A Look-Back at Aksys' Support for the PlayStation Vita

A Look-Back at Aksys' Support for the PlayStation Vita - Article

by Adam Cartwright , posted on 20 January 2018 / 1,929 Views

This is the 12th 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.

With each of my prior articles, I’ve looked at companies which have either developed or published games, and some of them have also included subsidiaries that localize titles for western markets. Aksys is unique in this regard in that it's not tied to any Japanese counterpart, meaning it's had to rely on building partnerships with content developers in order to bring games to the west. Despite a shaky start, the studio has blossomed into one of the premier Vita supporters and it continues to champion the handheld well into 2018, making it unique even among similar studios.

 

Launch & 2012 – Just a Little Bit

Like many localization houses, Aksys’ 2012 consisted of just a few titles, as there was very little Japanese content to choose from, but what it did bring over was of undoubtedly high quality.

The firm managed to show up for the console’s launch by leveraging a long-standing relationship with Japanese fighting game experts Arc System Works to bring the latest entry in its popular Blazblue franchise (Continuum Shift Extend) overseas. The Vita version showcased brand new content, including extra characters, stories, and game modes, making it an excellent value proposition and a great entry into the handheld market from Aksys.

Aksys also leapt at the chance to localize a sequel to one of its most surprisingly popular titles from the seventh generation, when Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward landed in October. The visual novel/puzzle hybrid maintained a decent cult following and received a large amount of critical acclaim in the west, making it one of the most essential titles in the Vita’s first year. In an even more surprising move, although the series went dormant for a few years after the game’s commercial failure in Japan, Aksys helped bankroll an eventual sequel in 2016 which also arrived on Vita.

While it was a quiet year on Vita as a whole for the company, Aksys was off to a storming start in terms of quality, with two titles that made brilliant addition’s to Vita’s library. The publisher would maintain this momentum going into 2013.

 

2013 – An Eclectic Range of Partners

Again, 2013 saw two releases on the handheld from Aksys, but this time around one of them wasn’t of quite the same level of quality as the others. What’s most interesting is the range of partnerships Aksys built, though; the company's 2012’s games were from Arc System Works and Spike Chunsoft, while 2013’s were from Marvelous and Idea Factory.

The Marvelous game was the critically beloved Muramasa Rebirth from developer Vanillaware, which was known for producing beautiful hand-drawn artstyles. While the game only saw a physical release in the USA (due to Aksys having no retail presence in Europe), it made a great import and crucially the firm committed to bringing across all of the DLC for the game, which stretched on into 2015, making it quite a large undertaking for a team of this size, but one that definitely paid off for fans (although it would’ve been nice to have seen a physical release with all of this included on the cart).

Aksys also helped fill out the Vita’s holiday season with a surprise localization of Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God from Compile Heart and developer ZeroDiv, although sadly this ended the run of bringing across games beloved by critics. The title received a bit of a beating for being too easy yet still grindy (and it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea), although amusingly there's a limited edition that includes both a curry plate and spoon in a nice little tie-in to the game’s themes.

While not specifically for Vita, the company also had a couple of surprises lined up in 2013 too. As with my previous article about XSEED games, Aksys was a big supporter of the PSP right through to the end, and in 2013 managed to release two titles (Ragnarok Tactics and Sweet Fuse) on the handheld, both of which were surprising pick-ups. As they were both compatible with Vita in the west, they made great additions to the newer handheld's lineup as well, and were both from genres that the Vita wouldn’t see any native versions of until later on down the line (strategy RPG and otome).

Aksys had shown yet again a nice but not overwhelming commitment to the console. This theme would continue into 2014.

 

2014 – The Start of Something Great

Overall 2014 was a great year for Aksys on Vita. The company released a large number of games, ranging from big surprises to more predictable pick-ups. These didn’t all pan out, but it was fantastic to see the company experimenting with the handheld.

Undoubtedly the surprise of the year was Mind=0, from publisher Acquire and developer ZeroDiv (which had worked on the previous year’s release, Sorcery Saga). This was a first-person dungeon-crawler that was heavily inspired by Atlus’ Persona series. Sadly, fans who played the game were disappointed by the title’s generic design and unfinished ending (suggesting the title was supposed to be part of a series prior to under-performing in Japan), and critics agreed. Accordingly the title received a rather muted reception in the west.

The rest of the year was punctuated by the company continuing to deliver on its long-running partnership with Arc System Works. Clearly Blazblue had become a big franchise for Aksys in the west, so it was unsurprising to see the company grab Chronophantasma when it became available in the summer. Aksys also added to its handheld fighting game roster by picking up Arcana Heart 3: Love Max from developer Examu, which had also been published by ASW in Japan. Given the Vita’s ergonomics for fighting games (a nice d-pad and face buttons), it was great to see Aksys providing content for fans of the genre.

