A nice bouquet of late bloomers
I like to cling onto my consoles for dear life (as shown by my recent PS3 buying guide). I’m a little wary of anything new, I like what I know, and I’m incredibly tight-fisted when it comes to shelling out for new tech; this all means I’d much rather spend my hard-earned cash on games for the consoles I already have, rather than saving up for a new one – *ahem* Switch *ahem*.
Often, consoles become targets in their dotage for shovelware, movie tie-ins and pure kids’ games, but you can find a handful of unsung heroes and surprising classics at the tail-end of console life cycles, if you dig into gaming history. And yes, this period in the life of a console contains a lot of JRPGs, but it is by no means dominated by the genre. There are even a few titles that you might not have known originally came out on a completely different, dying-out console, or were successfully ported to that console. So, let’s check out a few critically acclaimed games that came out on a console that was heading into retirement.
I have not included games that also came out on the console’s successor, so no Persona 5 or Breath of the Wild. Sorry!
1. Persona 4 (PlayStation 2), JP: 10 July 2008
Barely a “top 6” list goes by without me mentioning a Persona game, since they seem to somehow tick all the boxes. Persona 4 is definitely a step down in many ways compared to the Golden version that came out for the Vita four years later. But the vanilla version of Persona 4 would still be one of my favourite JRPGs of all time – no, scratch that, one of my favourite games of all time – if I did not have access to a Vita.
The game definitely betrays its prior-generation roots, looking very similar to Persona 3 (also a relatively late PS2 release). The UI and character artwork is gorgeous, but the in-game visuals are hardly complex or breathtaking. None of it really matters, since it more than serves its purpose as a solid “one more” JRPG with a nice slice-of-life diversion.
You’ll never catch me saying anything truly bad about the most recent crop of Persona games, but you do have to wonder whether the game could have pushed the limits a little more, had it come out for the PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, Western demand for new Persona games was relatively muted back then, so it wouldn’t have been profitable to push for a current-gen version. Yet the minimal differences between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 versions of Persona 5 make me think that a PS3 version of Persona 4, rather than just an emulation, wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
2. Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (Super Famicom), JP: 1 September 1999/21 January 2000
Fire Emblem is one of the old guard when it comes to Nintendo series, and enjoyed a great deal of critical acclaim even before it became the more mainstream and widely-known series it is today. Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 was released long after the advent of the Nintendo 64, initially on the Nintendo Power rewritable flash cart and the following year on a standard cartridge.
Lauded as a punishing yet worthy entry to the series, Thracia 776 is notable for being one of the last games ever developed for the Super Famicom and for being the last home console game in the Fire Emblem series for another five years. A fan translation has since become available, but to this day, no official Western release has been on the horizon, despite Virtual Console re-releases in Japan.
3. Ace Attorney Investigates 2 (DS), JP: 3 February 2011
Another game that never saw the light of day in the US or Europe, Ace Attorney Investigates 2 continues the story of everyone’s favourite snooty prosecutor, Miles Edgeworth, and a cast of kooky characters, such as the dopey detective Dick Gumshoe. Unfortunately, poor sales of the first Ace Attorney Investigates game doomed its sequel to obscurity outside of Japan, but the sequel has been popular enough there not only to see a DS release in 2011, but also an Android and iOS release in 2017.
Thankfully, the final version of a fan translation was released in 2015, so you can now get your hands on further sleuthing japes if you can’t understand Japanese. In hindsight, it’s in its favour that Ace Attorney Investigates 2 was a late DS release, since the DS is region-free but the 3DS isn’t.
4. Rayman (Atari Jaguar), NA: 1 September 1995
The Atari Jaguar was a slightly botched creation prone to hardware failure, particularly if you also used the Jaguar CD; by the time the PlayStation was on the market, it couldn’t keep up. This became more evident with the release of Rayman, which was originally planned as a Jaguar mainstay but was later extended to other, shinier consoles.
The sound fidelity of the Jaguar version of Rayman appears to be a common complaint, while the jaunty tunes of the PlayStation version are one of my positive memories of the first-ever outing of the armless adventurer. Unfortunately, the original Rayman was incredibly difficult for a very small child, and I ultimately wish that five-year-old me had had Rayman Legends at their fingertips instead of this slightly cruel ordeal. But it was a solid start to a lovely, whimsical journey that is ultimately one of my favourite long-running platformer series.
Comparing the sound of the cartridge Jaguar game to that of the CD Sega Saturn version.
5. Resident Evil (Saturn), JP: 25 July 1997
Unlike with the Jaguar version of Rayman, there are a handful of upsides to playing the Saturn version of Resident Evil, as opposed to one of the crisper PlayStation editions. Sure, Chris looks a little more…cuboid in the Saturn version, but it tried to make up for it with exclusive skins and a battle mode.
There are regular discussions as to which version of the original Resident Evil is the best, and both the DS and Saturn versions are often given a mention: part of a larger tradition of Resident Evil games varying massively and in very pleasing ways from port to port.
6. Ninja Gaiden (Sega Master System), EU: 1992
While the Ninja Gaiden series got its start on the NES in 1988, a single NG game was released for a Sega home console four years later, receiving a great deal of praise. Diverging from the story of the original games, it still managed to carve out its own successes through inventing the wall-to-wall jumping mechanic that would be used again in Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox.
By 1992, Sonic 2 was just around the corner, as was the concept of blast processing; the Sega Master System was well on its way to being shoved in a drawer. The Ninja Gaiden release for the SMS limped out of production, only ever seeing a release in Europe due to poor demand elsewhere. Despite all of its setbacks, including being restricted to a pretty out-of-date console, it was seen as a highlight of the series’ origins.
What are your favourite end-of-life releases for a console? Which console do you particularly miss getting new releases for? Let me know in the comments down below!