At times I find myself thinking Vita has been far better supported than it should’ve been based on sales – there are some localized games I still can’t believe we got in the west at all. The latter part of Vita’s lifespan has been given a strong pulse thanks to incredible efforts by a number of different publishers to bring titles across, yet there are still a number of games which have slipped through the cracks for various reasons. And in many cases it’s a real shame, because most of these games look absolutely stunning.
In this article, I’ll be looking at a number of these titles – examining what they are; why I think they should’ve come west and various suggestions for why they didn’t. I’m going to cheat slightly and include multiple games under one heading when there’s a group of games with an obvious connection that we haven’t gotten in the west
Please note – the article is only based on games where I think the window of opportunity for localization has closed at the time of publishing. There many titles on the cusp of being included in this list that I still think have a small shot of coming west – things like Coven & The Labyrinth of Refrain; Dragon Quest Heroes II; Hero Must Die; Net High and Uppers (after all, Tokyo Xanadu showed us that despite a long wait things may still turn out alright in the end).
Depending on how things pan out though, I may find myself writing another one of these lists in 12 months time!
Bandai-Namco anime-licenced games
Examples: Girls Und Panzer I will Master Tankery; Irregular at Magic High School Out of Order; Madoka Magica Battle Pentagram; World Trigger Borderless Mission
In Japan, getting Bandai-Namco on board with your console is almost a pre-requisite to success given the sheer number of titles they produce in a year. For Vita, they’ve released a number of gameplay-focused titles based on anime licences, among them there’s even bigger names like Tokyo Ghoul, yet there’s some obvious gaps that’ve left in Japan over the years.
That’s not to say they haven’t been great at bringing things west – titles like Dragon Ball; J-Stars; One Piece & Sword Art Online have come across and even lesser known licences like Asterisk War have been used and overall I’d argue they’ve been one of Vita’s better supporters. Which is what makes it such a shame that some fun-looking games have stayed Japan-only.
Chief among them – for me personally – is World Trigger: Borderless Mission. Developed by Artdink (DBZ: Battle of Z; SAO: Lost Song), a third-person shooter meets action-adventure game that takes more than a few cues from Earth Defence Force in its hunting-down-aliens design. While impressions I’ve read have indicated clunky gameplay and some performance issues, it still looks like an enjoyable romp which would be a fun time-killer to have on the go.
Artdink also developed Madoka Magica: Battle Pentagram early in Vita’s life – another tie-in with a mission based action-adventure design. The anime of this one seemed quite popular in the west, so it was an unusual omission. There’s also Girls Und Panzer: I Mastery Tankery!, a surprisingly enjoyable tank-based shooter that would fill an interesting gap in Vita’s library; as well as Irregular at Magic High School: Out of Order, an arena-based brawler which I imported and kinda enjoyed.
Presumably, the reason these games haven’t come west is due to a number of factors – availability of the licence overseas may be a question (although the majority of the anime series these games are based on are watchable on Crunchyroll or otherwise). The Vita’s struggling fortunes overseas may have also played a factor – although getting games like Asterisk War over here wouldn’t have been possible if that was the sole reason.
So what seems most likely is that a large amount of these games came at a time when Bandai-Namco’s Asian & western divisions were under different management. There seems to have been an entire shift in priorities in reason years, with surprise announcements rolling through including Tales of Hearts R in 2014 and Asterisk War in 2016. Sadly earlier games may have gotten lost in the shuffle, meaning we’ve lost our window to see these titles in the west.
Ciel no Surge
The visual-novel prequel to Gust’s space opera JRPG Ar no Surge, Ciel was released as an episodic title on PlayStation Vita beginning in 2012 and spanning through to 2014. The game saw us interacting with Ion, a girl who lost her memories which we gradually helped rebuild over the course of the story, telling of the devastating events that led to her being trapped in another dimension.
Ciel no Surge is such an interesting beast because of the way it is delivered. While the majority of the title is in visual-novel format, there’s also sections where you interact with Ion which take the form of a life simulation and take place in real-time, meaning you can often come across Ion sleeping or doing various different activities throughout the day. Your PlayStation Vita is treated as a terminal – a literal connection to Ion which she is viewing on one side and you are viewing on the other, which creates some interesting fourth-wall breaking moments throughout the story.
This daily interaction allows you to create an emotional attachment with Ion, meaning that as you discover her plight in getting to this point it’ll have much greater meaning.
But the visual novel sections here that are the star of the show as the story told is just phenomenal. I read it through a beautifully made fan-translation-guide that provided me with enough insight that I really felt part of the world of Ra Ciela which faces almost certain destruction at the hands of an ever-expanding sun.
