Japan has finally caught on the with rest of the world and discontinued Sony’s first gaming handheld, the PSP. The company has announced that this June will see the final shipments of devices before Sony completely turns its focus to the Vita.
Now is the time where would like to get all emotional and sappy about the passing of a quality gaming machine, but I can’t really get misty eyed for the Sony PSP. I own one, which I received for free from a friend, but I never particularly got around to diving into many games outside of Half-Minute Hero. Maybe it was because the battery life sunk down to absolutely nothing for a mysterious reason or carrying around UMDs was such a pain, but the PSP just didn’t do it for me as a handheld.
However, my own personal tastes aside, the PSP had a huge impact on handheld gaming, and its imprint will be felt for quite a long time.
For one thing, the Sony PSP was the company’s first region-free console, meaning quality games from Japan and America could be played on both the same system without the need to hack it. While it might seem like not a huge deal for today’s console crowd where just about everything is localized, the PSP market in Japan shatters the American market with many great RPGs, ports of classic PlayStation games, and other genres like text-adventures most Americans just won’t even touch.
Coming to Japan and exploring these unlocalized games is like swimming in a pool of candy if importing lost Japanese titles is your hobby. It’s one reason why the PSP resonates so much stronger in Japan because they actually got a larger selection of quality games to play on it, making it kind of a successor to the SEGA Saturn and SEGA CD, both of which sport quality libraries in Japan only.
Years ago, a game like Final Fantasy Type-0 would be virtually unplayable in America, but with a simple import, you can at least enjoy it in Japanese.
Maybe because my generation never had the ease of a PlayStation branded region free gaming device or even access to the Internet to find some lost treasures, but I would have killed for a similarly easily accessible library of import titles on the original PlayStation or PlayStation 2. The PSP and the PlayStation 3, which followed a year later, together changed the import gaming landscape for Sony consoles.
However, the lasting legacy of the Sony PSP is that it was the first majorly successful handheld device to focus on power rather than on simplicity and longevity.
Sony marketed the PSP in the West as sporting hardware comparable to console standards, and it refused to sacrifice specs for the belief that handheld games were supposed to be simpler and cheaper than their console big brothers. Huge games like God of War, Ratchet & Clank, and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII were put front and center on display as reasons to side with Sony rather than Nintendo.
This reasoning is the main culprit behind why these brilliant but sprite-based Japan-only titles remain unlocalized. Sony didn’t want there to be any confusion about this machine’s capabilities. The PSP was all about pushing crazy polygons and creating a AAA experience on the move, where as the Nintendo DS was all about longevity, ingenuity through the touchscreen, and a much simpler experience, similar to Nintendo’s older handhelds as well.
Nintendo’s rich tradition in simplistic handhelds comes from Gunpei Yokoi, the original designer of the Game Boy, who believed in hardware that could last a long time on AA batteries and provide a different kind of rewarding experience than the NES.
His theories would prove to be massively successful for nearly two decades. Simple handheld franchises like Pokemon would outsell the latest graphical powerhouses like Final Fantasy VIII, and the Nintendo DS would become the best selling handheld console in history. In the handheld market, Nintendo had been spot on in its approach for nearly two decades.
In that same time frame, others like SNK, Atari and SEGA would attempt to chip away at Yokoi’s simplistic take on handheld gaming with powerful devices of their own focus, but they all crashed and burned in the wake of Nintendo. Not Sony and the PSP.
Timing is everything, and technology had come to the point where the PSP could make a statement for power becoming a legitimate goal for a handheld. It only took one generation to catch on also as the strength of the PSP carried over into the even greater strength of the PS Vita, and dare I say, the Nintendo 3DS. If the PSP hadn’t caught on the way it had in Japan, I highly doubt that Nintendo would be powering its latest handheld with the impressive hardware that it does.
Of course, the PSP has other great legacies as well. Monster Hunter came along and saved it when it was dead in the water. It proved the futile medium of he UMD, which will never catch on now, and it even started the trend of digital distribution of games onto a handheld console. One of the PS Vita’s and Nintendo 3DS’ great strengths is that they don’t require the actual cartridges or physical games to play, just an online purchase. The PSP did that first.
So while it wasn’t the most successful bit of gaming history, the Sony PSP has its place and its legacies that it can lay claim to. Most of its games can also be played readily on the PS Vita, just as long as they have a digital outlet. A few stragglers like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII need a digital release, but for what it’s worth, the PSP lives on strongly if not better on through its successor.