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.
Introduction by Hilary Andreff
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 of 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.
by Patrick Gann
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. Cosmic Star Heroine‘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.
by Alana Hagues
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 rivaling 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.
by Patrick Gann
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.
by Tina Olah
A fully 3D remake of a mainline Tales game? One that’s never before been released in North America? Oh my! The Tales series is known for its consistently high-quality games, and Tales of Hearts R, while not the epitome of gaming perfection, certainly does not disappoint.
Getting the negatives out of the way first, the storyline, characters, and gameplay follow a very traditional JRPG style and bring nothing new to the genre. And in an unfortunate turn of events, this title features random encounters, the archnemesis of most RPG players.
Thankfully, battles are fast-paced, action-filled, and just plain fun. Character growth and combat skills offer plenty of customization, and grinding feels more like a pleasant diversion than a chore. Exploring the world is a joy, especially due to the helpful and occasionally humorous character skits along the way, and Mutsumi Inomata’s anime-style character designs are a delight. While not particularly groundbreaking, Tales of Hearts R definitely deserves a spot on the shelves of old-school JRPG fans.
“Adol has bad luck with boats” is one of the central tenets of the Ys series, but Ys VIII takes that concept to the extreme. Adroit adventurer Adol Christin, his best pal Dogi, and 25-30 other sailors and passengers aboard the good ship Lombardia are attacked by a sea monster and become castaways on the mysterious island of Seiren. Things get weird when the castaways discover native populations of thought-to-be-extinct primordial dinosaurs and Adol dreams about a young priestess in an ancient civilization. Lacrimosa of Dana‘s story is the most involved plot in Ys history, but the real fun is in exploring the island to find shipwreck survivors and new secrets, engaging in Ys VIII‘s intense combat, and managing the fledgling Castaway Village. Ys VIII is the most ambitious game in the series, and the revised 2018 localization fixed the most glaring issue from its 2017 release. This game is recommended to any and all fans of flashy action RPG combat, large spaces to explore, and excellent fishing mini-games.
13) Ys Origin
by Alana Hagues
This is where everything started. Ys Origin marks the beginning of the Ys timeline. Simply put, it’s one of the best games in this venerable series, and it’s an excellent starting point for anyone looking to dive in. Unlike most other Ys games focusing on our favorite redhead Adol, Origin presents three different characters, each with their own unique fighting style: Yunica Tovah feels much like Adol, focusing on lighting fast attacks; Hugo Fact is a master of magic and ranged attacks; and the third mysterious character ties the whole story together, setting the events of the series in motion. Ys Origin revels in its simplicity. The combat is butter smooth and easy for anyone to pick up, but when it needs to, the game can put up a fight. Many of the boss fights require deft tactics and excellent evasive skills, but all of them are a treat. Plus, it wouldn’t be a Falcom game without an outstanding, heart-pounding soundtrack. Once confined to PC, Ys Origin is now multiplatform, and with its pick-up-and-play mentality and short runtime, there’s no better home for it than on Vita.
12) Muramasa Rebirth
by Alana Hagues
Muramasa Rebirth is a port of the excellent Muramasa: The Demon Blade on Wii, and it is easily the definitive version. Vanillaware’s gorgeous art style pops off the Vita screen and pulls players into a world of Japanese folklore and Buddhist thought, all tucked under an addictive and frantic battle system that will keep you busy for hours. Split between two campaigns, Muramasa Rebirth is highly addictive, full of stages to explore and treasures to uncover. If that isn’t enough to convince you, the Vita version also brings with it four new DLC episodes, each focusing on a brand new character and offering even more challenges and adventure! It’s an underloved gem that snuck past people on both Wii and Vita, but we think it deserves more recognition. It embraces Metroidvania to the fullest, offering a wonderful little journey in the palm of your hands, and with a brand new translation, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up one of Vanillaware’s best.
The announcement of Danganronpa V3 caused much speculation on the web. Its predecessors were thrilling and subversive, but each wrapped up nicely. Would a third entry pose a danger of too much of a good thing? Fortunately, Team Danganronpa had this quandary in the forefront of their minds when developing this finale to their beloved series of hyperkinetic detective games. The devilish Monokuma has once again trapped sixteen students within his trademark killing game, but everything may not be as it appears. One of the most self-aware games ever made, Danganronpa V3 plays with narrative and audience expectations in a way that only video games can, resulting in a fitting and incredibly satisfying send-off to an outstanding series.
