The State of Vita in 2017 and Thoughts on the Future in 2018 - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 14 January 2018 / 3,307 Views
A year ago, I wrote an article recapping Vita's 2016 as well as musing on what 2017 might bring for the handheld. It proved to be very popular and it was a lot of fun to write, so I jumped at the chance to write a new entry - especially with the console's year having drawn to a close but with plenty already lined up for 2018, meaning there's still a lot for me to talk about. It's interesting to look back over what I predicted 12 months ago, as much of it has relevance to where Vita is today, as well as where it'll (likely) be in 12 months time.
It's undeniable that the launch of Nintendo's Switch has taken a lot of the remaining wind out of the Vita's sails. While Sony's handheld was already winding down at that point, the fact that the Switch has hit the ground running in terms of sales has meant that many independent developers and Japanese publishers have jumped at the chance to develop for a more powerful console handheld hybrid at the expense of Sony's machine.
Considering that I had wondered when writing my previous article whether there would be anything to talk about with Vita by this stage, it's done a great job with releases in 2017 and looks set to have a good 2018 too; one that will hopefully only improve with surprises throughout the year. Yet even without any surprise announcements, there's enough already planned to ensure that most Vita owners will find at least something to enjoy.
Highlights of 2017
Continued Prominence of Localizations
So riding off a strong lineup at the end of 2016 with big titles like God Eater 2: Rage Burst, Steins;Gate 0, and World of Final Fantasy, Vita carried this momentum on into 2017 with a fantastic selection of Japanese games from a variety of publishers, showing the handheld was still a viable place for software. For starters we saw Koei-Tecmo dominate the early months with things like Atelier Shallie Plus, Atelier Firis, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, Dynasty Warriors Godseekers, and Toukiden 2. Sadly the publisher unceremoniously dropped the console altogether after Toukiden, but there were still a heck of a lot of games released before that point to enjoy.
Koei-Tecmo wasn't the only company going all-out at the start of the year - XSEED brought out Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star in January, followed by Akiba's Beat in May (XSEED then seemed to cease all support soon after, but hopefully its 2018 teaser does indeed include a Vita otome title). Speaking of otome, Aksys Games also went all out on Vita during 2017 bringing out numerous ones of its own (Bad Apple Wars, Collar x Malice, and Period Cube), as well as Falcom's Tokyo Xanadu, a Vita-native port of The Nonary Games, and Ninja Usagimaru: Two Tails of Adventure.
Undoubtedly, the year belonged to NISA, though, which just went crazy in a way I've never seen before. NISA localized sequels to beloved early Vita titles like DanganRonpa V3, Demon Gaze 2, Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy, and Yomawari: Midnight Shadows, all of which received physical releases. There was plenty more too, including Kadokawa's God Wars: Future Past; Touhou titles Burst Battle, Double Focus, and Genso Wanderer; plus the latest Cladun game, and the bonkers Tokyo Tattoo Girls, making it a stonking 12 months.
Elsewhere, there was also plenty going on. SEGA brought over Valkyria Revolution; IFI released Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds and Mary Skelter Nightmares; while Bandai-Namco handled Accel World vs. Sword Art Online, alongside an Asian-English version of Super Robot Wars V. Some companies had a quieter year than normal, but still managed to show up in at least some respect - for example, PQube released Chaos;Child, while Square Enix eventually released its much-delayed port of Romancing Saga 2.
As with so many years of Vita's life, though, 2017 was also full of surprises. Atlus not only managed to release a Vita-exclusive game (The Caligula Effect) but also brought over two physical versions of the Utawarerumono duology. Gaijinworks finally released Summon Night 6, Experience Inc. handled its own localization of Strange of Sword City Revisited, and Rising Star Games published the critically-maligned Drive Girls.
But it's not like it was a perfect year by any means. We still saw the now-too-common tradition of Vita versions of localized games being skipped over, with some key examples including Digimon World: Next Order, Dragon Quest Heroes II, and Nights of Azure 2 - all of which were very disappointing decisions for fans given the games themselves were fairly well received. We also saw a handful of cancellations of promising Japanese Vita titles, including City Shrouded in Shadow and Killing Bites, often with no reason given. But, overall, 2017 was dominated by Japanese titles on Vita and it was clear that if you were a fan of these you'd be well-served on the handheld going forward.