Given that Ar no Surge came west, it seems a crime not to have the incredible prequel available to read, but here we are. Again, Vita’s struggles in the west surely had a part to play but there was also another factor here – Gust’s acquisition by Koei-Tecmo. Ciel was the team’s first game following the buyout and likely damaged a long-standing relationship with Nippon Ichi Software America to bring their titles west. With a larger corporation like Koei-Tecmo calling the shots, a niche visual-novel hybrid stood less of a chance of coming west.
But the game’s bizarre structuring may have also had a part to play, with it requiring an online connection to play until a specifically made offline version was released in October 2014 (after which hype for the title had long since died down). Prior to that, DLC was being released regularly to expand the story, making it a gigantic undertaking for a localization team.
Examples: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Battle Destiny; Gundam Breaker 1 & 2
Let me preface this by saying: Bandai-Namco have done an incredible job of getting Gundam games out in English in recent years, with Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Force seeing a western release; Gundam Breaker 3 releasing in English in Asia and SD Gundam G Generation Genesis planned for a double-cart release in English in 2017.
This marked a notable turnaround from previous years, where we hadn’t seen a single title aside from a Dynasty Warriors tie-in (which skipped Vita in the west!) since the beginning of the seventh generation, so for that they should be commended. However, that doesn’t hide the fact that a number of Gundam games from earlier in Vita’s life got ignored, presumably due to the aforementioned change of strategy by Bandai Namco.
Chief among them is Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Battle Destiny, which was a very enjoyable mission-based action adventure game which featured a variety of ground as well as space-based battles. The game was developed early in Vita’s life by Artdink (quite a storied Vita programmer at this point) and seemed generally well received.
Aside from this, we also missed the first two Gundam Breaker games and although the third game is now available in English, it’s still a shame not to have gotten the first two titles. While Gundam Breaker was quite rough around the edges, the sequel introduces a number of gameplay refinements and new mechanics and was generally much improved and would’ve made a great addition to Vita’s western library.
As with Bandai-Namco’s other anime games, licencing surely played a factor here, although with the improvements made in recent years it’s hard to believe this was the biggest hurdle to overcome. More likely is the same situation discussed with the anime games – a shift in priorities from Bamco’s management has meant they’re more likely to approach smaller projects but some of these earlier-released games missed the boat.
Legend of Heroes: Ao/Zero no Kiseki
The history of Legend of Heroes in the west has been a strange one. The first in the original trilogy, Trails in the Sky, reached western shores in 2011 on PSP with a promise of the follow up releasing soon after. Yet it would take 4 years for this promise to actually come true, with the series surviving in the west thanks to XSEED’s tenacity and a strong showing on Steam. Now in 2016 we’ve just caught up with the two most recent games (the Trails of Cold Steel sub-series) and have the final entry in the Sky series planned for 2017 as a PC-only release, but sadly two of the most well-regarded entries that form part of the ‘Crossbell’ arc have so far not been released in the west.
Legend of Heroes is a long-running, narrative-heavy, traditional turn-based RPG series from masters of the genre Falcom. They’re well known for containing an exorbitant amount of text to translate (the first title alone had 1.5 million characters) and having NPC’s with more character and plot development than main characters have in the majority of their comtemporaries. Each sub-series follows a different nation within the world and all the stories tie together into an over-arching plot, something rather unique to the genre.
Vita has proved itself a perfect home for JRPG’s (particularly of a turn-based nature) and it seems a shame that two of the fan-favourite entries may not reach these shores. Likely because of the licencing issues involved – the Vita versions aren’t developed by Falcom, but rather ports done by Kadokawa Games & Chara-Ani, meaning whoever picks them up has multiple companies to negotiate with. But they’re also massive undertakings – like previously mentioned, the amount of text to translate is extreme.
Thankfully there is still a chance of getting these games in the west if XSEED manages to snag PC ports of the titles (just like they’ve been doing with the Trails in the Sky sub-series) which is something, although getting the Vita games in the west while they were still current would’ve been a more desirable result.
Examples: Angelique Retour; Black Wolves Saga; Psychadelica of the Black Butterfly
Likely the most divisive entry on this list, I’m again grouping a number of titles together under this bullet point. Otome titles have seen somewhat of an explosion on Vita (and the west in general) over the past couple of years, with three releases in 2015 (Amnesia; Code Realize & Norn9) and a further four scheduled for release in 2017 (Bad Apple Wars; Code Realize Future Blessings; Collar x Malice & Period Cube), yet as with many entries on this list there’s plenty more that has been skipped.
Otome is a specific sub-section of visual novels that are aimed at female gamers and are often seen as dating sims – but in reality are often well-told stories that anyone can enjoy, as evidenced by the rather glowing reviews that Code Realize received.
Chief among the missed games is Angelique Retour, a remake of the original visual novel seen as one of the forerunners of the genre about the queen of the cosmos. The game is published by Koei-Tecmo who have their own otome team ‘Ruby Party’, who have worked on various other otome games on Vita such as La Corda d’Oro 4, none of which are likely to be seen in the west.
