Video game history is mainly defined by generations. Each console released by a developer represents one period of time, and the arrival of its successor signals the dawning of a new age. The games change, the systems improve, the graphics get much better, and everyone (hopefully) has a good time. Of course, the change doesn’t happen immediately. It sometimes takes people about a year or so before they officially move on. Some individuals even take this time to stop buying new games all together. They’re more than happy to remain exactly where they are with what they have. Eventually, anyone who wants to move forward will have to buy the new systems because developers and publishers always abandon the old for the new in time.
However, there are exceptions, and we saw one of those this week. Despite being off the market for over five years now, Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) is getting a brand new game called Brandish: The Dark Revenant, published by XSEED Games. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why XSEED chose to put their game here, but since I can’t find any, I’m offering up that the PSP is still a very popular handheld. Its successor, the PlayStation Vita has had trouble catching on outside Japan and many people still play their PSP’s on a regular basis. It’s tough to blame them too. The PSP was a great system with a solid library of top notch games, making it Sony’s best outing on the portable gaming market.
When it was announced back in 2003 that Sony was developing a handheld system, consumers weren’t surprised at all. They were actually pretty excited. Nintendo had dominated the handheld market since the Game Boy and people were ready to see what new competition was going to be like. This honestly was the first time Nintendo was going to have any competition since Sega’s Game Gear discontinued in 1997. Sony’s immense success with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 was cause for comfort too. Hell, the PS2 is still the highest selling console in history, so “immense success” is putting it mildly. Clearly, if any company could give Nintendo a run for their money, Sony proved it was them two times in a row. A brand new handheld war was set up as something to behold, and it began in December 2004.
The PSP was quite a system too. Taking cues from Sony’s desire to turn their systems into mass media devices, their first handheld was a veritable media powerhouse. Not only could you play graphically beautiful games, you could also listen to music, watch movies and television shows, and browse the internet. The system had a lot to offer and the extra sized viewing screen made it very easy to enjoy. When compared to the Nintendo DS, the PSP was easily technologically superior. With one you could watch movies on a long trip like Spider-Man 2 (which was bundled upon purchase) and then play some games or take a nap listening to your favorite music. All in one sleek looking device! The other had two screens and let you send drawings to your friends.
Despite having a fairly weak library at the start, the PSP quickly amassed quite a collection of over 800 games for the avid PlayStation fan. You had critically praised games like Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, God of War: Chains of Olympus, and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. There even was the hotly debated but still very fun Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, the prequel to the PlayStation mega-hit, and this crazy Final Fantasy brawler called Dissidia: Final Fantasy. The PSP became extremely popular within the modding community as well with plenty of people altering their systems to play any games they wanted. It’s pretty surreal watching someone play Super Mario Bros. on their Sony handheld but savvy hackers did that and more.
Interestingly enough, history would show the Nintendo DS outselling the PSP by almost double their numbers. How could Sony’s mini mass-media device get taken out so soundly? For starters, the DS hit North American and Japanese shores earlier and within one month of each other, so that had the two biggest markets already sized up. It took the PSP a full three months to come outside of Japan so it started out at a loss from the start. Then you have the aforementioned weak lineup of launch games that seriously did not get anyone excited. People bought the PSP because of all the buzz around it and then quickly found it gathering dust. This is in stark contrast to the DS which basically had exciting games from the very beginning. As time went on and the two systems evolved, the DS became a much more powerful and enjoyable system that more people preferred to own. The PSP started on this path too by becoming slimmer, but then PSP Go came out and disappointed plenty of people. In the end, the PSP was still very much a success, but it failed to take down Nintendo’s still continuing handheld dominance.
When it comes to home consoles, I’m very much a Sony guy. For the longest time the only seventh-generation home system I had was the PlayStation 3. That was all I needed. It’s very different with handhelds. I’m all about Nintendo there. I bought my PSP off my Uncle and used it for quite a while, but I still found myself playing my DS far more often. That library quickly grew larger while my PSP games stayed relatively stagnant. It also doesn’t help that my PSP is currently stuck with the same custom firmware and cannot play any new games past a certain date. Yet even though I missed some great games because of that, the fact that I never made it a priority to get my system professionally fixed is telling.
Honestly, the PSP is dead. Sony replaced it with the Vita and that has actually done worse. The general public just hasn’t been super receptive to it despite the critical praise. What this means is that the PSP, despite being completely discontinued, is still Sony’s highest selling handheld console. Of course that’s out of two but the point still stands. Brandish: The Dark Revenant will obviously not bring this console back to life. If anything it’ll just tempt a few people to dig it out and play again for the first time in a while. Yet the fact that a new game is coming at all is still pretty cool. It just goes to show that, no matter how many years go by, a console is still worth something regardless of what everyone else says.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.