Xbox One’s Backward Compatibility Is Fantastic

Xbox One’s Backward Compatibility Is Fantastic

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.

Lost Odyssey.

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.

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.

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.


  • I agree with this entire article. It’s a fantastic service, and Phil Spencer should get a goddamn Presidential Medal of Freedom for introducing it.

    Sadly, all PlayStation need to do to win the sheeple over next gen is make their catalogue from this generation backwards compatible with the PS5. I don’t know if that’ll happen, far less people have discovered that Mattrick’s Xbox isn’t Spencer’s Xbox. The reverse-Midas touch of Don Mattrick is still far too potent for Microsoft’s successes to beat out the philosophical objection to what was arguably perceived as the ‘lesser service.’ And it’s certainly not more powerful than everyone’s hard-on for Sony these days.

    • Sony want to sell backwards compatibility as a service – which is what they do now via streaming although they don’t offer it here in Australia.

    • Microsoft’s issue at this stage is the games I believe, not so much the shakey launch. Granted it was hard to recover from, but with almost no compelling exclusives I, who would be absolutely ‘hard core gamer’ with a Switch, PS4 and PC simply have no need for one.

      • You’re right of course, but the reason for the lack of games is simply because if you’re going to develop for a market, you make sure you lock in the market leaders first. Xbox became very unpopular to work with for a time there … non-consultative, heavy handed, etc.

    • Remember the massive PS2 library that was initially backwards compatible with the PS3? I remember some industry concerns that this was the cause of slow software sales on the PS3 and shortly afterwards that service started to disappear.

      Since then backwards compatibility at launch seems to be a thing of the past that is added in at later stages. Even now I suspect the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility is only being pushed as a major feature of the Xbox One because the console was struggling.

    • I don’t know about that. I have a feeling Sony are going to copy Microsoft’s current backwards compatibility scheme for the PS5. They’ll do it really well but it’s not a perfect system. However if you look at what Microsoft have been doing lately the next XBOX is going to be backwards compatible with XBOX One games out of the box. I’d bet money that the next XBOX won’t use emulation or hardare tricks for XBOX One games. You’ll go to your Games & Apps and start them up like you would on any other game on the platform. It won’t even be backwards compatible it’ll just be compatible.

      If that’s true Sony are a generation behind.

  • I’m currently playing through Lost Odyssey on my Xbox 360, about half-way through disc 3 & loving it. I gave away my Xbone to my brother a few months back because it was collecting dust, but pulling out the old 360 was the best idea I had all month.

  • 400 games on back compat, probably even more ID games, all the 3rd party AAA but every time I listen to someone talk about the 1X, or even Xbox more generally, the common refrain is “it has no games”.
    Glad to see someone finally fired up the machine to have a look at what’s on offer before giving their commentary.

    • What you’ve got to realize is that the general consumer market for video games do not care very much for backwards compatibility.

      As much as I like Xbox for their support of old games and hate Sony for their lack of it, I have to admit Sony made the smarter strategic decision as a business…

        • Oh yeah, that’s exactly how I imagine a Microsoft board meeting would go.

          It’s a great business decision sure, but let’s not lose sight of reality huh?

      • I dunno, if you go into the Xbox store and look at the the list of games available, or if you go into your library of games that you already own, there’s just so many games to choose from.
        The commentary about “literally no games available” is obviously a troll from video games journalists that haven’t played Xbox since Ryse: Son of Rome came out.

    • What can I say? Sony learnt from their ps3 mistakes (anybody remember ‘ps3 has no game’, one of the first real memes) and invested heavily into exclusives, yet for some reason microsoft backed off on exclusives with the xbone. As a PC gamer, I only play exclusives on consoles, so far I haven’t had enough reason to buy either, even after all these years, and I’ve always been an xbox guy since the original but I’m definitely leaning playstation first this time despite the awful controllers.

      That’s just me though, if I was looking for my first or sole console and didn’t game on PC, Xbox is definitely the better value proposition thanks to that backwards compatibility.

      • That’s the perspective that is often lacking in the games media. They all have a PS4 and a PC and can’t see a reason to have an Xbox, which is totally fair.
        But for a parent buying a kid’s first gaming machine, Xbox is the cheapest option with access to most of the biggest games.
        For someone like me, who didn’t get a PS4 until recently and my laptop doesn’t run new games, the Xbox is a great platform.

  • If the Xbox had backwards compatability at launch, I think we would of seen a whole different outcome this generation….

