The ninth 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.
Once one of Sony’s most bitter rivals in the console manufacturing business during the fifth console generation, SEGA slowly ceded to software development and eventually became one of the company’s best partners with a variety of quality releases across all Sony hardware from the PS2 onwards. While their PSP support was large and varied; their Vita support was much reduced with a number of key franchises missing from the lineup. With that said, they fared much better than some of their contemporaries on the hardware and still put the effort in to make some solid games scheduled for 2018; making them one of the stronger Vita supporters from Japan.
Launch & 2012 – a good start
Like many other publishers, SEGA were there for Vita’s launch with a brilliant port of one of their older titles; yet they continued this momentum throughout 2012 with multiple other releases ranging from ports to brand new games.
Their launch game (in both Japan and the west) was Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition, an expanded re-release of their original title from earlier in 2011. World Tour added a number of additional features including touch and gyro controls; two-player local gameplay as well as additional online stats and modes; yet aside from this the port was also among the best-looking games available on Vita at the time (and still looks brilliant to this day). Opening week sales were weak in Japan at just 3.6k, but it eventually sold more than 28k in the region (worldwide figures are unknown, but due to heavy discounts it likely sold alright).
It wouldn’t be long until their next title appeared – the free-to-play action game Samurai & Dragons which was available in Japan from March of 2012. A special physical edition was made available later in the year (eventually selling 12k copies) but no figures were available for number of downloads so success is difficult to measure – the servers were eventually shut in July of 2014 as the company shifted their focus to the newly-released Chain Chronicle V, making this a difficult game to assess for this article.
For the latter half of the year, the company kicked things off with the latest entry in their long running Super Monkey Ball series entitled Banana Splitz. Using an interesting claymation animation style alongside the classic gameplay the series was known for, the title received mixed reviews thanks to some sub-par mini-games (which had been a highlight in previous titles) as well as some gimmicky features such as the ability to create levels from pictures taken with the Vita’s camera. Sales figures are unknown, but with this being the last traditional Monkey Ball game as of the date of this article, performance was likely on the lower side.
In Japan, the company launched Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f in August, the latest in their long-running series of rhythm/vocaloid releases that originally appeared (and flourished) on the PSP. It became the first major release for Vita in the region since Persona 4 Golden and thanks to a limited-edition console provided a substantial boost to hardware sales; as well as shifting 159k copies in its first week (and more than 255k by the end of 2016), placing it as one of the best-selling Vita games in Japan. A western release came in 2014, but only after petitioning from fans and the successful launch of a PS3 version.
In the west, the company had two more releases lined up to keep Vita gamers busy during the rest of the year. The first was a HD remaster of their seminal Dreamcast game Jet Set Radio which arrived in November, managing to look beautiful on the Vita’s OLED screen while keeping the same addictive gameplay loop in tact. Sadly, the company didn’t update any of their other Dreamcast titles for Vita or even Jet Set Radio Future, the Xbox-only sequel that received an equally positive critical reception.
It was their December release of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed that received the most attention, however. A very high-effort port handled by Sumo Digital that included all of the content of the home console versions with comparable graphics (although slightly reduced performance); the game finally provided a competent kart-racer on Sony’s handheld in a void that sadly wasn’t filled by Modnation Racers: Road Trip. While sales figures are unknown, the game shifted nearly 1m across all platforms in its first 3 months – which is an impressive result for the genre.
It was a solid first year for SEGA on Vita – a few major games in both the west and east, with hints of what future support was going to come. Like so many other companies I’ve examined in these articles, SEGA would never have a year this good on the handheld again – although unlike companies like Konami, they still managed to bring a number of key titles to Vita over the rest of its life.
2013 – the year of Phantasy
Compared to the prior year, 2013 was quiet for SEGA – releasing just two games, although one of them happened to be one of the company’s most significant title in Japan that would be supported long beyond the initial release.
That game was Phantasy Star Online 2, the long-awaited sequel to the Dreamcast classic. Arriving in Japan in February of 2013, the title gave players the option of either buying a retail cart with the game loaded onto it or alternatively downloading it for free and buying items in-game with microtransactions. Within a few months, the company announced that Online 2 had reached 500,000 players on the handheld – a figure they were clearly happy with, showing the release had been a big success for SEGA.
The other title available in 2013 was a Japanese-only release – Soccer Tsuku: Pro Soccer Club!, a football management sim that acted as a reboot of a the franchise that first appeared on the Saturn and eventually made its way to the Dreamcast and PS2. Selling through 63k copies in their home country, the game would be followed in 2014 by a native Football Manager title in English – although sadly, the company wouldn’t release any more management games after these.
