Despite its status as a sales disappointment and fairly niche console, Vita has still managed to receive an outstanding lineup of games – in both quantity and quality – worldwide. This includes titles from a variety of genres ranging from its most common games (RPG’s and Visual Novels) to things that were previously fairly rare on handhelds (First-Person Shooters), meaning that despite the initial impression it gives off, Vita really can be an enticing device for anyone.
In spite of this, the fan’s desire for even more titles has always been there and that has led to the birth of a number of fan campaigns to bring more content to the handheld. For me, this is pretty unique – I’ve always seen them here and there in the past, but I’ve never seen such a hunger to get quality games on a particular console in so many cases. It hasn’t always been successful, but Vita’s library has still expanded substantially thanks to grassroots movements, and it’s these campaigns that I want to examine in this article – what they were aiming to get; what happened and whether it led to any further support.
#buildingthelist – The birth of fan campaigns and Gio Corsi
One of the earliest fan campaigns I recall on Vita actually ended up being one of its most successful – to get Borderlands 2 on the handheld. It initially spawned from comments made by Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox Software, who stated on numerous occasions that he would love for it to happen as Vita is a “really neat piece of hardware”.
Fans ran with this comment and soon after a movement was organized on reddit in early 2013 to e-mail and tweet at both 2K and PlayStation to let them know they were interested. Not only did it work and it was quickly revealed in 2013 that Borderlands was coming to the handheld, but it also led to the formation of ‘Third Party Productions’, an internal Sony team that worked with external companies to bring content to Sony consoles headed by Gio Corsi who gathered suggestions for games fans wanted on PS3, PS4 and Vita through the hashtag ‘#buildingthelist’.
Borderlands itself appeared in the summer of 2014 alongside the new Vita slim hardware and although fans had gripes about its performance, it remained one of the most ambitious titles on the handheld and still managed to satisfy a hell of a lot of people. It was the further support from Third Party Productions for Vita that was most noticeable, however, as the effect of the fan campaign’s success was almost immediate.
At PSX 2014, Gio announced multiple titles coming to Vita ranging from Darkest Dungeon to Suikoden and – most notably – a port of Resident Evil Revelations 2 was handled by the team in 2015. As of the date of this article, the team are still working on bringing handheld content including a long-delayed port of The Banner Saga (that fans stepped in to help save too) and there’s every possibility that we might see more titles beyond this, cementing this was one of the most successful ways that fans helped shape the future of Vita content (although it didn’t hurt that Gio was such a massive fan too!)
#JRPG Vita and Shahid Ahmed
In the early years of Vita’s life, Shahid Ahmad was a very strong social media presence for the handheld. Part of Sony’s ‘Strategic Content’ team who helped bring games such as Football Manager Classic 2014 and Hotline Miami to the console, he started an initiative on Twitter in summer 2014 entitled ‘#JRPGVita’. It encouraged users to tweet their most wanted JRPG localizations on Vita which he would then endeavor to convince publishers to bring to the west.
An uploaded word cloud later that year showed a number of key titles including Final Fantasy Type-0; Tales of Hearts R and Valkyria Chronicles III – an interesting selection, perhaps demonstrating that Vita hadn’t quite flourished into the JRPG machine it became in later life yet as two of the major suggestions were PSP games, but with enough realistic suggestions to allow Shahid to make progress.
And it worked. In 2014, Tales of Hearts R was announced as coming west on Vita and Shahid proclaimed it was a result of #JRPGVita. Fans, with a little help from an industry insider, had demonstrated sufficient demand for a title which would otherwise have avoided coming west, which made it a great result for gamers.
Sadly the campaign petered out from there as documented by Kotaku. Shahid initially claimed Final Fantasy Type-0 coming west was a result of his work, before it was revealed the game was for PS4 & XB1 and no Vita version was planned. Nothing has really happened since then and although it’s possible some behind-the-scenes things occurred as a result of the campaign, it seems unlikely as Shahid is the type of guy who would publically take credit for them (and he’s now working on VR, making it unlikely for anything to happen in the future).