But you can’t really talk about otome games without mentioning Idea Factory’s (yes, that Idea Factory, who also produce games heavily pandering to young men) division ‘Otomate’, who seem to have formed an alliance with Aksys for bringing games west. Despite this a fair number of titles have been glossed over, chief among them being Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, an intriguing-looking story brought to my attention by Saphirax of NeoGAF about a group of strangers who lose their memories and get transported to a mansion full of monsters which they must escape. Very DanganRonpa-esque, huh?
There’s many other otome visual novels with interesting concepts like this available on Vita – such as Binary Star, but presumably due to Aksys being the only studio localizing these games they’re going to be stuck in Japan forever. You have to imagine that the niche western appeal of these titles is what’s keeping them over there, but it would’ve been nice to see more studios take a gamble.
Phantasy Star Nova/Online 2
As a sequel to console gaming’s first ever MMORPG and based on the storied Phantasy Star IP, you’d think Phantasy Star Online 2 would sell based on pedigree alone. The game was already available on PC at the time of its Vita launch and would’ve been quite a novelty being an MMO on a handheld. Despite seeming a reality, with SEGA indicating they would bring the game across in 2013 it wasn’t to be – all versions seem to have been placed on indefinite hold.
PSO2 mixes up the action-RPG gameplay of the first game with new abilities involving photons – the game would certainly seem a good fit on the console. It helps that rather than being a full, sprawling MMO (which might cause some difficulties in performance), PSO is smartly designed to be compartmentalized – meaning you have a hub world to interact with other players but go to specific zones with small teams to undertake missions.
Presumably, the game didn’t come across due to worries about how much money it’d make compared to the amount of money it’d cost to run (keeping up servers to play online with costs a lot more than simply localizing and releasing a game). That doesn’t really explain the lack of a PC version, but here we are.
So it came as a relief when SEGA announced Phantasy Star Nova in Japan, a single-player game based on the PSO2 universe that seemed a shoe-in to finally give us a way to dip into this universe in the west. Despite being helmed by Tri-Ace, a well-regarded developer known for the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile series, this game never materialized overseas either despite being a much easier sell.
Nova takes a page from the Monster Hunter design of having a group of characters team up to take on massive monsters, designed around local/online co-operative play (which is particularly popular through ad-hoc in Japan). The game looks gorgeous on the Vita and has a higher level of production values than the majority of Japanese handheld games. So why haven’t can’t we play it in English?
Realistically, the fact the game is Vita-exclusive combined with poor hardware sales in the west likely contributed to us not getting this title. It certainly seems strange in a world where we got Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax released in the USA, but that game also had a PS3 version to bring across. SEGA have been rather erratic with localizations in general and sadly Phantasy Star doesn’t seem to be an IP they want to re-establish overseas.
The Science Adventure series
Examples: Chaos;Child; Chaos;Head Noah; Robotics;Notes Elite
In amongst ‘games I can’t believe we’ve gotten on Vita in the west’, Steins;Gate is definitely up there – I’m thrilled PQube took a chance on releasing it for the handheld (and was even more thrilled when they sold it for £20 meaning it was prime impulse-buy territory). The game mixed a thrilling story with beautiful character development and as I’m sure you’re well aware if you read this site, is a title I loved to pieces.
Yet it’s actually part of an loosely-tied-together series called ‘Science Adventure’ – visual novels in the same universe from 5pb and Nitroplus. And despite Steins;Gate‘s runaway success, it seems highly unlikely we’re going to get any of the other titles in the series outside of the prequel/sequel Steins;Gate 0.
Leading the charge of missing titles is Chaos;Head Noah, the first in the series following a recluse who becomes involved in a series of grizzly murders and begins to suffer delusions. Like with Steins;Gate, the title offers a choice-based narrative based on triggers – in this case, based on the main character’s delusions. It sounds like a thrilling tale and definitely the kind of thing I’d love to play on my Vita. The game got a sort-of-related sequel called Chaos;Child last year which followed a similar story and thriller setup.
Personally, the Sci-Adv title I’m most interested in is Robotics;Notes Elite, a Visual Novel following a gamer who decides to create a giant robot based on motion-capture technology. While more tame in premise than the other titles, I have no doubt in the skill of the writing team and am quite drawn in by the more colourful palette and light-hearted plot.
Perhaps with the success of Steins;Gate in the west we’re actually more likely to see these games come across, although there are issues holding back each title. Chaos;Head Noah and Robotics;Notes Elite are both multi-platform with PS3, yet that probably doesn’t help them in this instance as the PS3 is fading in the west and just bringing across the Vita version seems unlikely. Chaos;Child has a PS4 port, but the game relies on some knowledge of Chaos;Head therefore may be a difficult sell in the west without the preceding game. Therefore it’s quite difficult to say which title – if any – would be the most logical to bring across next.
