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  • A Look Back at Konami’s Support for the PlayStation Vita

    December 3rd, 2017GamespotUncategorized

    This is the eighth entry in a series of articles looking at the output of a number of Vita-supporting companies, from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining the games they released, how well they sold (if there's sufficient data), how well they ran in the case of ports, and will take a brief look at games which perhaps should have come to the console, either in the west or in general.

    Konami is a company with a long, long history in videogames - but in recent years it's been plagued by scandals about working conditions, treatment of talented developers, and the cancellation of anticipated titles. It's a shame that these events happened right through the Vita's lifespan, meaning its output for the handheld was far below what it should have been (and a long way off the levels managed for PSP), but Konami still produced a couple of important games during the handheld's run.


    Launch & 2012 - Plenty of Support... and Missed Opportunities

    Konami's first year Vita support was undoubtedly the best it was ever going to be, spearheaded by a couple of key titles alongside smaller releases in-between. It was a solid 12 months, although sadly held back by a lot of missed opportunities to bring additional titles to the brand new Sony console.

    For the Japanese launch, the company had a number of unique and quirky titles available. A digital-only AR tank-combat game as well as a Mahjong release formed its launch titles, alongside publishing the Japanese version of Asphalt Injection. It was a muted initial lineup, but still impressive to see the publisher experimenting with the Vita's unique features. In addition, Konami committed to the platform in full force during 2011's Tokyo Game Show presentation, promising titles like Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders, meaning fans were confident in the upcoming lineup of games.

    Its first major release was a port of the cult classic 2009 Wii game Little King's Story in March of 2012, which hit western shores in September of the same year. This was an interesting pickup as the original version was published by Marvelous AQL who retained the rights, yet the new version was developed by an internal team at Konami. Sadly, the port wasn't handled with care as the game suffered from major slowdown in later levels once many characters were on screen, causing some frustrating gameplay challenges and annoying boss fights, although reviews were fairly forgiving. Sales for the title were lukewarm with it only managing 18k in Japan.

    Around the same time, the company also released what would be the beginnings of an ongoing love-affair with sports games on the Vita with the release of Pro Baseball Spirits 2012. A realistic depiction of baseball in the vein of MLB '12, except with J-Leagues, the game opened to a meager 17k in sales but it was enough to ensure future installments came to the handheld. More successful was Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball 2012, a chibi-style spinoff featuring a greater variety of modes and very addictive gameplay - it sold 58k copies in total.

    Konami's biggest release of 2012 - and possibly its most important release on Vita in general (for better or worse) was a port of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, featuring the second and third titles in the series. While the PSP title Peace Walker was excluded (presumably because it was already backwards-compatible with Vita), the release was well-received - the port was handled by Armature Studio, which managed to keep image quality in tact while allowing Metal Gear Solid 2 to run at a full 60fps in indoor areas. It was a joy to have such classic PS2 games on the go, particularly as a number of other titles in the series were available through backwards compatibility, and the package reviewed well on Metacritic. Sales also seemed decent - Japanese numbers eventually released 110k thanks to a budget re-release, while in the west the titles often charted in the Vita's top downloaded games chart. VGChartz figures suggest around 440k physical copies sold worldwide at retail, a solid result for a late port.

    For the rest of the year, Konami had just one more title - a re-imagining of its seminal horror IP in Silent Hill: Book of Memories. Rather than being a third-person adventure game like previous entries, developer Wayforward Technologies opted for an isometric dungeon-crawler with randomized levels and online multi-player. It did manage to retain some of the series' more traditional elements, including item management and weapon degradation, but fans were put off by the drastic shift in tone and both reviews and sales suffered.

    While this marked the end of a somewhat decent year for the company on Sony's newest handheld, I can't help but lament some opportunities that were missed to bring some fantastic content to the console. The biggest-seller that Konami skipped over was surely Pro Evolution Soccer - a game the company had confirmed was in development in May of 2012, but never materialised at any point during the console's life. Since FIFA was happy to coast by only updating its roster every year, it would've been some nice competition for a PES title to release alongside it, potentially forcing EA to up its game.

    The biggest slap in the face for Vita fans, however, was undoubtedly the cancellation of  Zone of the Enders HD Collection. Announced for Vita during TGS 2011 alongside the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, ports arrived for PS3 and Xbox 360 in October of 2012 in a somewhat messy state, with poor performance and lots of issues. Eventually the PS3 version was patched by Hexadrive but poor sales of the games on home consoles ensured that future plans for the series were scrapped, including the proposed Vita port. Fans were extremely disappointed, especially as the series would've been a great fit on the handheld alongside other mech titles like Gundam.