    • Tough to say, seeing as an initial success would likely have seen them push forward with some of the other less consumer friendly ideas they had in the pipe line, not to mention they would’ve needed to use that success to bolster their modern library of exclusives which is still the biggest selling point of its competitors.

      It would’ve been interesting though, it’s always better to have Sony and Microsoft going head to head (And for Nintendo to stop rolling around every few cycles and smash everyone like a druken master)

    • That and…
      Kinect not being mandatory.
      Price parity.
      Power parity.
      Better messaging.
      COD & Destiny DLC exclusives.

  • PC, if I upgrade, and the devs don’t update it if need be to get it working? Can be sure that there’s a fan out there who’ll get it working for everyone.

    Consoles lock off so much it’s borderline anti-consumer, keeping you within their eco-systems and play pens, only backing down slightly when met with an absolute furore these days.

    • But sure, praise them when they give you basic functionality, it’s nice seeing just how little it takes to please us these days.

    • If you play games on console you know what you’re getting: a closed system.
      I much prefer console to PC for gaming, sure there is a lot less freedom to tweak, but being able to plonk myself on the couch and not have to worry about the games booting is great.

  • IMO, Id rather it didnt require a download of the entire game when you have the disc. Whats stopping them just install from the disc and then just downloading whats required for emulation?

    • Yea it’s the reason why my XB360 is still kicking around, I hate this whole install everything concept…

      • I get that one is a download and the other isn’t, but aren’t you installing the games on your XBOX 360 anyway? Playing 360 off the disc seems so savage.

  • Literally the only reason to own an Xbox one. Virtually no good exclusives (the PS4 wipes the floor in this dept) and Yu can get everything else on other platforms.
    Sony’s greedy streaming service is shitty business practice and it doesn’t matter that it’s not available in Australia because our backwater internet speeds wouldn’t do it justice.
    Kudos to Microsoft for doing something great for consumers but at this point I’d rather just play my old 360 and original Xbox because the XBONE just doesn’t have the range of great games that the PS4 has.

  • As a massive PlayStation fan who owns everything Sony I will seriously consider switching if the competition is still offering an experience like this in 12 months time and there remains nothing comparable on my platform. Im happy to pay but if you block me from the content I want we have a problem.

  • I’m getting to a point in my life where next generation games don’t fill me with any excitement. Sure the graphics are beautiful but gameplay and that sprinkle of frustration just isn’t there. I’ve started collecting a whole bunch of previous games that I enjoyed from childhood and teens, thinking back, there’s easily hundreds of hours of game play in there. I mean, with adult life, playing through Final Fantasy 7 then 8 then 9, that’s like 6-12 months of entertainment easily. All while that’s happening, several AAA games have been released, with micro transactions, or some sort of online multiplayer only function that disappoints the next generation of gaming. I know which one I’m choosing…

    100% love MS doing this for the XB1, and I look forward to playing a heck of a lot more older games in the future.

  • Been playing through KOTOR using backcompat on my 4k TV on the xbox one.
    Game looks amazing (except for the menus and video cutscenes) really impressing how they can make such an old game look so good.

  • I’m happy you’re finally finishing LO, it truly is one of the greats. My fave JRPG of the last generation. (Sorry, Ni No Kuni.)

  • What are these great PS4 exclusives everyone is talking about? Don’t get me wrong there is stuff I play on my PS4. Zero Dawn is great, Persona 5 is Persona and if I get sick of Dark Souls Bloodbourne will take it’s place, but people make it sound like non-stop factory line of great new exclusives every month. I’ll count Uncharted because people love it, but it’s a poor mans Tomb Raider.

    Aside from Nintendo nobody is really knocking it out of the park with their exclusives.

    • Just look up a list, pretty easy to see why.
      Almost 800 exclusive titles across all networks since release and about 200 exclusives titles slated as upcoming.
      They aren’t all winners or big name AAA’s, but by numbers alone there is a big choice of titles to appeal to just about anybody.

      Microsoft comparatively is over 250 released and less than 50 on the books for the future.
      It’s no criticism of Microsoft, but you can see how they aren’t exactly helping the mythos themselves.

    • Looking at the past few years it’s been fairly even in terms of the AAA exclusives but the next few years for Sony include Spiderman, TLoU2, and Death Stranding. Xbox can’t match the hype of those 3. The rest of Sony’s lineup is more dependant on what you’re into.

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