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  • A Look Back at Marvelous/XSEED’s Support for the PlayStation Vita

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    December 23rd, 2017GamespotUncategorized

    This is the 11th 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.

    Marvelous (previously Marvelous AQL) is exactly the kind of company that has flourished on Vita - a mid-tier Japanese publisher with a variety of IPs, the majority of which fit right in with the handheld's lineup. Similarly, its North American localization arm, XSEED Games, has seen some success stories in bringing games from both partners (such as Nihon Falcom), as well as the parent company, to the west, but sadly this output seems to have dried up sooner than expected.

     

    Launch & 2012 - An XSEED-Dominated Start

    Interestingly, Marvelous AQL - as the company was known as for the first few years of Vita's life - was formed just a few months before the console launched. By merging the companies Marvelous Entertainment (famous for its Harvest Moon and Luminous Arc IPs) and AQ Interactive (a publisher known for things like the Arcana Heart series), a new mid-tier publisher was born. Despite its relative infancy, the new company got off to a running start with its 3DS support, but on Vita things were much slower.

    The sole game the company published in Japan during the first year of the Vita's life was a port of the PC browser game Sangokushi Next. It launched with the console in December 2011 as a free-to-play title, making it one of the first available on handheld - but the game stayed Japan-only (along with a number of games from Vita's launch).

    Instead of publishing its own games, however, Marvelous was developing multiple titles for Vita as a work-for-hire developer for other publishers. For example, its initial project in 2012 was a port of the previously-Wii-exclusive strategy-role-playing game Little King's Story for Konami, which released in March in Japan and September of that same year in the west. It was a shaky start thanks to the questionable performance of the port, which suffered from major slowdown in some of the later parts of the game, but thankfully its second project turned out much better - Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz for SEGA. It was a return to form for the franchise in my opinion, aside from an over-reliance on the handheld's unique input methods.

    While Marvelous AQL was having a quiet year domestically, XSEED was much busier. It kicked off the first year of the Vita's life in the west in March with the localization of Sumioni: Demon Arts, which continued a long-running trend of partnerships with the Japanese developer Acquire. The release took advantage of the console's robust online capabilities, being a download-only title; a trend the publisher continued with the October release of Orgarhythm (also from Acquire), helping to provide some great digital-only content for the handheld.

    The company's sole retail release for the year was the Vita's very first western hunting game - Ragnarok Odyssey from developer Game Arts, famed for its Grandia series. Despite a somewhat muted critical reception, the fact the title was cashing in on a relatively small market (it being one of the few Japanese games available on the console in its first year) meant it did relatively well for the company - XSEED VP Ken Berry noted in an interview that pre-orders were strong.

    Still, as with many of the publishers I've looked at, the first year on Vita was defined not only by what was released, but by what wasn't. Chief among the missing franchises was Marvelous' bread and butter - the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series. The popular farming sims had received three entries on Sony's predecessor handheld the PlayStation Portable, although it had always flourished more on Nintendo's rival handheld the DS, so it was unsurprising to see it shift over to the 3DS with A New Beginning. Still, considering the tech the titles ran on it was disappointing not to see a single game in the series come to Vita throughout its life (perhaps Stardew Valley will be able to plug that gap in 2018).

    In a similar vein, the company's popular Rune Factory series - originally spun-off from Harvest Moon on the PSP as Innocent Life - had gone from strength to strength on DS and received an exclusive entry in 2012 on the 3DS. Again, this was a series that could've done very well on the Vita and wouldn't have been much of a tech leap (although it still sold well on the 3DS).

    Overall, 2012 was a good start for both Marvelous and XSEED on Vita, but it wouldn't be until the coming years that both companies would really begin to come into their own on the console.

     

    2013 - The Start of Something Great

    Surprisingly, Marvelous had an absolutely stonking year on Vita in 2013, releasing classic game after classic game. And while XSEED were quieter, it still contributed a lot to the console too.

    Marvelous kicked off the year - in both Japan and the west - with another work-for-hire project, this time on Sony's own dark fantasy epic Soul Sacrifice. Working with Keiji Inafune to realise his vision of a hunting game with moral choices and a sweeping story, the title was well-received and went on to be a major sales success domestically, shifting over 225k copies. Western sales are unknown, but the game did well enough as a whole to spawn an expanded re-release the following year.

