A Look Back at Square-Enix's Support for the PlayStation Vita - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 20 October 2017 / 6,365 Views
This is the third entry in a series of articles looking at the output of a number of Vita-supporting companies, from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining the games they released, how well they sold (if there's sufficient data), how well they ran in the case of ports, and will take a brief look at games which perhaps should have come to the console, either in the west or in general.
Next up on the list is Square-Enix. Compared to my previous articles on Bandai-Namco and Koei-Tecmo, this one includes noticeably more muted Vita support, but there seemed to shift in perception within the company around late 2015, at which point Square-Enix committed to the platform in a much greater capacity, although this was likely only a fleeting change.
Launch & 2012 - There (Just About!)
As with the previous two companies I covered, Square-Enix is a Japanese publisher formed by the merger of two companies - in this case Squaresoft (of Final Fantasy fame) and Enix (of Dragon Quest fame). This has made it a giant in the field of JRPGs due to the strength of combined existing IPs, but the merged company hasn't rested on its laurels and has constantly tried out new IPs and ideas.
All things considered, Vita had an exceptionally strong launch in terms of both range and number of titles available and Square-Enix undoubtedly contributed to this in Japan with two titles - Army Corps of Hell and Lord of Apocalypse. The former - a Pikmin-styled action-strategy game with a hellish aesthetic - provided an interesting alternative to the more traditional handheld games available in 2011. Developed by Entersphere (which has since seemed to have gone completely silent), the game was met with fairly modest sales in its home region (9k first week and 25k lifetime), although it did manage to make it to the launch of the console in the west as well.
Conversely, Lord of Apocalypse saw better sales in its home region of 29k first week and 79k lifetime (alongside additional sales from a PSP version), but did not see an overseas release in any form. The game was a remake of 2010's Lord of Arcana, which had made its way west in 2011, leaving the decision to keep it exclusive to Japan bizarre, especially considering the complete lack of Japanese games available during the first year of the handheld's life in the west (a market capitalized on by companies like XSEED with games like Ragnarok Odyssey). The port itself was a decent one but given it was an up-ressed PSP game, this was to be expected.
And... that's it for 2011/2012. Despite a moderately decent launch, Square-Enix released nothing else for the console for quite some time, as you'll see when I examine its releases in 2013.
2013 - Its Biggest Vita Title (and Very Little Else)
At this point, we did know that other Vita games were coming from Square-Enix - a remake of its seminal title Final Fantasy X had already been revealed at a conference in 2011, but the company otherwise remained oddly silent on the console. Final Fantasy X itself was eventually bundled with its sequel X-2, but these games didn't materialize until the very last week of 2013 in Japan (and early 2014) in the west. In spite of this the bundle went on to become one of the Vita's best-selling games, opening to nearly 180k in Japan (with all versions combined) and clearing nearly 340k by the end of 2015. Official sales in the west remain unknown, but the title was among those listed as leading to a positive financial performance for Square Enix in the 13/14 financial year, and VGChartz shows worldwide sales of more than 800k copies.
The port itself was high-effort. It ran at native resolution and had a solid framerate, making it stand out among similar HD Collections that were being made at the time, like Jak Collection, which were comparatively much less impressive thanks to uneven performance and downgraded visuals.
During 2013, the company did also release a Vita version of its popular free-to-play mobile title Million Arthur. This would be the first in a number of F2P titles Square-Enix would experiment with on the platform in the coming years, although only one of these would manage to find its way west. Square-Enix also handled a rather sloppy port of Chaos Rings on PlayStation Mobile, which although a nice gesture did not lead to any more support on that particular platform.
As in 2012, this was it for Square-Enix - a couple of titles, including one major game, but overall a very quiet year in terms of support.
2014 - The Beginning of Mobile Ports
Despite the very solid launch of Final Fantasy X/X2 HD at the end of 2013, Square-Enix's support in 2014 (and 2015) shifted entirely to ports of mobile titles. This was a stark difference from the company's PSP support (and indeed previous strategy on Vita), which was nearly always handheld versions of home-console franchises. It would nonetheless be an interesting development that would bring a number of great titles to Vita in the coming years.
It also marked the beginning of an increased focus for the company on handheld/mobile multi-platform development (something that was confirmed in 2016) and served to highlight the struggles of Vita in the modern market - so much more powerful than the 3DS that cross-platform with it wasn't viable, but much less powerful than the PS4, making cross-platform development with that platform difficult, and insufficient hardware sales of its own to make bespoke development worthwhile.
