Released alongside the PS Vita itself, Gravity Rush, it was hoped, would be the console’s “killer app.” But while it didn’t quite prove the unit-seller it was billed as, Gravity Rush still holds up as one of the most charming and innovative games we’ve played in probably the last decade. The game’s story follows Kat, a young amnesiac girl who finds herself in the lovely, cel-shaded city of Hekseville. With the help of a mysterious cat Dusty, she discovers that she has the power to shift her personal gravity field and fall in any direction she wishes.
Gravity Rush’s falling gameplay works best on the Vita because of the responsive gyroscope. Yes, the PS4 port is serviceable, but it’s just much easier to play around with the motion controls on the handheld console when you can see both the screen and what your hands are doing at the same time. Gravity Rush also boasts a really captivating story, along with a final act that truly elevated this game from “pretty good” to “pretty special.”
Persona 4 Golden
Ask any Vita owner what game they should get if they decide to purchase the console and, without even a moment’s hesitation, the answer should always be Persona 4 Golden. The original PS2 release was such a huge hit among JRPG fans because of the well-written and memorable cast of characters, the intriguing murder mystery plot, and the engaging combat and gameplay systems. Persona 4 Golden brings all of that goodness to Sony’s handheld, and adds a significant amount of new content and gameplay tweaks to improve the experience.
From start to finish, P4G’s story is an absolute delight. Aside from the slightly slow prologue, it’s utterly gripping. The fantastic voice work (which was redone for the Vita port, by the way) helps bring the characters to life, and the core loop of dungeon-crawling and spending time with friends is so compelling it’s hard to put the game down. Also, the new opening song and movie for the remaster are dope.
Dragon’s Crown is the perfect loot grind game to take with you on the go. Vanillaware’s Dungeons & Dragons-inspired side-scrolling brawler RPG allows players to choose from one of six classes before embarking on an epic adventure through Hydeland. Combat starts off simply enough, but it gets a lot deeper and more complex as you unlock new abilities and perks in the skill tree. Every dungeon rewards you with sweet, sweet treasure, granting you a chance to score some legendary-tier equipment to buff up your characters even further.
And even after you’ve completed the main story, Dragon’s Crown offers massive replay value with the implementation of B routes, which are secret paths you can unlock in each dungeon to face off against even tougher enemies for even more valuable loot. Every dungeon is just short enough to make Dragon’s Crown one of the best games you can play on the PS Vita. Got 15 minutes to spare? Hop into Hydeland and beat your way through a new dungeon. The beautiful art design certainly helps, too.
Soul Sacrifice Delta
One of the most underrated and overlooked exclusive games on the PS Vita, Soul Sacrifice really deserved better than what it got when it first released. The game is similar to Monster Hunter in that players can go on quests to hunt down large bosses and take down other regular enemies for rewards. There was also online multiplayer, which allowed players to group up with three other people to fight a boss together. This was pretty big for those who wanted a new Monster Hunter game on the Vita.
In addition to that, Soul Sacrifice also introduced the interesting save/sacrifice mechanic. If one of your allies was downed, you could save them to bring them back to the fight at the cost of a portion of your HP. However, if you sacrificed them, you could unleash a powerful attack on your enemies. The abilities and sacrifices in the game paved the way for more focused character builds, so you could play the game however you liked. Soul Sacrifice Delta was an expanded version of the game which added more story content and boss fights.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Alright, so maybe Golden Abyss didn’t exactly have the best story or characters in the Uncharted series. Even so, this Vita-exclusive Uncharted game was kind of a technical marvel when it first released. It was a full length, action-packed adventure starring Nate and Sully, and it was packed with all the shooting and puzzle-solving you could ever want from an Uncharted game. Except this time, you get to bring it with you wherever you go.