    In fact, the whole of the first half of 2013 was littered with Marvelous games. The company also had Tamsoft work on the latest entry in its lewd brawler franchise - Senran Kagura - which hit Vita in March as Shinovi Versus and reached series high sales of 170k in Japan, a big step up over the 3DS entries (showing the potential for Vita as a place for certain types of software). Similarly, another franchise achieved series high sales figure in Japan on Vita - Valhalla Knights 3, the grindy JRPG and sequel to multiple PSP and Wii games shifted more than 65k copies, which made it a big success for the publisher.

    The rest of the year was capped off by a re-release of the classic 2D action-adventure title Muramasa, which had originally released on the Wii in 2009. Developed by Vanillaware - which would go on to have a love affair with the Vita that included multiple new titles including Dragon's Crown and Odin Sphere - the game was bizarrely localized by Aksys Games rather than Marvelous' subsidiary XSEED Games, which was presumably busy with other projects at the time. The title was a major success, selling more than 100k within a month in Japan.

    Speaking of XSEED, the company had a number of projects of its own that were handled during 2013. Chief among these was the localization of Valhalla Knights 3, which saw a western release in October, but even more importantly Nihon Falcom's critically beloved Ys: Memories of Celceta saw an overseas release in November. As previously mentioned, this would continue a long-running partnership between XSEED and Falcom that would lead to two more games as part of this agreement - and it was clearly working for them, as one of XSEED's staff members noted on the publisher's forums that its Vita games were selling quite well.

    Rather interestingly, XSEED was also still releasing PSP games during this time - all of which were made compatible with Vita in the west, which was a nice touch that helped enhance the console's library. The primary release during the year was Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, a sequel to the Japanese horror franchise that had built a niche but dedicated following in the west. XSEED also decided to localize Unchained Blades from developer FuRyu, but this title didn't seem to sell particularly well.

    As with 2012, there were a few titles released during 2013 that I was surprised to see swerve Vita from Marvelous itself. Leading this list was Fate/Extra CCC, the expanded sequel to a PSP spin-off in the popular Fate franchise. Why this only came to PSP I have no idea, but it cemented the game's fate as a Japan-only title. The popular otome game English Detective Mysteria also appeared as a PSP-only release, but this was rectified years later by the original developers who made a Vita-native port of the game (this has yet to appear in the west but a 2018 XSEED teaser suggests that it might).

    As such, 2013 was probably the best year Marvelous ever had on Vita, and it was a solid year for XSEED too, although it would improve its output in the coming years to better serve the ever growing western fanbase of Japanese games.

     

    2014 - XSEED's Year

    Compared to 2013, in 2014 Marvelous' output was way down, but XSEED's was way up - an interesting turn of events, and one that certainly benefited western gamers.

    Marvelous was still handling projects as a work-for-hire developer. Based on the success of 2013's Soul Sacrifice, an expanded re-release was commissioned and was ready in early 2014 as Delta. Critical reception was much stronger for the new version thanks to some much needed gameplay tweaks, but sales saw a downturn with it clearing just 115k in Japan. Western sales are unknown, but the title was released as a digital-only game, which doesn't inspire confidence.

    Domestically, the publisher had a few projects to show of its own. The first of these was a bizarre rhythm spin-off to its popular Senran Kagura franchise in the form of Bon Appetit! (which was localized by XSEED within the year). Marvelous also created its own expanded re-release of 2013's Valhalla Knights 3, subtitled Gold. Sadly, this one stayed Japan-only despite the large range of gameplay improvements made. The publisher also seemed to learn from its mistakes with English Detective Mysteria as its next otome project - Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul - saw a release across both PSP & Vita in Japan.

    It was XSEED's work overseas that really defined 2014 on Vita though. Its first pick-up for the year was once again an expanded re-release - this time to 2012's Ragnarok OdysseyAce made a number of gameplay improvements and also added a PS3 version, although given that the franchise went dormant after this entry it seems unlikely the title sold particularly well.

    XSEED also continued its partnership with Acquire and brought Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed to the west, the latest entry in the popular open-world brawler franchise that had begun on the PSP. Despite the potentially questionable content (stripping vampires in Japan to expose them to the sun), XSEED committed to the project, providing a full dub (and dual audio), and it seemed to be a successful release for the studio, judging by the fact that the company grabbed the spin-off Akiba's Beat in 2017 too.

