Often, a successful game on a console inspires a trend that is copied by dozen of imitators, helping shape the trajectory of the hardware beyond what was initially envisaged. The best example I can think of with this is Wii Sports, that ushered in the era of motion controls and inspired a sea of motion-based mini-game collections on the Wii that ultimately became a big part of its legacy – for better or for worse. Other examples include things like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid influencing demand for JRPG’s and stealth-action games on PS1 and Halo demonstrating what FPS’ could achieve on the original Xbox.
While PlayStation Vita didn’t receive any genre-defining software such as those listed above (despite Sony’s best efforts to usher in a new era of control with the front and rear touchpads), it did receive games that influenced various things about its direction going forward and ultimately turned it into the console it is today (which as many of you know, is one I love to bits). It’s these games I’m going to analyse in this article – titles that helped shape what Vita became by various aspects of the way they were designed, the way they were released, or just their general success leading to other developers trying to reproduce that triumph.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (release date: December 2011 (Japan), February 2012 (EU/NA))
When Sony’s Uncharted spin-off landed on Vita as part of the launch lineup, it brought with it a promise – “console quality gaming on the go” and this was a mantra that very much influenced the first couple of years of the handheld’s life. Whether it be AAA original titles like Assassins Creed III: Liberation and Killzone Mercenary or ports of current-gen releases like Mortal Kombat and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, it was Uncharted that set the bar for what could be achieved on the hardware both technically and in terms of gameplay utilising the twin sticks (even if it came with a few first-generation flaws like forced touch controls and gimmicks like camera usage).
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (release date: December 2011 (JP), February 2012 (EU/NA))
This may well be the most controversial pick on this list, but hear me out. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a port of the popular fighting game which hit seventh generation home consoles in November 2011 – it landed a month later on Vita with all of its features in tact, rock-solid performance and gorgeous graphics. While Blazblue was also an impressive conversion at Vita’s launch and Mortal Kombat received more publicity a few months later, it was Marvel vs. Capcom which showed Vita was capable of going toe-to-toe with its bigger brothers – plus, it led the charge of fighting games which became a huge part of Vita’s life going forward (everything from Dead or Alive to Injustice to King of Fighters followed suit).
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (release date: June 2012)
The second and third Metal Gear Solid games were hugely influential in their own way on the PS2 – redefining stealth-action on a new generation of hardware alongside two very smart (if somewhat convoluted) stories. On Vita, they marked the first time a collection of sixth-generation titles had been released on the console – something that would open the floodgates in the coming years with things like Final Fantasy X, God of War, Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper all making the jump across. It also introduced ‘transfarring‘ where you could move your save between different consoles, but I don’t think this was quite the revolution that Kojima thought it would be.
Persona 4 Golden (release date: July 2012 (Japan), November 2012 (NA), February 2013 (EU))
As one of Vita’s best selling titles (1.5m copies worldwide), Persona 4 Golden could have made this list on that basis alone, but it’s influence goes far beyond this. In Japan, it boosted Vita’s hardware sales significantly upon its launch, while its western release marked one of the first significant Japanese localizations leading the wave that was to come over the next half a decade. More than this, many specific games owe a great debt to Persona with its mix of social elements and high school drama – things like The Caligula Effect, Mind=0, Tokyo Xanadu and Trails of Cold Steel – all of which released on the handheld in the following years and capitalized on the audience it helped build.
Sound Shapes (release date: August 2012)
Sound Shapes is pretty much a triple whammy of influence on Vita – for starters, the Sony-published 2D platformer set a high bar for its genre on the handheld (despite titles like Rayman Origins beating it to the punch), showing some interesting rhythmic platforming alongside some fantastic user-generated content. It was also the first release on the console to offer ‘cross-buy’ – the initiative that allowed you to buy the PS3 version of a game and then get the Vita port at no extra cost (this later expanded to PS4 titles as well). Finally, Sound Shapes provided multiple piece of post-launch DLC – showing how developers could support their titles well into the future.