The Winding Down of Indie Releases, but More Physical Copies?
No matter how many disappointing indie cancellations there were during 2017, it's undeniable that the good outweighed the bad on the whole. Vita showed that it remained a solid choice for independent developers due to its dedicated fanbase buying enough software to make investment worthwhile. More prominent games included Forma.8, Oceanhorn, Salt & Sanctuary, Steamworld Dig 2, VA-11 HALL-A, and the recently-released Xenon Valkyrie+, all of which received incredibly positive feedback from critics. Elsewhere, smaller but still brilliant titles like Factotum 90, One More Dungeon, Semispheres, and Siralim 2 managed to shine on the handheld.
Despite most indie games initially starting as digital-only releases, the limited physical indie market that was briefly touched upon in my article last year was going from strength to strength too - something that I'm sure no-one saw coming. Limited Run Games continued to lead the charge releasing a total of 23 physical games, with highlights including Risk of Rain, Steamworld Heist, and Windjammers, while new competitors were popping up all around - eastasiasoft released Cursed Castilla, Semispheres, and Tachyon Project, whilE Signature Edition handled Slain and The Count Lucanor.
Of course, I can't talk about indies without mentioning the disappointing spree of cancellations we had during 2017, the biggest being Banner Saga, which despite intervention from Sony's Third Party Productions team managed to be cancelled (for the second time) in July. The year started poorly with Chroma Squad's cancellation (which was surprising given it was published by Bandai-Namco, who should've had the resources to make it happen), followed by horror game Forgotten Memories, and narrative driving adventure Wheels of Aurelia, all of which cited technical difficulties as the reason.
Still, 2017 was a great year for fans of indie games. personally I played some brilliant titles, including Bridge Constructor, Lichtspeer, and Xenoraid, and there are plenty more I'm planning to try out when I get chance.
Re-appearances and Surprises!
One thing Vita has always been brilliant at is surprising me and other fans alike. Despite the media at large expecting its life to end at any point, developers keep releasing titles for it, often without any prior warning. In 2017 we saw plenty of examples of this. For starters games like Nurse Love Addiction and Stranger of Sword City Revisited came across from Japan without much fanfare, often being revealed by a ratings board.
Even more surprising were some of the western titles that appeared. For example, inXile Entertainment's 2004 isometric RPG The Bard's Tale was remastered for Vita and just seemed to show up out of the blue one day, while Necrosoft's PlayStation Mobile classic Gunhouse silently released on the Vita store in December. Similarly, E3 had a brilliant surprise in Undertale - Toby Fox's game-of-the-year winning PC title, which not only got a Vita port, but also a physical release through Fangamer. On top of that Gio Corsi's Third Party Productions team assisted in bringing across Neo Geo classics Samurai Shodown V Special and Windjammers.
While new games were being announced without much warning, we were also seeing long-delayed ports finally materialise on the handheld. Starting off with Salt & Sanctuary (originally announced in August 2014), we saw a variety of titles land throughout the year, including Bodycheck (originally announced in January 2014), Papers, Please (originally hinted at in February 2014), and Son of Scoregasm (originally announced in May 2014).
As a final note, special mention to Ratalaika Games which got a Vita dev kit in January and used it to port pretty much every game in its catalogue to the their handheld over the course of the year. Seeing new companies commit to the console like that even at this late stage in its life was fantastic.
Thoughts on 2018
Significant Contraction in Japanese Releases but Some Key Titles Still Coming
So looking forward to this year, what can we expect? Well, Japanese games have been there for every year of the Vita's life from Disgaea at launch through to Romancing SaGa just a few weeks ago, and 2018 is most certainly going to continue this, but it seems pretty certain at this point that we're going to see a smaller amount of Vita titles come out in Japan - and by extension, we'll have fewer localizations for the west too.
Of course, there's still plenty to look forward to, both big and small. We're getting a new Digimon game (Hacker's Memory), a Mana remake (Secret of Mana), as well as a remake of Catherine, and two more Persona games (Dancing Moon Night and Dancing Star Night), though the latter three have yet to be confirmed for western release on Vita. In addition, the Asian-English business still seems to be going strong with Bullet Girls Phantasia and Super Robot Wars X both getting prints overseas with English subtitles.