    If localizing Akiba's Trip was a gamble due to content involved, then XSEED went one further later in the year when its localized Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus in October. Featuring teenage ninjas fighting and ripping each others' clothes, the franchise caused a minor media storm when it debuted in the west, but thankfully solid gameplay led to reviewers (myself included!) being impressed with the series, ensuring its continued future as one of the staples of both Marvelous and XSEED's lineups.

    Of course I'm going to briefly talk about skipped games during this year too - another entry in the Harvest Moon franchise (this time entitled Story of Seasons in the west) managed to swerve Vita entirely, while a new game from the staff members behind Rune Factory was released 3DS-only as Lord of Magna. Still, it was clear both companies were well on board with Vita at this point - something that they would demonstrate throughout 2015, much to the enjoyment of many fans.

     

    2015 - An Outstanding Year

    Both domestically and overseas, Marvelous and XSEED were on top form with their Vita releases in 2015. A variety of games were released in a number of genres, nearly all of which were fantastic to play.

    Marvelous started 2015 with a sequel to the hugely popular Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, entitled Estival Versus. This time around, a PS4 version was added in addition to a Vita release, and this was reflected in both performance and sales. The Vita port featured fewer players online, fewer enemies on screen, and a much less stable framerate, likely as a result of the game being a down-port rather than being developed for the hardware natively. And this was reflected in sales, with Estival Versus only selling 70k in Japan on Vita, which was a big drop from Shinovi Versus, while the PS4 port only made up a portion of the lost numbers.

    Still, the publisher continued to support Vita throughout the year with a number of other titles. July saw the release of the vocaloid rhythm game IA/VT Colourful, which cleared 60k in domestic sales and remained popular among importers. Then August saw the revival of the strategy-RPG franchise Luminous Arc, with a new entry developed by Felistella entitled Infinity. Sadly the latter fared less well than IA/VT, clearing just 30k copies domestically, although it managed to do better than the November-released visual novel Net High, which sold just 8k copies in Japan. The year was capped off with Valkyrie Drive, a Senran Kagura-inspired brawler which sold around 70k domestically (but was only brought overseas by the kind efforts of PQube).

    Bizarrely, despite the potential quality of all of these titles and the ever-growing eagerness of the western Vita fanbase to play Japanese-developed games, XSEED has opted not to localize any of these games as of the date of this article. Instead XSEED has made a marked shift towards PC releases and a Steam-sales focus, which has come at the expense of localizations.

    In spite of this, the publisher managed to be one of a handful still releasing PSP games in the west in 2015, with the long awaited Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC finally launching in October. The game had originally been announced in 2010 but numerous delays hit the project, with it eventually surfacing in 2015 with a PC port in tow. Sadly, fans of the franchise on handhelds weren't able to play the final entry due to XSEED skipping the PSP version, but the company did at least treat fans to Brandish: The Last Revenant during 2015 - both games of course being compatible with Vita.

    XSEED also had Vita games planned during 2015. Its flagship title was the latest entry in the Legend of Heroes franchise, subtitled Trails of Cold Steel, which dropped in December. The game and its sequel surpassed 1m in worldwide sales, with the Vita release likely contributing a quarter of a million according to VGChartz. Earlier in the month XSEED also localized Earth Defence Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space, but sadly this was overshadowed by a PS4 counterpart in a rather strange marketing move from the company.

    XSEED also managed to grab Corpse Party: Blood Drive from publisher 5pb, which completed the trilogy on Vita (including two PSP games) - a nice touch, although the game itself was slated for performance issues and bizarre storytelling.

    Sadly, 2015 would be the last year of serious support from both Marvelous and XSEED, as both companies were quick to move on from Vita once its sales started dwindling. This was especially surprising from XSEED, which had supported PSP to the bitter end, although there were still a few surprises to come.

     

    2016 - Downturn in Output

    2016 was undoubtedly a sign of things to come from both companies, as an increasing PC focus took resources away from other platforms.

    In Japan, Marvelous had just two releases for the whole year on Vita, one of which was originally supposed to land in 2015. That game was Uppers, which due to some disastrous marketing (delayed because of low pre-orders?) failed to make any splash in domestic sales, clearing just 12k by the end of the year (fortunately, the game seemed to be popular with importers).