    Overall, then, 2012 was a mixed year for Konami on Vita - the support was there with some great titles such as Metal Gear Solid, but cancellations, rushed ports, and missed opportunities meant the year as a whole could have been better. Sadly, the company would never have a period this good again on the handheld as releases petered out over time.


    2013 - A Base of Content & Nothing Else

    While 2012 saw Konami bring its historic IPs to the Vita in new ways, while updating classic titles for the handheld along the way, 2013 saw a collapse in output that never recovered.

    Its sole releases for the year were the yearly baseball titles Pro Baseball Spirits and Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball. The former sold 50k in Japan (an improvement over the previous year's entry, which only shifted 34k), while the latter sold 84k copies, also up from 58k the year before. Support like this was important for Vita in Japan as it was slowly helping to transition over the PSP audience which had been buying these games, although the company continued to produce releases for Sony's last-gen handheld for a number of years, lessening the impact.

    Aside from this, no other games from Konami released on Vita in 2013. As with 2012, this meant a number of missed opportunities to bring great content that would have resonated well with the audience, the biggest surely being Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. A side-scrolling sequel to the Lords of Shadow sub-series originally announced exclusively for the 3DS, the game would eventually also appear on PS3 and Xbox 360 but somehow managed to swerve Vita altogether, despite the fact that other publishers were doing similar things across both handhelds with games like Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate.

    Also missing was Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal: Clash! Duel Carnival! which appeared on 3DS but again skipped Vita, despite the fact that the PSP had made itself a great home for the franchise with multiple Tag Force games throughout its life. Similarly, titles like Metal Gear Rising and Silent Hill HD Collection could (and should) have made the jump across, but somehow managed to stay stuck to last-gen home consoles despite the potential to plug a great gap in the Vita's library.

    Rather than taking the base it had created on the handheld in 2012 with a selection of HD Collections, ports, and new games then expanding on this, Konami reeled back its support for the Vita in 2013 to the bare minimum. To be fair, this was something that was happening on other platforms too - 3DS support had plummeted compared to DS, and even home consoles weren't getting the same mid-tier releases that they used to from the company. Still, it was a shame to see Konami skip over porting some titles that obviously would've been a good fit for the handheld - something that wouldn't be improved in future years.


    2014 - A Japanese Year

    Oddly, Konami had a bizarre surprise title up its sleeve for 2014, but not one that was a particularly notable release. Still, it was better than the previous year.

    Amusingly, Konami's year kicked off in January with Hideo Kojima posting pictures of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes running on Vita through remote play. When the game was first announced, speculation was rife that The Phantom Pain was actually a Vita spin-off, due to the fact that Kojima had been a big fan of the PSP and came out all-guns-blazing on Sony's new handheld when it was first announced. Sadly that wasn't the case, as Ground Zeroes acted as a prologue to The Phantom Pain and both were made for home consoles.

    Aside from this, the company followed its now-yearly release schedule of baseball titles on the console - Pro Baseball Spirits 2014 managed to sell 70k copies this time around (another improvement on the year before), while Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball 2014 cracked the 100k barrier, making it the best-selling entry on the handheld so far. Even if Konami wasn't supporting the Vita very well, at least the games it was releasing seemed to be selling better and better.

    The surprise title was Nisekoi: Yomeiri!?, a tie-in to the popular anime/manga romantic comedy series. Amusingly, aside from the visual novel sections, the game also mixed in stealth 'missions' where you have to escape classrooms - not dissimilar to the stealth available in the company's flagship series Metal Gear Solid. It was an interesting addition to the handheld's library, but sadly never left Japan.

    As such, it was business for usual at Konami in 2014 - it iterated on its yearly sports titles, but otherwise there was sparse content for the Vita. While Konami would take a step to re-release an all-time classic in the coming 12 months, 2015 would also prove to be an equally quiet year, suggesting that at this point it was essentially done with the handheld.


    2015 - All Baseball-ed Out

    2015 had one surprise title release - a slightly more mainstream one than Nisekoi but also much more low-effort. Otherwise, nothing had changed in Konami's view of producing content for Vita - for better or worse.

    The surprise had already been announced at PlayStation Experience in December of 2014 and it was that the classic PS1 titles Suikoden I II would be re-released on the PlayStation Network and would be compatible with Vita. The games were often regarded as some of the best in the genre due to their sweeping stories, in-depth world-building, and fantastic character development. While the first title had already been available on the North American Store, the second game was also added and both titles were also included on the European PSN store, making them available to anyone who wanted to try them.