Despite this shift it remained a very quiet year for Square-Enix on the handheld - the sole title to see a release being Chaos Rings III. The third in a series of premium mobile RPG's developed by Wild ARMs creators Media.Vision, the game was bundled with its prequels Chaos Rings, II, and Omega. Although this was a meaty package, sales were low in Japan with the physical release netting just 12k first week and 35k by the end of 2015. The package never saw a western release despite all the games being translated.
As such, 2014 marked the third year in a row that Square-Enix was present on the console, but only in a very limited capacity, although the wheels had begun turning to bring much more to the Vita in the coming years.
2015 - Missed Opportunities
As with 2014, Square-Enix didn't actually release any proper retail games for Vita in 2015, but did support the console with more digital-only mobile ports. Leading the charge was Rise of Mana, the latest in the long-running series of action-RPGs spun off from Final Fantasy in 1991 on the GameBoy. The title was a Unity port with a number of issues based around performance, but remained one of the more impressive free-to-play titles available on Vita at the time thanks to its colourful 3D presentation and fast-paced gameplay. Despite this - just like with Chaos Rings III - the game remained exclusive to Japan, possibly due to the fact that it was a service-based game requiring server upkeep.
Comparatively, its next mobile port - Deadman's Cross - was much less noteworthy, although it did manage a worldwide release. A card-battler with a shooting element tacked on, the game was also made in Unity but seemed even less well optimized and, as a result, service was rapidly terminated before the end of 2015 due to low userbase.
Unfortunately, 2015 was more notable for what the company didn't release on Vita than what it did. Despite the band-aid being ripped off the year before, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD released for PS4 and XB1 in the west in 2015, despite being a PSP-only title in Japan that Vita fans had campaigned hard for in the past. The situation was exacerbated by the initial reveal claiming the game would be coming to the handheld. Despite a number of fan campaigns and plenty of posts on social media, Square-Enix didn't backtrack and the game remained exclusive to the HD home consoles.
To add insult to injury, the company's free-to-play sequel Final Fantasy Agito - which had been slated for an expanded release on Vita following its earlier mobile launch - was cancelled later in the year, ensuring that dedicated handheld fans would have absolutely no means to play any title in this series.
A similar omission came with the release of Dragon Quest Heroes on PS3 & PS4, a musou game from genre experts Omega Force. Despite the sequel hitting the platform in 2016 and the team's vast experience on Vita (ranging from the launch title Dynasty Warriors Next to other licenced spin-offs like One Piece Pirate Warriors 2), the publisher decided 2015 wasn't the right time to give Vita this kind of support - but this was a viewpoint that would rapidly change as 2016 rolled on.
2016 - An Explosion of Support
If 2015 was Square Enix's year of slapping Vita fans in the face, then 2016 was its year of making amends. A full range of titles - from bigger releases to smaller ones - appeared throughout the year, ranging from long-delayed games to complete surprises, making it a very satisfying year (albeit one with some minor disappointments in terms of localizations).
Things started extremely well. In January, the company released Dragon Quest Builders across PS3, PS4 & Vita. A mashup of the popular Dragon Quest IP with Minecraft, the game was a massive sales success in Japan, opening to 178k on Vita alone and going on to sell more than 300k by the end of 2016. The game came west in October of the same year and even managed a physical release (although only in Asia). It seemed to sell decently on PSN in North America and Europe, which can likely be attributed to its addictive gameplay mixed with it being a well-optimized Vita port.
Summer would see two more hotly anticipated titles - I am Setsuna and Dragon Quest Heroes II - the latter reversing Square's decision on the previous entry not to bring the franchise to handhelds. Both had issues running on Vita, however. The former suffered with notable framerate and load time problems and the latter from framerate issues and pop-in. I am Setsuna saw mild sales in Japan of just 28k first week on Vita, while Dragon Quest Heroes sold much better, opening to 120k and managing a total of more than 220k a few weeks later.
Unfortunately, both were bizarrely skipped over for western release, despite seeing releases on other platforms. While I am Setsuna could possibly be explained away by the poor state of the Vita port, Dragon Quest was a more solid effort and its release didn't actually come until earlier this year (April 2017), yet that still wasn't enough time to organize even a digital version in the west. It was a very disappointing decision which marred what was otherwise a positive turning point for the company in terms of handheld support.
