Not Dead!: Playstation Vita

Background

The Playstation Vita was a thing, and though it was a commercial failure in most of the west, a lot of people who owned one are very fond of the little machine. Technically, it's a very capable handheld, and the OLED screen of the original model looks fantastic when compared even to the Nintendo Switch or some smartphones. Hardware-wise, it's an amazing machine, and it's baffling to believe that such a nicely built thing could ever be a failure.

So what was the downfall of the Vita? Well, what good is hardware if there's no software that people want? The Vita was pretty much dead on arrival in the west - I remember game stores in the UK having a very small section for the console, and only stocking a few launch titles on the shelf. With it being incredibly difficult to browse / buy titles in physical stores, the majority of releases were done digitally. Not having a physical presence in stores can't have helped with sales, and of course sales numbers are what drive stores to invest in stock for a particular platform. The US situation was slightly better than the situation in the UK in terms of physical releases and store presence, but nowhere compared to the popularity of the machine in Japan.

Being a popular machine in Japan meant that a majority of titles for the Vita are from Japanese producers, and a decent amount of them got localisations in the west. I imagine that not having a physical presence was actually helpful in this situation, as a lot of more niche titles could be readily available from the online store without worrying about the cost of physical stock. Unfortunately, there's an awful lot of saturation in the kinds of games available for the platform, with an abundance of small-studio RPGs that are for the most part either a Mystery Dungeon style or a first-person Etrian Odyssey type game. These titles frequently include copious amounts of ecchi imagery... Not that there's anything wrong with that, but once you've played one of these games, you've played them all.

So why is the console interesting in the current time? Well, after a long time of being difficult to crack, the Vita has opened up to hacking and homebrew! With so much power under the hood, combined with a great ergonomic design and that lush OLED screen, you've got yourself a great little emulation device!

Rise from your grave!

Hacking the Vita and installing custom firmware couldn't be easier. There's a great guide at vita.hacks.guide that will run you through everything you need to get set up. Best of all, every firmware iteration of the Vita is hackable!

Once you're done with that, I highly recommend installing Adrenaline - The one thing the Vita does best is being a PSP, funnily enough!

With Henkaku Enso custom firmware and Adrenaline installed, you're ready to have fun!

Another thing to consider, is that the cost of proprietary memory cards can be quite high. There exists a device called SD2Vita which allows you to use a standard MicroSD card instead, should you prefer.

Recommendations

Homebrew:

Retroarch - Multi-console emulator, has a few issues but is relatively capable. Can be a little tricky to configure, be prepared to take some time setting things up.
PKGj - Allows you to install Vita games & DLCs, PSP games & DLCs, and Vita themes. This fetches the downloads directly from PSN servers, so there shouldn't be any dud files.
Custom Theme Manager - Self explanatory, allows you to install community-made themes.
UO GPSP Kai - Available through the PSP Homebrew Browser that you should have installed if you followed the instructions to install Adrenaline. A very stable GBA emulator that runs under the PSP mode of the Vita. Emulating in an emulator?! Crazy I know, but I find it runs games slightly better than the native Vita apps like Retroarch and mGBA.

Software:

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F / F2nd - Solid rhythm games featuring everyone's favorite virtual singer. The first in the series available in English, which is nice. F won't work on the Playstation TV variant of the Vita, you can install a homebrew to whitelist it but the reliance on touchscreen controls takes away the fun. Don't bother with Project Diva X unless you're a super fan, it has a much smaller song list and very grindy gameplay.
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus / Estival Versus - If you're gonna play one ecchi game on the console, play this one. Musou style gameplay with a large cast of characters that all feel unique and fun to play as. The ecchi aspects of the game aren't too invasive and are just ridiculous enough to be funny moreso than titillating. I imported these originally, thinking there'd never be a chance for localisation but English versions of both titles got released!
Puyo Puyo Tetris - It's Puyo Puyo. It's Tetris. Japanese only, but how much do you care about Puyo lore?
Disgaea 3 / 4 - Excellent SRPG series with a wide cast of characters and wacky storylines that you can sink hundreds of hours into. The Vita versions include extra story scenarios and all of the DLC that was available for the original PS3 releases. Disgaea 4 is slightly more polished graphically, but they're both a lot of fun!
Persona 4: The Golden - There's a reason this is on a lot of people's lists for best games on the platform. This version is the definitive way to play Persona 4, as it includes an extended storyline as well as other quality of life features. The Persona series is fantastic, and though 4 isn't my favorite by any means, it's a very accessible starting point to the series as a whole.
IA/VT Colorful - Another Vocaloid rhythm game featuring the lesser known Vocaloid, IA. If you enjoyed Project Diva and crave more, give this a try. It's Vita exclusive as well as Japan exclusive, but the game is relatively simple to navigate and play.
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkuni - From the same producers as Senran Kagura, this has a similar gameplay style but is slightly more focused on action / missions. The story / theme is more modern sci-fi based, but it's still just as wacky and over the top. Give it a try if you enjoyed Senran Kagura, as this one's another Vita exclusive.