A recent conversation with one of my co-workers got us talking about a subject that never fails to get me heated: the slow death of beloved franchises when they're sent to smartphones. I make no secret of the fact that I'm not fond of mobile gaming - I mean iOS and Android, not dedicated handhelds like the 3DS and Vita, mind you - and a pair of recent announcements has me more disenchanted with the medium than ever.
ForwardWorks, relatively new subsidiary of Sony's, is heading production of the "Reboot Project," which aims to return two classic RPG franchises to life on smartphones. The lucky pair consists of Wild Arms and Arc the Lad, both of which debuted on the original PlayStation in the late 1990s and went on to spawn a variety of sequels across Sony platforms. The two have lain dormant for quite a few years; Wild Arms XF released to little fanfare in 2007 for the PSP, while Arc the Lad: End of Darkness was a middling action RPG that hit the PS2 way back in 2004. Neither bore much resemblance to the original games that spawned their respective series, so it's not altogether surprising that they would become the final titles in each lineup.
Fast-forward to 2016, and now we have word that both games are about to be reborn, but in grim circumstances that couldn't be more of a monkey's paw scenario. We're getting Wild Arms and Arc the Lad back, but chances are they'll both be banal gacha games that capitalize on nostalgia to sell in-game currency. (For the uninitiated, "gacha" games are those that tantalize players with rare loot or characters that can only be acquired through random chance - and that chance increases when players start feeding real money into the system. You can read more of my frustration with this gaming model here.)
Wild Arms for smartphone is confirmed to feature characters from the entire series, which is canonically impossible from a narrative standpoint. This points to the game not being a fully-fledged RPG, but instead a character collectathon in the vein of Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius or Star Ocean: Anamnesis. The new Arc the Lad is likely to follow in the same vein. These types of games function around the gacha model precisely because they are so profitable. Developers can gauge player interest in particular characters, then hold them just out of reach, compelling players to pay money for a chance to acquire them.
From a capitalist standpoint, it's pure genius; soliciting money for digital assets that will always be able to meet demand is a surefire way to make money. But it's also predatory, and leverages players' nostalgia for financial gain. These games make money at the expense of their legacies. The creative integrity of the original works is all but destroyed in their exploitation.
I feel like a fool every time I give one of these games a chance. Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, Mobius Final Fantasy, Tales of Link... they're all the same game with a different coat of paint. Any artistic talent that is poured into their audiovisual presentation is stripped of its value when it's used to frame these offensively mundane, repetitive experiences.
In the unlikely event that either game ends up a fully-fledged, proper RPG - bereft of in-app purchases, I might add - I'll consider giving them a go. But even in this best-case scenario, if either game requires me to play with a virtual control setup (as in a touch-screen joystick and buttons), I'm bound to dislike them on principle. The lack of tactile input is a big reason why I don't play many phone games, and adds to my frustration with my favorite series moving to mobile. I know that smartphone gaming isn't going anywhere thanks to its profitability, but I'd like to see developers take more risks with fan-favorite franchises. I wanted Wild Arms back, sure, but not like this.
I guess we'd better be careful what we wish for.