Sadly, it was also a year of missed opportunities for SEGA with Vita – which was surprising seeing how they managed to get plenty of viable games onto the console during 2012. Leading the charge was Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, a remake of their 1990 Mega Drive release starring Disney’s mascot which released in September on PS360 as well as Android/iOS. Sony’s handheld was skipped for whatever reason – particularly surprising given Sony themselves had ported another Mickey game (Epic Mickey 2) to the console just months earlier, making it a good environment for the game.
Another surprising skip for the company was The Cave, the puzzle-platformer from legendary LucasArts alumni Ron Gilbert. Developed by Double Fine Productions, a company who would go on to support Sony’s handheld with a number of titles ranging from Broken Age to Full Throttle Remastered, the title landed on PS360 as well as Nintendo’s WiiU, but for whatever reason SEGA and Double Fine didn’t see fit to release it on Vita.
Overseas, the company released remastered versions of Yakuza 1 & 2 on WiiU in 2013, where they became among the lowest-selling games on the platform. While it was unlikely to be a smash hit on Vita, the PSP had been home to two spinoff games (Black Panther) that sold reasonably well and with the Yakuza audience mainly being on Sony home consoles, it would have made sense to bring them to Vita. Instead, the handheld got free-to-play spinoffs of Ishin and 0 in 2014 and 2015 respectively but no native Vita game – a crying shame, especially for importers like myself.
A final release which would have been perfect on Vita from SEGA was After Burner Climax, which landed on mobile phones in February after originally being ported from Arcades to PS360 in 2010. The fast-paced flight-shooter franchise had previously graced PSP in 2007 with Black Falcon which was sadly never made backwards-compatible with Vita, meaning Climax would have been an excellent addition to the console’s lineup. Sadly, the release never happened and worse still – the game is now de-listed from all digital-store fronts due to licencing issues.
It’s difficulty to fault SEGA too much during 2013 – they released a very ambitious project in Phantasy Star Online 2 that they would keep updating from years to come, but this wouldn’t have been a major selling point for western gamers who still are unable to play it. Aside from this, their choices to ignore porting certain games to Vita remains a disappointment – but thankfully, their position improved substantially in 2014, going back on some previous decisions not to localize games as well as bringing plenty of new titles to the fray.
2014 – a little bit of everything
While no year would match up to 2012 in terms of SEGA’s support, 2014 came close – very close – thanks to a number of titles across a range of genres landing in both Japan and the west, ensuring gamers had plenty to play on Sony’s handheld.
Overseas, the year kicked off for with the digital-only release of Hatsune Miku Project Diva f, which had previously released in 2012 in Japan. The company had previously only committed to localizing the PS3 version (which landed in 2013), but after feedback from fans decided to also bring across the Vita version, albeit as a digital-only title. The game took the fast-paced rhythm gameplay the series had been known for and refined it, adding a range of new songs and modes making it a fan-favourite. Although sales numbers are unknown, a large amount of ratings on PSN alongside solid reviews likely cemented this as a profitable venture for the company – ensuring the series continued to come to the west going forward after the previous PSP releases all stayed in Japan.
Meanwhile, domestically, the company released Hatsune Miku Project Diva F 2nd in March again across PS3 & Vita, which sold 155k on the handheld – significantly down on the previous entry (but not sufficient to turn them off the platform, as they released a further Miku title on it in 2016). This would find its way overseas in November, this time seeing a physical release on Vita – showing the company’s commitment to the platform going forward, likely on the back of strong sales of the original.
In April, SEGA had another Vita-surprise up their sleeves – the release of Football Manager Classic 2014, based on the popular series of football management sims on PC. While PSP had been home to previous entries up to and including 2013, it made the jump to Vita with the newest game and for the first time included the 3D match engine as well as the ability to transfer your game across from the console version. Sadly, it didn’t appear to fare too well in sales, with no further entries appearing on Vita (or consoles in general), marking a sad entry to tradition.
In Japan, the company had a number of other titles lined up. They kicked off the year with Uta Kumi 575, a new rhythm title which received mixed reviews both in Japan and from importers and sold rather poorly, clearing just 17k copies in the region. They updated Phantasy Star Online 2 to Episode 2, including new content and challenges as well as an additional physical release (which oddly sold 40k copies in Japan despite the title being F2P) and released a free-to-play app alongside Yakuza Ishin, allowing users to experience the adventures on the go as well as link up with the main game. A Vita version of their popular mobile title Chain Chronicle V also landed in July, although shut down earlier this year with just under three years of service.