In respect of smaller titles, we're seeing things like Penny Punching Princess, The Longest Five Minutes, and The Lost Child from NIS America; PQube is bringing over the boob-tastic Omega Labyrinth Z; Idea Factory is localizing Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms; and Aksys has a tonne of stuff coming out, including Under-Night In-Birth exe:Late[ST] and multiple otome titles such as Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly and 7'Scarlet. There are also various other rumoured games, including English Detective Mysteria, Punchline and Yu-No, as well as a new DanganRonpa (plus, I'm hopeful that Gaijinworks will bring us a nice surprise).
A big question mark for the upcoming year will be some of the crowdfunded visual novels which have traditionally done very well raising funds from the Vita fanbase. Things like Dies Irae; Muv-Luv and Sharin no Kuni are all due at some point in 2018, as well as long-promised Sekai Project titles such as Fault Milestone, Root Double, and World End Economica. Whether any of these actually happen is anyone's guess, but I like to believe at least some of them will show up throughout the year.
However, it's worth discussing the main thing all of these titles have in common, and something that'll be a noticeable trend in the final couple of years of the Vita's life - they're nearly all sequels to franchises which are already on Vita or are lower-effect titles without much risk. Things like Digimon and Super Robot Wars heavily re-use assets from previous titles, while Bullet Girls and Persona saw previous entries sell very well domestically, and so on. It shows that the type of support we will be getting in 2018 will be 'safe' - publishers aren't going to be taking a gamble on Vita at this stage in its life.
Sadly I also have to briefly mention games we won't be getting. Koei-Tecmo is continuing to ignore Vita by skipping the western releases of both Atelier Lydie & Suelle (the final entry in the trilogy, which is a real kick in the teeth for fans) and Attack on Titan 2. Bandai-Namco, despite localizing Gintama Rumble for Asia, decided it was only going to get a PS4 version there. There are also question marks over things like Metal Max Xeno (the latest in the long-running post-apocalyptic RPG series), Tokyo Clanpool (the latest dungeon-crawler from Compile Heart), and Zanki Zero, a brand new IP from the DanganRonpa team, although I'm hopeful the localization houses will come through for them.
Evaporating Indies but a Few Big Names Left
The other key market for Vita going forward will be indie games and sadly this too seems to be drawing to a close, although surprisingly there are still some big names left that are due to arrive throughout the year. Unfortunately, there are even more that are announced but which I have no faith in actually showing up on Vita at this point, making 2018 a potentially very mixed year that could either be a big success or a massive let down.
When it comes to games I am confident in, the recently announced Stardew Valley port tops the list, due to it being handled by Vita port masters Sickhead Games. We're also due to see titles like Deadbolt, Glass: A Boxing Story, Heart Forth, Alicia; Iconoclasts, Mercenary Kings, Reverie, Russian Subway Dogs, Seraphim, Shakedown Hawaii, Sir Eatsalot, Super Skull Smash GO! 2 Turbo, and YIIK: A Postmodern RPG, all of which have either been keen to show off their Vita versions or happy to chat about plans for the platform.
Other releases seem more iffy, particularly games that relied on crowdfunding to assist their development. The biggest name in this category is Bloodstained, which has actually given no indication the Vita version is cancelled, but given that it's developed in Unreal Engine 4, which isn't compatible with Vita, it seem like a mammoth task. Other games like Children of Morta, Drift Stage, Night Cry, and Ray's the Dead have been mostly silent on their Vita versions, which suggests they're not a high priority. Rather insultingly, the Crossing Souls devs recently announced a release date for the PS4 & PC versions of the game but noted they're still not working on Vita, while the creators of Regalia announced a release date (plus a brand new Switch version) but stated the Vita port is in flux.
That's not to say all Kickstarted ports are going to be a disappointment - Cosmic Star Heroine's developers still seem to be hard at work making the Vita version a reality, Pato Box developer Bromio is providing regular updates on progress,while handheld stalwarts Arcade Distillery continue to announce a sea of Vita games, some of which are funded by Kickstarters, like Skullpirates.
