10 PlayStation Vita Sales Success Stories - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 03 February 2019 / 1,953 Views
A recent piece of news doing the rounds revealed the PlayStation Vita’s top 10 selling games in the United States of America, and it makes for some grim reading. While Uncharted: Golden Abyss rightfully tops the list, it only managed to shift a little more than 400k copies in the States, which is low by the series’ standards and paints a dire picture overall given that it's above all other AAA titles on the list, including Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, and Killzone Mercenary (although it’s worth noting that this top 10 doesn’t include any bundled software, otherwise Borderlands 2 would be at the top and Call of Duty at #2).
It’s undeniable that Vita never found mass-market appeal and as such struggled to attract mainstream software with the potential to sell millions of copies, putting it at a stark contrast even with Nintendo’s WiiU (another failed console that at least had games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. selling well), but especially successful machines like Sony’s own PS4 (which has multiple Call of Duty titles selling tens of millions and Grand Theft Auto V as one of the highest-selling games ever).
That certainly doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good environment for certain games though. The Vita built up an impressive software ecosystem, mostly consisting of smaller and more niche titles that didn’t need to sell multi-millions to be successful. It’s these that I’m going to examine in this article – titles that didn’t necessarily light up the sales charts, but which did well for their publishers (in many cases getting positive PR releases) and in turn led to more, similar software being developed.
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
(600k+ worldwide sales first quarter, 1.48m VGChartz retail sales LTD)
Perhaps a weird place to start this list, since this is a western-developed, AAA title, but it seems worth noting since publisher Ubisoft indicated that it was “very pleased” with its initial sales. At the time it was a Vita exclusive and managed to shift 600k copies by February of 2013, a number which will have undoubtedly increased substantially since. It might not be the tens of millions that later home console entries were getting, but for a handheld spin-off it clearly performed well enough for Ubisoft, so much so that it would go on to bring Assassin’s Creed Chronicles to the console years later, making Ubisoft pretty much the only western publisher to release a Vita game in 2016.
DanganRonpa 1-2 Reload
(200k+ western sales, 175k+ Japanese sales, 340k VGChartz retail sales LTD)
First finding success on the PSP, publisher Spike Chunsoft decided in 2013 to bring its dual pack of murder-mystery visual novels - DanganRonpa - to the PlayStation Vita. The dual pack sold incredibly well in Japan, topping more than 75k physical copies in its first week and 175k by the end of 2017, cementing its place among the platform’s best sellers domestically. A year later, NIS America decided to take a gamble on a western release, which would pay off dramatically as the games sold more than 200k copies within a year, leading the publisher to shift its output to focus more on visual novels than ever before – a fine result for two previously unknown titles.
(200k+ worldwide sales, 170k VGChartz retail sales LTD)
2014 would prove to be a massively successful year for NIS America, as not only did the company see big sales from its gamble with DanganRonpa, but it also invested in a DRPG called Demon Gaze from a then little-known developer named Experience Inc. It proved to be another extremely wise choice, as the game shifted more than 200k copies worldwide, of which at least 80k came from Japan, something publisher Kadokawa Games was very proud of. Such figures may not sound like much, but they represented a resounding success for a new IP in a very niche genre.
(940k+ worldwide sales across PS3 & Vita, 390k VGChartz retail sales LTD)
Developer Vanillaware had a love affair with the Vita throughout its life, albeit one that sadly came to an eventual end with the cancellation of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim recently. Plenty of the company's titles saw sales success too, such as Muramasa shipping 100k within a month of its Japanese launch, but by far the biggest seller was the much-delayed Dragon’s Crown. In fact, it’s likely Vanillaware's support continued for so long because of Dragon’s Crown’s impressive performance. Originally pitched as a SEGA Dreamcast exclusive in 1997, the game eventually found its way to Sony’s ecosystem, where it flourished (including a recent port to the PS4). Although the 940k number above includes PS3 sales, the Vita version undoubtedly did a lot of the heavy lifting.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel I & II
(900k worldwide sales across PS3 & Vita, 250k & 260k VGChartz retail sales LTD)
Like Vanillaware, Nihon Falcom was another publisher that produced a lot of titles for the Vita, all of which did incredibly well. In fact, the company continued to post impressive profits throughout the handheld’s life, both through the sales of its domestic titles and the licencing of its older games to other companies. It’s rare to get sales figures from the company though, which is why the 900k that was announced for Trails of Cold Steel I & II across PS3 & Vita is such a big deal. The series had always done well domestically, but this was the first time overseas numbers really propelled the overall total to new heights. I get the feeling Falcom would have continued supporting Vita for many years had it been a more powerful machine.
