It looks like the dark days when Sony’s approach to classic games was “Why would anyone want to play this?” might finally be over. With the new PlayStation Plus and the Classics Catalogue that’s included in the highest tier, a handful of games from older consoles are finally playable on PS4 and PS5 in an emulated form. The initial list is admittedly a little short—especially if you exclude the PS2 already ported to PS4 a few years ago—and questions about long-term support still remain, but a couple of bits of recent news give me hope that, this time, PlayStation classics will get a little more love.
A couple of days ago, PlayStation Lifestyle reported on a new job ad published by Sony, calling for a software developer to work on PlayStation Classics [emphasis mine]: “Our Software Development Engineer position works on the Tools and Technology team at PlayStation Studios to support the newly relaunched “Classics” for PS4 and PS5. Classic games run via emulation of legacy PlayStation platforms. As a Classics engineer, you would work closely with a group of other engineers, producers, and QA teams to fix bugs, add new features, and develop new emulators.”
As a few other folks have pointed out, emulators for PS1, PS2, and PSP games are already in play for PS4 and PS5—that’s what a chunk of the Classics Catalogue is running on, after all—which doesn’t leave a lot of other new emulators to develop. Coupled with some recent patent filings for ways to get PS3 peripherals up and running on PlayStation 5, it seems plausible that Sony is working on getting PS3 games running on PS5. At the moment, PS3 classics are only available via streaming, which is a less than ideal solution: streaming isn’t available everywhere, and is always susceptible to latency issues. Having the option of downloading games instead would be a huge benefit, and the thought that Sony might be actively working towards that is an exciting one.
The other thing that’s caught my attention is today’s announcement of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. This is good news in its own right, but more than that, it sets a promising trend for third-party support for this new PlayStation Classics push, and suggests that they may not be as coupled to PlayStation Plus as one might assume.
Rather than being a whole new port, all signs point to this Lenneth release running on the same PSP emulator as Echochrome and Super Stardust Portable. It’s described on the PlayStation Store listing as being “a port from the PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable) version”; Square Enix Japan confirmed that it includes Quick Save and Rewind features; and there’s a conspicuous lack of a Steam version, despite being released alongside Valkyria Elysium, which is coming to Steam.
At the same time, there’s been no announcement of it being part of PlayStation Plus—I imagine it’ll wind up in the Classics Catalogue at some stage, but from what we know so far, it’s just a standalone release that’ll be sold individually, announced independently by Square Enix, bundled into a deluxe edition of another Square Enix game, and with Square Enix presumably taking in most of the revenue from those sales. (And as it is, most current PlayStation Classics can be bought individually, without requiring a subscription.)
My takeaway from that? Sony is opening the doors to third-party publishers who want to release games using those existing emulators, without necessarily requiring PlayStation Plus participation as a condition. Maybe that’s a little optimistic—we don’t know exactly what sort of agreements have been made, or what hasn’t been announced yet with regard to PS Plus—but it’s an exciting prospect. The emulator isn’t going to be a simple plug and play, but even with a little bit of compatibility work, in most cases it would still be a far easier and cheaper option than manually porting to PS4 or PS5 directly.
That easier and cheaper option could be the thing that makes a publisher sitting to the rights on some old PS1, PS2, or PSP game decide to go ahead and bring it back, rather than letting it languish forever in the limbo where a property is too valuable to let go, but not popular enough be worth risking doing anything with. Time will tell whether that actually happens, but if it does—and especially if Sony does have a PS3 emulator on the cards—there could be a very bright future for playing PlayStation Classics on PS4 and PS5.
Header image: Drakengard 3, one of many games that needs to make its way to current consoles.