A Look Back at Acquire's Games for PlayStation Vita - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 12 May 2019 / 1,436 Views
This is the second entry in a series of articles I’m writing that look at the output of a number of Vita-supporting developers from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining their history in the games industry, the games they released on Vita, how those titles performed, what games they could have released but didn't, and finally I'll provide an overall conclusion on their Vita support.
Just like Artdink, Acquire is a quirky Japanese developer with a history of experimentation and big ideas, but has unfortunately been at the mercy of low budgets throughout the years, leaving gamers with some fantastic titles that suffer from a large amount of jank. Acquire worked on Vita from its launch in Japan through to early 2017, injecting a nice level of variety to the console’s library despite some of the technical shortcomings of its titles, making the company a prime candidate for examination here.
History – Big Ideas, Small Budgets
Acquire’s entry into the gaming world was through the sandbox stealth-action title Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on PS1, which became a shining example of what would be its trademark style going forward. It featured a traditional Japanese setting steeped in mythology and focused on open-ended gameplay allowing you to take down targets however you saw fit. It was successful enough to spawn a number of sequels, including the moderately well-received Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, which as of the time of writing is the last entry in the franchise we’ve seen.
Despite its history with Tenchu, Acquire effectively ditched the franchise to work on a rival ninja series known as Shinobido in 2005, which saw entries land on both PS2 and PSP. The games felt like a continuation of the original Tenchu ideas (which at the time was being handled by other developers, most notably K2 of Valhalla Knights fame), although critical reception to the Shinobido titles wasn’t particularly positive, with critics often noting their poor animations and stiff movement mechanics.
Another relatively famous franchise created by Acquire was Way of the Samurai, an open-world samurai simulation that contained a number of similarities to Tenchu, including a historical setting and very open-ended gameplay (although it focused much more on the sandbox elements). Again, reviews were middling, with critics tending to praise its ambition but chide its execution. Still, it spawned a number of sequels on PS2, PS3 and PC (as well as remakes of the first two games on PSP, which can be played on Vita if you have a Japanese PSN account), although WoTS seems dormant at present (publisher Spike-Chunsoft somewhat replaced it in 2015 with the Ukiyo duology).
Another series created by Acquire which landed on PSP was No Heroes Allowed, designed in conjunction with Sony’s Japan Studio (showing what a positive relationship Acquire had with Sony during the 2000s). No Heroes Allowed was designed as a reverse dungeon crawler – your goal is to protect the demon lord Badman from invading treasure hunters by digging out an elaborate underground labyrinth and populating it with monsters. It proved popular enough to birth a number of sequels and even a VR remake in 2017.
Elsewhere, plenty of Acquire's titles were seen as so niche that they only released in Japan – things like Akiba’s Trip demonstrated yet again a focus on open-ended gameplay, recreating Tokyo’s Akihabara district and mixing it with brawler mechanics in which the player must strip vampires to expose them to sunlight, while Dekavoice was a PS2 adventure featuring gorgeous cel-shaded graphics built around using a headset to issue commands to supporting characters.
Vita – A Continuation of Acquire’s Successes
Given its storied history with development on Sony hardware, it was unsurprising to see Acquire commit to the Vita early on, although a lot of what the firm released was a continuation of series and ideas that we’d seen before.
The best example of this is the launch title Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen, a direct sequel to the events of the previous two entries in the franchise. It still contained the same sandbox stealth-action gameplay Acquire had become well known for, bringing back things like the grapple hook and wing suit for movement, but also provided little tweaks to the formula to take advantage of the hardware’s inputs. I personally loved it, although in general reviews were pretty down on the game due to its short length and sometimes obtuse explanations of mechanics.
Acquire also expanded on the ideas that were debuted on PSP with Akiba’s Trip in its sequel Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed, which landed on the handheld in 2013 and came west a year later thanks to XSEED Games. Like Shinobido, it contained the same base gameplay seen in its predecessor (an open-world brawler about stripping vampires) but expanded on it massively alongside a new story and set of characters. It received a middling critical reception overseas, with reviewers tending to criticise its technical shortcomings but praising its originality.
Oddly, for the next entry in the Akiba’s franchise Acquire steered things in a completely different direction. Akiba’s Beat was set in the same location as Trip (Akihabara) but featured completely different gameplay, taking the form of an action-RPG not dissimilar to the Tales of series. It marked yet another gameplay experiment for the company that didn’t work for the majority of players (it was criticized for being bland and rather pointless), although there was definitely still fun to be had with it.
The company also worked on two entries in the Wizardry series named Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls and Wizardry: Town of Imprisoned Spirits that were ported across from PS3 to Vita in Japan in 2016 (although sadly the pair never came west, despite the former having already been translated into English), as well as a PlayStation Mobile-exclusive entry in the No More Heroes franchise called No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either!.
New Experiments, Same Old Acquire
Of course, Acquire didn’t just rest on its laurels when it came to Vita development and continued to explore new ideas on the new hardware, which (as ever) met with a somewhat mixed reception.
The first of these came very early in the console’s life – Sumioni: Demon Arts is a 2D platformer with a striking sumi-e artstyle (similar to that seen in Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines) that uses the touch screen to paint bridges which are used to progress through levels. Released in the west again by publisher XSEED, it was followed later in 2012 by another experiment called Orgarhythm that mixes god game elements with a rhythm gameplay base. Both were part of the early push for digital-only releases on Sony’s handheld with lower-than-average price tags, better reflecting the level of development Acquire worked at (although this perhaps wasn’t reflected in the review scores they received).
They also tried something new with Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault, an extremely unique tower defence game that landed on Vita in 2016 in the west. In it, you control a city that is being attacked by giant creatures and must construct defences then literally rotate the urban area to defend from the oncoming waves, making for a wholly unique experience that perhaps wasn’t for everyone, but was certainly memorable for those who played it.
Unfortunately, Aegis of Earth and Akiba’s Beat were the last games Acquire developed for Vita, but in terms of missed opportunities there were very few games that could have come to the handheld but didn’t. That's because in 2011 Acquire was purchased by GungHo, the company behind the hugely successful Puzzles and Dragons mobile title. This meant a shift in focus for the developer which then went on to work on a number of phone games such as Divine Gate and Road to Dragon. Such titles just wouldn’t have made a lot of sense on Vita with their F2P monetization systems.
It would have been nice to have seen the third and fourth Way of the Samurai titles make their way across to Vita, as their predecessors had done on PSP (they would have filled a great gap in terms of sandbox-style open-worlds on the handheld), but I suspect that the company's purchase by GungHo put a stop to any plans like this. Acquire also worked on Rain, an atmospheric adventure published by Sony itself, but this only landed on PS3, which seemed like a bizarre decision given its October 2013 release date.
Acquire is one of those developers that people will either love of hate – the developer's output is certainly ambitious, but often held back by a lack of polish and high level of jank due to the miniscule budgets involved. This has led to some mildly popular franchises over the years – things like Tenchu and Way of the Samurai managed to find sales success in both Japan and overseas despite their shortcomings, but in recent years the company has moved on to a range of new ideas.
On Vita, Acquire continued to work to its “big ideas, small budgets” mantra, with games like Akiba’s Beat and Shinobido 2 being filled with good ideas, but somewhat lacking in terms of execution. They're nonetheless surprisingly enjoyable games if you’re willing to give them a chance. Others like Orgarhythm and Sumioni offer some nice variety to the Vita’s library and embraced new delivery methods. Acquire may have now moved on to bigger things (recently working on Octopath Traveller for Switch), but its Vita support is something I’ll always appreciate.