(editor’s note: This article was edited on 25/09/17 to include developments since the date of publication and current date; taking into account what games Bandai-Namco have released for the platform and what they have skipped)
The second in a series of articles I’m writing, looking 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.
Next up on the list is Bandai-Namco – a massive supporter of the console in Japan who have made great strides in the west too (particularly post-2014), yet have made a number of bizarre decisions regarding certain titles which managed to catch the ire of fans.
Launch & 2012 – the Namco of Bandai-Namco
Formed by the merger of Bandai (a company focused on anime-licenced properties) and Namco (a videogames company with a storied history that includes Pac-Man as well as variety of early 3D games on the original PlayStation), the company largely manages to keep its two divisions separate and interestingly – their first year support mostly came from the Namco side, which is in stark contrast to the support they offered for Vita in its latter years being more Bandai-focused.
They were there for the console’s launch with two titles, both of which have a long-standing affinity with the PlayStation brand (and games were from the Namco side of the company – Ridge Racer and Touch my Katamari). While remaining visually impressive titles to show off the Vita’s capabilities, both had issues in recycling content from previous releases which meant they felt somewhat stale for long-time fans. Indeed, Ridge Racer featured an even bigger problem of lacking content in general, instead being delivered by a bizarre DLC strategy which rubbed people up the wrong way. Sales suffered as a result – Ridge Racer managing just 17k first week and Katamari 10k on Media Create (Japanese sales tracker), although western sales were likely higher due to being caught up in the launch rush.
The Namco support continued following the launch when Tales of Innocence R released in Japan in January 2012. A remake of a DS-exclusive entry in the series, the game featured basic 3D graphics and generally felt low-budget in terms of presentation, but managed to achieve respectable first week sales of 54k while reaching a lifetime amount of 105k in the region; but oddly it never made the jump to western stores in spite of the company re-committing to the franchise around the same time with games like Tales of Graces f and Tales of Xillia. In my opinion, the company really missed a trick leaving this in Japan given Vita’s dearth of RPGs during 2012; combined with Vita fans longing for another experience after finishing Persona 4 Golden.
Still, by June 2012 we’d gotten our first Bandai-side game in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Battle Destiny – the first in a string of Gundam titles to reach the handheld. While this one stayed Japan-only too, it was less surprising as the franchise has an incredibly patchy history in the west. The game managed to sell a decent 40k for its first week with lifetime sales of 95k in the region and was a technical showcase among anime tie-ins on Vita, maintaining decent performance and graphical fidelity – mostly down to its developer Artdink who would go on to develop multiple Vita titles.
The year was capped off with a port of AKB/149 Love Election, a continuation of the series of FMV dating sims from the PSP that also came to the PS3. The game opened to 35k in Japan, but this was a fairly poor result as the franchise was regularly opening to more than 200k on PSP – as such the series stalled following this release.
It was definitely an interesting year for Bandai-Namco – they supported the console fairly well, but it wasn’t really with any franchises that they continued to release following the launch year; and indeed the Namco side of the company would quickly drop the Vita altogether after 2013.
2013 – Bandai take over
Compared to 2012, 2013 was all about Bandai, with multiple anime games coming to Vita. Still, Namco were still there and the company as a whole released numerous games throughout the year.
Chief among these was Tales of Hearts R in March in Japan – following on from Innocence R‘s lead in 2012 of bringing DS entries into the series into full 3D on the Vita. This one sold very similarly to its predecessor – a 55k first week in Japan, although the lower amount of 91k lifetime. This time, however, the game found its way west – although only in 2014 (which I’ll touch on later in this article).
March also saw the release of One Piece Pirate Warriors 2, the first in the popular anime/manga series on the Vita and a sequel to the PS3-exclusive previous entry. The game was fairly impressive in terms of performance, featuring lovely anime-style graphics and decent performance on the handheld and was rewarded with impressive sales in its home country – a 60k opening with more than 127k lifetime sales.
