The third 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 Square-Enix – compared to my previous articles on Bandai-Namco and Koei-Tecmo have been more muted with their Vita support, yet there seemed to shift in perception around late 2015 when the company committed in a much greater capacity, although this was possibly only a fleeting change.
Launch & 2012 – there (just about!)
Like with the previous two articles, Square-Enix are a Japanese publisher formed by the merger of two companies – in this case Squaresoft (of Final Fantasy fame) and Enix (of Dragon Quest fame). This has made them a giant in the field of the JRPG’s due to the strength of their existing IP’s, but this hasn’t meant they’ve rested on their laurels and have constantly tried out new IP’s and ideas.
All things considered, Vita had an exceptionally strong launch in terms of both range and number of titles available and Square-Enix undoubtedly contributed to this in Japan with two titles – Army Corps of Hell and Lord of Apocalypse. The former – a Pikmin-styled action-strategy game with a hellish aesthetic – provided an interesting alternative to the more traditional handheld games available in 2011. Developed by Entersphere (who since seem to have gone completely silent), the game was met with fairly modest sales in its home region (9k first week and 25k lifetime) although did manage to make it to the launch of the console in the west as well, where no sales numbers are available.
Conversely, Lord of Apocalpyse saw better sales in its home region of 29k first week and 79k lifetime (alongside additional sales from a PSP version) but did not see an overseas release in any form. The game was a remake of 2010’s Lord of Arcana which made its way west in 2011, leaving the decision to keep it Japan-only as a bizarre one considering the complete lack of Japanese games available during the first year of the handheld’s life (a market capitalized on by companies like XSEED with games like Ragnarok Odyssey). The port itself was a decent one but given it was an up-ressed PSP game, this was to be expected.
And… that’s it for 2011/2012. Despite going in moderately well at launch, Square-Enix launched nothing else for the console for quite some time, as you’ll see when I examine their releases in 2013.
2013 – their biggest Vita title (and very little else)
At this point, we did know that other Vita games were coming from Square-Enix – a remake of their seminal title Final Fantasy X had already been revealed at a conference in 2011, but they otherwise remained oddly silent on the console. Final Fantasy X itself was eventually bundled with its sequel X-2 but these didn’t materialize until the very last week of 2013 in Japan (and early 2014) in the west – in spite of this they went on to become one of Vita’s best-selling games, opening to nearly 180k in Japan (with all versions combined) and cleared nearly 340k by the end of 2015. Sales in the west remain unknown, but the title was among those listed as leading to a positive financial performance for Square Enix in the 13/14 financial year.
The port itself was one of the higher-effort on Vita – running at native resolution and a solid framerate, it stood out among similar HD Collections being made at the time like Jak Collection that were comparatively much less impressive thanks to uneven performance and downgraded visuals.
During 2013, the company did also release a Vita version of their popular free-to-play mobile title Million Arthur. This would be the first in a number of F2P titles they would experiment with on the platform in the coming years, although only one of these would manage to find its way west. They also handled a rather sloppy port of Chaos Rings on PlayStation Mobile, which although a nice gesture did not lead to any more support on that particular platform.
Like with 2012, this was it for Square-Enix – a couple of titles, including one major game, but overall a very quiet year in terms of support.
2014 – the beginnings of mobile ports
Despite the very solid launch of Final Fantasy X/X2 HD at the end of 2013, Square-Enix’s support in 2014 (and 2015) shifted entirely to ports of mobile titles. This was a stark difference from the company’s PSP support (and indeed previous strategy on Vita), which was nearly always handheld versions of home-console franchises; but would be an interesting development that would bring a number of great titles to Vita in the coming years. It marked the beginning of an increasing focus for the company of handheld/mobile multi-platform development (something they confirmed in 2016) and served to highlight the struggles of Vita in the modern market – so much more powerful than 3DS that cross-platform with that wasn’t viable; much less powerful than PS4 making cross-platform with that difficult; and not enough hardware sales of its own to make bespoke development worthwhile.
