My opinion on RPGs on handheld systems.
So I've been playing Star Ocean: First Departure on the PSP. It's a good game - you can find my first impressions on here somewhere - but as I was playing it, I started thinking about RPGs on handhelds. Are RPGs really fit to be on handheld systems? I remember back when I was playing Pokemon on the Gameboy Color, It was great fun, and a huge part of the reason it was fun was because you could save anywhere, at any time, and pick the game up any time later and continue. Anyone who's an RPG gamer can probably relate to this frustration: Well, I stopped playing X for a couple of weeks, and now I have to start all over; I can't remember what was happening. It can be the most frustrating thing in the world, and the frustration increases tenfold on a system that you may only pick up twice a month.
RPGs are story-driven, and they require a high level of commitment in order to beat them. From my experience with people who play handhelds, they can't or won't give that sort of commitment to a handheld system. They want their DS or PSP for short spurts of fun while they're waiting for something else. If I look back to Pokemon, I remember being able to play that for a mere five minutes and turning it off; good times indeed. Then I look at First Departure, and I see a problem. I was in a dungeon, and I spent forty minutes in this one dungeon. The dungeon had exactly two save points throughout, and ironically both were placed near the tail end of the dungeon. Had I gotten halfway through the dungeon and then that something happened and I had to turn the PSP off, I would have been screwed. And if I was going to go a couple weeks before I turned my PSP back on, I'd be even more screwed.
This isn't a problem that plauges First Departure exclusively, either. I went a whopping two weeks without playing Crisis Core, and I suddenly realized it was time to start over. Needless to say, in my frustration I decided to play something else instead. I really, really wanted to play Crisis Core, but the idea of starting over was revolting at best.
I hope game designers can take a lesson from all of this. RPGs can be great on handheld systems so long as they're designed from the ground up as a handheld experience. Designers need to consider things such as distance between save points and lengths of time spend absent from the game. Once these two things are considered, maybe we'll end going full circle and getting a great handheld RPG that plays like Pokemon.