Around this time last year, I wrote an article looking at the positive landscape of Vita localizations that were coming up in 2017. It marked the fifth year in a row that studios such as Aksys, Idea Factory International and NIS America had flourished on the console bringing across numerous games in a sea of different genres, leading to another fantastic year for gamers. All signs pointed to these games selling well and things staying the same well into 2018.
But something seemed to change as time went on and Nintendo’s Switch gained more traction. Publishers that had once been loyal to Sony’s handheld started porting their games to Nintendo’s console – which makes perfect sense – but what didn’t make sense was that they eventually started dropping the Vita versions altogether even though these existed when the games originally released in Japan. This hasn’t been a universal thing though, as other publishers have continued to support the handheld extremely well which has led to a lot of uncertainty. It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of a year!
So in what’s a bit of a different type of article for me, I thought I’d examine just this – the rollercoaster ride of Vita localization announcements in 2018. It seems that – unlike 2017 – for every piece of good news we get, there’s at least one other piece of bad news around the corner. I’m going to use the rollercoaster analogy to examine the news we’ve had, looking at the ups and downs of the announcements, as well as a special section looking at the ‘corners’ – i.e. the parts where we don’t know what’s coming up from certain companies!
So, without further ado…
Highs – Aksys’ ‘Summer of Mystery’
Aksys had an exceptional 2017 on Vita led by titles like The Nonary Games and Tokyo Xanadu, but arguably their biggest success on the console was the expansion of their otome lineup of games. These visual novels aimed at female gamers (but playable by anyone as I found out with Code Realize) had largely been niche in the west prior, but thanks to their efforts found a nice home overseas with solid releases like Bad Apple Wars, Collar x Malice and Period Cube.
So when Aksys announced in July of 2017 that this lineup would be continuing with three more otome games in 2018, fans were thrilled. They recently revealed the promotional campaign for these – ‘Summer of Mystery’, made up of Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk and 7’Scarlet. The former of these (Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly) was among the titles I highlighted that were in need of a localization way back in 2016, so it’s brilliant to see this finally happening.
Highs – The Asian-English market is still giving us games we wouldn’t otherwise get
I’ve written at length about how brilliant the Asian-English market has been for Vita – aside from providing physical copies of games which would otherwise be digital-only in the west, it’s also provided English versions of titles which wouldn’t hit western shores at all (ranging from Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 to Gundam Breaker 3). The ease of importing combined with Vita’s region-free nature has meant that I’ve spent as much money with Play-Asia as I have with UK retailers.
2018 promises to keep this tradition going as two more titles get the “only in Asia” treatment, namely Bullet Girls Phantasia from D3 Publisher and Super Robot Wars X from Bandai-Namco (the latter of which is a sequel to another Asian-English only game, Super Robot Wars V). In addition, Digimon World: Cyber Sleuth Hacker’s Memory received a digital-only release in the west but a physical cart in Asia, making it another essential import for those wanting to conserve memory card space or just prefer the allure of physical media.
Highs – PQube continue to love the Vita
In last year’s article I highlighed PQube as one of the companies who were missing from 2017’s lineup as they didn’t have anything formally announced at the time. Thankfully, they eventually came through and localized Chaos;Child, as well as handling the European releases of Akiba’s Beat and Rabi Ribi. So not a bad year for them, but certainly a quiet one compared to the brilliance of 2016 which saw stand-out games such as Root Letter, Steins;Gate 0 and Valkyrie Drive land. Thankfully, the year being quiet wasn’t a precursor to the company withdrawing support as 2018 looks set to be their best year on Vita ever.
First off, they’ve picked up the distribution rights for the critically beloved visual novel Muv-Luv and will be handling physical copies in both Europe and North America. In terms of their own localizations, they’ve grabbed Punchline (based on the anime series by Uchikoshi of Zero Escape fame) and Omega Labyrinth Z (despite the game being banned in the UK, showing what a risky pick-up it was). If all that wasn’t enough, they’ve also managed European distribution for Under Night In-birth Exe:Late[st] and, if leaks are anything to go by, might also be adding YU-NO: A Girl who chants love at the bounds of this world to their lineup. If anything, the company seem to be speeding up on Vita rather than slowing down.
Highs – XSEED announce Fate/Extella Link
Now, this might seem like a strange one – but hear me out. XSEED, a company who released two games on the PSP in 2015 (Brandish: The Dark Revenant and Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC) recently announced that Fate/Extella Link would be coming west this winter, with a digital-only release on Vita. This is the company’s only game on the handheld this year (that we know about) and it’s pretty disappointing to see it only getting the digital treatment, especially given how long they supported PSP for.
