Although the PSP is selling wonderfully in many other parts of the world, it has struggled in the US market since its release. It would be hard to call it a failure with the many millions of systems sold stateside, but it definitely has struggled to find an identity in this country. The UMD video discs were a complete disaster for Sony, and the third-party market hasn’t embraced the system as much as it has its rival. With the PSP-Go on the horizon as a download-only system, what will happen to games released on UMD? Sony has announced that its entire back catalog of games will be available to download on the first day of the Go’s release, but it is unclear what third-party games will be ready then. It seems like Sony is setting up an unnecessary fight with itself for the soul of the PSP.
There are, however, enough people I know that have bought the system purely for the ease of playing emulators on it. A portable NES, SNES, and Genesis may be enough for you to buy it; it was for me. Still, emulators are on everything that has a processor these days. I can only play through Earthbound so many times (and it IS a lot of times) before I want to play something original on the machine I’ve bought. The PSP does have enough original games still to think about a purchase.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII – Square Enix
Yeah, this one may have been a cash-in aimed at those people who would happily purchase a big box of Final Fantasy flakes, but it manages to hold its own as a deep action-oriented return to the world so many of us have fond memories of. I’ll admit it, I’ve never fully beat the original Final Fantasy VII…. what are you looking at? That game was, like, eight discs long! Crisis Core picks up before the events of the original game. The graphics have that non-anti aliased polygon feel of the original Final Fantasy VII that should have your fanboy organs dripping with fluids.
You visit many of the same places from the original game, though this time the entire environment seems to be fully rendered in realtime. The sequel, while feeling similar to the original, has the battles take place in an Action RPG style. The fighting system feels similar to a Kingdom Hearts series, with the exception of a new system which changes how summoning and limit breaks happen. I was frustrated with the randomness of the system at first; its pretty much a slot machine that determines if your battles will go smoothly or not. I eventually grew to appreciate it, though, for what it was. The sound is very usual Square Soft – big and wonderful.
Strangely enough, virtual e-mails are used within the game to communicate between characters. I dunno, something to me just seems weird about that. I want materia that can magically heal my wounds, not Dell laptops. If you are getting a PSP, though, check this one out… and get the hell away from me with that badly-made cardboard Cloud sword.
Jeanne d’Arc – Level 5
This is one of the best portable RPG’s I’ve ever played. It’s the tale of Joan of Arc and her very fictionalized adventures roaming the countryside with her pals. What, you don’t remember hearing about Joan of Arc’s magical arm band infused with mystical gems? That’s the damn liberal education system failing you, once again.
An important lesson I can teach you about this game: Saving France is a bitch! This game felt like it was one of the longest RPG’s I’ve ever played. I could publish a damn Rick Steves-style travel guide for this fictionalized world. Graphically, it does the job and seems to re-create a lively world on the portable system. There are many animated cutscenes, so be ready to play with a full battery because it seems that disc is always being accessed. The voice acting is not only top-notch, there seems to be hours of it. The problem with some portable games is the over-compression of voice acting to save space. Luckily, the characters sound crystal clear here.
The battle system is very steeped in a traditional strategy RPG; placement of your characters matter. Most battles require you to kill all of the characters on the screen before you can continue, though there are a decent amount of special requirements in certain battles, as well. The fight system has a rock-paper-scissors style attack system that I found quite enjoyable. Battles can span the lengths of two meals, which can definitely piss you off if you end up losing after a near hour-long fight. Still, the story itself I found to be one of the most engaging in an RPG I’ve played in a long time. If you dig the idea of long strategic battles and historical fiction, this RPG is for you.
If you ask me, neither the PSP Go or the Nintendo DSi make sense to purchase just yet over their older model counterparts. The DSi is missing the Gameboy cartridge slot, and the PSP-Go is missing, well, nearly everything. In place of backwards compatibility and access to any sort of media drive, these companies are branching out into an Apple store-like system. I would argue that there will never be a reason in the next decade to rely solely on downloadable content for a handheld. Game developers risk alienating the install base by requiring games to a be bought through a an online store. Therefore, what are you most likely going to get over these stores? Crap. They most likely will have older titles and mediocre incomplete games. Right now Nintendo’s DS store really has nothing to offer you. I just can’t imagine younger gamers really preferring a birthday present of a phantom download credit: there is always something to be said about being able to hold a cartridge in your hands. Stick with something parents can wrap for presents, game developers.
With the uncertainty of the PSP market, and the bulk of portable games being released for the DS, I’d probably recommend looking more at the dual-screened system right now. With a new Kingdom Hearts, Zelda, and Mario RPG being released for the system soon, there’s a lot to look forward to on that horizon. Still, the PSP has a lot of potential. The web browser is fairly functional, and the ability to play movies from the handheld is quite nice. At one time, it had, or perhaps still has the capability to produce some games that the competition couldn’t handle.
Personally, I think Sony is making a big mistake removing the UMD drive from the PSP. They might as well have updated the hardware, and released this as a PSP 2 of sorts. At least then people wouldn’t be confused to which PSP front to attack; download or UMD? The DSi, though missing the backwards compatibility of the DS Lite, is very much still containing the same elements of the rest of the DS line. You can still walk into your favorite game store and pick up a game that will work across all the generations of the system. Seems pretty logical to me. Still, both handhelds have amazing game experiences that those of you in the dark ages of handhelds should catch up on. Seriously, put the phone away.
Do you feel a DS or PSP game is system-purchase worthy and is not mentioned here? Disagree or agree with any points made here? We’d love to here from you…. well, I’d just mostly love to hear how awesome you thought the article was.