We poured a lot of praise on the Nintendo 3DS last year for being the console of choice if you are a fan of (Japanese role-playing games) JRPGs. Fire Emblem, Etrian Odyssey, Bravely Default, Shin Megami Tensei IV, it’s hard to make an argument against Nintendo’s handheld.
Actually, the truth is Sony’s PS Vita is just as viable for fans of the genre, whether you are looking for modern hits or the classics you enjoyed as a kid. The PS Vita struggles a little bit when keeping up with original content compared to the Nintendo 3DS, but its library is just loaded with so many hits from all ages of gaming’s history, you might not notice.
If you are looking to get a PS Vita or want to break into this long and celebrated genre, here are a few places to get started.
Persona 4 Golden
Few can or will try argue against the popularity of the Persona series. It is riding high these days as the driving franchise in the genre, and Persona 4 is arguably the best it has to offer. This Golden version is a PS Vita port of the PlayStation 2 original, and besides portability, it makes a few changes to make it a more streamlined experience.
Multiple dungeons, simple yet deep mechanics, a genuinely speedy pace. At 80 hours long, this game genuinely has 80 hours of content, and it is the best bang for your buck in terms of hours to money. Prices have dropped to as low as $16 in the past, so wait for this one to drop to bottom dollar.
If you buy and enjoy this game, Persona 3 is just as good, and the PSP Portable version can be picked up for as cheap as $5 during one of Atlus’ frequent sales. A remake of the original Persona game and both chapters of Persona 2 are also available as a PSP port and PSOne Classic. Fans looking for something similar to the recent games might be let down, but both are solid in their own right.
Final Fantasy X|X2 HD Remaster
Another PlayStation 2 classic remade for the PS Vita, Final Fantasy X is the last universally loved Final Fantasy game. Some might question its ridiculous protagonist and his awkward sense of style, but the truth is Titus and his journey with the summoner Yuna features some of the most emotional and gut-wrenching storytelling the series has ever seen.
Much like Persona 4, nothing about this game seems padded. Its linearity might turn off those looking for an open world, but it, tied together with the fast and genius battle system, never creates a down moment in this excellent game. Plus, the voice acting is admittedly a mixed bag, but it gives the characters enough personalization to make even the worst likable and empathetic.
Final Fantasy X-2 is not quite as acclaimed because of its irreverent treatment of the tragic world of Spira, but it has the mechanics and gameplay to still be a fabulous game worth checking out.
Square Enix usually holds a Final Fantasy sale twice a year, so if you are in no rush to play this, you can find it cheap this summer or holiday season most likely. Be careful with trailers, because Square Enix was not spoiler-free at all when it came to hyping this re-release.
Ys: Memories of Celceta
So the two highest profile RPGs on the PS Vita are ports of PlayStation 2 classics. How about something original? Well, technically, Ys: Memories Celceta (pronounced “ees”) is a remake of Ys IV, but seeing as it is a total overhaul and the original game has never been released in America, we’ll cut it some slack.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is amazing in that takes all the depth and storytelling that makes JRPGs so special and crams it into the slickest, tightest package possible. The fast action battles play out more like a fast paced Zelda game, and it never gets old. No matter what action legendary adventurer Adol Christin takes, he gets rewarded for it. Fans of video game music should also know that the entire Ys series is required listening. No if, ands, or buts. Ys always has great soundtracks, and this is no exception.
Between Persona 4 Golden and Ys: Memories of Celceta, you have the two best games to get your RPG collection off the ground. Both are approachable and fast games that completely do away with the excess that often bogs down the genre.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
While we were busy on our Nintendo DS systems back in the day, the PSP left us with a monstrous and unexplored library of fantastic RPGs that can be picked up cheaply and easily played on the PS Vita. If you can buy it through the PlayStation Store, you can play it on the Vita.
The star of this line-up is this remake of the classic Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. While it might not look like a remake, the way the designers approached this game couldn’t be any different from the original.
For one, you can travel back in time through your battles and fix mistakes, a huge improvement considering how easy it is to mess up in this troublesome game. Beyond that, you can also travel back in time to change major decisions which affect the story’s outcome, meaning you can see everything easily without the need to start a new game.
A few other great changes, like job classes gaining levels universally to make it less of a grind and a better translation of Yasumi Matsuno’ brilliant storyline, make this one of the best strategy RPGs ever made. It’s available for $19.99 through the PSN and doesn’t drop in price so often.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
A 100% original game! What is this madness?! Even though it is an original game, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky doesn’t have an original bone in its body. Everything it does, someone else has done in the past.
