It’s been almost a year since the Playstation Vita was launched here in the West, a year in which the system has missed every single one of its target goals; lack of steady game releases, a virtually nonexistent future in terms on 3rd party support, a late attempt by Sony at including it in its rather excellent PS Plus subscription service and so on. The Vita seems destined to either failure or perpetual second place (some would say third, if we take IOS and Android gaming into account. If the PS Vita is capable of making a comeback (something its predecessor, the PSP, actually accomplished), these are the problems that need to be ironed out, right this second.
Obstacles 1 & 2: Overpriced, proprietary memory units and a subsequent stagnation in the downloadable games area:
In an age where flash storage devices and even high capacity HDDs are becoming both cheaper and bigger, Sony making the Vita use their own proprietary brand of memory cards was the first true strike against its own console, a move that seems even more asinine when you consider Sony making the Playstation 3 friendly with 3rd party HDDs was one of the first positive moves for that system. Nintendo quickly followed suit with its portables and the Wii U, and Microsoft countered by maximizing its HDD bundles and expanding USB storage unit support. Sony, meanwhile, offers a 32 GB Vita memory card for roughly a third of the price of the console itself.
While it’s easy to see how such a move would hurt a gaming console, the true repercussion is that such overprices for memory space actually hurt what should be one of the Vita’s strengths:The Playstation Network Store. The PSN Store should be a goldmine of opportunity for the Vita, with a huge selection of digital releases of PSP games, PS1 classics and Vita games at cheaper prices. Hell, Vita users subscribing to the Playstation Plus program are given free downloads of some of the system’s best games, but the lack of memory space shackles that potential. Its hard to see 3rd Party developers using the PSN Store to release niche and cult games without risking losing money on physical releases, when most users lack the ability to download and keep multiple games on their console at the same time, thus restricting growth to what could be a dominating selling point.
Case in point:
Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (D3 Publisher, Downloadable release only)
For those just tuning in, the EDF series has seen 2 releases here in the west, this being an updated version of the first game, originally released for the Xbox 360. As a trooper with the EDF, you run (or pilot different vehicles depending on whats available on each mission) around simple battlefields blasting giant ants, spiders, robots, UFO’s and more, along with either AI or human controlled partners. While the visuals and audio of the game are simple as they come, it somehow never actually harms the basic, simple gameplay here.
Hell, a more graphically pleasing game would have a fit keeping the hordes of characters and action taking place here, and since the whole thing is supposed to be a sort of B movie (think Starship Troopers being filmed in the 80’s, and with such a low budget that nature stock footage of ants and spiders is used as VFX), where all you need to do is shoot everything that moves, earning better rewards and new weapons by upping the difficulty level and revisiting other stages. In a nutshell, EDF 2017 Portable is a blast to play if all you want is simple, basic mayhem and the joy of shooting giant enemies all day long. Veteran players of the series or lovers of old school, simple gameplay will love this, but those on the fence or not used to simple arcade action will better look elsewhere, especially since at its initial release price of 40 bucks, this might be too expensive a gamble to put their money (and aforementioned limited memory space) on.
3 out of 5 (veterans of the series and old school gamers add 1 more point)
Obstacles 3 & 4: Lack of Western 3rd Party support and not pushing for Ports and Updated releases
The Vita’s predecessor, the PSP, suffered a rather similar after launch period of stagnation and chaos until two things happened in Japan; one, the cheaper, more capable 2000 model, and two, Monster Hunter. Monster Hunter is to Japan what Call of Duty is to America. It’s THAT big a deal, except that instead of having a 12 year old yell profanity through your headset, there’s a mixture of office workers, teenagers and more playing this while riding the subway or on a public plaza.
To say that Capcom’s online based game wasn’t what granted a second chance to the PSP would be ludicrous; the game made the demand for the system rise, and new iterations in the series keep it afloat with a steady number of users, which allowed for a lot more developers and companies to actually get onboard with the console and release more and more games for it, bet it online multiplayer games, rpgs and visual novels, this window of time allowed for a series of game releases to thrive on Sony’s console in Japan.
Things do not look to go this way for the Vita. Capcom seems to have left Sony for Nintendo with the Monster Hunter franchise, and meanwhile, Sony has made little effort to entice western developers to produce content for the device; without the reprieve of the Vita having a “killer game” in Japan, the console’s future is dim, which brings up to our second problem: Sony sitting on a goldmine of potential content that the Vita has yet to realize.
The touch capabilities of the Vita make it perfect for ports and updates releases of 3rd party games in the 3DS/DS vein, and the same goes for titles on the Playstation 2 and even the original Playstation’s libraries. With a good push, the Vita could become a nostalgia machine of both updates, remakes and ports of classic games that, on their original systems, are now collector’s items. An upgraded Final Fantasy 7 alone would raise this system from the ashes in seconds.