Still, getting one great JRPG in the west was success enough for this and was a great example of what a dedicated fanbase of Vita gamers – alongside a really driven insider – were capable of.
#VoteVita and 2BFLiam
While #JRPGVita had been a grassroots campaign started by someone who worked for Sony, #VoteVita was a very different case of a fan starting a movement to get specific titles released on the handheld. That fan was 2BFLiam (now RSSLiam), a popular Twitch Streamer and Youtuber who happened to be a particularly big fan of Vita.
He initially asked for feedback from fans then organized a survey for Vita owners to fill in asking whether they would buy certain titles – Adventures of Mana; Freedom Planet; Gal Gunvolt and Yakuza 0 App, all of which were chosen due to having a realistic chance of coming out on the handheld which he had established from speaking to the companies involved. The survey was shared across NeoGAF; Reddit and Twitter and eventually received nearly 5,000 responses which were sorted by Liam and broken down into handy charts.
The big winner from the campaign was Adventures of Mana which received an overwhelmingly positive response and – in a shocking turn of events – the title was very quickly released on PSN in June of 2016. This marked a very happy victory as the game was originally only planned for release on Android and iOS – the fact the translation was already done for these versions likely led to the quick turnaround, but it was the fan’s enthusiasm and Liam’s involvement that ultimately led to the game being released on Vita at all.
Unfortunately, as with #JRPGVita, it didn’t seem to lead to anything else. The remaining games have managed to elude the handheld so far (and in an amusing turn of events, Galaxy Trail announced Freedom Planet would be coming to PS4 but ignored a Vita version), yet still getting Adventures of Mana was a success in itself – especially since it may have also led to Romancing SaGa 2 on the console suddenly become viable.
Operation Decode – Digimon
If there’s a common theme among fan campaigns on Vita, it’s that many of them target niche Japanese games for western release. Operation Decode targeted the Digimon franchise which had been absent from EU/NA for years, specifically the PSP/3DS title Digimon World Re:Digitize although quickly expanded to including the Vita-developed Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, which released in Japan in 2015. A petition garnered over 65,000 signatures – a staggering amount for a game-related movement.
Despite the former game never releasing (presumably due to it being on the long-dead PSP and 3DS, which limited the chances of a HD port), Cyber Sleuth was confirmed for western release in July of 2015 alongside a PS4 up-port, likely due to the huge amount of responses on the petition and seemingly sold very well once it released – topping PSN charts on Vita as a digital-only release and selling out of its initial shipment on PS4 in Europe.
And it led to some long term support too. Despite Digimon World: Next Order being skipped on Vita in favor of PS4 after a PR farce, a Cyber Sleuth sequel was confirmed as coming west in 2018 and included a Vita SKU this time – likely thanks to the solid sales of its direct predecessor.
Suikoden Revival Movement
Like with Digimon, Suikoden is another franchise with a passionate fanbase that worked hard for progress in a series that seemed otherwise abandoned (but in this case it was abandoned worldwide, not merely in the west). A fan campaign called the ‘Suikoden Revival Movement’ set up in 2012 aimed to bring awareness back to the forgotten classic and quickly received mainstream gaming recognition through sites like Destructoid and Kotaku chronicling their efforts.
The campaign culminated for Vita owners in 2013 when fans bombarded Konami’s Facebook page asking for digital re-releases of the first two games in the series. And it appeared this worked, as at the end of 2014 Gio Corsi announced that those games would be releasing as PS1 classics on PSN due to numerous requests as part of the aforementioned #buildingthelist movement. It was a great moment for fans of the franchise in general, but particularly Vita fans worldwide who were able to revisit arguably the most acclaimed entry in the series (Suikoden II).
Sharin no Kuni
While we’d had various Visual Novel localization companies promise Vita games in the past (I’m looking at you Sekai Project), none of them had ever really materialized and when Frontwing decided to bring their classic title Sharin no Kuni to the west through Kickstarter, unsurprisingly there was not even an option for a Vita port at all. The campaign fumbled and struggled to raise any funding and ended up being cancelled in July 2016.
