Nostalgia is a powerful tool for selling re-releases of last-gen titles, one which has helped the PS1 and PS2 classics sections of the PlayStation Network become attractive destinations for older gamers in search of bargains. Who can resist downloading old favorites for $10 or less? I, for one, was ecstatic when PS1 classics came to the Vita, which goes to show how much milage some 10+ year old titles can have. Recently, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories made its way to the PS2 classics section, but my brief sojourn in the land of classic tactical RPGs has, surprisingly, served only to strengthen my impatience for upcoming current-gen releases.
It all comes down to an issue of timing. This year’s first quarter lineup simply has too much to look forward to, what with Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinite, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and a number of other juicy titles gracing the early 2013 lineup list. Getting excited for the release of a lengthy classic in its original form is just too difficult in this atmosphere of intense anticipation, even if the game in question is actually good. Imagine if Gone With The Wind had come back to theaters last summer in the midst of The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers, with little to no marketing to support it.
Imperfect simile aside, releasing niche PS2 titles in current circumstances could doom them to even further obscurity. A vast proportion of the gaming population is gearing up for several major action titles just over the horizon. Tactics games like Disgaea 2 just don’t have the pacing to keep up with the mindset many of us are in. How many athletes do you think get ready for a big game by playing chess? For most players, Disgaea 2 is simply under the radar, and the major titles launching in the not-too-distant future are doing a good job of keeping it off.
There are, of course, always exceptions; die-hard tactics fans will almost certainly have kept a keen eye out for re-releases of classics like Disgaea 2, especially those who found their tactical RPG fires kindled from Fire Emblem: Awakening. Even in this case, however, Disgaea 2‘s age may serve Fire Emblem: Awakening better than it serves itself.
When it comes right down to it, Disgaea 2 has aged, and this fact can easily turn nostalgia into disenfranchisement. As games evolve, they can easily spoil us to their predecessors. A mechanic that once felt fresh and exciting feels rehashed and stale, even though it may well have been the game that pioneered it! Suddenly, the newer game looks that much better, and the re-release you just got has left a bad taste in your mouth. In order to demonstrate what I mean, here’s a bit of show and tell:
The above video features a little bit of everything that once excited me about the PS2-era Disgaea series. First, voice acting! When sprite-animated games began to feature voice acting, I was thrilled. The acting in Disgaea 2, however, mirrors the shoddy quality of the Pokémon animated series. Next, while the sprites are well-rendered and the art style still holds up as good today, there’s no life in this exposition. Completely motionless sprites conduct an entire scene without really moving! By today’s standards, you’d think your graphics had locked up!
Combat in Disgaea 2 feels similarly stale these days. Characters remain flat and exhibit expression only when executing attacks, which are pleasantly flashy, but get tiresome when you’ve watched them several times. Now remember combat revolves around executing these moves over and over again for possibly hundreds of hours. At the very least, Disgaea‘s penchant for silly narrative remains enjoyable. In other words, it’s not the story that’s aged, it’s the medium.
These problems aren’t Disgaea 2‘s alone to bear, and, though some titles age better than others, any classic may face them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a die-hard fan of the classics, but as time goes on my collection of PS1 and PS2 RPGs gathers more and more dust. Instead, I spend hundreds of hours playing The Witcher series, Skyrim and Dragon’s Dogma, all titles that feature more visceral fantasy combat.
Maybe my tastes have simply changed, but with today’s RPGs blending the fantastic and the realistic, the glory days of sprites and speech boxes are more appealing when they remain fond memories. They say you can’t ever go home again, and replaying Disgaea 2 brought new meaning to that phrase for me.
Ultimately, classics on console networks are never going to outsell new releases, and putting them out virtually unannounced during a major new release season isn’t doing them any favors. Nostalgia is a great selling point, but it’s not enough on its own. Plenty of us want to relive our personal gold and silver ages of gaming, but we can’t do that if we never know what vintages are in stock. It helps to bring in the golden oldies at a time when flashy new releases don’t hold our rapt attention, but with game release schedules becoming increasingly more crowded, will that time ever come? Maybe the classics would be served better by being enhanced, rather than simply re-released for a quick buck.