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RPGamer - Editorial Versus Mode — Nintendo 3DS Vs. PlayStation Vita RPGaming

RPGs on handhelds are thriving right now, but which system is the right choice? Trent Seely and Michael A. Cunningham each pick a side and duke it out over which system has the best potential for RPGamers. Versus mode: engage.


Nintendo's latest handheld may have had a shaky start, but it seems to have finally gained its balance. Since throwing gimmicky 3D features on the backburner, the 3DS has embraced a number of critically and commercially well received titles — a number of which being RPGs. We've seen high quality re-releases such as Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hacker and Tales of the Abyss; brand new entries in established series such as Etrian Odyssey and Kingdom Hearts; as well as a growing eShop library full of new and classic role-playing and adventure titles. With its latest handheld, Nintendo has managed to foster a stronger relationship with Atlus, maintain a successful partnership with Square Enix, and promote a few of the companies past successes (The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, etc.). This approach has helped propel the system to the top of the sales charts both here and abroad. Considering the vast number of RPGs that graced the Nintendo DS in its prime, and the quality of the already released 3DS RPGs, I find it hard to believe that the company's latest handheld will not be the RPG console of choice in the future.

Comparing the PlayStation Vita to the Nintendo 3DS might seem like a fool's errand, but Sony's oft maligned system truly has more to offer gamers than most see upon first glance. The most common complaint about the Vita is a lack of software, but that's not quite true. This disillusion comes from the fact that much of the system's library is available via digital download, not solely on retail shelves. RPGamers have already been treated to the outstanding Persona 4 Golden and a portable version of Nippon Ichi's PlayStation 3 release, Disgaea 3. The system also has some interesting multiplayer RPGs such as Dragon's Crown, Soul Sacrifice, and Ragnarok Odyssey, all of which run quite smoothly online. On the digital front, Muteki Corp's Dragon Fantasy Book I has seen success on Vita, and even Square Enix has broken onto the system with a port of their iOS game Chaos Rings. While Nintendo certainly shines in the first party department, the Vita is not lacking in terms of third party offerings and indie support. Sony's handheld is slowly gaining momentum in Japan, so we will soon see the great potential this system has to offer RPGamers with its upcoming RPG lineup.

I'll admit that the PlayStation Vita's software library is indeed expanding, but I'm not sure that criticising the system's limited library is a fallacy. There's no argument over the strength of the platform's technical specs and software potential, but video game system sales have historically been driven by the quality and quantity of available software. So far, the Vita hasn't really proven itself in that regard. While the handheld is indeed becoming haven for indie titles, thanks to developer self-publishing and PlayStation Mobile, I can't say that I'm a fan of the PlayStation Vita also becoming a hotbed of ports. While it is nice that the Vita can play some PSP titles, iOS ports, PS Vita re-releases of PS2 classics, and PlayStation One classics, I now yearn for new and exciting Vita-centric games — fresh experiences that really take advantage of the platform's impressive capabilities. In terms of RPGs, we've only seen that in Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey, and Silent Hill: Book of Memories. We deserve more. My Vita has been collecting dust for months, and it pains me that the game I'm most looking forward to is yet another HD re-release of a proven classic. Really, why should we invest in a platform's future if all that is assured is more ports?

First, thank you for bringing up another great point about the Vita — access to PlayStation One classics and the PSP's massive RPG library. There's no debate that the Vita is getting ports, but when those games are as high quality as Persona 4 Golden or look as good as Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD, is that really a problem? A huge back-catalog from the PS1 and PSP is great, and some of these ports have been fantastic enough to be a selling point alone, but I agree that we deserve new experiences on the system. It's a good thing that we are getting them. Japanese support is still very strong with upcoming games like Ys: Memories of Celceta, Demon Gaze, Valhalla Knights 3, and Sorcery Saga all already confirmed for localization. Other upcoming games such as Mind=0, Chronos Materia, and even the no-as-dirty-as-it-sounds Conception II are all highly likely candidates for localization. None of those games are tied to Japanese studios with a fear of licensing RPGs for North America, so Tecmo Koei, Aksys, NISA, Atlus, or XSEED have a wide variety of games to choose from. The only games that are less likely to make it over are the Kiseki games and the Tales games, but with Sony's Shahid Kamal Ahmad personally working to get JRPGs localized, even some of these, especially the Tales games, have hope.

While the 3DS has some exciting RPGs available in Japan, will we ever see all of them? You mention support from Square Enix, but one of the company's biggest RPGs for the system, Bravely Default, is only being localized thanks to Nintendo. Square has also allowed two Dragon Quest games (Terry's Wonderland 3D and Rocket Slime 3) to flounder despite having great sales numbers in Japan. While it's still too early to count out the Dragon Quest VII remake, if it makes it over it will most likely be by Nintendo's hands. Square Enix might be supporting the system, but not for the English speaking world. There are just too many RPGs trapped in Japan on the 3DS, and the system being region-locked does it no favors. The Vita at least allows for easy importing for those few RPGs not making it over.

I'll agree — it's tremendously unfortunate that such a well received title as Bravely Default is having such a hard time making it over here, but at least it's still coming. What about Final Fantasy Type-0? It could easily be translated, released on the NA PSN, and even upgraded to a full PlayStation Vita title. Where is the love for Sony's handheld gamers in the west though? The love is gone. The PSP is widely considered to be a dead system to develop for, and the PlayStation Vita simply hasn't moved enough units in the West to make it a tremendously profitable home yet.