And there's a sea of other companies which have reliably released content on Vita without the need for crowdfunding that are still targeting the handheld, including Ratalaika Games, which has 0000, Distraint: Deluxe Edition, League of Evil, Metagal, Midnight Deluxe, and Peasant Knight lined up. Although recently my favourite Vita indie developer 10tons sadly announced that Time Recoil would be its final Vita game, which should be hitting in early January 2018. It's a great title to go out on, but means we miss out on the brilliant-looking JYDGE and Tesla vs. Lovecraft.
The End of Vita Games on Store Shelves but a Rise in Physical Copies in General?
There was a time where you could walk into a game store (and, in the UK at least, most supermarkets) and see at least a handful of Vita games for sale. Sadly, it seems that will soon become a thing of the past, as stores shift their inventory focus towards more successful consoles and get rid of their Vita sections, meaning you'll be left picking up pre-owned copies in places like CEX.
With that said, there's every chance that 2018 might be the year when the handheld gets the most physical English releases it's ever gotten - they're just coming from new sources. Of course Vita-supporting companies like Aksys, Idea Factory International, and PQube still have general release games coming out, even if other former physical supporters like NIS America may now be skipping out on them (and Atlus is an unknown at this point). There's also the Asian-English market, which is still being supported by Bandai-Namco (Super Robot Wars X) and D3 Publisher (Bullet Girls Phantasia).
But the primary source of this new physical output are the limited-physical-indie companies, which is a trend that seems to be traced back to Fangamer's release of Retro City Rampage in 2015. Since then, Limited Run Games was born and has expanded significantly - I've already mentioned that the company released 23 games for Vita physically in 2017 and it seems the coming 12 months will be even bigger (by my count Limited Run has already got 21 games announced for the year and there are sure to be some more surprises along the way). Other companies have sprung up such as Signature Edition Games (which is planning The Long Reach in 2018), Strictly Limited Games (99Vidas and Sayonara Umihara Kawase), and Special Reverse Games (nothing planned as yet, but has teased Vita support in the past). eastasiasoft is arguably the biggest new arrival in the field and already has multiple titles lined up, including Reverie and Sir Eatsalot which are to be distributed through Play-Asia, as well as its own title Rainbow Skies.
It's an interesting idea that the Vita is going to be arguably the first post-retail system, kept alive by digital releases and physical games ordered through specialist stores. It shows just how dedicated the fanbase is that companies exist purely to service such a small but profitable market on the handheld.
One of my key points in last year's article was to expect surprises in 2017 and that very much happened. For example, I never thought we'd be getting a second round of otome titles in the west (let alone a third), while the recently announced Catherine: Full Body also came out of nowhere, with most of the pre-release rumour chatter assuming it would be a Switch version when actually that wasn't the case (a similar thing happened with Fate/Extella Link, which was also confirmed for Vita when a Switch version was expected). Therefore it's safe to say that we can expect similar things in 2018.
Of course, you shouldn't expect miracles - Catherine seemed like a one-off and I wouldn't expect masses of AAA Japanese support, although smaller titles like Metal Max Xeno popping up is possible. It's also likely that we'll get a few indies suddenly showing up throughout the year, just like Gunhouse and Undertale did in 2017.
Just as with my summary last year, I can in no way say that the Vita is a healthy platform heading into 2018 - it's been discontinued in the west, its sales are slowing down in Japan, and the Switch seems to be taking over as the high-end-handheld-of-choice for gamers. We've also seen certain types of support dry up over the last 12 months that I feel is unlikely to ever resume on the console again.
Yet in spite of this the Vita has the potential to have a brilliant 2018 and there are certainly going to be dozens of great titles to play. Whether it be fantastic sequels to much loved Japanese titles, a number of high-profile indies, or even just physical copies of games which we already know are great, there will be plenty to love on Vita in the coming 12 months.
I concluded last year's article by saying "whether this continues into 2018 is anyone’s guess", but now it's here it's safe to say that Vita support is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Again, whether it continues on into 2019 is up in the air, but if the Vita has shown one thing it's that developers just aren't willing to give up on it yet, making me hopeful that I'll be able to write another one of these article in 12 months' time looking back over a brilliant year and looking forward to yet another potentially great one in 2019.