However, despite this shift it remained a very quiet year for Square-Enix on the handheld – the sole title to see a release being Chaos Rings III. The third in a series of premium mobile RPG’s developed by Wild ARMs creators Media.Vision, the game was bundled with its prequels Chaos Rings; II and Omega. Although this was a meaty package, sales were low in Japan with the physical release netting just 12k first week and 35k by the end of 2015; the package never saw western release despite all the games being translated.
As such, 2014 marked the third year in a row that Square-Enix were present on the console, but only in a very limited capacity, although the wheels had begun turning to bring much more to Vita in the coming years.
2015 – missed opportunities
As with 2014, Square-Enix didn’t actually release any retail games for Vita in 2015 but did support the console with more digital-only mobile ports. Leading the charge was Rise of Mana, the latest in the long-running series of action-RPG’s spun off from Final Fantasy in 1991 on the Game Boy. The title was a Unity port with a number of issues based around performance, but remained one of the more impressive free-to-play titles available on Vita at the time thanks to a colourful 3D presentation and fast-paced gameplay. Despite this – just like with Chaos Rings III – the game remained Japan-only, possibly due to the fact it was a service-based game requiring server upkeep.
Comparatively, their next mobile port – Deadman’s Cross – was much less noteworthy although did manage a worldwide release. A card-battler with a shooting element tacked on, the game was also made in Unity similar to Rise of Mana but seemed even less optimized and as a result, service was rapidly terminated before the end of 2015.
Unfortunately, 2015 was marked much more for what the company didn’t release on Vita than what they did. Despite the band-aid being ripped off the year before, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD released for PS4 and XB1 in the west in 2015, despite being a PSP-only title in Japan that Vita fans had campaigned hard for in the past. The situation was exacerbated by the initial reveal claiming the game would be coming to the handheld and despite a number of fan campaigns and plenty of posts on social media, Square-Enix didn’t backtrack and the game remained on HD home consoles only.
To add insult to injury, the company’s free-to-play sequel Final Fantasy Agito – which had been slated for an expanded release on Vita following its earlier mobile launch – was cancelled later in the year, ensuring that dedicated handheld fans would have absolutely no means to play any title in this series
A similar omission came with the release of Dragon Quest Heroes on PS3 & PS4, a musou-game from genre experts Omega Force. Despite the sequel hitting the platform in 2016 and the team’s vast experience on Vita (ranging from the launch title Dynasty Warriors Next to other licenced spin-offs like One Piece Pirate Warriors 2), the publisher decided 2015 wasn’t the right time to give Vita this kind of support – but this was a viewpoint that was rapidly changing as 2015 rolled on.
2016 – an explosion of support
If 2015 was Square Enix’s year of slapping Vita fans in the face, then 2016 was their year of making amends. A full range of titles – from bigger releases to smaller ones – appeared throughout the year ranging from long-delayed games to complete surprises, making it a very satisfying year (with some minor disappointments in terms of localizations).
Things started extremely well – in January, the company released Dragon Quest Builders across PS3, PS4 & Vita. Their mashup of the popular Dragon Quest IP with Minecraft, the game was a massive sales success in Japan – opening to 178k on Vita alone and going on to sell more than 300k by the end of 2016. The game came west in October of the same year and even managed a physical release (although only in Asia), seeming to sell decently on PSN in North America and Europe – likely attributed to its addictive gameplay mixed well well-optimized Vita port.
Summer would see two more hotly anticipated titles – I am Setsuna and Dragon Quest Heroes II – the latter reversing Square’s decision on the previous entry not to bring the franchise to handhelds. Both had issues running on Vita – the former suffering with notable framerate and load time problems and the latter with framerate and pop-in. I am Setsuna saw mild sales in Japan of just 28k first week on Vita; while Dragon Quest Heroes sold much better opening to 120k and more than 220k a few weeks later.
Unfortunately, both were bizarrely skipped over for western release, despite seeing releases on other platforms. While I am Setsuna could possibly be explained away by the poor state of the Vita port, Dragon Quest was a more solid effort and its release didn’t actually come until this month (April 2017), yet that still wasn’t enough time to organize even a digital version in the west. It was a very disappointing decision which marred what was a turning point for the company in terms of handheld support.
