You might have seen the story from last week where Sony’s Andrew House referred to the Playstation Vita as a “legacy” system, officially confirming what most fans had already figured out long ago. Once touted as a handheld that could provide PS3/PS4 quality games on the go, it’s a little sad to see how things have turned out for the Vita.
Sony hasn’t had the best luck in the handheld space. Originally prophesied as the device that would put the final nail in Nintendo’s coffin after the lackluster success of the GBA and Gamecube, the hype surrounding the PSP—a PS2 in your hands!!!—eventually dissipated into rampant piracy and an impossible battle against the DS and its army of brain trainers, Ubisoft games, and Cooking Mamas. Even though the PSP never quite resonated with people the same way the PS1 or the PS2 had, the first Sony portable looks much better in retrospect—leaving a legacy of 80 million units sold worldwide. While another Monster highlighted the emulation strengths of the PSP itself, the console is also memorable for its strong, if niche, library. From Persona 3 Portable to Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, the handheld turned into a great option for fans of Japanese games and JRPGs. Let’s face it: the DS was a fantastic system with arguably the best handheld library to date. It won that generation. The PSP was just a victim of timing.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot more blame to pass around with the Vita. I’ll be honest: the Vita is pretty easy to make fun of. It was supposed to give us AAA games on the go, but we only got a good Uncharted game, mediocre entries in the Killzone and Resistance franchises, the $50 COD, and the criminally underrated Gravity Rush. The system has sold maybe a tenth of the PSP’s 80 million over the past few years while bringing us constant reminders of just how bad off the Japanese video game industry through mediocre-but-passable games like Hyperdimension Neptunia Re:Birth 2: Sisters Generation, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus (my girlfriend refers to it as the “boobie game”), and, in typical Konami fashion, a roguelike that has practically no connection to the franchise that it’s based on: Silent Hill: Book of Memories. It also has Minecraft—but what doesn’t at this point?
Don’t get me wrong: I like my Vita. I have a bunch of games for it. I’ve even spent over 300 hours playing it. The only problem is that most of those 300 hours were spent playing two games: Persona 4 Golden and Ys: Memories of Celceta.
I’ll save my talk on Persona 4 Golden for later (it’s not very obscure, is it?), but when I think of a really great game on the Vita, I immediately think of Ys. A series with a history as rich and varied as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Falcom’s Ys is one of the last bastions of hope for JRPG fans. Ys: Memories of Celceta is the first game that I recommend to people who either already have a Vita or are planning on buying one because, unlike Atelier Rorona Plus or Ar no Surge Plus, it’s one of those games that anyone can get into.
This game is everything you want from a Japanese RPG. Even though the game is more action focused, the battle system is extremely fluid, responsive, and—let me emphasize this one—fun. Jump to the 3 minute mark on this video and check out the gameplay. It’s a 15-20 hour game, so it isn’t the longest game out there, but it’s a great middle ground because while the game may be on the shorter side, it definitely encourages multiple playthroughs (especially on higher difficulties). Think of something like Secret of Mana, but modern! The Vita 1000’s OLED screen really impressed me with this game. Celceta uses so many colors that it reminds me of older 16 and 32-bit games like Magic Knight Rayearth on Saturn. I really can’t recommend it enough.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the Vita. Even when it comes to really niche games, Demon Gaze and Danganronpa are some of the best handheld games to come out this generation and I think the Atelier series has some great games, and I’ve heard nothing but praise for their Vita ports. Oreshika, released as digital only on PSN, is a very interesting sequel to a Japan-only PS1 RPG where you have turn-based gameplay mixed with a Agarest War-esque family system as you attempt to undo an ancient curse on your family. I’m still hoping beyond hope that Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth gets a release over here, too.
Even though it’s easy to look at the Vita as a failure in the West (it’s still being actively supported in Japan and Asia), it could also be an interesting lesson for the next generation of handheld consoles. As shown through Japan’s recent transition to mobile development, game developers are moving to mobile platforms like Android and iPhone and the days of dedicated handhelds like the 3DS and Vita may soon be over. Tempted by the 3.5 million US DOLLARS that Gung Ho was making EVERY DAY at the peak of Puzzles and Dragons, can you blame publishers like Konami for jumping ship?
Although the Vita could potentially be Sony’s last handheld, Nintendo’s approach with their upcoming NX will be extremely interesting to see as they’ve announced it as a device that focuses on bridging the handheld and console space. They’re also releasing smartphone games of their own. The 3DS succeeded where the Vita failed because Nintendo had a very clear vision of what they wanted their handheld to be. In order for Nintendo’s next console to stay relevant after the lukewarm reception to the Wii U, the NX better be pretty focused too.
All in all, I’d still recommend the Vita if you’re into Japanese games. If you ever have the chance, make sure to pick up Ys: Memories of Celceta. If you don’t have a Vita or plan on getting one, keep your eyes open for the upcoming PS4/Vita Ys that’ll hopefully be out sooner rather than later.