The Legend of Heroes series is long and complicated. Here in the West, we don’t have every entry (yet), but even with parts of the overarching story missing, the games are much beloved by RPG fans. Trails of Cold Steel is the beginning of a new arc centered in the imperialistic nation of Erebonia, and as such, it’s a good place to start for those who have been curious about the series but haven’t taken the plunge yet. Rean and the members of Class VII are endearing, the story builds slowly to a fever pitch, the turn-based combat is strategic and fun, and the music is utterly fantastic. The graphics are still somewhat dated, even with the jump to 3D, and it doesn’t always run smoothly, but this is still a beast of a game for a handheld. Those looking for some of the best worldbuilding in an RPG (along with everything else mentioned above) should definitely check out Trails of Cold Steel.
Ys (rhymes with “Geese;” doesn’t sound like “Wise”) is in the midst of an excellent run of remakes and new titles from 2000 onward, and the Vita’s remake of Ys IV, Memories of Celceta, is a worthy entry in the storied series. Crimson-coiffed adventurer Adol Christin wakes up at the edge of a forest with short-term memory loss, which must be a nice departure from his more typical shipwrecking. Adol ventures into the mysterious forest to recover his lost memories and eventually teams up with a colorful crew of Ys newcomers to prevent an ancient power from being exploited by humans with evil intentions. Memories of Celceta‘s mapping system incentivizes players to explore every nook and cranny of the in-game world, and its intense action and stylish moves make combat a blast. Memories of Celceta is a must-play for Ys fans, action RPG fans, and Vita RPG fans. All it lacks is a substantial role for Dogi, sadly relegated to a cameo.
One of the major selling points of the PlayStation Vita was the cross-play feature: being able to transfer saves from the PlayStation 3 version of a game to the PlayStation Vita version of the game, and vice versa. In some respects, it’s kind of a precursor to the sort of portability we’re seeing with Nintendo’s Switch console. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster was one of those titles to take advantage of this feature, and the package is all the stronger for it. While the Vita version obviously has slightly lower visual fidelity when compared to its console counterpart, the ability to take a fan-favorite RPG like Final Fantasy X on the go is a major feather in the Vita’s cap.
Intertwining a hand-crafted aesthetic with a narrative that dabbles in both fairytale and tragedy, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir holds itself as a premier side-scrolling RPG for PlayStation Vita. Taking on the reins of five individuals, each with their own distinct playstyle, players are tasked with piecing together the timeline of a war-torn world known as Erion, utilising quick real-time combat in stages set across a variety of locales. Whether it’s within the magma-laden wastes of an active volcano or the calm glades of a forest, developer Vanillaware infuses both environmental designs and the enemies that are set against you with a bright colour-laden beauty.
Coupled with this aesthetic, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir employs a unique leveling mechanic in the form of utilising the fallen souls of your enemies to grow and eat food, which grants experience. Slay a few goblins? Sprout a berry tree that grows in less than three seconds, making you ever stronger with permanent stat upgrades and buffs gained upon consumption. Alongside skill trees for every individual character, allowing for game-changing combat moves to be gained, this builds a replete experience for players to sink their time into, and at a smooth 60 frames per second on Sony’s lil’ portable powerhouse.
by Patrick Gann
Also available on 3DS, the second entry in the Zero Escape trilogy is a puzzle-solving, storytelling tour de force that offers compelling concepts, characters, and plot arcs for every player. Yes, every player. Though there is more to be gleaned by those who have played 999 (the first entry in the trilogy), even newcomers will be able to enjoy this title. The reason why is twofold: 1) the parts of the story that one can follow without head-scratching are parts that do not require backstory from the first game; 2) the parts of the story that leave one with significant head-scratching at first blush are given resolution in their entirety by game’s end, with the story finally made plain both for returning players and newcomers.