Yet, in a bizarre move, despite the game coming west for PS3 in August 2013, it remained only in Japan for Vita. This was particularly baffling given the game was already translated and would’ve only taken an additional rating to stick the game up on PSN, where it surely would have nabbed decent sales in Europe where the Vita was maintaining some popularity. This process was repeated in December of 2013 when Dynasty Warriors Gundam Reborn released for PS3 & Vita in Japan (and again, the Vita version sold decently with a 52k opening and over 121k lifetime sales), but in 2014 the game came to the west only for PS3. Despite the company clearly being on board with Vita at this point, it seems there was some conflict with their eastern and western branches regarding the console.
By late 2013, Bandai-Namco were hitting the console hard in Japan bringing a mix of both big and small titles. To begin with, their anime titles were flourishing – they brought a port of their PS3 hit Gundam Breaker to Vita which released alongside a limited edition console to fairly lukewarm opening sales of 33k, but enough to secure future Gundam support. We also saw their first title based on a smaller anime IP – Madoka Magicka: Battle Pentagram, which was developed by Artdink of SEED Battle Destiny fame. The game ran fairly poorly on Vita and clearly wasn’t optimized, but that didn’t stop it opening to 26k sales and around 50k lifetime – a decent result for a game made on a shoestring budget. Finally, the Super Robot Wars series finally made an appearance on the console with the spinoff title Masou Kishin III: Pride of Justice, which relatively bombed with first week sales of 19k and lifetime sales of 33k (leading to the final entry in the franchise being PS3-only).
Most notably, however, was God Eater 2, their sequel to the PSP smash-hit hunting game that cleared more than 266k in Japan first week and eventually passed more than 456k lifetime. The game was optimized for Vita, looking great and running well and released alongside a limited-edition console, as well as the revised PlayStation TV micro-console. Hardware sales in the region skyrocketed for the week to 88k and the game would remain Vita’s best-selling in the region until Minecraft released nearly 2 years later.
However, all of these titles remained Japan-only, again showing the disconnect between Bandai-Namco’s Japanese and western branches. While this could be excused for smaller games like Masou Kishin, there was no real reason for bigger games like God Eater or even Madoka Magicka (which has a dedicated western following) from coming across – although this is a position the company would vastly improve in the coming years.
2014 – hitting their stride
By 2014 the company were at the peak of their game with releasing multiple, successful titles on Vita in both Japan and the west. Although there was no God Eater game this year (arguably their biggest handheld IP), they still hit the console hard with key pieces of support.
The year started strong, with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z in both Japan and the west. The title was developed by Artdink – the company behind the earlier Gundam SEED Battle Destiny game and was seemingly well-optimized for Vita, sporting native resolution graphics and a solid framerate. In its homeland, the game sold fairly poorly – opening at 22k and going on to sell 53k in total, but overseas sales seemed stronger with the game shipping 620k worldwide across all platforms. Still, it was worlds apart from the sales of the later Xenoverse games and would be the first and last DBZ game on Vita.
Following in February, Bandai-Namco released Super Heroine Chronicle – a crossover game featuring various anime characters in a Super Robot Wars style SRPG. Sales were lukewarm – just a 14k opening in Japan with 30k lifetime sales, although this didn’t stop the company following up with a similarly themed game – Super Hero Generation – later in October 2014. This saw similarly mild sales opening at 16k and both games stayed Japan-only, presumably due to the licencing nightmare it would’ve been to get the games overseas.
Speaking of crossover games – March would see the release of J-Stars Victory Vs. in Japan. A fighting game featuring a number of Shonen Jump characters, despite moderate critical reception the game was a major sales success in the region shifting 97k copies in its first week and more than 170k across the course of its life, in addition to extra sales from the PS3 version. It certainly seemed to resonate well with the Vita audience and would eventually find its way west, although only after a lengthy localization process that delayed it well into 2015 (but saw additional content created for the western release).
Despite their seeming failures with the aforementioned Super Heroine Chronicle and Super Hero Generation games, Bandai-Namco did still plow forward with their Super Robot Wars games. Unlike the spinoff Masou Kishin in 2013, they brought the mainline title 3rd Super Robot Wars Z: Jigoku-Hen to Vita and PS3 in April 2014 which – although decreasing in sales from the previous entry – still had a solid opening of 121k and lifetime numbers of 160k. It would be enough to ensure the sequel’s appearance on the console a year later, not something Masou Kishin achieved.
