Pick-up-and-play games–puzzle games, especially–do well on handheld consoles for this obvious reason: handhelds are generally most often played in short bursts, often while traveling or waiting for something. But is it possible to make an epic, story-heavy RPG, adventure, or action game on a handheld while designing for portability? Crisis Core on the PSP and The World Ends With You on the DS both attempt to deliver such an experience, and I’d like to examine how they do so, whether they succeed, and what level of portability is truly necessary.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a game that takes a bit of figuring out to understand at first. As someone who is used to the standard RPG mission-quest distinction, where missions are part of the main storyline with quests being optional but rewarding side stories, I was initially confused by the delegation of what are called missions to an extensive series of short, optional instances where the goal was simply to kill everything.
Inclusion of the missions increases the portability of the game by providing goals that can be accomplished in a couple minutes. They also offer a change of scenery and a way to level grind if you’re stuck, and there are lots of them, adding to the overall length and content of the game. But there’s a problem: at any save point, the player can choose to take a break from the story of the game and teleport to one of these instances, complete it, and be returned to the save point to continue as desired. The problem with these missions is that you could be in the middle of a chase sequence or other intense story segment and can still choose to hop off and complete a few missions. It completely breaks the immersion and pacing of the story.
In contrast, The World Ends With You on the DS handles story and portability (among many other things) very well. The game is divided into many chapters, which take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to complete. This is much longer than Crisis Core‘s missions, but these chapters comprise the game’s main story. There aren’t really any side quests or necessary grinding to distract the player. The game uses a save-anywhere system. It isn’t until the main story is complete that a side-story and other gameplay options open up, including the ability to jump to any chapter at any time.
Both the PSP and the DS have sleep functions, which makes me wonder why story-breaking side missions are even necessary: both games can be paused at any time and the system put in sleep mode until the player is ready to pick it up again. Story in handheld games is already a fractured experience due to how handheld systems are used; in a story-heavy adventure game or RPG, these fractures should be sealed up as much as possible to keep the story coherent. By offering bite-sized gameplay with portability in mind, Crisis Core actually widens the fractures, making the already convoluted story that much harder to follow.