Aksys then went one better, though, and grabbed a game from a genre that at the time was massively under-represented on Vita and in the west in general. That genre was visual novel and the game itself was XBlaze Code: Embryo, a Blazblue prequel following a new protagonist and story. Aksys had often taken an interest in visual novels when other publishers had not, in particular on PSP where it released multiple Hakuouki games seemingly out of an appreciation for the IP, so XBlaze presented a great opportunity for the company to test the waters again.

Now you may have noticed that I’ve yet to list any games which were skipped by Aksys that I feel should have come to Vita but didn’t, which is something I’ve always stressed in previous articles. The reason for this is that Aksys is in a unique position, not being a development studio itself nor being tied to any particular Japanese publisher. This means it has little influence over the games made or the titles that became available to localise. With that said, Aksys did try its hand at development in 2014, with the critically panned Magus for PS3. Normally I’d suggest titles like this perhaps should’ve come to Vita, but judging by how this one turned out it maybe it's for the best that it didn’t.

From here on out, Aksys’ support for the Vita would only get better. Not just in terms of quantity, but quality of titles too (at least in my opinion), which is in stark contrast with the majority of Vita software publishers.

 

2015 – The Start of #otomearmada

Not only did Aksys keep up the work on visual novels and fighting games in 2015, but the company also introduced a new subset of VNs – otome titles (aimed at women, although often still enjoyable for everyone who likes a good story) to the west. These would become the publisher's bread and butter in the twilight years of the Vita’s life.

The start of the year was dominated yet again by its Arc System Works publishing agreement. This time, Aksys picked up something a little different – the visual novel/adventure hybrid Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, from developer Toybox Inc (founded by Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada). While the latter was working on Hometown Story for 3DS, the developer also created this ghost-hunting hybrid, which was met with a mixed reception from critics – some loved it, while others thought the fun factor just wasn’t there. Still, it was nice to see the game making its way west.

Aksys also followed up two of its 2014 releases with expanded versions – the re-release of Chronophantasma, entitled Extend, did exactly what Continuum Shift had done previously, adding new stories, characters, and scenarios. Aksys also grabbed XBlaze Lost: Memories, which expanded on XBlaze Code: Embryo‘s story while making a number of improvements to the core gameplay formula and acting as a pseudo-sequel.

In the final months of the year, Aksys took a gamble that could have easily back-fired, but ultimately seemed to pay dividends. The company picked up not one but two otome games from publisher Idea Factory in the form of Code Realize: Guardians of Rebirth and Norn9: Var Commons. These added to the company’s ever-expanding portfolio in the genre (a portfolio which included Hakuouki and Sweet Fuse on PSP).

Both games were beloved by fans (though particularly Code Realize – which is something I agreed with) and Aksys was commended for servicing a particularly ignored but vocal fanbase in the west. It should be noted, however, that both releases contained a number of translation errors (something that would be a recurring problem going forward). No sales numbers are available for either release, but it seems the experiment paid off, because future years would be filled with even more otome games (plus, other publishers decided to take a look at the genre too).

 

2016 – A Little Bit of Everything

For me, 2016 was Aksys’ best year ever on the handheld. The company brought over a range of titles in a variety of genres and all of them were pretty good, meaning that everyone had something to enjoy. Aksys' previous years had been dominated by fighting games and visual novels, and so its experimentation with new genres was also much appreciated.

Aksys kicked off the year by working with Acquire again – this time on the latter's tower-defence hybrid, Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault. As always with an Acquire-developed game, the title was a mish-mash of brilliant ideas that was slightly lacking execution, tasking you with managing a whole city against alien invaders by building structures, then rotating the city to defend it. While the game bombed in Japan, sales for the western version are unknown.

Hopefully, the second title for the year performed a little better given its quality. After nearly 6 years of absence in the west, Aksys decided to localize the fifth Shiren the Wanderer game, entitled The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate. Well-known in Japan for being a fun and challenging roguelike series which arguably popularised the genre, the fifth game provided the most refined take on the formula yet and led to extremely solid reviews from critics. It was also a success for its Japanese publisher, so hopefully the same can be said for Aksys overseas.

The year was capped off with another Spike-Chunsoft pickup – this time it was Exist Archive from developer Tri-Ace, which was a spiritual successor to the cult popular Valkyrie Profile series. A JRPG that mixed in a modern-day story and some fun turn-based mechanics, as well as platforming, the game sadly came across with a number of bugs on Vita, making the experience a bit of a disjointed one. The game has been heavily discounted on amazon.com since launch, suggesting that sales were slightly underwhelming.