April would turn out to be a busy month for the company on Vita, as they also released Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment in Japan, a sequel to their PSP-exclusive entry Infinity Moment. The game had slightly ropey performance but sold incredibly well – opening to 145k in the region and shifting more than 286k by the end of 2015. However, this wasn’t what was notable about the title, as it would be their first ‘Asian-English’ localization, receiving a physical English release in the region and subsequently leading to a digital release in the west. It would inflate the already-impressive sales even further, with Hollow Fragment clearing 450k sales worldwide on Vita, although the translation received a lot of criticism for using Google Translate.
Along with bigger titles like Dragon Ball Z and Sword Art Online, Bandai-Namco would also release a number of smaller anime-licenced games throughout the year. One Piece Unlimited World Red – a port from the 3DS – made a smooth transition to Vita, looking good and running well (although sales were poor in Japan, clearing just 10k in its first week and likely not doing much better worldwide). Luckily, their adaptation of Girls Und Panzer did better, reaching 30k in its first week and 50k by the end of 2015; while their Irregular at Magic High School spinoff opened to 21k in December of the same year. They also released a sequel to Gundam Breaker in December 2014 which did much, much better than its predecessor – selling nearly 140k in Japan from a 57k opening, as well as being a fairly impressive technical port-job.
The end of 2014, however, was marked by the company’s effort in bringing the much-requested title Tales of Hearts R to the west. Whether Shahid’s #JRPGVita campaign had anything to do with it is unknown but – unlike it’s predecessor Innocence R – we did actually get the title in the west. It certainly was a fairly low-effort release with only Japanese audio and a limited physical release in North America (meaning worldwide sales are unknown but are likely on the lower side), but combined with Sword Art Online, it marked the beginnings of Bandai-Namco finally beginning to take gambles on bringing their titles to the west.
2015 – still capable of surprising
While 2015 is very much a year when we saw entries in all of Bandai-Namco’s biggest handheld franchises, they still had a few surprises up their sleeves.
The year started extremely well, with God Eater 2: Rage Burst releasing in Japan in February – an expanded version of the 2013 game. Despite not reaching the sales highs of the vanilla version, it still cleared 234k first week and 356k lifetime sales in the region, making it one of the biggest games on the platform. This wouldn’t be the only God Eater game on Vita in 2015 either, as they remastered the PSP game Gods Eater Burst as God Eater Resurrection released in October of the same year which reached the slightly lower sales amount of 175k.
March and April would be stereo-typically packed for the company in Japan. They released their One Piece Pirate Warriors three-quel which matched the sales of its predecessor on Vita, opening to 54k and clearing 121k by the end of the year. The port was a solid one – not the best musou on the handheld, but running fairly well despite a lot of pop-in. We also saw their Sword Art Online sequel – Lost Song, a departure for the series focusing on the Alfheim Online arc which swapped dungeon crawling for outdoor flying. The game ran fairly well (developed by the now-regular Artdink) and sold 139k first week and 213k by the end of 2015, a slight decrease over Hollow Fragment (although this time there was a PS3 version too). Both games came west in the latter part of the year, with Lost Song selling 150k across North America and Europe and Pirate Warriors 3 clearing 1 million worldwide (both including the PS4 and/or PC versions).
They would also release the final part of the 3rd Super Robot Wars Z duology as Tengoku-Hen in April, which would see a very minor decrease in sales over its predecessor, but still pulled fairly impressive numbers (more than 160k by the end of 2015). What was most notable during these months, however, was the release of Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, the latest in the popular monster-collecting anime series. A bespoke game developed by Media Vision (of Wild ARMs fame), the title looked gorgeous on the handheld and ran extremely well which was met with sales success in their home country – opening to 76k and selling nearly 150k by the end of 2015. The game would come west in 2016, though as a digital-only title with an extra PS4 SKU added to reach a larger audience.