Despite all this, it wasn’t just big retail titles that were seeing releases, as the company showed they were perfectly capable of releasing smaller downloadable titles too. Next on the list were two remakes of older games – namely Adventures of Mana and Romancing SaGa 2. The former launched worldwide in February on iOS and Android but curiously only in Japan on Vita – this was remedied by a fan campaign – ‘VoteVita’ – that aimed to get the title alongside a handful of others into western Vita fan’s hands. Although other publishers seemingly shrugged it off, it actually worked for Adventures of Mana and the game saw a late western release in June of 2016.
Romancing SaGa 2 saw similar treatment on Vita too, although this time around it was the series’ creator advocating for a western release rather than Vita fans. The game was released in Japan across mobile phones and Vita in March 2016 followed by a western mobile release in May of 2016, but by December the western Vita release still hadn’t materialized yet series creator Kawazu insisted it was still coming but “having problems”. His most recent tweet revealed it was next on their list after the Japanese release of Romancing SaGa 3, so hopefully he delivers on this in 2017.
To cap the year off, Square-Enix released two more big titles for Vita with varying degrees of success. The first – World of Final Fantasy – was a cutesy RPG featuring a number of characters from the franchise’s history in an original plot, and saw a worldwide release in October. Sales were mild in Japan – just 47k first week and around 75k by the end of the year, with western sales likely not faring much better, which would definitely be a disappointment for the first original Final Fantasy game on the platform (although it’s worth noting that the PS4 version likely didn’t perform much better).
The second – SaGa: Scarlet Grace – was the long-awaited newest entry in the company’s non-traditional series of JRPG’s. Both it and World of Final Fantasy featured a number of performance issues on the handheld relating to load times and performance, but SaGa sold slightly better opening to 64k in Japan and 88k by the end of the year. Sadly, no western release is scheduled to further recoup sales and it seems unlikely without a port to another console at this point, which would likely cause issues with bringing the Vita version across too given the company’s previous track record.
2017 & 2018 – to be continued?
Sadly, 2016 seemed to just be an exceptionally impressive year for the company on Vita and normal service appears to be resumed going forward in 2017 – a handful of titles from a range of budgets, but overall a fairly quiet showing. Their ‘bigger’ title is the latest Itadaki Street, a board game featuring characters from Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy that remains moderately popular in Japan, but very rarely manages to find its way west due to the niche appeal.
The company also revealed that a remake of Romancing SaGa 3 would be hitting Vita and smartphones some time in 2017 and a western release has been confirmed, alongside the aforementioned re-confirmation that the second title will be coming west eventually. They also dropped the bombshell surprise of a Secret of Mana remake coming to PS4 & Vita in full 3D in 2018, with a physical release confirmed for Japan as well as a digital-only overseas version. It surprised a number of fans who figured the company’s Vita support was all but done by this stage.
However, this may well be the last bastion of Vita support from Square-Enix as they recently revealed they were going in full-force supporting the Nintendo Switch, having titles like a port of I am Setsuna released for launch and other big games like Dragon Quest XI and Project Octopath Traveler planned throughout the year. They also recently released a ROM collection of the Seiken Densetsu trilogy (known in the west as Mana), which is very similar to how they were handling Vita support with remakes of older games, suggesting a shift to that platform in terms of remaking older titles.
If you compare their PSP output to what they released on Vita, it’s a night-and-day difference with how Square-Enix treated each handheld – one received a variety of software in terms of both big exclusive titles as well as smaller remakes and ports; while the other received a decent amount of what was available at the time but very little that was truly significant.
Despite this, the company have been there for Vita from the launch of the console right through to the present day and – aside from a bizarrely busy 2016 – have always had just a couple of releases with a ‘bigger’ game always thrown in the mix with smaller titles. As such, this article turned out very differently to my previous pieces on Bandai-Namco and Koei-Tecmo – with those, I was scrambling to say everything I wanted to say due to an overwhelming number of titles to write about, whereas with Square-Enix I’ve been able to write a little more elaborately due to a lower volume of releases.
Square-Enix could – and probably should – have supported Vita better than they did and the commitment they did finally give the platform was far too late in the day to make a difference. In spite of this, the output they have provided has generally been of good quality in terms of both the games themselves and their optimization efforts, meaning it’s difficult to remain too disappointed about what might have been.