The transition from home consoles to portable gaming form isn’t always a good one for a franchise. Generally speaking, when you make a successful console game you want to keep all things intact when you attempt to duplicate that success with a sequel. The memorable gameplay features, characters, and world-building that made the original so great is likely to be revisited, of course, but most of all you want to keep that core audience intact. This requires consistency in the choice of hardware you want to release your game on. But it hasn’t always worked out that way. Sometimes console sequels get released on portable formats, leaving homebody gamers out in the cold.
Maybe a company is trying to coerce gamers into buying their portable system, or the developer wants to work with a smaller budget and less pressure, or maybe there’s just no rationale we can understand as to why anybody would want to take the direct sequel to a game that was a beloved and acclaimed and banish it to inferior hardware typically bought for children to keep them quiet on road trips. These are four follow-ups to classic titles that were surprisingly only available in miniature form.
It’s been almost twenty years since Final Fantasy Tactics was released on the original PlayStation and it’s still the best strategy RPG I’ve ever played. By far. The immense depth of that game is too much for me to get into here, but let’s just say that when I finally broke down and bought a Nintendo DS, I promptly snapped up Nintendo’s pair of portable-only sequels. Thanks to the DS’s backwards compatibility, this meant I could play Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, named after its system of choice, the Game Boy Advance.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the insanity that saw the sequel to one of the PS1’s best games reduced to
pocket-size form for its sequels or what possessed Square to change a perfect game as much as they did by having characters learn skills based on what item they have equipped instead of how the player chooses to spend their experience to develop their characters, among other small annoyances. And having battle referees (or judges, whatever) imposing arbitrary conditions all the time? Who the hell thought that would be fun?
Not that it wasn’t good by portable gaming standards, but a sequel to a game like FFT has lofty expectations to meet. And then there’s the fact that SRPG’s are made up of long, drawn-out, tactical battles that can last over an hour while portable games are typically going to be played in short spurts; on break at work, on public transportation, etc. It’s kind of a pain to have to play these battles in increments with so many conditions to keep track of. This franchise spin-off is clearly not suited to being portable, yet somehow the only releases since the original have been two sequels on the GBA and DS and a re-release of the original titled War of the Lions on the PSP. Things that make you go hmmmm….
Whether or not Valkyria Chronicles can be considered a bonafide classic may be up for debate, but as one of the clear standout JRPG’s of the last console generation it’s destined for cult classic status at the least. It’s one of the few games whose sales increased steadily rather than declined over its life cycle due to word of mouth and it was one of the first titles I was excited to play on the PS3. In spite of its initial weak sales, the game inspired anime and manga series as well as adulation from tactical RPG fans worldwide.
The good news is that gamers got two sequels to the charming military strategy game. The bad news is that they were exclusive to the PSP, a system I have yet to hear a single person claim ownership of in real life. The PSP looked awesome, had awesome games and features, and seems to have sold a ton, yet nobody seemed to actually own one. I don’t know how that even works.
Anyways, the tragedy is that there weren’t a ton of amazing console JRPG’s last gen and those of us who weren’t into Sony’s portable gaming venture were deprived of the continuation of one of the best. To this day we wonder why and hope that someday Sony will throw us a bone and consolefy them for us like they’ve done for Final Fantasy: Type-0 and the portable God of War sequels. Fingers crossed.
There are few moments in old-school gaming more iconic and memorable than the revelation that the badass space bounty hunter Samus Aran was (gasp) a girl. The original Metroid was part of that slew of 8-bit classics that redefined the awesomeness that gaming was capable of along with titles like Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, and several other franchises that stand to this day. But out of that legendary bounty of amazing NES games, two were sequelized via Nintendo’s first foray into handheld gaming, the Game Boy. Tragically, one of those was Metroid.
I’ve got to say, Metroid II was amazing. Maybe even better than its legendary predecessor. Rather than relying primarily on backtracking with new gear to access new areas, the goal was to seek and destroy all metroids in each area before moving on. And the the further you went, the more the titular space jellyfish evolved and mutated into new forms, keeping the combat fresh. I loved this game.
But here was the thing: the Game Boy ran on batteries, Metroid 2 utilized save points that were sometimes few and far between, and a young gamer like myself wasn’t always mindful of such things. There was no battery life indicator on the GB so basically, you knew the batteries were low when the screen started dimming. And a dimming screen does very little to help you find a save point, so for me this awesome game comes with a lot of bad memories of losing hours of progress and exploration, getting headaches squinting at the fading image on the colorless screen while desperately rushing to find a save point before it winked out entirely, and failing. If this had come out on the NES, it’d be standing alongside its predecessor as a definitive classic.
Out of all of those unforgettable NES classics, Kid Icarus is the one that’s always gotten the short shrift. It joins Metroid here as the other 8-bit franchise to be sequelized on the Game Boy, but unlike Samus, Pit’s franchise would not see the light of day again until the 3DS’s Kid Icarus: Uprising in 2012 and we still haven’t seen it return to consoles proper in spite of Pit’s triumphant return in Super Smash Brothers Melee.
All these years later Kid Icarus remains a unique gaming experience with nothing else comparable to it. Nothing except its forgotten sequel, that is. Of Myths and Monsters translated the experience of its predecessor to the small screen with added features like rewards for killing more enemies and the opportunity to win weapon upgrades whereas in the original you had to purchase them at great cost or use a credit card (an innovation that surprisingly never caught on) and spend hours grinding to pay back the debt. Plus it saved after every level passed, which was a massive improvement over the unbearably long passwords of the first game. It would have likely been another hit had it come out on the NES.
It’s a shame when a truly exceptional game gets a sequel that becomes an obscure footnote in gaming history because it was downsized. Sometimes, like with Metroid, it’s a brief stopover and the franchise recovers its prestige and returns to glory on home consoles, but other times it all but condemns the franchise to the sidelines by only making it available on the portable market and gamers miss out on some really promising titles. Not that portable systems don’t need great games too, but I just wish they’d cultivate their own franchises suited to the format like Scribblenauts and Pokemon rather than minimizing games that would be best played while basking in the glow of home television screens.