In any event, I hope PQube manage to work these issues out and get us more visual novel goodness on the Vita.
Tales of Innocence R
One of the earliest JRPG’s to arrive on Vita in January 2012 (Japan), Tales of Innocence R is a remake of a DS game in the long-running Tales series of action-RPGs. The franchise has always managed to survive thanks to dedicated fans who appreciate the familiar elements – Tales is a little like comfort food in that you know what you’re getting and it always delivers.
The Vita version of Innocence remakes the whole title introducing new characters, gameplay mechanics and story content. It’s actually the first mainline title to be made by a team other than Tales Studio, instead being handled by Alfa System of Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines fame (although the remake was handled by 7th Chord who also worked on the remake of Hearts R).
So why didn’t we get this title in the west? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. It came along early enough in the Vita’s life that it could’ve appealed to many early adopters, particularly in the wake left by Persona 4 Golden when there was an absence of other JRPG’s on the handheld. As with the other two Bandai-Namco choices on this list, it likely boils down to management – under the current team I think there’s a high probability we’d have gotten this title, but the setup at the time just wasn’t interested in taking risks on smaller games.
There was probably a small window of opportunity to revisit this game when Tales of Hearts R was released in the west, but without that game selling gangbusters and the Vita’s ever-dwindling hardware sales, the window seems to have truly closed.
Ukiyo no Roushi
This has long been a personal favourite of mine that I’ve brought up time and time again on various localization company request forums, but a year and a half later I gave up and imported the title as it seemed impossible for the game to come across at this point.
The game’s pedigree is impressive – it’s an open-world samurai title (initially seen as a spiritual successor to Way of the Samurai) developed by the team who made DanganRonpa and features murder-mystery elements alongside the samurai sword-fighting. It features a special Ukiyo-engine that allows to you capture beautifully coloured screenshots of your battles; an in-depth weapon forging system to allow you to custom your blade and a large world map for you to explore with plenty of side missions to undertake, setting it aside from the vast majority of other Vita titles – what’s not to like?
Sadly, for whatever reason, the usual studios just weren’t interested in the title when it released. It probably didn’t help that it was tied to a PS3 game named Ukiyo no Shishi, with each title showing opposite viewpoints of the same conflict; nor would it have been too appealing that it’s set during the Bakumatsu period of Japanese history which is a great era, but not one that’s too well known in the west. Despite all this, I thought the Way of the Samurai appeal would’ve gotten it across, but it seems that’s not the case.
What’s interesting is that Spike Chunsoft (the game’s Japanese publisher) now have an overseas publishing arm of their own (most recently working on Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics) so if this game had just released a year or so later, things may have been very different.
The most recently released title on my list that actually looked like it stood a good chance of being localized thanks to a PS4 version also existing, Utawarerumono: False Mask and its soon-to-be-released-in-Japan sequel, Utawarerumono: The Two Hakuoros seem more and more unlikely to come overseas.
The games make up a two-part story that itself is a sequel to an adult-only game originally released on the PC, that later received a more toned down port on the PS2 & PSP. The game mixes in large amount of visual novel sections with grid-based strategy-RPG gameplay and look absolutely stunning thanks to some gorgeous art direction.
The game is developed by Aquaplus who work almost exclusively with Atlus in bringing their games to western shores. You’d think the reason we weren’t getting these games in the west was due to the fact that they’re a sequel to a title which never got localized – while some may argue that this didn’t matter to Akiba’s Trip 2 and Conception 2, those games presented completely new stories to their predecessors, while Utawarerumono is a direct sequel. Instead you have to look to one of Aquaplus’ other titles – Tears to Tiara 2 – which Atlus brought to western shores despite the prequel never being localized, so there is certainly a precedent for this sort of thing – meaning this probably isn’t the reason.
In all honesty, I can’t think of a legitimate reason we’re not playing this game right now – there was an unsubstantiated rumor I read on reddit that mentioned contractual disputes between Aquaplus and Atlus over Dungeon Travelers 2, but that was never sourced so I’m hesitant to believe it. Maybe Atlus were just too busy, but that seems unlikely given that they made time for much more niche titles in the past (and could benefit from the double-whammy of dedicated Vita buyers and expanded PS4 userbase).
Vita has been a hotbed of localization efforts and I really cannot thank these companies enough – the likes of Aksys; Atlus; Bandai-Namco; Idea Factory International; Koei-Tecmo; Nippon Ichi Software America; PQube & XSEED have kept my Vita’s battery drained well into its 5th year of life. And with plenty more lined up for 2017 and new companies joining the fray going forward like Sekai Project, it seems things are as good as ever if you’re a fan of Vita and Japanese games.
Yet I can’t help but lament the games that have slipped through the cracks as there’s a large variety of great looking titles that remain just out of reach.