Over the last few weeks a couple news stories have made the rounds that to me bring attention to a sorely underrepresented genre in portable gaming. Blizzard now admits that it had a Game Boy version of Diablo in the works around a decade ago, and Gearbox won’t rule out a PlayStation Vita version of Borderlands 2. My question is, why hasn’t there been a definitive portable loot-based RPG yet?
One of the main complaints against the Vita and the PSP before it is that every console game doesn’t work well in the handheld environment. For the most part, RPGs are an exception, and the genre has thrived on handhelds ever since Pokémon, but why not this particular style of RPG?
On top of RPGs, one of the things handhelds are good at providing is fast-paced, addictive gaming. Games like Diablo and Torchlight fit this to a tee. I’m not even just talking about Nintendo and Sony handhelds here either. I’m shocked there isn’t even a good Diablo rip-off available on iOS or anything.
What do we have so far? Heroes of Ruin for the 3DS (which I haven’t heard great things about), Soma Bringer for the DS which I don’t think ever came out in English, Heroe’s Call for iOS, and maybe a few other obscure mobile games. The only franchise that seems to be making any real effort at this is Phantasy Star, with multiple entries on the PSP and DS which have ranged from good to fantastic.
Sega has been making all the right moves with Phantasy Star Online 2 – not just making it free-to-play, but also developing free clients for the Vita and mobile devices. Even if the mobile version can’t take you online it’ll still be nice to have as a companion app to grind your character when you’re away from other machines. Why can’t Diablo or Torchlight have something like that?
The fact that touch screen interfaces are now the norm in handheld gaming makes them even better-suited to loot RPGs. Instead of a game where you constantly click on stuff you’d just tap on stuff all the time. With some adjustments I bet an original RPG like this would work fine.
The best reason I can think of for this void is the lack of attention the western developers who make most of these games give to traditional handhelds. For most kinds of games I could understand the weak hardware being an issue, but most loot RPGs, Diablo and Torchlight in particular, are already technically modest games made to run on a wide range of computers. At the very least they could easily make a portable game with graphics resembling Diablo II, and it would look just fine.
Maybe they only care about iOS and Android when it comes to portables now. Okay, the only roadblock I see there is the price ceiling. I’m sure if they could get away with a $40 or $60 iOS game someone like Blizzard would’ve tried this. A little lower and I don’t see why Runic games wouldn’t try it. I guess Sega really did have the right idea by going F2P with PSO2.
Maybe developers are just too risk-averse to try it, but I still don’t think there’s any reason to NOT try it. At this point I really hope PSO2 becomes a hit on the Vita and mobile so that just maybe it can spark a trend. It seems like a powder-keg of a genre really – all it’ll take is one breakout hit.