Joystick: Handhelds remain a J-game bastion

Published 10:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2012

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. Screenshot courtesy of Square Enix.

I’ve been thinking a lot about handheld systems of late. I’m not sure if it’s the nostalgia of playing “Super Mario Land” on a blocky GameBoy, or if it’s the wave of great mobile games on Android and iOS, but there’s no denying the handheld, mobile gaming genre is fast rising in prominence.

I guess that’s why I’ve been so attached to my PSP lately. I hadn’t touched the thing in more than a year, but I brought it along to UNITY 2012, a journalism convention about diversity in the news, which took place earlier this month.

It was some time around my layover in Dallas that I rediscovered how much I loved Sony’s answer to the Nintendo DS.

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There were so many good games on the PSP. Games like “God of War: Chains of Olympus” and “Little Big Planet” were the clear draws to buy the system several years ago, not to mention console ports like “Tekken 6” and “Madden.”

Yet I was interested in what’s arguably the PSP’s greatest strength: All the RPGs I could handle and more. Especially during the later years of its cycle, the PSP was home to unique Japanese RPGs and creative ports of previous hits.

With the PSP in arguably its final phase — Sony’s handheld focus is mainly on the Playstation Vita, and there are few games scheduled for release throughout the rest of this year — JRPGs and other Japanese games have taken control of the system, breathing life into PSP for a little while longer. Let’s look back at some of the best JRPGs and Jgames to hit the small screen:

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7

An amazing action RPG that retconned more than a few details of the vaunted title’s backstory, Crisis Core was a solid game that offered hours of gameplay through its exhaustive [if repetitive] sidequests.

Jeanne d’Arc

A fantasy re-telling of the Joan of Arc legend, “Jeanne d’Arc” was a delightful, yet quick, RPG that was more for beginning RPG gamers due to its simplistic battle system but engaging story.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

One of the first big reasons for an RPG fan to own a PSP, this updated rerelease of 1997’s “Final Fantasy Tactics” felt fresh and looked gorgeous due to extra storyline and fresh cinematics.

Half-Minute Hero

This wildly successful look at what makes an RPG fun made gamers stress out over its various modes which combined gaming genres into a fantastic world with the same goal: Get everything done within 30 seconds.


As time passed, North American gamers found more J-gems in the PSP bin. Games like “Shin Megami Tensei: Persona” and its sequels found their way to the PSP, as did many of the early Final Fantasy titles — “Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection” included the recent “Final Fantasy IV: The After Years” from the Nintendo Wii.

This summer, JRPG fanatics got great games like “Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time” and “Gungnir” to explore.

“Gungnir is an interesting strategy RPG which takes elements of “Tactics Ogre” and “Final Fantasy Tactics” while adding in a few time elements and a lot of European references.

Though it was released in June, it’s an interesting title with an unfortunately short plot and a focus on New Game+ mode, along with higher difficulty to amp up your strategy.

Though “Gungnir” is among the last PSP games scheduled to come out, the game and its JRPG companions will arguably come to define the not-so-little handheld that did big things for gaming.