Retro City Rampage (release date: October 2012)
It’s difficult to believe that back in 2012, indie games still weren’t fully established in the console market despite early successes like Bastion on Xbox 360 (plus the whole Xbox Live Indie Games initiative in general). Vita’s moment for many came in the form of Retro City Rampage, a throwback open-world crime sim that received significant media attention and helped lead the charge for other smaller releases on the console that became the handheld’s bread and butter for the next five years. As a bonus, it was also the first limited physical print on the console (courtesy of Fangamer), arguably leading to the creation of Limited Run Games and the sea of imitators that followed in their wake, making this title that defined the Vita’s life in more than one way.
Soul Sacrifice (release date: February 2013 (Japan), April 2013 (NA), May 2013 (EU))
I’ve talked extensively about how Monster Hunter’s absence had a huge impact on Vita’s trajectory, but it did present an opportunity for other developers to step in and capitalise on the gap in the market. While Lord of Apocalypse started this (available at the Japanese launch) and Ragnarok Odyssey was the first to hit western shores, I’d argue Soul Sacrifice was the most influential – starting Sony Japan’s series of ‘hunting’ adverts, significantly increasing hardware sales in the region and showing what the genre could achieve on the hardware (quickly followed up by Toukiden, God Eater 2 and Phantasy Star Nova). Another interesting fact is its reveal convinced Compile Heart to invest in Vita (they were going to bail after Monster Monpiece) inadvertently leading to title like Neptunia and Trillion on the handheld – another example of how it influenced the Vita’s future.
DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (release date: October 2013 (Japan), February 2014 (EU/NA))
While DanganRonpa originally found success on the PSP, it came into its element on Vita, boosted by the success of an associated anime series. This popularity helped the game to be noticed by Nippon Ichi Software America, who localized it for western audiences (where it sold 200k copies between the first two entries) which in turn pretty much led to the explosion of English visual novel support on the handheld ranging from science fiction adventures like Steins;Gate to otome hits like Code: Realize. While Zero Escape pre-dated it, I’d argue it was DanganRonpa‘s success that truly turned Vita into a visual novel machine, while it also spawned numerous ‘killing game’ imitators in Japan like Exile Election and Idol Death Game TV (both of which sadly never made it overseas).
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (release date: April 2014 (Japan), May 2014 (Asia), August 2014 (EU/NA))
While anime games were already a dime a dozen on Vita before Hollow Fragment’s release, it was this title that truly opened the floodgates for the following years thanks to its runaway success both domestically and abroad (450k copies sold). More than this though, Hollow Fragment was at the forefront of the Asian-English revolution (it was initially announced to be getting an English translation in Asia before its worldwide release, while that region remained the only way to get hold of a physical copy) – leading to a sea of gamers (like myself) importing their very first game. This tradition carried on for the next half a decade with things like Bullet Girls Phantasia and Super Robot Wars V (only available in English through importing) plus others like Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines and Resident Evile Revelations 2 (only available physically in the Asian market) – it was Hollow Fragment that really made all this possible.
Minecraft (release date: October 2014)
A certified worldwide phenomenon well before its Vita release, Minecraft found predictable success on Sony’s handheld, but it had its most surprising performance in Japan – where it became the best-selling retail title on the console by some margin (1.3m vs 450k for second-place God Eater 2) without even counting digital sales. This alone had huge influence – it gave Vita a later-life hardware boost that sustained it for a number of years (boosted by numerous bundles), ensuring that publishers stayed committed to it when they might have otherwise bailed. It also helped other crafting games like Airship Q and Dragon Quest Builders see the light of day, all based on the enduring success of Mojang’s crafting masterpiece.
While these might not be the best-selling, the most popular or the most memorable games available on Vita (although in many cases, they are!), the 10 games I’ve selected for this list best represent what I think are the most influential titles for the handheld in terms of the titles they shaped, trends they set and the impact they had on the console throughout its life.
Without them, the Vita wouldn’t be what it is today – and for that, I’m incredibly thankful!