In the first of a series of articles I’m planning, I want to look at the output of a number of Vita-supporting companies from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining what the games they released were; (if the data is available) how well they sold; (in cases of them being ports) how well they ran; as well as a brief look at games which perhaps should have come to the console either in the west or in general.
First up on the list is Koei-Tecmo – arguably Vita’s greatest supporter over the whole course of its life (something I feel is quite often glossed over due to the nature of their output).
Launch & 2012 – setting the stage for the future
Vita is often touted as having one of the best launch lineups of all time – 25 games from both third-parties and Sony covering a wide range of genres with both digital and retail releases. Although the lineup was different in the west compared to Japan, Koei-Tecmo had a presence in both through Dynasty Warriors Next, their built-for-the-Vita Warriors game using all the new features of the console such as front and rear touch. The game was a visual treat, featuring detailed character models with plenty of enemies on screen and a solid framerate, although suffered from the usual Musou problems of pop-in and bland environments.
But this wasn’t the only game the publisher had available for launch – at least, the western launch. While Dynasty Warriors had come from megastudio Omega Force; Koei-Tecmo’s other mainstay Team Ninja ported their Xbox masterpiece Ninja Gaiden to the console in the form of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, an expanded release of the already-expanded release Ninja Gaiden Sigma which had shown up on PS3 in 2007. This was a solid effort – although it had taken a framerate cut to 30fps, performance was solid and all the content from the other versions was there, providing a promising look into the future for Koei-Tecmo ports
Sales were lukewarm for both titles – Dynasty Warriors opened just shy of 30k on Media Create (Japanese sales tracker) during Vita’s opening week, while Ninja Gaiden opened to a measly 5k. While sales were likely stronger in the west due to both titles being caught up in the launch hype, it was a mild start for the company on the console.
It wasn’t until April of 2012 that Vita received its first taste of what would be the majority of its support from Koei-Tecmo, when Ciel no Surge released only in Japan. The game was developed by Gust, who Koei-Tecmo had purchased in December 2011 (although the project had been in development long before this). A strange mashing of multiple genres, the game mixed life sim elements with an epic visual novel story and opened with more than 33k sales, a solid result for the genre and would signal the first in a long line of support for Vita from Gust. Sadly, as of the time of writing this article, Koei-Tecmo haven’t seen fit to release this title in the west, despite its sequel hitting these shores.
Still, it wasn’t long until this Gust support manifested itself further, with Atelier Totori Plus releasing in November 2012 in Japan. This wasn’t quite the technical achievement Koei-Tecmo’s other games had been, with frequent pop-in and framerate issues but did achieve a level of sales success in Japan – a moderate opening of 27k eventually lead to lifetime sales of 75k by the end of 2015 – not bad compared to the 100k the game sold when it originally released on PS3.
During this period, Koei-Tecmo also released Nobunaga’s Ambition: Way of Heaven on Vita in Japan which would be come a recurring series on the platform and was another game which showed strong legs, eventually selling 36k from a 6k opening, despite the game being a bit of a technical mess with slowdown and downgraded graphics.
But certainly, 2012 set the stage for the type of support Koei-Tecmo would provide to Vita throughout its life, with plenty of series establishing themselves early and selling well enough to release multiple entries – although already, KT were showing that many of their games would be staying Japan-only.
2013 – establishing themselves as a leading Vita developer
If 2012 was the publisher establishing itself on the platform, then 2013 was the year they exploded with support. Throughout the year the company released multiple titles for Vita – in both Japan and the west – although there were certainly mixed results in terms of both sales and technical achievements during this period.
The year started slightly shakily, with a port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus from Team Ninja. Unlike the original Ninja Gaiden port, this one wasn’t as impressive – tonnes of slowdown and jaggy graphics, the release clearly wasn’t optimized for handheld. However, Team Ninja redeemed themselves a month later with a port of their tentpole fighting game Dead or Alive 5 Plus, which received much more attention – running at 60fps; allowing cross-play with PS3 and featuring some beautiful character models. Sadly, neither release sold particularly well, with DOA opening at 13k in Japan and NG not even charting (no sales data is available for the western release, but the lack of launch hype probably led to reduced sales).