The company also showed that it was perfectly capable of releasing smaller downloadable titles too. Next on the list were two remakes of older games - namely Adventures of Mana and Romancing SaGa 2. The former launched worldwide in February on iOS and Android but curiously only in Japan on Vita. This was remedied by a fan campaign - 'VoteVita' - which aimed to get the title alongside a handful of others into western Vita fans' hands. Although other publishers seemingly shrugged it off, it actually worked for Adventures of Mana and the game saw a late western release in June of 2016.
Romancing SaGa 2 saw similar treatment on Vita too, although this time around it was the series' creator advocating for a western release rather than Vita fans. The game was released in Japan across mobile phones and Vita in March 2016 and was followed by a western mobile release in May of 2016, but by December the western Vita release still hadn't materialized. Series creator Kawazu insisted it was still coming but "having problems". His most recent Tweet on the matter revealed it was next on his list after the Japanese release of Romancing SaGa 3, so hopefully he delivers on this in 2017.
To cap the year off, Square-Enix released two more big titles for Vita, with varying degrees of success. The first - World of Final Fantasy - was a cutesy RPG featuring a number of characters from the franchise's history in an original plot, and saw a worldwide release in October. Sales were mild in Japan - just 47k first week and around 75k by the end of the year, with western sales likely not faring much better (VGChartz estimates 350k worldwide) - which would definitely be a disappointment for the first original Final Fantasy game on the platform, although it's worth noting that the PS4 version didn't perform much better.
The second - SaGa: Scarlet Grace - was the long-awaited newest entry in the company's non-traditional series of JRPGs. Both it and World of Final Fantasy featured a number of performance issues on the handheld relating to load times and performance, but SaGa sold slightly better, opening to 64k in Japan and managing 88k by the end of the year. Sadly, no western release is scheduled to further recoup sales and it seems unlikely to happen without a port to another console at this point, and that would likely cause issues with bringing the Vita version across too given the company's previous track record.
2017 & 2018 - To Be Continued?
Sadly, 2016 seemed to just be an exceptionally impressive one-off year for the company on Vita. Although a handful of games with a wide range of budgets seem to be on the menu going forward, overall it's set to be a much quieter period. The 'biggest' title is the latest Itadaki Street, a board game featuring characters from Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy that remains moderately popular in Japan, but very rarely manages to find its way west due to the niche appeal.
The company also revealed that a remake of Romancing SaGa 3 would be hitting Vita and smartphones some time in 2017 and a western release has been confirmed, alongside the aforementioned re-confirmation that the second title will be coming west eventually. Square-Enix also dropped the bombshell surprise of a Secret of Mana remake coming to PS4 & Vita in full 3D in 2018, with a physical release confirmed for Japan as well as a digital-only overseas version. It surprised a number of fans who figured the company's Vita support was all but done by this stage.
However, this may well be the last bastion of Vita support from Square-Enix as the publisher recently revealed it was going to fully support the Nintendo Switch, with titles like a port of I am Setsuna releasing at launch (its spiritual successor Lost Sphear will skip Vita altogether) and other big games like Dragon Quest XI and Project Octopath Traveler being planned throughout the year. A ROM collection of the Seiken Densetsu trilogy (known in the west as Mana) was also released on Switch, which is very reminiscent of how the company was handling Vita support with remakes of older games.
It'll be interesting to see where Square-Enix's Vita support ends up going forward. It has games planned for 2018 and hasn't dropped the platform altogether, but with the way the company has come out all guns blazing for Switch (as well as continuing its natural support for PS4), I can't see Sony's handheld being on the list of priorities for much longer.
If you compare Square-Enix's PSP output to its Vita releases, it's a night-and-day difference. The former received a variety of software in terms of both big exclusive titles as well as smaller remakes and ports, while the latter received a decent amount of what was available at the time but very little that was truly significant.
Despite this, the company has been there for Vita from the launch of the console right through to the present day and - aside from an unusually busy 2016 - has tends to have a single 'big' game thrown into the mix with smaller titles. As such, this article turned out very differently to my previous pieces on Bandai-Namco and Koei-Tecmo - with those, I was scrambling to say everything I wanted to say without it being overly long, due to an overwhelming number of titles to write about, whereas with Square-Enix I've been able to write a little more elaborately due to a lower volume of releases.
Square-Enix could - and probably should - have supported Vita better than it did and the commitment the company did finally give to the platform was far too late in the day to make a difference. In spite of this, the output it provided has generally been of good quality in terms of both the games themselves and optimization efforts, meaning it's difficult to remain too disappointed about what might have been.