The PlayStation Vita is dead. Yes, that’s right, after years and years of the console continuing to keep fighting to stay alive, Sony finally pulled the plug on the little-handheld-that-could. We have all taken the time to research and discuss to no end how and why the Vita failed, but few conversations have discussed how the Vita succeeded. This is that conversation. A time to look at the positives that the Vita brought to the game industry during its short time on this Earth.
1Dual Analog Sticks
Just before the Vita, there was the PSP and the Nintendo DS. The PSP featured a single analog stick that would usually be used for movement, while the Nintendo DS still featured a D-pad as its main form of controlling movement in a game. When it came to aiming or controlling the camera, that’s where things got a little tricky. PSP games would often use the right set of buttons to control aiming—much in the same way FPS games on the N64 would control—with limited success. For the Nintendo DS, some games would opt to use the same control scheme as the PSP, or, use the touchpad that forced the player to hold the console with one hand to move and almost form a claw with the other to aim with the stylus and interact using the shoulder buttons. In both cases, it wasn’t the greatest solution and the best games typically found on each system were simply designed to not require such control schemes.
For the Vita, having two analog sticks enabled games, both First-Person and Third-Person games, to have more accurate controls. This directly translated into titles like Killzone: Mercenary and Resistance: Burning Sky to be as fast-paced as they were and games like Gravity Rush to allow more precise aiming when combined with the motion controls. It finally meant that a whole genre that was largely ignored in previous handheld consoles could be experienced on the Vita, and titles that had to make concessions to their controls could be enjoyed without sacrifices. In some part, it could be argued that the reason that the 3DS added its ‘nub’ was in part due to the Vita having two analog sticks, and as part of its death, forced Nintendo to add the feature as more titles requiring it found itself on the console.
One of the biggest benefits to having two analog sticks on the Vita was that it enabled something that other handhelds simply never had, parity. You couldn’t exactly play a Nintendo DS game the same way you could on a Wii without a few changes to make the game work. But for the Vita? You could take any game on the PlayStation 4 and stream it right to your Vita without missing inputs (although, some were moved to the touchpad).
This meant that games that required a PlayStation 4’s level of computing power could be played on your Vita (assuming you had a good connection). For games that benefit being in a portable setting, this was a miracle. Now you could lay down in bed, slowly plotting your next move to destroy that tank that was blocking your path in Valkyrie Chronicles. You could sit outside grinding out a few easy monsters in Monster Hunter: World before tackling your next foe. You could even play games like Final Fantasy Type-0 the way they were meant to be played, on a portable console. Or if you were like me, you could play Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag in the closest place within your house that resembled a ship on the ocean, in the tub. It enabled a whole new way to play home console games that were a step above the Wii U’s capabilities and with a vastly larger library available.
For games that were available on the Vita and the PlayStation 4 (plus a few PlayStation 3 titles), cross-save enabled an easy way to take your same save file and bring it between all the consoles that supported it. Fantasy Final X|X-2 HD could be played on a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and a PlayStation Vita, all of which could use the same save file from one to another. If you were something of a collector or purchased the title digitally with cross-buy, your game could come with you depending on your current situation. Going to visit the folks for the holidays and need something to play? You could take your Metal Gear Solid 3 save file and pick up right where you left off. Once you got back, you could put the same save file right back on your PlayStation 3 and pick right up where you left off.
With the Nintendo Switch being a hybrid console, this type of system isn’t needed currently. But it served as an important step in the right direction, that we would come to find out with the Switch’s launch, that fans wanted and would ultimately pay for.
The Birth of Limited Physical Runs
If there is one console that should be commended for its support of indie games- it is the PlayStation Vita. While it may not have been on purpose, it certainly became a relationship that was mutually beneficial to both parties involved. With the Vita being a niche console, it enabled indie developers to find new fans on a platform that were rabid for new content and willing to try anything. It was this insatiable thirst for new content by Vita fans coupled with the limitations of the console that lead to the creation of limited physical runs. Vita fans wanted more games for the console that they loved but desired them in a physical format. This wasn’t just so fans could collect the games they wanted, but rather, a way to save on cost. The Vita’s memory cards throughout its entire lifespan were exorbitantly overpriced in comparison to Micro-SD cards, costing over $50 for just a 32gb Vita memory card. It was through this that birthed such companies like Limited Run Games, whose title to be sent to print was a Vita game.
If it weren’t for the Vita, these companies would have never found the fanbase they needed to get off the ground. We would have never had the benefit of seeing indie and AA titles coming to physical formats, serving as an important step in solidifying their legitimacy as titles of worth. Instead, they would be relegated to just being digital titles, and nothing more.
4The Home of Niche
Beyond all the features and contributions the Vita provided for the industry, there was, of course, the games. If you were to ask a fan of any other platform or console what the best titles were, you would be sure to hear many of the standards responses: FPS, Third-Person shooters, Action Adventure etc. Ask that same question to someone who is a Vita fan, and you can expect two main responses that starkly contrast the rest, JRPGs and Visual Novels. For the lack of titles that existed on the Vita, these two genres reigned supreme. Japanese developers would time after time bring niche and unique JRPGs to the Vita that no other console (and PCs at the time) had, many times enhancing them in the process.
The same could be said for Visual Novels, a genre that has remained practically unknown until the past few years. While the rest of the West was learning about the genre, the Vita already had several quality titles that fans were raving about like Danganronpa and Steins; Gate. These titles would eventually be released to other consoles and on PC, but their roots were on the PlayStation Vita and that is where they had the chance to grow and become something greater. Games like this would typically be lost in the wave of releases, but the Vita was different. It had an opportunity for non-traditionally-popular titles to shine with a uniquely different fanbase that was very interested in titles like this and many others.
In the end, the Vita may not have been the most successful console (far from it), but it certainly contributed. It played a pivotal role in the game industry through both features and the titles it hosted on its platform. If it weren’t for the Vita, perhaps we wouldn’t have had Limited Run Gams, Danganronpa having the status it does, or the Nintendo Switch being what it is. We may never know the true extent of the Vita’s influence, but it certainly influenced the game industry in more than one way and for those who enjoyed it for what it was.
It’s been fun Vita, but it’s time to pass the torch onto the next generation.