The spring of 2013 would prove a busy period for the publisher, with Atelier Meruru Plus releasing for the Vita in Japan in March (though October for the west). The sequel to Totori suffered from similar performance issues (particularly in terms of pop-in) but was another sales success in Japan, opening to 25k and selling around 57k by the end of 2015. The company also released their horse-racing title Winning 7 2013 in March for the handheld, which didn’t set the sales charts alight and stayed Japan-only.
It took until June 2013 for Koei-Tecmo to provide their biggest piece of Vita support, however, in the hunting-action game Toukiden: The Age of Demons. The game was reportedly developed to fill a gap in the market due to Capcom taking Monster Hunter to 3DS and – despite being developed for both PSP and Vita – clearly was developed for Vita first as the game ran well and looked gorgeous on the handheld’s screen; as well as releasing alongside a limited-edition piece of hardware. And this translated into sales success – the game opened to 122k on Vita (and a further 66k on PSP) and ended up shipping 550k worldwide after the western release in February 2014 – a resounding success for a new IP, especially on Vita.
Aside from this, the company kept bringing the smaller games – a port of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XII first released in February before receiving an expanded release in September; while Gust remastered the first game in the Atelier Arland trilogy in Atelier Rorona Plus in November which hit western shores in 2014. While the former remained Japan-only and did poorly in terms of sales, the latter received a worldwide release and managed to sell a respectable amount (45k) by the end of 2015 in Japan as well as being one of Gust’s better-performing ports in terms of performance (likely due to the fact it was built with Vita in mind).
The end of 2013 also saw the birth of a constant source of content from Koei-Tecmo on Vita. While Dynasty Warriors Next had been a bespoke experience in the franchise for the handheld made by Omega Force, the team soon discovered they were able to port over their PS3 releases with relatively few issues – starting with Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate in September followed by Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends in November (both received western releases in 2014). Both showed teething problems in terms of performance – Dynasty Warriors taking a notable framerate hit over Next (which was a launch title) while Warriors Orochi looked slightly muddy and washed out. Neither set the sales charts on fire in Japan, with Orochi opening to 25k and Dynasty opening to just 11k, with western sales being unknown.
2014- hitting their stride
2014-2015 was the period where Koei-Tecmo likely hit their stride on Vita, releasing games in all of the franchises that became mainstays on Vita and seeing some big sales successes; but also included the beginnings of them choosing to skip Vita in the west over releases on other platforms.
2014 started interestingly for them, with a revival of an IP which was last seen on the PlayStation 2 in Deception IV: Blood Ties. The trap ’em up action game released almost simultaneously worldwide (February in Japan; March in the west) and sold well enough to get a 2015-expanded release in Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess which came to PS4 in addition to the original PS3/Vita platforms. Both games were optimized well for Vita, with decent performance and impressive character models – a characteristic which Koei-Tecmo were becoming known for at this point.
They followed this with a stereo-typically busy March – first with their yearly Winning Post game in Winning Post 8, which marked a high for the series on Vita clearling 12k in its first week (though, as with previous entries, staying Japan-only). Atelier Ayesha Plus also released, the latest in a line of PS3 -> Vita ports from Gust, which sadly became their lowest selling yet in their home country (opening to just 11k) and featuring increasingly problematic performance issues including slowdown and graphical downgrades, though still found its way overseas in 2015.
Luckily Omega Force didn’t run into such performance difficulties, releasing Samurai Warriors 4 on the handheld which featured the best performance and graphics of the handheld series to date. It was also the best selling in Japan, despite a modest 39k opening it went on to sell more than 106k in the region plus whatever it sold from the overseas release. Omega Force also released Toukiden Kiwami in August – an expanded release of their 2014 hit that didn’t quite hit the same sales heights (200k in Japan/Asia) but continued to prove the team’s mastery with impressive graphics and a solid performance.
Speaking of sales heights, Koei-Tecmo did find success with the latest Nobunaga’s Ambition game – Sphere of Influence. Between the original release in 2014 and the expanded release in 2015, the game sold more than 50k copies – and localization seemed a lock with the PS4 version coming over. However, despite a Play-Asia listing, no overseas released happened – possibly due to the game’s hit-and-miss performance (like its predecessor) or possibly due to the game’s niche appeal, but it remaining a strange decision given their track record.
