DS and PSP, and Disgaea 2 for PSP. People who missed these games on the PS2 should definitely give them a try in this form.

Everyone knows the majority of these ports and remakes are coming from Square Enix. But this same company set the path for the genre's future home(s), particularly JRPGs. The Dragon Quest IV and Dragon Quest V DS remakes (with VI coming soon) were huge improvements for the Zenithia trilogy. And getting them in America was a big plus as well. But the real trick S-E pulled out of their hat was announcing Dragon Quest IX for the DS. Yuji Horii and the guys at Level-5 made it explicitly clear that they would release the game on the most popular platform, and at the time (and still to this day), the DS is winning the race. So there it is, one of the biggest names in RPGs thrown right on the DS.

Now, moving past ports and remakes to entirely new games, one need only look at RPGFan's own image gallery and review indices and compare sheer quantity from one platform to the next. We know who's winning on quantity. It's the DS, without question, with PSP in a close second place. Why? Investment capital, that's why. Lower-budget RPGs are more appealing for developers to make, and the only big-budget games on consoles worth taking the risk are games like Final Fantasy XIII or big tri-Ace titles like Resonance of Fate. Anyone else trying to compete on the next-gens, at least from 2006 to the present, is taking a risk they likely cannot afford.

But even with budget as a factor, that doesn't mean there aren't, or won't be, super-huge RPGs for handhelds. Ninokuni: The Another World from Level-5 is looking to be a fantastic RPG with high-budget graphics (particularly the animation) and music. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and the upcoming Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep from Square Enix showcase the best the PSP can do graphically, and these games can build just as much hype as a big console title.

To balance it out, look at all the flops that have come through the three "hook up to your TV" consoles. The Wii had Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World and Dragon Quest Swords, both delving deep into the pool of mediocrity. Mixed reactions have come over games like Star Ocean: The Last Hope and Eternal Sonata. And Atlus' best-selling console RPGs up to this year have remained largely on the PS2 (Persona 4 being the key player). But look at Atlus' DS and PSP offerings, and you see just how much money's worth you can get by owning these handheld devices.

My actual theory about this is that if you want lots of good RPGs now, you need a DS and a PSP. Between them you'll get some great experiences. But I do believe that, as the current-gen consoles reach later into their long (projected) lifespans, the tables will turn. Final Fantasy XIII will almost assuredly be a gateway to higher quality RPGs for PS3 and 360. And when Dragon Quest X hits the Wii, that will definitely increase RPG hype for the console, at least in Japan. I'm still waiting for the big-name RPG for the Wii, but perhaps that console just has too much "novelty" and "gimmick" embedded to allow it to have a world-class RPG for the platform.

So, hopefully, in 2011 or 2012, I'll be able to retract my statement here and say "the DS and PSP library is good, but they don't hold a candle to the high-quality RPGs coming out almost weekly on the PS3, 360, and Wii." Fingers crossed!


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