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The Future of Vita Gaming Begins Now…

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Dragon’s Crown, is this the future of PSVita gaming?

I was sceptical about the PSVita when it launched; I feared it would suffer the same fate as the PSP, a console I had never bought because I had seen many others grow tired of the limited game selection, constant model changes and expensive memory cards. When I came to buy a Vita my decision was based on two factors: great exclusive games and Playstation Plus. Now I could write volumes on the importance of Sony’s Playstation Plus as the leading model for a paid online subscription, but that will have to wait for another article. What I wish to focus on this time is the importance of games that are built for an ecosystem and the amazing things that can be accomplished when developers understand who and what they are designing for.

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Did I mention it has Dragons, Dragons you and three friends can take on together.

This article began as a review for Dragon’s Crown on the PS3 and PSVita but as someone who got Dragon’s Crown months after it was released and extensively reviewed, I found the prospect of a review a little trite. So I began to think about what Dragon’s Crown means for the PSVita, a system that many view as troubled and pointless in comparison to the 3DS.

I must begin by saying that I think this game is fantastic. It is an essential title for anyone with a PSVita, and whilst it is not as essential on PS3 its low price and massive replayability makes it an attractive option for weathering the pre-E3 game drought.

So what makes this game so essential for PSVita owners? The answer lies in one simple premise: this game delivers on all of the promises people thought the Vita couldn’t keep. Dragon’s Crown is in my opinion one of the first games to offer a console quality experience that performs identically to its PS3 counterpart whilst also allowing for players to swap between the PS3 and Vita and keep their data. The game offers cross-play just as Sony presented it and because both versions are definitive there is no sense of compromise, no sense that one version is inferior to the other, something that I believe has been Sony’s vision for a long time, especially in light of the focus on remote play between the Vita and PS4.

Dragon’s Crown finally addresses Sony’s continued problem with not being able to fulfil its own vision. This has always been an issue with Sony’s handhelds especially the PSP a device that was meant to be an all-in-one media solution that would play console quality games but that was hamstrung by a media format that never caught on and a severe game drought. The Vita is facing these same challenges especially when compared to the handheld goliath that is the 3DS, thus it is only through delivering great games that fulfil Sony’s vision for the Vita that it can hope to be successful.

Sony's promises like this Octopus' tentacles have sometimes been more treacherous than helpful.

Sony’s promises like this Octopus’ tentacles have sometimes been more treacherous than helpful.

The Harm of Unchecked Technological Advancement:

Sony has always made powerful and trendsetting hardware, however it has often failed to rally support like Nintendo; this is especially the case when it comes to the handheld market. Sony has always sought to present a high quality handheld that offered an experience similar to its more expensive home consoles. Nintendo has always produced handhelds that avoided the graphics arms race and focussed on giving players a great experience. Sony’s devotion to technology has been its greatest undoing, eventually everyone follows Sony’s lead (CD, DVD, Blu-ray, free games to paid subscribers), but Sony hardly ever gets the praise it deserves for innovation.

Dragon’s Crown addresses this obsession with innovation by understanding the interaction between the Vita’s powerful technology and the player’s actual use of the system, and offers something that is compelling and can gain ground in the hotly-contested mobile gaming market.

When every smartphone has access to thousands of free games what is there than can sway people towards buying a handheld? The answer lies in exclusive franchises, nostalgia and experience.

Nintendo has always dominated this market with its well-known and zealously guarded characters that have consistently provided enjoyable experiences. Sony has no shortage of well-known franchises, it has no shortage of talented developers but what it does have is a shortage of stories that can be told in short doses. This is probably why I enjoy Sony’s games so much; putting aside the AAA games on every console and focussing on Sony exclusives we see stories that are thoughtful and detailed with an immense amount of character development and a great sense of pacing. They provide an experience akin to film with a level of interactivity that allows for an immense sense of ownership to pervade our experiences of these worlds. This is difficult to achieve on a handheld system not because of the technology but because of time, if we consider the Vita on an average public transport commute then we must realise that the almost hour long ending cinematic in MGS4 would not be received well or enjoyed on a small screen with headphones punctuated with moving between train carriages or vacating a seat for the elderly.

A strong visual style helps sell Dragon's Crown's story...

A strong visual style helps sell Dragon’s Crown’s story…

Dragon’s Crown acknowledges the time constraints of handheld gaming in the same way that a Mario games does, the story telling is succinct and to the point, the game play allows you to jump in and jump out with ease and the overall experience is fun regardless of whether you have 5 minutes or 5 hours to play. Now this assertion does not presuppose that there is no place for a story as compelling as that found in The Last of Us on a handheld system. But it does strongly suggest that developers need to better understand how to tell stories that are as compelling during a 15 minute session as they are during a 2 hour session. This extends to gameplay as well, the success of handhelds comes from the ability to jump in and jump out, so give us more checkpoints, give us an abundance of shorter dungeons and multiple character classes, give us a reason to come back again and again rather than a fear that your game will lock us into long stretches between checkpoints or levels that never seem to end. These characteristics aren’t unique to handheld games, a game that auto saves every time you enter a new area so that you can jump out and jump back in a day later is the kind of game I relish. I see no point in having to replay long sections of a level because my other commitments got in the way of playing video games.

In conclusion games like Dragon’s Crown make me excited to see what the future holds for the PSVita. However there seems two paths that fork from this initial success and I must ponder whether developers will continue to champion Sony’s vision for handheld gaming, or lose interest if sales figures aren’t as high as they hoped.

The promised land of Vita gaming, beautiful world, an interesting story and a gameplay you want to keep coming back to.

The promised land of Vita gaming, beautiful world, an interesting story and a gameplay you want to keep coming back to.

TL;DR

Gaming on the PSVita is on the up and up because developers are starting to work towards fulfilling  the promises Sony has made for the handheld and we the players are benefiting, so go and buy Dragon’s Crown you won’t regret it!

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