What will be the “I wish I’d bought that back in the day” rare games of the future?

If you, like me, are a fan of retro games from generations prior to the seventh generation, doubtless you’ve noticed that prices for a lot of things have gone through the roof recently. But even before that happened, each generation had its own distinct lineup of rare games that, for one reason or another, ended up being enormously expensive on the second-hand market.

There are a number of possible reasons for this. One of the most common is the case of rare games for which there simply weren’t all that many copies printed for one reason or another.

Maybe the publisher didn’t have the budget to extend to a full print run; maybe the publisher wasn’t able to release in all the territories it originally wanted to; maybe the game ran foul of official bodies such as the Video Standards Council or British Board of Film Classification. Survival horror title Rule of Rose on PS2 is a good example of this, particularly in Europe, where its UK release was cancelled following a moral panic — even though the Video Standards Council themselves noted that the complaints were “nonsense” in this instance.

Rare games: Rule of Rose
Rule of Rose

Another common instance is where there are good, popular titles for which you’d expect there to be a ton of copies out there, but they actually command ridiculous prices. This is because those games are so good that people don’t want to let go of them — even in instances where they’ve had more recent rereleases in one form or another. This means that even the most popular titles can become rare games as time goes on.

Probably the best example of this case is anything with the word “Castlevania” on it — particularly titles from Symphony of the Night onwards. Symphony of the Night itself commands high-end three-figure prices, particularly for the once-relatively commonplace “limited edition” that includes a soundtrack CD and art book. But the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and DS games are also pretty pricey — although at least in the former case you have the option of picking up the more recent Castlevania Advance Collection.

So what games that are available right now will end up falling into these “rare games” categories in the future? Which games should you “invest” in now if you think you might want to play them at some indefinite point in the next 20 years — preferably without breaking the bank to do so?

It’s actually a little more complicated for the current generation than it has been in previous hardware generations. So let’s ponder all those additional considerations.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, rare games for PS1
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Limited-run releases

The idea of limited-run physical releases of games came about with Limited Run Games’ physical release of Breach & Clear for PlayStation Vita. This is supposedly one of the rarest PlayStation Vita games in existence, with only 1,500 copies having been printed.

The idea behind limited-run companies is to provide games that would have otherwise been digital-only releases with a physical presence. In other words, the games themselves aren’t necessarily “rare” since they can be easily downloaded (usually for a much lower price) from console and PC storefronts — the rarity comes from that physical version.

Right now, that physical version doesn’t confer any particular advantages over the digital version other than the fact you have a nice box on your shelf instead of an icon buried in your digital library — although in many cases the physical releases act as “complete” versions with all DLC and patches included — but in the future this situation will change.

We’ve seen how happy Nintendo is to close down the digital storefronts for its previous generation consoles — the Wii and DSiWare stores have already gone the way of the dodo, and the Wii U and 3DS are following suit in 2023 — and thus, at some point in the future, those physical releases are going to become the only “official” way to play certain titles. And thus they will become rare games.

Shantae, one of many rare games for Game Boy Color

Limited-run companies often draw criticism for engendering a feeling of “FOMO” or “fear of missing out” with their titles, but the fact is, even were these games to get a physical release through more conventional means, they would still have a limited print run; the only thing that limited-run companies are doing differently is making the limits of that print run a bit more explicit. As such, rather than having to weigh up the chances of a game that is available now potentially becoming a rare game in the future, you instead know immediately upon its release whether or not it’s rare.

The downside to this is that after the initial pre-order window closes, the prices for limited-run titles on the second-hand market are immediately jacked up to completely unreasonable levels, rather than following the usual cycle of gradually ageing and becoming cheaper on the second-hand market, then enjoying a price spike when they finally fall into the “retro” category during a subsequent console generation.

As much as these companies are criticised today, they’re not going anywhere — so if they release a game you like, you might as well pick it up. Because it’s going to cost you at least two or three times the price to pick it up in the future on the second-hand market — and at least buying it new means that some of your hard-earned ends up in the developer’s pocket, which is not something you can say about eBay scalpers.

ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman, one of numerous rare games for PSP
ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman

Rereleases and ports

An interesting trend that has really matured and come into its own in the current hardware generation is that of the rerelease of formerly rare games. There are developers and publishers out there who know there are plenty of people out there who want to play their back catalogue — so they make a new version of those games for current platforms, which allow them to make money from a previously “defunct” title as well as opening it up to a brand new audience.

There are a number of companies that have decided to adopt this approach in recent years, but it’s particularly worth highlighting the work of Nippon Ichi Software, whose “Prinny Presents NIS Classics” range has resurrected some truly, truly great rare games that you’d previously have had to pay through the nose for in their PS1, PS2 and PSP incarnations.

Of course, it’s worth noting that since the Prinny Presents NIS Classics range’s physical releases were, in themselves, only printed in limited quantities, these versions are also already becoming rare games. However, since they don’t have the banner of a limited-run company on their box, their second-hand prices are, at the moment anyway, fairly reasonable. If you did miss these games first time around, though, and you feel like you might want to play them, it’s probably worth nabbing them right now. You had a second chance, after all!

Destiny Connect, a game for Switch and PS4 that will likely enter the ranks of rare games in the future
Destiny Connect

The sleepers

And then, of course, there are the games that are simply destined to pass by most people unnoticed, only for someone in 20 years time to write an article or make a video about them, bemoan the fact that no-one played them and promptly cause the second-hand prices for them to go through the roof.

This situation is already quite a common one, particularly if you look at the “rare games” from the PS1/Saturn era, and it’s only going to get worse in the future simply because so many games are released every week that it’s impossible to keep up with all of them. It’s absolutely no surprise that some games — even titles from reasonably high-profile studios — pass by completely unnoticed, because no-one on Earth has the time to play everything any more.

Hell, no-one ever really had time to play everything even back in the early days of gaming — but these days we’ve also seen the rise of “lifestyle games” such as Minecraft, Fortnite, Apex Legends and a zillion gacha games, all of which demand significant amounts of time (and, often, monetary) commitments, as well as “idle games”, the existence of which I just find frustrating. “I don’t have time to play a 100-hour JRPG,” they say, as their Steam account records 10,000 hours spent on Cookie Clicker.

It’s hard to say where to find the sleepers that will become “rare games” in the future by their very definition, but a good starting point is to pick a developer or publisher you enjoy the high-profile work of, then look at some of their stuff that you’ve never heard of. Nippon Ichi Software is a great place to go for this, as their “B-tier” output — i.e. the stuff that gets minimal marketing, promotion and press attention — often ends up being some of their best work. Just look at games like Poison Control, Mad Rat Dead, Lapis X Labyrinth and Destiny Connect for a few great examples.

Mad Rat Dead, sure to enter the ranks of rare games in the future
Mad Rat Dead

Does it matter to you?

Here’s the important question, though: are rare games actually important to you? Given what we’ve already said about the sheer number of games that are available — with more appearing literally every day — does it really matter to you if there’s one game that you missed out on playing when it was “current”, and which i now several hundred quid to pick up a copy of?

It’s okay if the answer is “yes”, I hasten to add. Different people ascribe different values to things. If I had more in the way of disposable income, I’d be picking up a PS1 copy of Symphony of the Night to replace the one I ill-advisedly traded in 20 years ago, for sure — even though I have the game on Xbox Live Arcade on my 360 and a PS4 copy on the way from Limited Run Games. I just have a sentimental attachment to the PS1 original, and I regret having gotten rid of it — to help pay a gas bill, as I recall.

But it’s worth considering. Are you collecting for the sake of collecting, or are you collecting with the intention of actually playing the games you own? If the latter, it’s worth thinking long and hard about whether or not you really need that expensive PS2 title you’ve been eyeing up on CEX — rare games being rare and expensive doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to be something you’ll enjoy. Because in multiple cases, there are games out there which command astronomical prices but which actually… aren’t very good. Be wary!

The best thing to do with game collecting, so far as I’m concerned anyway, is to decide what you particularly enjoy and focus on that side of things exclusively, regardless of price or whether they’re considered to be “rare games”. Going for a complete collection for a system can be fun — but don’t let it distract you away from the reason we’re really all here: actually enjoying those games.

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Pete Davison
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