(1.25m+ Japanese sales, 2.47m VGChartz retail sales LTD)
It’s safe to say that Minecraft is a worldwide phenomenon, appealing to both adults and children alike thanks to its addictive sandbox gameplay and limitless potential. It has sold well on every platform it ever released on and Vita is no exception, but what’s most impressive about the Vita version is the regional breakdown. In Japan, the Vita version has been a constant fixture on the Media Create weekly sales charts for nearly three years and has shifted more than 1.25m physical copies (after opening at just 36k sales), which makes it by far and a way the biggest selling version of the game in the region, at least until the Switch SKU probably overtakes it at some point in the coming years.
Persona 4 Golden
(700k+ worldwide sales, 1.25m VGChartz retail sales LTD)
Still to this day the highest rated game on the platform and the poster-child of Vita games you have to own, Persona 4 Golden was the start of an explosion of popularity for Atlus’ turn-based RPG series. In Japan, the game’s release massively boosted Vita hardware sales for the week and it went on to sell nearly 400k copies in the region by the end of 2017, while overseas numbers were incredibly solid too (it’s one of the games on the US top sellers list linked in the opening paragraph). I’ve a sneaking suspicion this one has actually passed 1 million (as VGChartz estimates suggest) and Atlus just hasn’t announced it, but even discounting that 700k in a year is a mighty impressive feat.
Kadokawa Games seem very keen to announce sales figures for its titles, whether it be Demon Gaze‘s 200k number or Metal Max Xeno shifting 50k in its first two days in Japan. The company seems most pleased with Root Letter though, its nostalgic visual novel set in the picturesque Japanese countryside and tasking you with uncovering the mystery of the disappearance of your childhood pen-pal. It sold more than 300k copies by the time of the Steam release in 2017, and this figure had increased to 400k a year later when including the extra platform. Western localizer PQube Games stated that it had done “phenomenally well” and that sales on Vita “vastly outstripped” those on PS4.
Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment
(450k+ worldwide sales, 300k+ VGChartz retail sales LTD)
Very few anime games achieve worldwide success (Dragon Ball and Naruto being the main exceptions), so when Bandai-Namco released a fairly low-budget cash-in on the successful Sword Art Online IP and decided to give it an overseas English release, expectations surely weren’t high that it would do particularly well. Indeed, the series’ producer indicated a sequel would be green-lit if it hit just 200k. Yet Hollow Fragment managed to smash all expectations, clearing more than 280k copies in Japan, 70k in North America, and 90k in Asia (where it effectively birthed the Asian-English market), for a total of 450k worldwide. It led to Sword Art Online becoming a staple on Vita for the next four years and the brand expanding massively across PS4, PC, and eventually the Nintendo Switch, all thanks to one little gamble early on in the Vita’s life.
Toukiden: The Age of Demons
(550k+ worldwide sales across PSP & Vita, 360k VGChartz retail sales LTD)
Monster Hunter was the PSP’s biggest-selling game in Japan by a country mile, so when Capcom decided to whisk it off to the 3DS other publishers stepped in to fill the gap. While the biggest seller was the futuristic God Eater 2, undoubtedly the most successful was Koei-Tecmo’s Toukiden, which focused on traditional Japanese mythology and folklore. The publisher announced that its worldwide sales had topped 550k copies, of which at least 380k were on Vita, which made it successful enough to spawn an expanded re-release and a sequel on the platform within three years, cementing the platform as a fantastic home for hunting games.
It’s worth noting that I haven’t included any indie games on this list. That’s because it’s often very difficult to get sales numbers for them, although there are a few exceptions to this, such as Shovel Knight's developers revealing a 30k figure for Vita-only sales as part of a breakdown across all platforms. Sometimes we also get statements, such as Drinkbox Studios announcing that “sales [of Guacamelee] on Vita were really, really strong”, but that doesn't seem sufficient enough to provide a full commentary on those successes.
What I have included here are plenty of titles where publishers have come out and announced their sales figures, and in the process revealed their happiness with the numbers achieved on Vita. What you’ll quickly notice is that there’s a theme among these games – aside from Assassin’s Creed and Minecraft, they’re all Japanese-developed niche titles that achieved overseas success, and in nearly all cases went on to spawn/continue a franchise.
This says everything about the Vita’s place in the market. It’s a niche machine, appealing to a certain demographic of consumer, but those gamers have been incredibly well served and the publishers who produce those games are rewarded with impressive sales numbers in return. The Vita may not have been the runaway success Sony wanted but it certainly earned its place in the market.