Like had become common for the company at this point, a number of cheaply licenced anime titles would release throughout 2015 in Japan. February would see Captain Earth; May would see Cross Ange; September would see World Trigger; October would see Tokyo Ghoul; November would see Girl Friend Beta and December would see Seraph of the End. The games would achieve various levels of success, with World Trigger: Borderless Mission selling a respectable 50k by the end of 2015; while Captain Earth: Mind Labyrinth sold an abysmal 2k. All the games stayed in Japan, but certainly marked a period of commitment to the platform from the company.
For the rest of the year, Bandai-Namco had a few surprises. Chief among these was a custom-built Taiko no Tatsujin game which launched in Japan in July to moderate sales of 46k, but went on to sell more than 120k within a year. They followed this up later in July with Ray Gigant, a surprise collaboration with Experience Inc. (makers of a number of successful Vita dungeon crawlers including Demon Gaze). Although the game was a bit of a sales disaster selling just 14k in 2015, it managed to find its way overseas in 2016 – although only thanks to the help of an outside localization team (Acttil), this was still notable as it showed the company was willing to work with outside teams to bring its games west.
They capped off the year with two releases in Japan in December – Idolm@ster Must Songs was a collaborative title between Idolm@ster and Taiko no Tatsujin which did not perform particularly well in terms of sales; while Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. Force was a spin-off title to the popular Extreme Vs. series. Despite selling a respectable 137k in Japan, the game was slated by fans for lacking content and being a departure from the gameplay of the previous titles as well as having some wonky 30fps performance – yet the game still received an Asian-English release in 2016, meaning western fans were still able to enjoy the game (it would also be the first Gundam game to release in the west since the PS3 era).
It certainly seemed that attitudes at Bandai-Namco were shifting and games which previously had no chance of coming west suddenly had a shot, meaning as a fan of Vita (a console which they were supporting well in Japan) it was a time to get excited about any potential announcement.
2016 – an up and down year
2016 was a year where Bandai-Namco continued to support the Vita well in all the ways they’d previously done (western releases; Asian-English localizations; anime cash-ins etc.), but it also marked a slight return to the company who made baffling decisions in the past.
As was commonplace at this point, the first few months of the year were a very busy period for releases on Vita in Japan. They kicked things off with the release of A.W. Phoenix Festa, a game based on the semi-popular harem anime. While it only achieved moderate sales of 12k in the region, a worldwide release followed later in the year which surely helped claw back some sales (and, as previously suggested, marked a very surprising choice in localization, far removed from the Bandai-Namco who would not bring across One Piece Pirate Warriors 2 in 2013). They followed this up with Kamen Rider: Battride War Genesis, a continuation of their PS3-musou series based on the anime. The Vita version wasn’t a great technical achievement – featuring plenty of pop-in and slowdown – but this didn’t deter consumers who bought 22k copies in the first week, helping the game beat the sales of its predecessor across all platforms (although the game stayed Japan-only).
March saw releases in a number of popular franchises – first up was Gundam Breaker 3, the latest in the long-running Gunpla series. Increasing in sales over the previous entry, the game opened to 74k in Japan and – in a first for the sub-series – received an Asian-English physical release following its Japanese launch, which definitely pleased worldwide fans. Unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly good port, featuring the worst performance of all the Breaker titles, but it was the first in English. Next up in March was Summon Night 6, the first Vita entry in the popular SRPG series and – unlike Gundam Breaker 3 – this was an well-made port crafted by the team at Media Vision (who made Digimon Story) that both looked beautiful and ran well. Sadly sales weren’t the strongest in the region, opening to just 40k on Vita (and a relatively poor 16k on PS4), but it was enough to ensure the game was picked up for overseas release by Gaijinworks in 2017 (another external collaborator).
March would also see the release of one of the company’s most controversial Vita titles, however – Digimon World: Next Order. The game originally released as a Vita-exclusive in Japan, opening to a decent 64k (slightly down from Cyber Sleuth). However, the release was plagued with problems including terrible texture work and poor performance, meaning the title sold no where near as well over time as the last Vita Digimon game did. To compound matters, Bandai-Namco announced a localization for the title only on PS4 (despite there being no PS4 release in Japan), only to correct this to include the Vita version then correct it again to remove the Vita version. A complete PR farce that infuriated Vita fans, we ended up not getting the handheld version in the west despite the seemingly strong sales of Cyber Sleuth.