The counterpoint to this fact is that it does genre traditions so well that it might as well be an original game. Everything from characters and story to exploration, battles, and RPG mechanics is spot on.
It’s hard enough to find anyone who actually has played this game, but that only makes it impossible to find anyone who has both played it and hated it. If ever there was a cult game that was universally loved, it’s this.
Adol Christin once again pops up in another game available through the PSP. The Ys series has been around since the 80s, but it’s only recently catching on in America thanks to the growing influence of digital distribution.
Developer Falcom has always leaned more towards PCs, but its entire series has found a nice little home on the PSP and PS Vita. Ys Seven is the best of the lot available in the PSP’s library, but considering it is a predecessor to the PS Vita’s Ys: Memories of Celceta, it doesn’t have quite the same depth and finesse. It’s definitely still worth picking up, and maybe even better to play first since nobody likes to move backwards really.
If both of the modern Ys games are to your liking, four more games in the series are also available on the PlayStation Store. Ys: The Oath of Felghana is a fabulous remake of Ys III, which was localized back on the SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo back in the day, but this remake is a bit more enjoyable on PCs thanks to the higher resolution. At $15 each, it and Ys Seven are a steal for the content they provide.
Ys I & II Chronicles is great for looking into the series’ past, but not recommended for newcomers who might be lost in their simplicity. Ys: Origins is also okay, but shouldn’t be played first as it doesn’t star the series protagonist and dives way back in time.
Riviera: The Promised Land
I’m speaking from my experience of the Game Boy Advance version on this one, but Riviera: The Promised Land is one of my favorite games the genre has ever seen. No lie, this experimental little game begs to be replayed over and over again thanks to a genius exploration system.
Every dungeon in the game starts our heroes off with a certain number of action points, and you can use these when uncovering rocks or exploring caves. Some lead to penalties, some lead to great rewards, and it will take several tries to get a perfect run to see it all.
Luckily, the game is not that long and the cast of heroes can’t be described as anything else but charming. Our hero, Ein, is an angel, and he finds himself in the company of four cuties, and he must suffer through horrible situations like deciding which is the heaviest looking to trigger a pressure switch. It’s hard to do this harem style storytelling without being annoying, but Riviera does it without a hitch. Multiple endings, based on which girl likes you the best, also leaves plenty of room for replay.
Best of all, it falls to $2.49 during one of Atlus’ frequent sales. Just had a hard time finding a legitimate trailer to post for you. It is available in English, I promise.
Riviera is one of the best games of the lot, but developer Sting Entertainment also developed Yggdra Union, which is worth checking out for $2.49, Knights in the Nightmare, and Gungir, neither of which I’ve played. All of them make up its loosely connected Dept. Heaven series which are joined by similar art and themes.
It’s hard to find a JRPG fan who would argue against the PlayStation as being the peak of the genre. It pushed forward video gaming narrative in ways that modern games claim they do but can only dream of, and by and large, are the bulk of the best games you can play on the Vita.
Of course, every classic Squaresoft Final Fantasy game can be bought through this line-up. Final Fantasy Origins, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, and Final Fantasy IX were at the forefront of the JRPG movement and set the pace for what other games would do in their shadow.
Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI are also available, but only check them out if you don’t have access to another version, like on the Game Boy Advance. The PlayStation versions of these games are subpar thanks to sub-quality porting, rough translations, and awful load times.
Squaresoft also has a string of other great hits from the era. My favorite is Parasite Eve, but other classic games like Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Legend of Mana, Chrono Cross, Threads of Fate, Front Mission III, and Parasite Eve II are a steal for the $5.99 asking price.
Squaresoft wasn’t the only player in town back then either. Konami was in charge of the Suikoden series, and the first game is available for just $5.99. You’ll have to transfer it through the PlayStation 3, but trust me when I say it the best investment you can make, especially when prepping for my favorite game, Suikoden II, which has just been rated by the ESRB for release.
Alundra is another fabulous game and personal favorite of mine, and I’ve extensively covered it in a retro review a while back. Zelda fans should definitely check it out. Capcom’s Breath of Fire IV, Media Vision’s Wild ARMs, Koei’s Saiyuki: Journey West, and Sony’s own Legend of Dragoon round out what is unquestionably the best games on the market.
Sure, a few classics are still missing, but it’s hard to say no with so many great classics available in the palm of your hands.