I’m nuts for Secret of Mana. That blend of Final Fantasy RPG gameplay with Zelda-style action combat was the game that made me a fan of what we used to call “Squaresoft” back in the day.
Image: VG Museum
Today, all Square Enix has to do is put up a website that auto-plays one of the tunes off the game’s ridiculously good soundtrack, and I pull out my wallet for whatever new entry in the series they’re making this time.
This year, it’s Seiken Densetsu Collection for Switch. The first three games in the Mana series, on Nintendo’s new console? Yeah, I’m in. Of course, the level of excitement I’m seeing on the internet about the announcement is rather muted, thanks to the bare-bones special features and the 4800 yen (about $56) price tag.
I think it’s reasonable to look at that feature list and price tag and come to the conclusion that it isn’t a great tradeoff for you. Where I disagree is when people take it one step further and suggest that just because a game is “old”, there should always be a low price ceiling on it. That isn’t just a position that consumers invented out of thin air, but one that Nintendo instilled with its Virtual Console program over a decade ago. It’s time to shake that off.
If you want to buy the 1972 film The Godfather on Blu-ray, the only way to do it is to purchase the three-film “Coppola Restoration” collection that includes its excellent sequel and its horrible final entry that you will never watch. This costs around $50. There’s no sense, in the world of films, that because a film is old that it should cost one-tenth the price of a new film.
But when Nintendo first introduced its Virtual Console service with the Wii in 2006, it took this idea and made it a requirement. If your game was originally released on the NES platform, it could only cost $US4.99 ($6) — no more, no less. If a publisher felt that was exactly what its games were worth, then it all worked out. But if not, then the service was forcing them to sell their games for less than they felt they were worth.
Image: VG Museum
This goes both ways. $US4.99 ($6) was a price ceiling and a price floor. I think Super Mario Bros. 3 is worth more than that. I also think Urban Champion should be 99 cents ($1.29).
Square Enix has had an on-again, off-again, non-committal relationship with Virtual Console over the years. It didn’t release Final Fantasy on the Wii’s Virtual Console until mid-2009, nearly three years after Wii’s launch. In America, it didn’t release anything on Wii U besides Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Ogre Battle 64. And on New Nintendo 3DS, where other publishers have released their best Super Nintendo games, it’s only released a couple of B-tier titles, and then only in Japan. We can see that the company isn’t fully on board with the service’s ideals. Everybody understands that Nintendo 3DS would have been a perfect place for Final Fantasy 3 and Chrono Trigger.
Fortunately, Virtual Console does not seem to be the only pathway by which publishers can release their legacy Nintendo platform content on Switch. They’re not tied to digital-only releases at a set price. They can release bundles, they can release physical cartridges, and, yes, they can raise the price if they want. That same freedom allows other publishers to lower the price.
Nintendo’s original concept that games must be priced on age and not quality didn’t do very many favours for the reputation of classic games, because it helped establish the idea that the value of a game is purely tied to the year in which it was created. If we want to see something along the lines of a “Coppola Restoration” for classic games, they can’t be forced into a bargain price tier.
If you don’t think the content of the Seiken collection justifies the price, vote with your wallet. But these are three absolutely stellar games that I am happy to see remain in print, and if Square Enix won’t re-release them unless they can charge a premium, well, I’d rather have them for a bit too much money than not have them at all.