Case in point:
Persona 4: Golden (Atlus) (get it from Amazon!)
I’ll go right ahead and admit that this little review is going to sound biased, because I truly believe the original Persona 4 was the single best JRPG released for the Playstation 2, hands down. This upgraded and updated release is pretty much the reason I own a Vita (although other games like Gravity Rush, Disgaea 3 and Blazblue: CS Extend soon joined that reason). From its fantastic, original story and characters that take what seem clichés and tropes (like a tomboy, a tough guy with a heart of gold, a bumbling cop, the small town with a huge secret and so on) and makes them memorable and endearing thanks to superb writing and voice acting, to one of the best mixtures of gameplay types you can find in an RPG (which mixes classic rpg combat, visual novels and dungeon crawling in perfect balance), Persona 4 was a breath of fresh air and even managed to exceed expectations after the also excellent Persona 3 (which also saw an updated release on both PS2 and PSP), and this new, Golden edition is pretty much the definitive version of that classic; more refined gameplay, tons of extras, anime cutscenes , new plots and characters and so on; Persona 4: Golden is essentially everything you could ask in an updated, upgraded version of a classic, making the single must have new release in the Vita for any lover of RPGs or (And I envy you if this is your case) a newcomer in search of a new experience.
5 out of 5 (Screw the system; bump it to 6 if you loved the original)
Obstacles 5 & 6: Abandoning the PSP’s back catalog of both games and users, while still not making the jump to digital only releases
If you’re one of the users who managed to own a sizable library of digital content on your PSP, the initial idea of having access to it on the Vita as well might had been a factor on your decision to upgrade, but Sony once again managed to murk it up here as well. Several games, some ranging from the huge (Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker) and cult (Valkyria Chronicles 2) are not able to be downloaded and played on the Vita (oddly, they can be played if transferred through a PS3 to the Vita. Insert facepalm.gif here) from the online PSN store. When you realize the rather sizable catalog of PSP games that could be added to the Vita, including UMD only releases (like Valkyrie Profile Lenneth and Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core), you can see Sony is not helping its own console with this choice.
Even more mindboggling is how Sony has not realized that digital releases and exports could benefit the system. Last year, gamers took Sega to task for not bringing the third Valkyria Chronicles to the PSP western market and did the same to Capcom over Megaman Legends 3 for the 3DS being cancelled. Both games have solid, niche followings that might make a digital only PS network release worthwhile, and the same goes for several cult titles for the PSP and Vita only available in Japan; more obscure genres like Visual novels and Anime based rpgs might be worth exploring ground on the west, with Vita digital releases providing a far less risky form of release.
Case in Point:
Corpse Party (Xseed Games,Downloadable release only)
If you had asked any gamer a decade ago if a Visual Novel game would see a release in the Western side of the world, the answer would had been probably “No way” or perhaps even relate to the scarce Hentai/adult games released by that time, the Visual Novel genre being grossly (but not without fault) normally associated with erotic games; well, its 2013 now and with its sequel about to be released digitally on the PSN Store, and in the spirit of this article, I decided to revisit “Corpse Party”, which I had left halfway played months ago due to more pressing games taking over my time.
Huge mistake, since Corpse Party might be one of the scarier and mind fucking games I’ve ever played (and I played Clive Barker’s Undying and AVP2 back in the day). The tale of a Japanese group of high school students and their teacher trapped in a nightmarish dimension filled with vengeful ghosts and where dementia lurks around every mind’s corners is filled with dread and rising tension every minute, all despite having a simple visual presentation that combines 16 bit sprites and static anime/manga artwork, by all accounts this shouldn’t be scary or make you tense, but it does so, and extremely well.
It all comes to the use of dialogue, sounds effects and eerie atmosphere music to make your journey into this horror story more and more terrifying, as the dark secrets of the plot and characters come to light in each chapter, where a wrong move or choice can end in horrible, gory outcomes; combining all the staples of the J-horror genre with a retro style of simple graphics and gameplay, Corpse Party shows that the Interactive/Visual Novel genre has quite a few surprises for western gamers and deserves to be invested upon.
4 out 5 (Feel free to add or decrease a point depending on your stance on anime/manga)
The Vita is a fantastic platform that will probably see its future be decided this year, and its all up to Sony to make the right choices for making their console earn a place in the gaming world, just as its predecessor had to do. With most of the system’s problems and obstacles being based on a corporate and executive level, all it takes is for Sony to reach out to 3rd party developers and lift their own restrictions on their console to make it a newfound success, or avoid learning the lessons from the past and letting it be a fledgling platform on near constant life support. The ball is in Sony’s court now.