The Nintendo Switch has dramatically altered my expectations for a video game console. Prior to the existence of Nintendo’s tablet, I placed games in one of two buckets: there were full home console or PC games and portable releases. That line has blurred to the point of being nonexistent because of the Switch, and it’s only continued as games like Fortnite have become available on every conceivable device with a screen. In 2018, the existence of a dedicated gaming handheld can seem quaint, like a product of an older era.
But I still have at least one reason to keep my Nintendo 3DS around: classic-style role-playing games.
I came to this conclusion while playing the remixed version of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, which came to the 3DS this week. The Switch has had such a hold on me that typically, I want everything to be on it. After playing dozens of hours of Breath of the Wild wherever I pleased, it’s tough to be restricted to my living room when I play through the likes of God of War or Far Cry 5. But I haven’t felt that annoyance that Strange Journey isn’t on the Switch, and that’s because the genre is such a perfect fit for the hardware.
RPGs — Japanese RPGs like Strange Journey, in particular — are typically full of both menus and maps. You need to manage your gear, spells, and quests, and keep track of your trek through whatever fantastical location you’re exploring. In the new Strange Journey, which is an updated version of a Nintendo DS game from 2010, you’re venturing into a mysterious realm that has suddenly appeared in the Arctic, slowly consuming everything around it. Once you get inside, you discover that it’s full of demons, and there may be no way to stop them.
The 3DS is ideally suited for this kind of game. When you explore the harsh, alien realm, the top screen shows what’s around you, while the bottom displays a map, which gets filled out as you reach new areas. Likewise, when you’re in combat or customizing your explorers, the menus are relegated to the touchscreen, while the important information is displayed up top. It’s a perfect setup.
Of course, this isn’t new. Back in 2015 when developer Atlus released a remake of Etrian Odyssey II, it reminded me how important dedicated gaming hardware can be. It lets you focus on one thing, the same way reading on a Kindle does, which is especially important for lengthy RPGs. What’s interesting is that, three years later, with the 3DS largely supplanted by another Nintendo platform that doubles as a home console, I still feel the same way.
For the most part, I don’t use my 3DS much at all anymore, and Nintendo’s slim offerings since the Switch launched haven’t helped. (The last 3DS game I played for any significant amount of time was Pokémon Ultra Moon, another JRPG.) But as a dedicated JRPG machine, I don’t actually need a lot of games. Working my way through the labyrinth of Strange Journey will probably take me a few months, by which point there will be another obscure or niche role-playing experience to install on the clamshell handheld.
In almost every way, the Switch is exactly the gaming device I want in my life. But there are still a few moments where two screens are better than one.