We often criticise gaming platform makers for their missteps, so let us also praise them when they do something great: Xbox One’s backward compatibility feature is nothing short of perfection.
Setting up my Xbox One X over the holiday reminded me that I had been meaning to get around to playing Lost Odyssey, an Xbox 360 game that recently turned 10 years old and recently became compatible with the Xbox One.
Remember Lost Odyssey? It was something of a minor miracle that this game was actually made, the product of a strange set of circumstances: Square Enix had pushed out Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, just at the time that Microsoft was deciding that it needed to do whatever it took to make Xbox successful in Japan. So Microsoft became Sakaguchi’s sugar daddy, funding two exclusive RPGs from his studio: Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey.
Of the two, Lost Odyssey is the more Final Fantasyesque, with a graphic style that looks very FF8, a skill-learning system reminiscent of FF5‘s, and a familiar soundtrack from composer Nobuo Uematsu. The story is intriguing, especially the unique text-only short stories that punctuate the main tale. It’s a Final Fantasy in everything but corporate branding.
In other words, if you’ve played every game in the series but not this, you should really rectify that! But that would have been more difficult if you had to track down a used copy and set up your Xbox 360 again. Lost Odyssey is too good a game, too important a piece of history, to be stuck on a few thousand sets of four fragile Xbox discs each and played on unreliable hardware.
So it’s great that you can play it, and Blue Dragon, and nearly 400 other old games, on the Xbox One. The console didn’t have backward compatibility when it launched in November 2013. Instead, Microsoft rolled out the feature at E3 2015 (to one of the biggest ovations of the show, as I recall it). Major highlights include six Assassin’s Creed games and as many Calls of Duty, the whole Gears of War series, all the Dead Spaces, and so on.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Look more closely and the breadth of selections is astounding. You can play Final Fight: Double Impact, the collection of two Capcom arcade games. Or Sega Bass Fishing. Or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Hell, you can even play Golden Axe, a game that was delisted from the Xbox 360 store before the Xbox One even came out. That’s right: You can’t buy Golden Axe, but if you already own it, you can redownload it at your leisure and play it on Xbox One. Now that’s customer service!
You can also play the Xbox 360 game based on Disney’s movie Bolt, which starred John Travolta as Bolt.
Just as important as what games are available is how they are integrated into the Xbox One interface. You can play these games by putting the original discs into your Xbox One, but you don’t need to go digging through EB Games’ bargain bins; every game that becomes backward compatible is added into the Xbox One’s digital store. Unlike, say, the Wii U, you don’t have to navigate into an unwieldy separate interface to find older games; they’re sitting right there next to the native Xbox One titles, as they should be.
More than that, if you already own the games on your account, you don’t even have to go digging for them at all: If you look at My Games And Apps, any games you own that have become backward compatible will simply appear in your list of games that are ready to install. Insofar as I don’t even remember all the Xbox 360 games I downloaded since 2005, glancing in that menu is like opening a time capsule of things that Past Me bought for Present Me.
In addition to the fact that the games just show up in your library, all the achievements and cloud saves that you might have had will carry over, so you can jump right back in where you left off. (As it turns out, I did play a tiny bit of Lost Odyssey when it launched, so now I have achievements dated 10 years apart.)
I should get an Achievement for this.
There’s even a handful of games from the original Xbox, although this is a smaller, more hit-driven selection of classics such as Crimson Skies and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. And as the cherry on top, a small number (seven, as of today) of the most popular 360 games have Xbox One X enhancements.
Even if Microsoft hadn’t handled backward compatibility so well, its mere existence would be a point in Xbox’s favour considering what the competition has done so far this generation.
Sony seems to just want players to forget it ever had a library of digital PlayStation 3 content: It hasn’t brought its extensive PlayStation 1 library (which has almost 1000 games in Japan!) to the PlayStation 4 yet, and the small selection of PlayStation 2 games it offers have to be repurchased even if you already own them (whether on disc or as a PS3 download).
Meanwhile, Nintendo Switch isn’t backward compatible with anything and I sincerely doubt it ever will be. I’m sure that you’ll soon be able to play an extensive library of Nintendo classics on Switch, but the fact that Nintendo has announced an all-you-can-eat service model in lieu of individual downloads likely means that all that cash we splashed on Virtual Console isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans on Switch.
It’s becoming more and more clear that backward compatibility is, unfortunately, not something to be relied upon as gaming hardware evolves, even in the age of digital libraries. As one gaming historian recently pointed out on Twitter: Of the 50 iOS games named as the best in Edge magazine eight years ago, 40 of them have since been delisted from the App Store. Nintendo will soon close up shop on WiiWare, meaning you won’t be able to buy those games even if you still have the original hardware.
In short, trying to keep games in print on modern hardware is looking like a losing battle. But we need not go gentle into the Appocalypse, and it’s great to see Microsoft keeping as many Xbox games as it can on the digital shelves in a way that’s consumer-friendly, well-designed and broad-based.