It’s Too Goddamn Hard to Play DS Games in 2022

Difficult emulation and a rise in high-profile scams are making it harder to revisit historically interesting older games.

This is probably old news to a lot of folks, but video games are expensive. And I don’t just mean the new ones.

As we’ve pointed out before, and as Managing Editor merritt recently put it to the New York Times, publishers continue to look for ways to dice up games and sell you the bits for increasingly high prices. These days, Sony and other major companies want games to cost $70 out of the box. While there’s some truth to “games should be more expensive,” given the amount of work that goes into them, those rising prices are rarely passed on to those who labor to make them. Higher initial prices haven’t stopped companies from using loot boxes and microtransactions to try to squeeze more and more profit from psychologically susceptible players. It also isn’t stopping them from preying on the easily duped with pyramid schemes like NFTs. They will chase everything or nothing at all; capitalism — specifically its boards of investors — will accept no less.

Another, smaller arena for exploitation that tends to be less discussed is used game prices. I was reminded of this fact over the weekend, during which I got back into playing Etrian Odyssey. The wonderful, brutal series comes from Atlus, the purveyors of Persona and Shin Megami Tensei. As a result, they’re no strangers to re-releasing HD ports on Switch and other consoles. But Etrian Odyssey remains confined to the Nintendo DS and 3DS — likely because its reliance on two screens must make it a nightmare to port.

Like most of the games in the series, Etrian Odyssey 1 and 2 got 3DS remakes and are available digitally. That leaves Etrian Odyssey 3 as the odd one out. It’s also the only game in the series I don’t own, so I thought I’d acquire a copy on Sunday.

I will not, in fact, acquire a legal copy anytime soon.

The game is sold out at my local brick-and-mortar used game store, where it goes for $200 when it’s actually in stock. Amazon and eBay are moving used copies for between $250-300 (though I saw one hovering as high as $500). This for what was a fine but not exactly universally beloved DS game that went for $40 at release.

Physical copies of the rest of the Etrian Odyssey games don’t sell for much cheaper, but they at least have digital editions. Nintendo hasn’t shut down the 3DS eShop (yet). In fact, the storefront still has regular deals, where you can get the whole franchise for a steal. Everything except for Etrian Odyssey 3.

This is, as previously mentioned, old news to some. Used game prices have been astronomically high of late — the result of speculation that some say is being artificially inflated. But before this weekend, I naively believed that retro price hikes were largely isolated to older nostalgia bait: the Pokémon titles for the Game Boy Advance and such. These games are more widely tied up in an explosion of gambling on physical cards — so much so that stores have had to stop selling Pokémon boosters because too many people broke into fights over them.

I thought DS games, which run natively on Nintendo’s last generation of hardware, were still too new to be this out of control. But used copies of Ghost Trick, The World Ends With You, and Hotel Dusk (two of which are available digitally, in one form or another, on modern hardware) go for double or triple their original prices. Yet, like Etrian Odyssey, these are all extremely difficult to emulate without the original dual-screen hardware.

etrian odyssey buccaneer

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I admit I see a certain romantic quality in a good scam. People enjoy Disney’s Robin Hood not just because they want to ruin his foxhole, but also because many of us like to see little guys running circles around blunt, unjust power. People trying to make an extra buck or $200 during a pandemic, especially under a capitalist government that continues to fail them in favor of corporate profits, is perfectly understandable. Admirable, even.

But like capitalism itself, it usually only works that way in fiction. More often, it’s the little guy getting cheated. That’s partly because most modern scams function at scale. Most of us are dimly aware of this fact thanks to spam calls and hazy memories of sick days, watching sitcom actors try to swindle seniors on daytime TV. And you cannot perform scams at scale without sweeping at least some pitiable-but-basically-innocent people up in the process.

Maybe it’s because I somehow survived with a job in media while Facebook and venture capitalists overinflated the value of video. The social media giant got a slap on the wrist (i.e. a tiny settlement that went to other corporations, not the workers whose industry was leveled). Meanwhile, many people I knew and worked with lost their jobs for some rich asshole’s whim. I’ve seen family members’ bank accounts, closets, and shelves get eaten away by “Collector’s Edition” coins, mugs, sports jerseys, and even guns (“This’ll be worth big money someday!”).

I’m lucky enough to be pretty skeptical regarding ripoffs like this. After all, I worked at a comic book shop for several years. If you ever want to see the allure of artificial scarcity at its corniest and most naked, loiter at your own LCS sometime. Listen to the owner speculate on lenticular covers featuring “The Joker’s Daughter” wearing the more famous character’s peeled-off face. These are all the same promises made around NFTs — of infinite value generated by selling the same thing for higher and higher prices, to a never-ending chain of richer and richer buyers, forever — but with physical objects.

This makes them inherently more valuable than NFTs since you might at least get something fun to read. Though it’s less valuable as grist for scams, the ephemeral and invisible nature of NFTs — and crypto in general — makes it easier to promise they’ll eventually have a new, unique value. For instance: If we all wind up in a nightmarishly mundane, Ready Player One-ass version of the singularity where everyone has infinite power of self-expression over their bodies and minds… and the only vision of the future anyone can conjure is transferring their favorite gun from Ghost Recon: Breakpoint into Fortnite. Riiight…

Scams are a part of our culture. Whether that’s the romanticized version on TV or the real multimillion-dollar empires that play during commercial breaks. It’s particularly baked into the American experience: the very idea that you, too, can be one of the robber barons someday (no benefits of generational wealth required). Social media has accelerated and broadened the scope of fraud, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Nor is the corporate response to it in video games: a headstone-toothed smile and a loving embrace.

It’s certainly less profitable for publishers to not make their classic catalogues available for purchase, all while dissuading much of what facilitates archiving games with private investigations and federal prison. Better to treat the symptom than the cause — after all, you might one day want to get in on the grift yourself.

My great relief is that, as the density of bullshit becomes too great to bear, it’s increasingly clear that people simply do not want it. As scams accelerate with technology, as well as a general sense of impending global collapse familiar to anyone born after 1985, so, too, does players’ savvy. Generally speaking, you don’t need a long memory to recognize bad deals when new ones get introduced every other week.

It won’t help me play a dungeon crawler from 12 years ago. It does, however, help me sleep a bit better knowing that people are out-adapting businesses.