    Sadly, this didn't lead to any further support in the franchise. Around the same time, the company was releasing other entries in the series as PS2 classics for PS3 - including III and IV. It would have been nice to have seen these bundled together and released as a collection for Vita (and PS4!) but for the time being the games remain locked to Sony's previous generation home consoles - a bizarre choice considering the Vita's dedicated fanbase and PS4's ever-expanding install-base. The only-in-Japan Genso Suikoden game also stayed on PSP, despite the potential to port it to Vita and release it in the west.

    Other than Suikoden II, its sole release for the year was Pro Baseball Spirits 2015 in Japan. This became the highest-selling entry in the franchise so far on Vita, shifting 46k first week and more than 110k by the end of 2015 - notably more than the 70k it had sold in 2014. Sadly, this would be the last entry in the franchise on dedicated consoles as of the date of the piece, because sales as a whole dropped (Konami was yet to embrace PS4 development), although an iOS/Android entry did land in 2016. Bizarrely, the company elected to skip its Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball franchise in 2015, although this may have been a very smart decision in the end, for reasons I'll explain shortly.

    Of missed opportunities in 2015, the biggest one that stands out to me the most is Yu-Gi-Oh ARC-V Tag Force Special, a PSP-exclusive entry in the long-running card-battling franchise. The series had flourished on Sony's previous handheld and Special seemed to heavily re-use assets and items from those games, but the decision to keep it PSP-only was a bizarre one, especially as there was the potential to sell it in western markets with a Vita release.

    At this point, it was pretty obvious what would (and wouldn't) come to Sony's handheld from Konami going forward, although its lack of output elsewhere suggested that there were company-wide difficulties in producing content.


    2016 - The End of Konami on Vita?

    While 2015 proved to be the year that Konami skipped on releasing a Jikkyou game, 2016 would be the year it skipped on releasing a Pro Baseball Spirits game - a move that would prove permanent. In its place, Konami offered the newest Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball game - 2016 - which would go on to be the most successful entry in the series on the handheld and likely its most successful version ever.

    Selling nearly 200k copies in Japan by the end of the year, it doubled the total reached by the 2014 entry and also out-sold the other versions on PS3 & PS4. This showed that, buoyed by the success of titles like Dragon Quest Builders and Minecraft, casual-friendly games were doing well on the handheld and it was crafting a nice niche among younger gamers. Sadly an overseas release wasn't on the cards, but domestically it seemed like a resounding success.

    Unfortunately, Konami had no other games available for Vita of this kind to help cash in on the Japanese userbase, or any other games for the handheld at all for that matter.


    2017 & 2018 - A Final Experiment

    For the current year, Konami has only worked on one project - the free-to-play Jikkyou Powerful Pro Baseball Championship 2017 that heavily reused assets from the previous year's title. Konami also updated 2016 to include the current year's season, as well as a new 'championship' mode, suggesting it now views Jikkyou as a 'games as service' series going forward.

    In terms of missed opportunities, it new Bomberman title - Super Bomberman R - released as a Switch-exclusive game with the launch of the console in March, but oddly didn't appear anywhere else (although sales figures suggest the title did well enough on just one platform, hitting that launch window gold). The company also announced it had rebooted its Love Plus franchise for mobile, but it would swerve dedicated consoles altogether. The fact that the series had never made its way out of the DS/3DS family is disappointing, especially with the otaku audience that Vita managed to attract during its peak.

    It's difficult to see Konami planning anything for the handheld beyond Jikkyou games at this point (and given the service-driven focus going forward, we might not even get those), which is a shame, especially given the fact that it never committed to the Vita in any proper capacity like similar companies such as Koei-Tecmo or Square-Enix, both of whom still have Vita games planned as of the date of publication.



    Konami used to be one of the giants of the Japanese gaming industry, producing plenty of hit franchises from Bomberman to Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, and Silent Hill. In recent years it's lost its way with a focus on other ventures, and the videogame business has suffered. Vita was among the consoles most hit by this, with a massive contraction of support compared to the PSP days.

    Konami had flourished on PSP - birthing new IP's like Coded Arms and Death Jr., revisiting classic games like Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles and Gradius Collection, as well as making fantastic spin-offs to home console franchises like Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Silent Hill: Origins. In this respect, its transition to Vita has been nothing short of hugely disappointing and its output on the handheld has been mixed at best.

    Still, there are some gems in there - during the first twelve months Konami at least tried and we got a very good conversion of the Metal Gear Solid Collection, in addition its Jikkyou games, which have gone from strength to strength each year. The lack of anything substantial beyond that is a shame, but personally I am thankful that I'm able to play all the best games in the Metal Gear Solid series in a portable format, as well as two brilliant Suikoden titles, making this a somewhat bittersweet conclusion.

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