    The other game was markedly more successful - Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star (which somewhat made up for the lack of Fate/Extra CCC earlier in the Vita's life), which sold more than 115k in Japan and was brought westward by XSEED in early 2017. As of the date of writing, Fate/Extella is the last game Marvelous has released for Vita, although there is a small chance Fate/Extella Link may come to the handheld in 2018.

    Overseas, XSEED was having a slightly better year. It brought expected localizations such as Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, as well as Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II throughout the year, both of which provided plenty of content to keep fans of the console busy and received full retail releases (this was becoming somewhat of a rarity for Vita). The year would be more marked by the company's continued expansion into the PC market, however, as games such as Corpse Party, Little King's Story, and Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus all made the jump to Steam throughout 2016.

    However, the company did have a couple of tricks up its sleeves which fans may have not been expecting, thanks to an expansion into the indie game publishing market. The studio's first funded title - Exile's End - released on Vita in October alongside Wii U and PS4 versions, and XSEED also handled a physical release of Shantae: Half Genie Hero from developer Wayforward. It was an interesting change of pace for the team and while the success of these projects remains unknown, it suggested that the Vita could still be a part of the company's plans going forward.

    Overall, 2015 wasn't a bad year, but it was a bittersweet one considering the projects passed over by XSEED, ranging from Luminous Arc to Uppers. Sadly it was a precursor of things to come, as both Marvelous and XSEED had little to show during 2017 and nothing planned beyond that.

     

    2017 & 2018 - (Not) to be Continued

    Sadly, 2017 looks to be the last year for XSEED on Vita, despite the fact that it was there for PSP until 2015, and it will be a sad loss for Vita given that the company has released so much quality content over the years.

    In 2017 Fate/Extella received a western release in January, and this was followed by Akiba's Beat (the latest otaku-focused JRPG from Acquire) in May. Neither Marvelous nor XSEED have anything else planned, however; Marvelous is going full steam ahead with Switch and plans to shift the No More Heroes, Senran Kagura, and Story of Seasons franchises over, while XSEED is continuing its PC assault with nearly all of Falcom's back-catalog getting the port treatment.

    In and of itself, 2017 wouldn't be a bad year for a publisher on Vita at this late stage in its life, but considering XSEED's history with releasing games late into a console's lifecycle (it was also releasing games on Wii in 2013), combined with a number of skipped titles from parent company Marvelous, it made for a rather bittersweet lineup and was far removed from the company's glory days of coming up with surprise localization announcements every year.

    There is a small glimmer of hope for more - a 2018 teaser card seemed to contain an image of English Detective Mysteria, the aforementioned otome game which was mildly popular in Japan. The reason I say a 'small glimmer' of hope is due to the fact that XSEED now only seems to care about Steam and I feel there's every chance it may well simply be porting the game to Steam (and translating it!) while skipping the Vita altogether, but we'll have to wait and see.

     

    Conclusion

    As I've been examining both Marvelous and XSEED's output for this article, it's occurred to me how different to the norm both publishers have been. The majority of Japanese companies I've examined in these articles start off slow and ramp up their Vita output over the years, leading to some massive surprises like Square Enix's 2016 or Nippon Ichi's 2017. Bizarrely, it's the reverse here, with both companies peaking around 2013 and slowing down after that.

    Marvelous has undoubtedly done well from Vita, having some decent hits on the console like Muramasa Rebirth and Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, but it's also seemed to suffer from poorly marketed games domestically like Luminous Arc Infinity or Net High, which led to some disappointing sales results. Still, as a whole the company has released a variety of fun titles that have definitely enhanced the Vita's library. And while I continue to be somewhat deflated by XSEED's decision to drop Vita and pass up on some brilliant games, I equally can't fault it for what it has released. Bringing things like Earth Defence Force 2 or Orgarhythm west were major gambles which I appreciated, and XSEED has also provided literally hundreds of hours of brilliant JRPGs with localizations of Falcom's Trails and Ys games, which I'm incredibly thankful for.

    I can't help but lament what could have been, with brilliant-looking titles such as IA/VT and Uppers being passed over due to an increased PC focus, but overall both XSEED and Marvelous contributed in an incredibly positive way to the Vita's library with some brilliant titles.

    Full Article - http://www.vgchartz.com/article/270905/a-look-back-at-marvelousxseeds-support-for-the-playstation-vita/