The reason I consider this a ‘high’ again relates to my expectations from last year – XSEED released just two games in 2017, both in the first half of the year (including this game’s prequel – Fate/Extella) and the company has long indicated that the PC market via Steam is their main focus. To see them announce a Vita game like this – especially one releasing winter 2018 which is extremely late in the console’s life – came as a real surprise despite their PSP precedent and will make a nice swansong to cap off their support of the handheld. They may not have been perfect, but at least they were in it until the very end.
Lows – Bandai-Namco ignore Asian-English Gintama Rumble on Vita
For one of the larger Japanese companies out there, Bandai-Namco have been surprisingly receptive towards Vita – localizing all sorts from multiple One Piece and Sword Art Online games to handling exclusives such as Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs Force and Tales of Hearts R (both of which are among my favourite games on the handheld). Even into 2018 they released Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Hacker’s Memory which made a nice sendoff (plus they threw in an Asian-English physical cart to boot).
Yet, they also managed to snub the console at the final hurdle with Gintama Rumble, the action game based on the popular anime series. In Japan, the game released for PS4 & Vita in January and an Asian-English version was available that same day… but only on PS4. This was a bizarre decision given the company was still supporting the Vita (see Digimon) as well as the Asian-English market (see Super Robot Wars X above) at the time – it was a sour note in the year for them, as they’d otherwise be ending their time on handheld in style thanks to Digimon and Super Robot Wars.
Lows – Koei-Tecmo continue to ignore Vita
Amusingly, when I wrote about this subject last year I praised Koei-Tecmo’s output as they had just released a spree of titles including Atelier Shallie, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk and Toukiden 2, meaning they’d given Vita gamers plenty to play at the start of the year (on top of the masses of titles they’d released since the handheld’s inception). Yet, cracks were already beginning to appear as we knew games like Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII and Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada were being skipped, leading to uncertainty about future titles such as Blue Reflection.
Sadly, this was a sign of what was to come – Koei-Tecmo haven’t released a single Vita game in the west since Toukiden 2, despite their parent company still supporting the handheld in Japan. The biggest disappointment for me is that this means multiple Gust titles have been skipped including Atelier Lydie & Suelle, Blue Reflection and Nights of Azure 2, but other games have also been ignored such as Attack on Titan 2 (which really disappointed me as I was impressed with the first) and Warriors All-Stars. I’ve recently taken to importing some of these because I’m just not interested in playing on a home console, but I really would have liked the option to play them on Vita in English.
Lows – NIS America snub Coven and Metal Max on Vita
Oh NIS America, how far you’ve fallen. Last year I gushed about they were one of Vita’s best supporters throughout its life and I really can’t take that away from them, as they’ve released so much (especially between 2014 – 2017) that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. But it seems they’ve given up on the console at the final hurdle making some bizarre decisions to skip the Vita versions of games they’re localizing for other consoles – namely Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk and Metal Max Xeno.
Normally skipping a game or two wouldn’t be a big deal, but Metal Max in particularly was one of my most anticipated titles on the handheld as it looked like a brilliant turn-based RPG set in a beautiful post-apocalyptic world that was reminiscent of Vita titles such as Freedom Wars – it seemed to be one of the few high-effort games still arriving on the console. Coven also stung as feedback from Japan seemed almost universally positive and Vita had been a great home to past gridders such as Demon Gaze. What on earth caused NIS America to do this is anyone’s guess, but I’d bet their sudden love of Switch had a lot to do with it – which is a real shame that they don’t believe both handhelds can co-exist.
Lows – Spike-Chunsoft open a western branch and completely ignore Vita
Spike-Chunsoft have done very well from Vita – their DanganRonpa franchise has gone from strength to strength on the console seeing positive sales both domestically and overseas, while other releases such as Exist Archive and Shiren the Wanderer seem to have done pretty well with them. Previously, they’d relied on external partners such as Aksys and NIS America to localize their games for the western market, but late last year they set up a North America subsidiary and announced plans to start localizing titles themselves.
These games were announced during GDC 2018 and included multiple Vita titles including Steins;Gate Elite and Zanki Zero, yet each was announced only for other platforms and skipped Sony’s handheld altogether. While I could live without Steins;Gate Elite (the original is perfect as it is and the company’s attempts to fiddle with the storyline haven’t exactly ended well in my opinion), it’s a real shame to see Zanki Zero skipped as it’s another gridder that would fit in well on Vita and is made by some of the team behind DanganRonpa. Perhaps some heavy petitioning would change their mind, but otherwise it’s another game we’re out of luck with.
Corners – Will Atlus come through for Vita?
Atlus have a long history of supporting hardware until the very end, releasing games such as Growlanser and Gungnir on PSP in 2012 and more recently Persona 5 on PS3 in 2017. They’ve supported Vita well throughout the years including 2017 where they released The Caligula Effect and two Utawarerumono games, and they currently hold the localization rights to what could be some of Vita’s biggest releases in 2018 including 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, Catherine: Full Body, Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night.