Speaking of strange decisions, in March 2015 Gust released Ar no Surge on PS3 in Japan – an RPG sequel to Ciel no Surge (their Vita exclusive from 2012) set in the Ar Tonelico universe. The decision to skip Vita for this game was baffling – especially considering it was the only platform able to play the prequel and sales suffered with the game opening to just 27k. Koei-Tecmo quickly realized their mistake and released an expanded version on Vita in October – but the damage was done and this version opened to a measly 9k. The game itself was clearly rushed, full of performance problems that plagued Gust’s other games, showing the studio just hadn’t gotten to grips with the handheld.
Koei-Tecmo capped their year off with a bizarre release – Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3. This was the sequel to two 3DS-exclusive spinoffs – it was also releasing on 3DS as well, although Vita was clearly the lead platform and was optimized well in terms of performance. The game did nothing notable in terms of sales performance (opening to just 22k) and seemed to be a rather mis-guided venture – it remains one of the few Vita/3DS multi-plats in existence.
2015 – the introduction of otome
2015-2016 saw Koei-Tecmo on autopilot – all of the pieces for their support of Vita had been laid in previous years, although the company still had a few surprises up their sleeve including their studio Ruby Party finally bringing their otome titles to the handheld as well as the publisher as a whole bringing a number of anime-licenced games.
The year started in typical fashion, with a porting of Atelier Escha & Logy Plus in January (which hit western shores in 2016), seeing a slight uptick from Atelier Ayesha opening at 15k though retaining many of the same performance problems. The company also released the latest in their Winning Post series (Winning Post 8 2015); their Deception expansion (The Nightmare Princess) and their Samurai Warriors 4 sequel, all of which saw fairly low sales in Japan (although the latter two saw the light of day overseas, as well as Asian-English physical releases).
However, March also saw something new for the company – Ruby Party, their otome developer, released their first title on the Vita in Harakanaru Toki no Naka de 6 – a multi-plat with PSP which opened to a respectable 13k (relatively impressive considering the genre). The company had previously committed to the platform at TGS 2014 with a pink Vita and the promise of a slew of titles, and it seemed the otome audience was beginning to make their way over.
The rest of the year was as expected from Koei-Tecmo – there were two more Warriors games in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires and Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires (oddly they decided to skip Vita for Arslan: The Warriors of Legend), neither of which sold particularly well although both received overseas releases (with Dynasty Warriors getting a physical English release in Asia). The company also Angelique Retour, a remake of their very first otome game from 1994, showing their commitment to this new genre on the platform.
However, what marked the end of 2015 was Gust’s efforts on the platform. The company released Atelier Sophie in November – their first ‘new’ Atelier game for Vita that was a shared multi-plat with PS3 & PS4. The game performed extremely well – among the best in the series on Vita – and this was met with sales success in Japan opening to 25k, the highest since Meruru and led to a western release in 2016. However it was their new IP Nights of Azure that caused controversy, releasing as an un-optimized mess full of pop-in; slowdown; framerate drops and jaggy graphics – it was clear Gust were in over their head with this game. Despite this, the game was a sales success in Japan opening at 32k on Vita, although an overseas release did not follow likely due to the major performance issues.
2016 – continued output; decreasing quality?
Surprisingly, despite it being 5 years into the Vita’s lifespan, 2016 saw a number of bigger games released by Koei-Tecmo for the console, as well as the abundance of more niche stuff that audiences would be used to at this point. Unfortunately, it also marked the turn of a more consistent reduction in the quality of their output.
The year started with Attack on Titan, an adaptation of the ever-popular anime and manga series for PS3/PS4/Vita. Early footage was promising – but it was soon evident this was all from the PS4 and once Vita footage surfaced, fans were disappointed. Abundant pop-in; low quality texture work and framerate wobbles meant this was among Omega Force’s poorest Vita ports, but this didn’t translate into sales failure – with the game opening to 62k and selling more than 110k within a year.
March was typically loaded for the publisher, with their yearly Atelier port in Shallie Plus releasing to decent sales of 19k and their otome sequel La Corda d’Oro 4 opening at 15k. Atelier would later go on to see a western release in January 2017 and – for the first time ever – see a retail English release in Europe, despite the game being another questionable port from Gust. Koei-Tecmo also released the latest in their Dead or Alive Xtreme series for PS4/Vita which, aside from selling fairly well at 22k first week and even stronger outside of Japan, was notable due to the effort of making the Vita version a bespoke port with good character modelling and no performance issues. Despite their other recent releases throwing it into question, it seemed the guys at Team Ninja still had the ability to push the hardware.