You could blame smartphones or the recession for the slow pace of the Vita, but that doesn't exactly make sense as the Vita is still being outsold week-to-week by its seven-year-old big brother. Unlike the Vita, the PSP had a few hits that helped fuel the system's prosperity both here and overseas. Brand new entries in the Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts series were all released for the platform, garnering gamer attention and fueling purchase rates. We're well into the Vita's life, and we haven't seen one truly original system seller in any flagship RPG or first-party franchise yet. The importance of new, system-worthy games really shouldn't be understated; ports don't sell systems — the Game.Com, NeoGeo Pocket Color, and Sega GameGear taught us that.

While the PS Vita's unit sales flounder, the Nintendo 3DS continues to thrive. Nintendo's handheld was the best selling hardware (including consoles) in the United States for the past three months, and has been an utter goliath in its native Japan for the past year. The amount of releases, including RPGs, is on the rise, and things look prosperous in the future. The highly anticipated Pokémon X/Y, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds are all on their way this fall, and Mario & Luigi Dream Team's release is already upon us. It's unfortunate that we have to wait so long for Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, but — again — at least we know that we’re getting it; no one in Nintendo's camp has to rely on vague Twitter announcements of possible future game announcements. Personally, I'd rather have the system which already boasts a strong RPG library, has a healthy upcoming release pipeline, and is selling enough units both here and abroad to ensure that trend continues.

Your point about the West not getting Final Fantasy Type-0 is a little off the mark, as that has everything to do with Square Enix. SE is the studio with the aversion to bringing handheld games to the West, and that's a problem shared on the 3DS as well. Just look at the 3DS Dragon Quest games I've mentioned already. It's going to take more than Bravely Default to make me believe that Square Enix cares about bringing these games over. Plus, you are countering the PSP, not the Vita (which has been in second place in sales in Japan over the past few weeks).

I'm not going to say that the Vita will ever do 3DS numbers, but it doesn't change the fact that the system is still going to be home to a great number of RPGs, many of which will be released in North America. Publishers like Aksys, NIS America, and XSEED are all about picking up RPGs from smaller Japanese studios lacking a North American branch, and many of those will be available for Vita. Also, the indie market's importance should not be understated, as there are a vast number of small developers working on RPGs that will make it to Vita with ease. It might be small right now, but it is growing in both quantity and impact. Dragon Fantasy Book II will be out soon, Zeboyd's Cosmic Star Heroine is unofficially confirmed for the system, and almost every recent Kickstarter project has also had Vita listed as a platform, not the 3DS. The games might not be big, AAA blockbusters, but does every game need to be massive?

Much like the PSP before it, the Vita is not going to be the top-selling system or a giant in the mainstream market, but that doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic place to find great RPGs. Ports of classic console games and indie releases are just a supplement to new RPG content, but those areas are where the Vita gets a big boost. No one is arguing the sales force that is the 3DS or the great first-party games available there, but the Vita is still a fantastic option when it comes to RPG variety.

Is my assumption about Final Fantasy Type-0 not making it over off the mark though? As of today, Square Enix has brought thirteen titles to Western PSPs — not including PSN rereleases of PlayStation classics. They know that there is a large market here for Final Fantasy titles, unlike Dragon Quest which has always existed as a niche series in Western markets, and the PSP has always managed solid numbers for the mega publisher. The lack of Final Fantasy Type-0 on this side of the planet has nothing to do with Square Enix having an "aversion to bringing handheld games to the West" and everything to do with the PSP being at the tail end of its lifespan and PS Vita sales not being up to snuff. If they could turn a profit releasing something like Type-0 to the West, they would. Sadly, the company has been forced to bank on Final Fantasy X's nostalgia to push software and hardware units.

I have no doubt that the PS Vita will ultimately walk the same path of the PSP and really hit its stride around three years in. I'm also sure that numerous RPGs of all shapes and sizes will eventually hit the platform in the same fashion. However, that still doesn't change the fact that the Nintendo's somewhat inferior handheld already towers over it in RPG releases, future RPG releases, and overall units sold. It may not be the better console, but the Nintendo 3DS is and will be the better place to role-play (at least for the near future).

I'm not debating last-generation handheld games, as Square Enix let a lot of end-life DS games slide as well, and those don't even have the option of a digital release like the PSP ones do. Square Enix is not the focus here, the Vita is. The strength of the Vita isn't even its powerful hardware and gorgeous screen; it's the system's openness for localizations and new developments that will help it in the RPG realm. Sure the 3DS will get the Nintendo first-party RPGs, but they just are not released as often as need be. After A Link Between Worlds and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team hit, how long until we see another Nintendo-developed RPG? Help from Atlus is clearly welcome, but until we start seeing a higher percentage of RPGs localized from other publishers it's hard to call it a flawless victory. In the meantime, Atlus is also releasing games for the Vita.

I'm not going to tell you the Vita will win the console war, but that doesn't mean it can't be the go-to system for RPGs. It has strong indie support, something that the 3DS is greatly lacking in. The PSP library is still seeing new releases playable on the Vita, but no new DS RPGs are being released here. PlayStation One classics are also available on the Vita, but barely any RPGs are trickling onto the 3DS Virtual Console. Lesser known titles like Demon Gaze and Sorcery Saga are getting localized for Vita; while the 3DS's Beyond the Labyrinth and Fantasy Life are nowhere to be seen. And if a game doesn't get released in North America, I can import it and play it without having to buy a Japanese system. There are also exciting new third-party games like Ys: Memories in Celceta and Dragon's Crown that are looking great for the system. Not to mention those remakes and ports you want to shoot down are at least helping to boost the system's RPG load by bringing older console games to portables for the first time in HD. In the end, my support for the Vita is not about overall sales; it's about which system has the best potential for RPGs in North America. I'm not shunning the 3DS by any means, but the outlook for the Vita is great for RPGamers.

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