The clock is ticking for the RPGs of the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U to be preserved
It’s not exactly a secret that the video game industry has a preservation problem. Many older games either haven’t been ported to newer platforms or essentially required full remakes to do so, as companies let themselves lose access to the source code and assets that made up some of their most iconic titles. Unlike other forms of media, like books, music or movies; games are unique in the sense that they require dedicated hardware running specific software in order to run. As such - outside of community efforts such as emulation, and a desire to circumvent copy protection in order to backup and preserve these games - there’s no guarantee that gaming’s past will remain preserved for all to see into the future. Never has that been more painfully obvious than with this month’s upcoming closure of the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii U’s eShops.
Over the Nintendo Switch’s lifecycle, Xenoblade Chronicles has gone from a series that has had limited appeal, to becoming one of the most popular RPG franchises worldwide, and yet come March 27 a mainline entry in the series in Xenoblade Chronicles X will essentially be lost to history. Even worse, assuming you manage to pick up a pre-owned physical copy down the road - if you hadn’t taken the time to download the game’s various data packs ahead of time, you’ll never be able to experience the game as it was properly intended. RPGs like Bravely Default and Fantasy Life, which inspired series that continue to see ongoing support even today will be lost to time, unless the companies which developed them opt to port them following the storefront’s closure. Even then, the original versions of those games will be lost for good if not for the work of fans contributing to projects such as Citra, CEMU and more.
One day the hardware required to run these games natively will all be dead. There’s already been a scare recently over Wii U’s seemingly dying after not having been touched in several months or years; while the specific details might not be as dire as originally portrayed, from my own experience my original Wii U killed itself after not being touched in a little over a year, back around the Switch’s launch. What is a far more prescient concern is the 3DS; have you checked your 3DS’s battery lately? It very well might have already swollen, and specific 3DS models no longer actively have proper replacement batteries in circulation. When I tried to find a replacement for my New 3DS’s battery before it had a tragic encounter with a cup of coffee, I’d discovered that new batteries were all but impossible to find; and that was over a year ago, let alone how dire the situation might be now.
A quirk of the hardware only compounds this; earlier handhelds like the PSP were fully capable of running off a wall adapter, even with the absence of a working battery, but the way that the 3DS works is different. Power is routed through the battery first before powering the system. Once there are no more 3DS batteries in circulation for whichever model you’re hoping to play, even if the rest of your system is pristine - it will be game over for your system.
I wrote last week about the importance that Mistwalker’s Fantasian be ported to PC, so that it might be preserved for future generations. I got many comments, primarily on Twitter, asking why I wasn’t asking for the game on consoles as well. While I’d love for the game to see ports to other modern platforms, at the end of the day my primary concern when it came to that game was the thought that a landmark, certified classic RPG might one day find itself lost due to not being available on a platform where players could buy and preserve it into the future. Even among proprietary systems, iOS emulation is notoriously difficult; if there’s even a hint that a company might be willing to port their games to PC, it’s only natural I’d advocate for that action.
One day, your favorite RPG might just be lost forever unless somebody makes the effort to preserve it. Today the Wii U and 3DS libraries take a step towards that fate, and should serve as a reminder that the apathy our industry takes towards its history’s preservation cannot continue. The clock is already ticking, and by the time it’ll be too late even more of RPG history will be gone.