However, 2016 wasn’t marked most by Aksys’ localization efforts at all, but more by its own development efforts in a bizarre twist on the norm for companies such as this. While 2014’s Magus had seemed like a one-off, it transpired that the company had a hand in funding the development of Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma, the final entry in the fan-favourite visual novel/adventure series. The game itself saw a high level of acclaim, as with its predecessors, but fans themselves were mixed on its attempt to tie up loose ends for the series and conclude everything as a whole. Still, it was great to see Aksys not only localizing games for Vita in 2016, but making them too.

 

2017 & 2018 – Vita’s Biggest Supporter?

So with such a strong 2016 out of the way, where did that leave Aksys with Vita going forward? Well, surprisingly, its support has remained as strong as ever through 2017, and the company even has multiple titles lined up for 2018 already. Much like Nippon Ichi Software America, then, Aksys remain one of the handheld’s premier champions at this late stage in its life.

In 2017 Aksys managed to surprise everyone by announcing that it was bringing Tokyo Xanadu to the west for Vita. This was a shock on multiple levels. Firstly, developer Falcom had long maintained a relationship with rival localization studio XSEED Games, therefore another publisher picking it up was surprising. Secondly, it was also a shock given that an enhanced PS4 version had been announced in Japan (Tokyo Xanadu eX+), and yet Aksys had decided to fully committed to bringing the Vita version across, even going as far as to put it out into the wild earlier than the later PS4/PC release. While it was pulled down by some translation errors and the like, it remained among the key western releases for the handheld in 2017, alongside other pillars like DanganRonpa and Ys.

Aksys also managed to grab Drive Girls for its North American release, after a European version had been handled by Rising Star Games. While the title’s questionable quality meant it didn’t earn a sea of fans overseas, it was nice to see the company bring the game to an audience that might not have access to it otherwise. In another surprise move, Aksys also picked up Ninja Usagimaru: Two Tails of Adventure, a unique 2D platformer from Japan that received a digital release overseas.

By far Aksys' biggest commitment of 2017 was the further expansion of its otome catalogue, though. All of these titles continued the partnership with Otomate, Japan’s leading otome publisher (and subsidiary of Idea Factory). First up was the Sword Art Online-inspired Period Cube: Shackles of Amadeus, a rough-around-the-edges title, but given the two year drought of the genre on Vita in the west, it was likely lapped up by fans. The was followed by the much more well-received Collar x Malice, which had been Otomate’s flagship title in Japan in 2016 and therefore had a quick turnaround for western release. Finally, 2017 the otome releases were capped off with the Angel Beats-inspired Bad Apple Wars. All of these games received physical releases, showing just how on-board with the niche Vita fanbase Aksys had become. All featured a few more translation errors than I would have liked too, but I was personally just happy they came over at all.

And yet the support won't end there. During Anime Expo 2017 in July, Aksys impressed fans yet again by announcing three more otome Vita games for release in 2018, including the incredible-looking Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, which I had written at length about in the past. Aksys also picked up its sequel (Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk), as well as the intriguing 7’Scarlet, meaning fans of the genre will have had an incredible couple of years on the Vita (and not only thanks to Aksys, either, but also due to the support of Idea Factory International, which has committed to bringing across Hakuouki).

As a final parting shot to this article, it’s worth noting that Aksys is going to be localizing Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late[ST] and has just revealed that it will be launching the game in the west in February 2018. This, combined with all of the other titles Aksys has already announced for the year, means that there's a strong possibility of Aksys picking up other localisation projects in the next 12 months. If the company can continue to leverage its relationships with existing publishers, we could be see late-in-life Vita games like Black Wolves Saga or Zanki Zero making the journey westward.

 

Conclusion

A localization company which has been there for the Vita since day one and is arguably offering stronger support now than at any other time, Aksys is an anomaly in terms of releases for the platform, making it brilliant for an article like this. Despite a focus on visual novels and fighting games, Aksys has brought a variety of software to the west, ranging from action-RPGs to roguelikes, and nearly all of them have been high quality, aside from a few blips.

Aksys' lack of formal ties to any Japanese developer has meant it's had to focus on building strong relationships with multiple partners and this broad range has led to some brilliant variety in output. The firm has also turned its hand to development and has funded its own projects too, resulting in releases like Zero Time Dilemma.

It’s inevitable that support will dry up at some point, but thanks to the apparent team of cheerleaders within the company I’m hopeful that otome releases will continue to happen even beyond the currently announced batch (especially with the genre going from strength to strength on Japanese Vitas), but even if they don't Aksys can still claim to be among the handheld’s strongest supporters, and with brilliant titles like Exist ArchiveMuramasa, and Tokyo Xanadu under its belt I'm very grateful for this.

Plus, Aksys is one of the only companies to still Tweet about Vita – props to whoever at Aksys runs the company's Twitter account! #GanbareVitaKun!


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2 Comments

JON0 (on 20 January 2018)

Gotta love Blazblue


AsGryffynn (on 20 January 2018)

Meanwhile, on the galge front... Zip... Why am I not bloody surprised!