Their biggest release of the year was undoubtedly Phantasy Star Nova, an offline entry in their storied RPG franchise. Developed by Tri-Ace – the studio behind Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile – the game continued the tradition of bringing local-multiplayer-hunting actions to Sony’s portable platforms following on from the releases of Phantasy Star Portable 1 & 2 while delivering a fantastic visual package that pushed what the Vita could do (somewhat at the expense of framerate). Sadly, sales were nowhere near as strong as those titles – both of which cleared over 250k first week while Nova barely managed 100k; likely due to the fact that Phantasy Star Online 2 provided a free-to-play alternative to the game. Low sales surely factored into SEGA’s decision not to localize the title, although thankfully it made an easy import thanks to some brilliant guides.
The final titles they had lined up for the year wer the crossover fighter Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax in Japan; as well as the puzzle game Puyo Puyo Tetris. The former hit western shores in 2015 and included fighters from a variety of anime/light novel franchises as well as Akira from Virtua Fighter and Selvaria from Valkyria Chronicles – the game was a mild sales success in Japan (clearing 50k copies on Vita) and ensured an expanded re-release the following year including new characters. The latter served as a crossover of the popular Puyo Puyo and Tetris franchises and despite remaining Japan-only was popular among importers – an overseas release happened in 2017, but only for PS4 & Switch.
In terms of missed opportunities, the main one that sticks out to me is Shining Resonance – a PS3-only RPG in the long-running franchise developed by Media Vision. Previous entries had appeared exclusively on PSP and it seemed a perfect fit for the series to make the jump to Vita (especially since Media Vision already had experience developing for the platform with Chaos Rings III). Instead, it opened to a lukewarm 67k on Sony’s home console and no more Shining RPG’s have released since – despite previously being a yearly franchise, suggesting it under-performed. Rumors suggested that a new title in the franchise might be arriving on PS4 & Vita some time in 2018, but right now nothing is confirmed – leaving Resonance as the latest.
Overall, 2014 was a great year for SEGA on Vita – they brought some key franchises to Japan and the west and supported the console about as well as they could. Unfortunately, this momentum wouldn’t carry on into future years; although like many companies they didn’t completely give up on the global market in the handheld’s twilight years.
2015 – a mixed year
2015 for SEGA was focused mainly on Japan – they released precious few of their titles overseas like in 2012 or 2014, making it a somewhat quiet year for western gamers – unless you are an importer.
Their sole western game for the year was Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, the previously-released fighting game featuring a crossover of LN and SEGA characters. The launch was overshadowed by the announcement of Ignition – an expanded re-release featuring additional characters and balance changes. For whatever reason, the company decided only to bring the vanilla version of the game to the west where it received a positive reception, although perhaps sales were hurt by the reveal of a better Japanese release.
In Japan, their releases were more by-the-numbers. The newest expansion for Phantasy Star Online 2: Episode 3 – hit in March and oddly sold more than the previous entry for the retail version (41k) showing a level of dedication among the fanbase to the title, rewarding SEGA for the support they committed to Vita originally. The company loaned their ‘SEGA Hard Girls’ mascots to Compile Heart for the crossover title Hyperdimension Neptunia vs. SEGA Hard Girls, which released late 2015 in Japan and hit western shores in 2016. Additionally, they released a free-to-play companion app for their PS4 release Yakuza 0, which sadly didn’t come west with the game in 2017.
This wouldn’t be the only crossover title the company had lined up for the year either. In December, they released yet another Vita rhythm game – Miracle Girls Festival – which featured a number of idols from various anime series in one place. While less successful than SEGA’s own Hatsune Miku series, it still managed to clear 48k copies in Japan making it a somewhat successful venture for the company.
There were still a number of games I feel should have made it to Vita in 2015 from SEGA – chief among these is 7th Dragon III, the sequel to two PSP-only dungeon crawlers which released at the latter end of its life. The franchise made the jump to 3DS for the final entry (which is amusing, as it originally begun life on the DS before switching to PSP) but skipped Vita altogether despite being a prime candidate for a multi-platform release, which was a sad missed opportunity from the company.
Continuing their theme of making odd decisions with Shining titles, they committed to the crossover title Blade Arcus from Shining EX on PS3 and PS4 (as a port from arcades), but oddly skipped Vita in the process. The game included a number of characters from the last few titles in the series ranging from Shining Tears to Shining Resonance making it a purely fanservice title, one that wasn’t the best received by critics. Bizarrely, the game only came to the west on Steam skipping PS3 & PS4 altogether, but the lack of Vita version meant even importers couldn’t give it a try.
2016 – phoned-in support
By 2016, SEGA’s support was very much by-the-numbers – sequels to franchises already on the console with nothing new or surprising. You would be forgiven for thinking this would be it from the company – that they’d drop the console entirely in the near future – but amazingly they had far more planned for beyond 2016, it’s just a shame this year in particular was disappointing.