The most impressive thing about Golden Abyss was that it actually ran well on the Vita. Sure, it isn’t 60 frames per second, but the framerate was still consistent enough to make gunplay feel smooth and natural with the limited control scheme. Golden Abyss was one of the best shooter games to be released on the Vita, and it was also the first game to truly showcase the console’s potential in allowing players to bring AAA titles with them on the go.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
The Steam storefront is full of them, but there’s no better home for visual novels and other niche Japanese games than the PS Vita. Visual novels are essentially like storybooks with puzzles elements and limited player interaction. With that in mind, the Vita becomes the perfect platform for the genre because it allows for some late night game time in bed, and when you’re commuting. The Zero Escape games just happen to be some of the best visual novels you can play on the Vita right now.
The story is engaging right from the get-go, with protagonist Junpei waking up on a sinking ship and finding out that he and eight other survivors have only nine hours to escape before they all drown. Zero Escape’s wildly ambitious and epic story is told across three separate games, and players will get to solve locked-room puzzles in between the visual novel segments to progress the plot. While you can experience the story on PC as well, the gamepad controls on the Vita are much better suited for this type of game, and nothing beats the portability factor.
Persona 4 Dancing All Night
After Persona 4 Golden caused the resurgence in Persona madness among fans, Atlus provided closure to the cast’s adventure with one final game: Persona 4 Dancing All Night. It’s a rhythm game that features remixes of the best songs and music tracks from the game, and the visual presentation is simply stunning. Characters will dance like pros onscreen, and players will have to hit buttons on the Vita as the cues appear.
It’s not just a simple fanservice rhythm game, though. P4DAN actually features a pretty lengthy story mode about the Inaba investigation team helping out Rise with a show she’s putting on. Players also finally get to meet Kanami Mashita, who was only mentioned briefly during one of Rise’s social link events in Persona 4. Kanami herself ends up being a fun character to interact with, and the story wraps up nicely with a lovely conclusion that serves as a heartwarming goodbye to our favorite high schoolers.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
The Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD collection was one of the first remastered packages to be released five years ago, back when the trend of remastering and re-releasing old games was just starting to gain traction. These games were also among the first to make their way to the PS Vita, which made it so much more impactful to hear To Zanarkand playing while watching Yuna and her guardians sit solemnly around the campfire on the small screen.
Final Fantasy X still holds up really well to this day, and it’s widely regarded as one of the best entries in Square Enix’s esteemed JRPG series. It also happens to be a wonderful fit for Sony’s handheld console. Featuring cross-save functionality with the PS3 version of the game, players could transfer their save files between consoles and continue the adventure even when they weren’t at home. The slower-paced battle system also suits the Vita well, and it’s just nice to be able to take a hundred hour RPG with you wherever you go. The PS Vita was the best platform for lengthy RPGs like this one, and Final Fantasy X was a must-have.
Hotline Miami 1 and 2
Everything about Hotline Miami’s 2D aesthetic is just gorgeous. The colors are vibrant and they pop with life, and even the music is unforgettable. But the thing with indie games and the 2D graphical style is that they just don’t look quite as good on the big screen; the Vita’s smaller OLED screen makes it look far more appealing, and the controls are simple enough that the smaller controls don’t affect gameplay all that much.
Aside from being the RPG machine, the Vita was also home to countless indies, Hotline Miami included. The game’s small file size and mission structure made it a good fit for the handheld, and playing it on the go and in your bed is still by far the best way to experience this visceral title. Hotline Miami (and its sequel) makes use of a neon color palette, and it looks extra stunning on the lovely OLED display.
Developed by Media Molecule, Tearaway is a third-person platformer game that made use of Vita’s unique features like no other. The game’s theme and aesthetics center around papercraft, and the way players can interact with objects and beings in the game feel fresh and innovative. One moment, you might be tracing cutouts with the touchscreen, and in the next, you’d be pushing up objects from the ground by using the rear touchpad – a feature that was sorely underutilized in many Vita games. Tearaway was also one of the few games that actually made use of Vita’s camera.
Tearaway was one of the very few games that truly explored the potential of the hardware, opening up possibilities for other developers to implement new and creative mechanics that could only be experienced on the handheld. Unfortunately, the those features ended up ignored and overlooked for most of Vita’s lifespan.