Virtue’s Last Reward also sports a fantastic timeline-branching meta-story that uses some simple math to create a life-or-death struggle using the “Ally” and “Betray” mechanic, which offers up fundamental questions about whether humans can truly trust one another. Top everything off with unique visuals, strong English voice acting, and an incredible music score by Shinji Hosoe, and the conclusion is obvious: unless you already own it on 3DS, this game should be in your Vita library.
by Mike Salbato
At RPGFan, we don’t have a hard and fast rule for giving out Editor’s Choice Awards, as each of us have our own criteria for what qualifies — a game doesn’t simply need to meet a certain score threshold. It is up to the reviewer to say if a game truly can transcend its genre brethren and deliver a story or experience that is so memorable/worthwhile that a mere number isn’t enough to get the point across. We have plenty of games that scored well on a review but didn’t always earn this award, because we try not to give out too many of them. So, when a game manages to deliver that special something where three reviewers felt it earned this honor on three separate platforms, you know a game is outstanding.
Honestly, there’s a good chance you’re reading this and have already played Undertale, but if not, know that this indie gem became wildly popular for good reason. Visiting the Dog Shrine in the PS4 and Vita versions is just a nice extra perk.
Picking up almost immediately after the cliffhanger ending of the first game, Trails of Cold Steel II ups the ante with a more action-filled plot, all your favorite characters from Class VII (and then some), the same great combat system, and even more awesome music from Falcom Sound Team jdk. As good as the first Cold Steel is, this one is even better, with some truly epic moments and developments that have repercussions for the rest of the series. It’s also the last Trails game on a portable system, as the series jumped to PS4 exclusivity with Cold Steel III, but this is not a bad final entry for the troubled handheld. Indeed, Trails of Cold Steel II and its predecessor are worthy additions to any Vita library.
Danganronpa‘s creators had three goals: to make players feel smart and accomplished in solving convoluted murder cases, to make players fall in love with Danganronpa‘s cast of quirky high school students, and to shock players when those students die in grisly murders and brutal executions with blood effects dyed bubblegum pink. The first Danganronpa accomplishes these tasks with aplomb, with the homicidal robot bear Monokuma locking sixteen students in their school and pitting them against each other in a survival game. Don’t get too attached to these wacky teenagers, because Danganronpa has a nasty habit of killing them off just when you start to like them. Convoluted crime scenes, dramatic murder trials, and (somehow) school life simulations take center stage in the PlayStation Vita’s signature murder mystery visual novel.
by Alana Hagues
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the whole Danganronpa trilogy makes this list, but the second entry in the series is the highest ranking. Following in the footsteps of Trigger Happy Havoc, Goodbye Despair sees another sixteen students from Hope’s Peak Academy attempt to survive Monokuma’s killing game, this time on the tropical paradise of Jabberwock Island. This brand new bunch of unfortunates are even more zany and memorable than the previous sixteen, and everyone is bound to have a favorite. If this series has anything to teach you, though, it’s “expect the unexpected.” Favorites die and twists are plentiful, and the ending of this entry is bound to leave you scratching your head. Goodbye Despair ramps up the insanity meter to eleven and never lets up. Class Trials are back, and there are some new minigames along with some much-needed tweaks to make them a bit more enjoyable. If you’re a fan of narrative games and over-the-top anime characters, the Danganronpa series might just be the one for you, with Goodbye Despair possibly being the peak.
It’s not often that a game ported to a handheld system manages to surpass the original, but Persona 4 Golden does just that. Unlike its cousin, Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden features the full experience of the PS2 version with almost no corners cut. What’s more, P4G provides a bounty of additions and extras, including a new character, new social links, new scenes and anime sequences, new music, new endings, and more! Sometimes, making changes to an already great game is a mistake, but in this case, the new content enhances the original, making P4G the definitive version. No Vita collection is complete without this gem.
Bonus: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines
One of the most surprising releases on Vita, Oreshika is a 2014 sequel to a 1999 PlayStation game, the latter of which was never released outside Japan. Oreshika is part management sim, part dungeon crawler, and part roguelike, with a fairly robust job system. Your clan is cursed: all of its members live only a few weeks or months before dying, and they must make pacts with gods and goddesses or marry into other clans to keep the line alive (your clan members age rapidly to match their short life spans, thank goodness). Players manipulate their clan’s genealogy while challenging dungeons and monsters to gain favor with the gods, and along the way, they find treasure and resources to increase their clan’s prominence. All of this takes place in a feudal Japanese setting with music, visuals, and style to match. Oreshika is a true hidden gem on Vita, and I’m still shocked it ever got an English-language release.
Dedicated to Michael A. Cunningham
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.