The company’s main release for the year on Vita – as with every other year in the console’s life – was a new Hatsune Miku game subtitled X. This made it the third in the series on Vita although (as with previous entries) a home console version was promised later, this time on PS4. Clearly, consumers were beginning to get tired of SEGA’s practices with the franchise as it saw yet another drop in sales – only clearing 100k copies by the end of 2016; although a western release followed later in the year and Vita yet again managed to swing a physical version. Reviews were less kind on X than its predecessors, noting the lack of content and songs.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a new year without a new update of Phantasy Star Online 2, with Episode 4 arriving in April. With the addition of a PS4 version, alongside the ever-increasing memory card requirements of the game (32GB minimum with the latest updates) sales of the physical version saw a downturn again to just 15k, although presumably the free-to-play userbase is still solid on the platform as the game continues to get updates. Compile Heart’s Hyperdimension Neptunia vs. SEGA Hard Girls also arrived during 2016, exposing the west to the company’s mascot characters.
For games which perhaps should have landed on Vita, we’ve still yet to see a proper native Sonic platformer (although we did receive the kart-racer spin-off Racing Transformed) and Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice could have possibly filled this gap – particularly as it was developed by Sanzaru Games who handled Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. This was the second Sonic title the team developed for 3DS following Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal in 2014 – although both received fairly muted reviews and remained exclusive to Nintendo hardware. Speaking of, the company also released Puyo Puyo Chronicle in Japan in December, although despite Puyo Puyo Tetris being on mutliple platforms Chronicle wasn’t given this benefit.
2017 & 2018 – to be continued!
Despite the fact that 2016 seemingly signalled the end of SEGA’s support with iterative sequels of their popular Vita franchises, it appears they’re determined to go out with a bang on the platform with two surprise games – one for 2017 and one for 2018 – ensuring the handheld sails into the sunset in style.
Originally announced as a PS4-exclusive in November of 2015, by August of 2016 the company revealed that the Media Vision-developed Valkyria Revolution would be coming to Sony’s handheld in addition to home console. This marked the first appearance for the series on the Vita which had previously had two PSP-exclusive entries – sadly fans were less than thrilled about the shift in direction with Revolution and sales suffered, shifting just 23k copies in Japan. Thankfully, the development team did a solid porting job – while graphical fidelity was reduced, the title ran well and looked comparatively impressive based on the hardware it was running on.
Unfortunately, this was all SEGA had lined up for the console in 2017 (sadly they chose to skip Sonic Mania on the handheld despite it making a whole lot of sense); but it wasn’t all they had lined up for the console in general. Aside from their Atlus output (SEGA purchased the rival Japanese publisher in 2014 – I’ve detailed their output in a separate article), the company made one surprise announcement for 2018 in A Certain Magical Virtual On, adding them to the list of companies continuing to commit to Vita in its 7th year on the market.
Acting as a crossover between the arcade-born Virtual On series (which was eventually ported to Saturn) and the popular light novel/anime series A Certain Magical Index, the title served as the first new entry in the franchise since 2003’s Virtual On Marz; as well as acting as a sequel to the PSP’s 2011 fighting game Toaru Majutsu no Index. Although Virtual On has always been a low seller, it maintains a dedicated fanbase and it’s fantastic to see the series making a debut on the Vita (the game itself turned out to be a lot of fun).
It’s unlikely that SEGA will have more games revealed for Vita at this point given the console is winding down in both Japan and the west – but if the announcement of Virtual On is anything to go by, it’s certainly not impossible (and I’m always hopeful for the rumoured Media Vision Shining game). Either way, the company are one of many that are helping to ensure the console goes out with a bang.
From a busy 2012 on the handheld right through to a surprising release planned for 2018, it’s undeniable that SEGA have been a great supporter of Vita. Aside from their first 12 months, they’ve never released a large number of games each year; but have always been there in the background provided key titles along with some more unexpected announcements.
Their output was unfortunately down from their PSP days – where they provided a range of titles including exclusive entries in their Sonic; Valkyria and Yakuza franchises; as well lots of genre variety with flight shooters like After Burner; action-adventure games like Iron Man and arcade racers like Outrun. Still, this is in line with almost every Japanese third-party’s transition between Sony’s handhelds and SEGA fared far better than some of their rivals with a surprisingly a large amount of franchises making the jump across, from Football Manager to Phantasy Star to Virtua Tennis.
It’s almost strange to see a company who were previously one of Sony’s biggest hardware rivals support their under-appreciated handheld better than the manufacturer themselves, but that’s the situation that’s happened with SEGA and Vita. And thanks to fun games like Phantasy Star Nova and Sonic & All-Stars, I’m very happy they did – they’ve enhanced the handheld’s library in great ways and helped shape it into the brilliant machine it is today.