At present however we don’t know whether a single one of these titles will be landing on Vita in the west. Both 13 Sentinels and Catherine have been announced for western release with platforms unannounced – which is worrying for Vita given there’s no real reason not to announce the platforms as PS4/Vita is where it’s landing in Japan. There’s a glimmer of hope as the announcement website for 13 Sentinels included a PS Vita trademark logo, but at present there’s a big question mark over whether Atlus will be supporting Sony’s handheld in its final hour or not (and if we’re being hopeful, there’s also an Utawarerumono remake that I’d love them to pick up for the west too).
Corners – Have we seen the last of Idea Factory International?
Unlike Spike-Chunsoft whose North American subsidary got off to a terrible start by skipping two Vita games, Idea Factory’s overseas business flew out of the gates – their first project was Monster Monpiece on the handheld and their second was Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth 1. They continued to localize a tonne of great titles over the years ranging from Mary Skelter to Trillion: God of Destruction and have even handled their first release of 2018 in Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms.
But we don’t know whether there’s anything coming beyond this and there’s still some unlocalized games from their parent company in Japan. While Compile Heart have now moved on to developing only for PS4 after their last few Vita games didn’t perform too well (Genkai Tokki: Castle Panzers and Mary Skelter 2 are PS4-exclusives), there are still two titles left in limbo – Gun Gun Pixies and Tokyo Clanpool. The former seems unlikely given its content, but the latter should have come across given that MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death did. There’s also a sea of otome they have access to including Hakuoki: Sweet School Life, but whether they go for this or simply leave it all up to Aksys is anyone’s guess.
Corners – Will Sekai Project deliver on anything?
That sub-title is probably a little click-baity as to be fair to them, Sekai Project recently released Root Double: Before Crime After Days Xtend Edition for Vita after what seemed like an eternity (following the launch of Rabi Ribi in 2017). Still, despite these releases they’ve failed to deliver on numerous other promises including Fault Milestone One, Narcissu and World End Economica – all three games were supposed to land during 2017 yet not a single one is on Vita as of the date of this article.
The above games aren’t even counting titles that backers funded through Kickstarter either, such as the Grisaia trilogy which last received an update in 2015. Sekai Project also hold the western distribution rights to numerous other Vita visual novels including Clannad and A Clockwork Ley-Line, although whether they actually get around to any of these is a big question mark. Limited Run Games are supposedly involved in helping to port Fault Milestone and will be distributing physical copies, although it’s been nearly 2 years since that partnership was announced with nothing to show for it.
Corners – Are Square-Enix still on board?
Square-Enix have an interesting history with Vita – they released barely anything on the console during the first few years of its life (when it was most successful), then went crazy in 2016 (when it was beginning to wind down) bringing a range of titles from Dragon Quest Builders to World of Final Fantasy, although only some of these managed to find their way west on Vita (both Dragon Quest Heroes II and I am Setsuna were skipped on Vita despite being localized for PS4). To this day they’re still releasing games for Sony’s handheld though – most recently Romancing SaGa 2 after many delays, as well as the Secret of Mana remake.
There’s still a few titles up in the air in Japan which we haven’t heard anything about – the newest Itadaki Street game seems unlikely to come across, but a Romancing SaGa 3 remake is in the works and we have no idea if this’ll land on Vita or not (Romancing SaGa 2 did, but only after being ported to every platform under the sun). There’s also Saga Scarlet Grace which was trademarked in Europe last year, although the recently announced PC, PS4 & Switch ports cast doubt over whether we’ll actually be getting this.
Compared to 2017, the localization landscape on Vita in 2018 is incredibly uncertain – while I followed Japanese gaming news with confidence that I’d be seeing these titles in the west previously, I’m now cautious about everything knowing there’s a chance they’ll get skipped for overseas release. It’s a real shame, because 2018 has the potential to be stacked up with brilliant titles if every publisher came through, but we’re already seeing once-loyal companies like Koei-Tecmo and NIS America jump ship.
It’s not all bad, as others such as Aksys and PQube are stepping up their games and realising that the Vita’s niche market is well worth investing in even at this late stage in the game. We’ve even seen companies I’d previously written off such as XSEED show that they’re still invested in the machine if the right title comes along.
What is going to be most interesting is to watch all the publishers I’ve listed under ‘corners’ over the next few months – we could see anything happen with these and while I don’t personally have much faith in Sekai Project or Square Enix, but when Atlus reveal their plans I’m extremely hopeful we’ll be seeing some major Vita representation as they’ve demonstrated many times over the years (including their spree of 3DS games this year) that they’re willing to support aging hardware.
Either way, it’s certainly been a rollercoaster – that doesn’t show any signs of stopping up yet!