Last year Soul Hackers 2 came out. It was, in my humble opinion, a pretty good game that was completely screwed over by the platforms it was released on.
I have described Soul Hackers 2 to many of my friends as a pretty mediocre console / PC game but a pretty great 3DS / Vita game, and I've always wanted to explain what I mean by that in greater detail. So let's do that!
The truth of the matter is that handheld games had what I believe to be a very important place in the game industry. Its loss is something that we're still feeling the ramifications of.
The cost of games are ballooning. The competition is increasing. And because we live in a capitalistic hell-zone, risks are taken less and less by publishers. And when they are taken, they have to do really, really well to be considered successes by said publishers.
Soul Hackers 2 was a categorical risk for Sega and Atlus. It's a sequel to a game that came out only in Japan in 1997, with a remake that came out on the 3DS in 2013. It's part of a series that is niche unless it has the word "Persona" somewhere in the title. And it's a game that had the budget to match those expectations. Soul Hackers 2 is not very graphically intensive, relatively short as far as JRPGs go, and includes a bunch of very long, somewhat repetitive dungeons that you have to crawl through to complete it.
And you know what? I don't think most people would have had a problem with any of those things if Soul Hackers 2 came out on a handheld console. Because the expectations would be set to match! Do you remember how many mid-tier scaled JRPGs came out on the 3DS and Vita? Like, an ungodly amount. Bravely Default, Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Etrian Odysseys, Stella Glow, The Denpa Men, Ever Oasis, Digimon Cyber Sleuth, Oreshika, Okamiden, Freedom Wars, Toukiden...I could go on and on and on.
You probably haven't heard of half of these, but that's kind of the point! There was a bunch of weird, interesting shit coming out on portable consoles. It wasn't always fantastic, but it was worth at least taking a look at. And because these games were sitting at a maximum of $40, if not cheaper, they were a lot easier to take a chance on - something I did very regularly as a college student with less of an income. And by less I mean none.
Handheld games allowed for more than just small titles from random studios you've never heard of though. It's true that Nintendo's newest console, for example, is a hybrid-handheld. And it's sort of taken over the place that the 3DS and Vita used to. But not quite - and this can be seen in Nintendo's own development cycles. Before, we used to get all sorts of funny little Zelda games on the 3DS. Triforce Heroes, the Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask remakes, A Link Between Worlds. Now we've gotten two Zelda games in the past six years, and one is a sequel with the same gameplay loop as its predecessor.
These little experimental experiences used to help round out studio portfolios, and those experiments were sometimes even more engaging than mainline titles. For every numbered Metal Gear Solid title, there was Metal Gear Acid or Portable Ops or Peace Walker. Kingdom Hearts releasing on every platform known to man was a terrible idea for its narrative, but it also gave us Chain of Memories and Birth By Sleep. Final Fantasy XV came out with World of Final Fantasy. Honestly, Square Enix has been one of the few companies to keep that sort of handheld spirit alive, with games like Harvestella, Octopath Traveler, and other AA games filling in the gaps.
But for me it's not enough! I miss consoles I could put in my pocket. I miss Platinum releasing sci-fi space battle JRPGs instead of mediocre live-service games. I miss Gravity Rush (dang, I almost got through this whole post without mentioning it).
I recently got a Retroid Handheld - I might write about it in the future. It has been a solid reminder of a part of the game industry that I think we're only going to miss more as time goes on. At least, I will!
But that's all for now! Do you miss the handheld gaming era? Got any favorites? Lemme know in the comments or on Cohost! Thanks for reading!