In November of 2016 the project returned to Kickstarter and – after taking feedback from fans, had a stark difference – a Vita version was offered as a stretch goal, alongside a Limited Run Games partnership for a physical release. This proved to be just the thing the campaign needed as it smashed past its base funding target alongside both of its stretch goals, raising $188k by the end of December. The game has yet to release, but all signs are pointing towards it being nearly finished and looking like another successful grassroots movement for Vita content.
And like with Digimon, it may have led to some future support too. Frontwing recently expressed surprise at the support offered by the Vita community during the campaign and stated that are looking into bringing more of their titles west in future – a great result that shows a little enthusiasm can go a long way.
When given the opportunity, it seems that Vita fans will respond en masse to queries about supporting the handheld if offered the chance. When FDG Entertainment, publisher of many high-effort mobile titles, asked users on Twitter whether they were interested in a port of their Legend of Zelda clone Oceanhorn, the response was outstanding. Nearly 4,500 people voted and 92% said they would buy a copy.
This was clearly what the publisher wanted to hear and at the end of the poll they tweeted that a Vita release was happening, which was followed by an announcement that it would also be getting a physical release through Limited Run Games. The port is being handled by Engine Software, the studio behind Terraria on the handheld as well as the console versions of Oceanhorn meaning it’s seemingly in good hands – a great result for Vita fans.
Other campaigns – Attractio; Freedom Wars & Kickstarter
Of course, the above are just a selection of the more prominent times fans were involved in bringing more content to Vita – there have been plenty more instances aside from this. For example, despite being initially announced as a digital-only game in Europe, a large amount of fans of Freedom Wars bombarded Sony’s Social Media for a physical release – which was quickly arranged just a few short weeks after the initial announcement.
Similarly, a very small Twitter campaign for Attractio, a Portal-esque game was successful in 2014, with fans letting the developers know that there was demand for a handheld version of this title which ended up releasing in 2016.
In addition, Sharin no Kuni is far from the only Kickstarter to add Vita stretch goals due to requests. In recent memory both Battle Princess Madelyn and Dies Irae have either added or lowered stretch goals due to demand from fans for Vita versions – this is in addition to a sea of games from previous years like Bloodstained; Hyper Light Drifter; Mighty no. 9 and Shantae. The problem, sadly, is that no matter whether fans showed willing or not, some of these projects didn’t end up happening due to the creators failing to be able to deliver on their promises leaving a sour taste for later Kickstarter projects (but that’s a whole other story).
Invariably these fan-driven efforts will wind down as the console itself winds down, and I’d expect much great fan mobility towards the latest flavor-of-the-month handheld – the Nintendo Switch. In spite of this, we’re still seeing dedicated users try to get new games on their favourite console – most recently a campaign driven by a freelance localizer to get the beloved Visual Novel The House in Fata Morgana in the west. If you’re interested in supporting this, make sure you retweet the campaign here.
As I’ve previously mentioned, some of these movements are continuing to give us new content too – I’ve no doubt Gio Corsi won’t hesitate to bring any game he can to Vita if it’s feasible; we have a new Digimon title scheduled for next year and Frontwing may be bringing more of their games to the west based on the feedback from Sharin no Kuni.
Unlike anything I’ve really seen before, Vita fans really mobilized support behind the console and as such have brought a stream of new content to it that wouldn’t have otherwise happened, driven by their desire to play great games on a great handheld. It’s certainly something that could have only really happened in this age of Facebook; Reddit and Twitter yet it’s a testament to the userbase that achieved so much
I have to wonder whether the majority of this started due to Sony effectively ignoring the console from 2014 onwards – rather than leaving the fans dejected and moving on to other places, it only mobilized them to show their passion and get other publishers to step into the gap in the market and fill it with great titles.
And really, there have been a tonne of great games brought across and on the way thanks to the fans – ranging from big AAA titles like Borderlands to localizations like Tales of Hearts R to classics older titles like Suikoden to indie games like Attractio. For me – someone who appreciates consoles that offer a variety of different experiences – this has been absolutely key in keeping me engaged with the handheld.