They managed to recover from this somewhat over the remaining months of the year – April saw One Piece Burning Blood which opened to mild sales in its home region (51k by the time it left the Media Create charts) but saw a worldwide release at the same time and was a generally competent port. Meanwhile, Artdink released their latest Macross game – Delta Scramble and although the port ran fairly well for a change, it was distinctly lacking in content compared to their PSP releases in the series (in fact, the second half of the anime was only included as free DLC long after the game released!) Sales suffered, with the game opening to just 24k in Japan and no hope of overseas release due to licencing issues.
The latter part of the year was another mixed bag. The latest Sword Art Online game – Hollow Realization – saw a nearly simultaneous worldwide release across PS4 & Vita, a first for the franchise. However, even before release the Vita version faced difficulties, with the producer reportedly saying that fans should not buy the Vita version due to performance issues. This was realized upon release, where the game featured arguably worse graphics than Hollow Fragment and a framerate that could drop to single figures in boss fights. Patches were released to try and fix the issues but the damage was done – sales reached a series low of 69k on Vita in Japan, with the PS4 version thankfully picking up the slack.
Bandai-Namco did, however, manage to end the year on a high with the release of SD Gundam G Generation Genesis. The latest in the tactical RPG series featuring super-deformed Gundam, it was the first to feature an Asian-English release in addition to the standard Japanese version. What made it even more notable was that it was the first Vita game to have a dual-cart release, something that occurred briefly towards the end of PSP’s life with games like Trails in the Sky SC, allowing fans to preserve a copy of the game for the future. Sales were positive in Japan at 103k by the end of 2016, with likely plenty of additional sales from the Asian release.
It marked a happy end to a rather strange year for the company in terms of Vita support – a year where they continued to announce surprise localizations of games which would have never come west in a bygone era; yet ignored the Vita version of games that required very little work to bring across, just like in the earlier years of the handheld’s life.
2017 & 2018 – to be continued?
Like many developers, Bandai-Namco seem to be slowing down their Vita support in 2017, although unlike Koei-Tecmo, we’re still seeing a number of titles announced and released from established franchises both in Japan and overseas.
Chief among these was the newest game in the Super Robot Wars franchise – V. Following SD Gundam’s lead, the game received a simultaneous Japanese and Asian-English release (another first for the franchise) and achieved impressive sales in Japan of 83k in its first week, although combined with the PS4 release it marked another downturn from the previous entry. They also released a game based on the Twin Star Exorcists anime that appeared to be a re-skin of Ray Gigant and received similarly disappointing sales of just below 5k in its first week, with no signs of a western release on the horizon.
Support for the rest of 2017, however, was quieter than usual. That’s not to say there weren’t games released – Accel Word vs. Sword Art Online: Millennium Twilight landed in March while Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Hacker’s Memory has been announced for release in December. The former game received a rather rapid overseas release (where it was slated for terrible performance vastly worse than Lost Song), while the latter was confirmed for a 2018 launch in the west; making it their first NA/EU game confirmed for that year (albeit as a digital-only title – here’s hoping for an Asian-English version).
But otherwise, the year is missing some franchises that have usually shown up like clockwork on Vita. There’s no new Gundam or One Piece games and the company’s smaller anime-licenced titles seem non-existent. They alleviated this slightly with the announcement of Gintama Ranbu, a tie-in with the popular comedy series, but information on the game is sparse and so far an English release is confirmed but only on PS4 – perhaps a fitting end for the company on Vita with another confusing decision.
After writing this article, it’s hard to deny that Bandai-Namco aren’t up there (or even surpassing) Koei-Tecmo in terms of Vita support. A large amount of titles from launch through to the present day are available in a variety of genres; franchises and with widely varying budgets.
Yet, their support has been overwhelmingly Japan-focused and although the company have made massive strides in recent years to make their games available in English, they still stumble with odd decisions every now and again. Despite this, the difference between their efforts at localization in recent years compared to the start of Vita’s life is a night-and-day and as such I’m happy we’re seeing announcements well into 2018, making it easy to get excited about the company’s continuing success on Vita.