Epic Handhelds

I have Dragon Quest IX on my DS.  If you're not familiar with the series, they're epic Japanese RPGs with their own style.  Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2 had an incredible amount of gameplay – I put 80 hours into playing it.  From everything I've seen in DQ IX, and everything I hear, this tiny cartridge is packed with as much content as the PS2 disc.

For people not familiar with gaming, handhelds like the DS may not seem to be the place for epic games that last 40, 50, or more hours.  It's too easy to assume portable gaming is casual gaming.

Of course this isn't true.  Handheld gaming gave us Pokemon, games people could put hundreds of hours into playing.  There are epic RPGs for various handhelds, from Golden Sun to Shin Megami Tensi: Strange Journey.  Hand-held gaming has had epic for quite some time.

However, as I've played Dragon Quest IX, which proves to be more addicting than its' predecessor, I've started to speculate that epics are not only well-suited to handhelds, they may be an ideal place for them in the future.

Consider the epic game (usually a RPG).  It's involving.  It takes hours to play.  You're going to log 40 hours to play through it and maybe over 100 to experience it all.  This is great – but if it's on a console or a PC, you're going to be geographically limited in how you experience.

On the other hand a portable device can go anywhere.  You can experience that epic game on the train or bus, on a long car trip, on an airplane, or waiting in line at the DMV.  The handheld lets you timeshift the epic to play anywhere.

Consoles on the other hand limit us geographically to being in front of our televisions.  That may be good for some games, and of course for enhanced graphics, but you're limited to when you can play them.  When you've got 100 hours of gameplay to get to and enjoy, it's nice to be able to choose where to enjoy it, and to have more control over your entertainment time.

With an increase in handheld devices, I'm thinking there is a chance that some companies will aim epics more and more at handheld devices.  They won't disappear from other platforms, but frankly the content of an epic is more consumable in handheld form.  In fact, it might even mean more sales for whatever game is deployed – because of the lack of geographical limits.

I think this is something to keep in mind both culturally and for people developing games.  The handheld arena has a history of epics, but the future may be even more . . . epic.

– Steven Savage