Introduction by Hilary Andreff
When we decided to compile a list of the best games for the PlayStation Vita, we didn't intend it to be a farewell to the much beloved handheld console, yet not mentioning its actual discontinuation next year (when Sony will cease manufacturing the handheld) would be thoughtless. We'll miss it a lot. Many of us have found ourselves circling back to it not only for the welcome cross-save features, but to try older games we may have missed. The Vita allows us to collect games from many different sources, and it was one of the first systems with hardware that really made console-level gaming portable. The Vita had a bit of an identity crisis early on: The variety of non-gaming apps that were being developed suggested Sony wasn't sure what they wanted the Vita to become. This provides an interesting context for our choices, which span this console's production lifetime.
Like our Nintendo 3DS feature, there were many games to work through and several that were close in ranking. We hope you find this compilation useful and that it may be an introduction to some unfamiliar games, especially since recent years has seen the Vita become a go-to system for visual novels and indie games. Hopefully, some third party developers will continue to be interested in making new games available there.
One final note: While the Vita's usefulness in playing PSone Classics is a major selling point, we chose to only focus on games actually developed for the Vita on this list.
When it first released in 2016, World of Final Fantasy didn't exactly light the world on fire, presumably because all eyes were looking towards the impending release of Final Fantasy XV. Still, when push comes to shove, World of Final Fantasy is a wonderfully charming game that every Final Fantasy fan should try. Not only is it a classically styled turn-based RPG like the Final Fantasies of yore, with gorgeous visuals and a great soundtrack, but it has a surprisingly involved Pokémon-esque monster raising system that lets players fight alongside a whole menagerie of Final Fantasy beasties. The adorable chibi renditions of Final Fantasy's heroes and heroines are also fun to see, and there are some pretty obscure inclusions in the roster. Sure, we all knew we'd be seeing Cloud, Lightning, and so on, but who was expecting Shelke (from Dirge of Cerberus) or Sherlotta (from Echoes in Time) to make appearances? World of Final Fantasy is an utter delight and one of the most criminally underrated games you can play on your PlayStation Vita.
The Vita may not have Etrian Odyssey, but its library is filled to the brim with old-school dungeon crawlers. However, a good chunk of these dungeon crawlers also happen to feature anime girls in various states of undress, which really just isn't going to appeal to everyone (not to mention being embarrassing to play in public). If you're seeking a slightly less saucy spelunk, Experience Inc. and Team Muramasa have your back with Stranger of Sword City, a bizarre science fantasy that closely echoes the developer's past Wizardry spin-offs. As a student lost in a Bermuda Triangle-esque pocket dimension, you have to assemble a motley crew of fellow castaways to seek a way back to your own world. What really makes Stranger of Sword City pop is how its monster designs fit into its world — as planes, trains, and automobiles have found their way into this parallel world, it's not unusual to find a city built within a wrecked cruise ship, or a hydra exploding from a broken television set. True to its classic RPG roots and baring fangs, Stranger of Sword City is often frustrating but still rewarding, as long as you're the special kind of masochist to get something out of it.
While Zeboyd Games required a full year of additional work to properly port their groundbreaking neo-retro PC/PS4 RPG to PSVita, they kept the promise made in their Kickstarter Campaign. CSH's Vita port came in April 2018, rather late in the aging handheld's lifespan. Thankfully, patient fans were rewarded, and this beautiful, fun, love-letter-RPG-homage may as well be a commodity for on-the-go gamers. It serves as an excellent addition to one's digital library, and thanks to the good people at Limited Run Games, Cosmic Star Heroine also exists as a real, physical artifact for both PS4 and PS Vita. Considering said limited runs sold out within a day of the preorder announcement, the fanbase demand may serve as additional evidence that this JRPG-styled Western RPG is a worthwhile game to have in the palm of your hands.
No one was expecting an excellent Digimon game in 2016, but that's exactly what we got. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth goes back to basics with some simple, turn-based gameplay and fun monster catching mechanics that will keep you playing for hours, even rivalling Pokémon! Digivolving and De-Digivolving your cute little cyber critters gets hugely addictive, and with hundreds of possibilities, planning out your perfect team takes some real work, but it's a blast. The simplicity of it makes it oh-so addictive, and soon you'll be gunning for all of those Digimon! Cyber Sleuth also has an intriguing story to boot, with fun, exciting characters and a colourful world to explore, both real and digital, that you'll be thinking about for weeks to come. With a killer techno soundtrack from the man behind Danganronpa's music, Cyber Sleuth is the perfect, pocket-sized adventure, and it's easily the best Digimon game out there.
The Vita has become a haven for visual novels, especially the popular visual novels that have not yet been localized in English. 5pb's Science Adventure lineup was especially popular in Japan, and its bestselling title to date — Steins;Gate — was the first one to finally see the light of day in North America. The "choice" system in Steins;Gate revolves around the use of the protagonist's mobile phone; when someone calls or texts, how should he respond? Should he respond at all? These choices determine the routes to a half-dozen endings, all interesting and worthwhile. Combine that with sleek character designs, great music, and a plot centered around speculative scientific theories regarding time travel and the multiverse, and voilà, Steins;Gate! After playing Steins;Gate, it may well serve as a "gateway" to greater interest in visual novels.
This feature is dedicated to Michael A. Cunningham, former Editor-in-Chief at RPGamer, who passed away in August 2018. Michael — also known as Macstorm, or "Mac" for short — was a pivotal part of so many people's lives. Besides running things at RPGamer for years, he was a dear friend to us at RPGFan, and even appeared on each of our Music of the Year podcasts.
Mac was a huge fan of handheld gaming, and somehow had the time outside of RPGamer to run his own handheld blog, Pocket Console, along with being the founder of the #TeamHandheld tag. So really, how could we not dedicate a handheld feature to him?
Please be sure to read RPGamer's tribute page, which collects memories and thoughts from his friends at RPGamer, RPGFan, RPG Site, and from several other people who valued his friendship. In addition, RPGamer compiled a list of selected works from Mac's career both on- and off-site.