Omega Force, however, seemed to be slipping. Following on from their shaky port of Attack on Titan, they released Toukiden 2 in July. Rather than being developed for Vita first like its predecessor, the sequel was built squarely with PS4 in mind and as such the handheld version suffered. Regular pop-in and much lower quality texture work plagued the title and although it was an ambitious port – being an open world game – remained disappointed considering the team’s pedigree. It seems fans caught wind of this and the game only opened at 59k in Japan, with the franchise as a whole seeing a notable downturn from the first entry across all platforms. A western release is scheduled for March 2017 but it’s unlikely a large amount of sales will be clawed back from this.
This continued with Dynasty Warriors Godseekers, a similarly janky port that prioritized the PS4 release over Vita – although it ended up being a sales nightmare on both consoles, neither charting in the Media Create top 20. Thankfully, their version of Berserk and the Band of the Hawk turned out much better – although it took a graphical hit, it seems Omega Force had prioritized performance as the game ran pretty well. Both games came west as digital-only titles in the first quarter of 2017, showing their commitment to the platform going forward, at least for now.
Elsewhere, Ruby Party released a sequel to their popular Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 6: Gentou Rondo which – for the first time in the series – dropped the PSP version to go ahead fully on Vita (it only took 5 years!). To top the year off, Gust released their latest alchemy title – Atelier Firis – in Japan – but this was plagued with bugs and performance issues across both PS4 and Vita and debuted to relatively low sales (16k for the Vita port). They had originally planned to release a sequel to Nights of Azure in 2017, but this release date rapidly shifted to give them time to increase the quality of the game (which, judging by the port of the first game, will hopefully be a smart move).
2017 – to be continued?
So going forward, where does that leave us with Koei-Tecmo support? Well, unsurprisingly if you’ve read the rest of this article, the publisher is still receptive towards Vita even at this late stage in the game. They’ve already got numerous titles lined up for western release this year such as Atelier Shallie Plus; Atelier Firis and Toukiden 2, the former and latter of which are receiving full retail releases (a rarity in today’s market); as well as previously mentioned games such as Dynasty Warriors Godseekers and Berserk and the Band of the Hawk.
In addition, they’re continuing to support the console in Japan, with games like the aforementioned Nights of Azure 2 scheduled as well as their bonkers crossover game Musou Stars and remake of the third Harakanaru Toki no Naka de game. Gust are also bringing a new IP to the table at this late stage in the game with Blue Reflection which – judging by the recent footage they released – seems to be their highest effort port on Vita in years.
But sadly, as with all good things, a number of signs point to this truly being the last year of support from the company. Case in point – a spin-off Samurai Warriors title, Spirit of Sanada, released in Japan in November of 2016 and was fairly well received on the Vita, but in February of 2017 the company announced that only the PS4 version would be coming west. This made it the first Omega Force-developed Warriors title published by Koei-Tecmo that wasn’t released in the west, perhaps due to the extremely niche nature of the title. Similarly, their updated version of army-building strategy game Nobunaga’s Ambition – Sphere of Influence: Ascension found its way west for PS4 & PC, but managed to completely skip the Vita again.
What the company’s plans for the latter half of the year are remain unknown, but if games like Spirit of Sanada are any indication it may be hit and miss whether we get titles in the west at this point. Similarly, the Switch’s advent in Japan may see them putting a halt to cross-platform titles with Vita to develop for the more powerful Switch, although I could see a scenario where Gust continue to develop for the platform for a while longer due to the inherent userbase match they have with Vita fans (though, judging by Nights of Azure, we may not get these titles in the west).
Whatever happens going forward, it’s undeniable that Koei-Tecmo have been one of the most stalwart supporters of Vita from its release date right through to its twilight years. Although their support has always been of a certain type, they’ve helped shape some of the userbase through hit titles like Toukiden and have always brought a consistent stream of titles to keep fans playing.
How much longer this continues is anyone’s guess, especially while Vita’s power gulf compared to other consoles continues to grow, but even if they stopped developing for the console tomorrow – Koei-Tecmo would’ve done more for Vita than almost any other publisher out there and for that, I’m pretty grateful!