6 of the best PSP role-playing games

[UPDATE: Sony has announced that it will not, in fact, be closing the PlayStation 3 and Vita storefronts, but “PSP commerce will retire on July 2, 2021 as planned”. It’s not 100% clear if this means the store will simply be inaccessible on PSP, or if PSP titles will also no longer be available on Vita.]

With the sad news that the PlayStation 3, PSP and Vita digital storefronts will be closing soon, the gaming community has seen a renewed interest in titles for these platforms.

In the case of PSP games, the digital storefront has often offered a much more affordable and convenient means of getting your hands on games than seeking out physical copies — but once the stores go away that will all change, particularly in the case of RPGs, which have a habit of getting pricy when they’re even a little bit hard to find.

With that in mind, then, here’s six top picks from the PSP’s library of exclusives that every role-playing game fan should consider adding to their collection sooner rather than later!

Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection

Final Fantasy IV for PSP

Originally released on Super NES, Final Fantasy IV was the point where the series took a significant step forward in terms of storytelling. Gone was the party of custom characters from Final Fantasy I and III, to be replaced with specific, pre-built characters who had their own background and way of playing. And gone was the divisive “use it or lose it” levelling up system from Final Fantasy II.

Looking back, Final Fantasy IV is one of the most “traditional” turn-based, menu-driven, story-centric RPGs you can play — but you have to remember that on its original release, it was pretty much defining the shape the genre would take for many years to come after that. It’s an enormously influential game that remains very playable to this day — and this PSP version, which features enhanced pixel art over the rather blocky SNES original, is the best way to enjoy it.

The “Complete Collection” part of the title comes from the fact that this package also includes Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, a story that unfolds after Final Fantasy IV’s main narrative that was originally released on mobile phones. This has subsequently been released on PC, but using the same 3D engine and dodgy interface of the Nintendo DS and mobile games rather than the original lovely pixel art — so again, the best way to enjoy this is on the PSP.

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time

Growlanser for PSP

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is an RPG for PSP that features tactical combat and dating sim elements. This version is technically the fourth in the series, but like many RPG series, it’s a standalone, self-contained installment that no knowledge of the rest of the series is required to enjoy.

Growlanser is a spiritual successor to developer Career Soft’s earlier Langrisser series (which recently got rereleased on modern platforms) and, like that series, features character art by Satoshi Urushihara, giving it a very distinctive look and feel. It has interesting progression mechanics, featuring an unusual “Ring Weapon” system where equipment changes according to its user’s personality, and gems can be inserted into Ring Weapons to further customise their performance.

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is a highly replayable game, featuring three main routes through the narrative and 40 possible epilogue sequences depending on your relationships with the various characters in the game. You’ll need a minimum of four playthroughs to see everything, though, so be prepared to be in it for the long haul if you’re serious!

Gungnir

Gungnir for PSP

Gungnir for PSP is part of Sting Entertainment’s well-regarded Dept. Heaven series, and is a tactical role-playing game. There’s a strong focus on cooperation between allies, with a key mechanic known as the Tactics Gauge representing how well the player’s forces are fighting together. The Tactics Gauge can be used for various functions, ranging from rearranging the turn order to summoning the Inferno gods of war with the eponymous lance of legend.

As the name suggests, there are strong influences from Norse mythology in this one, and a number of decision points over the course of the game as a whole leads you to one of several different endings.

While many of Sting’s previous Dept. Heaven games were deliberately highly creative and sometimes confusing, designer JaJa wanted to make Gungnir a little bit more immediately accessible to a general audience — only introducing what he referred to as “huh? what’s this??” parts later in the game once you’ve built up your confidence with its basic mechanics.

Jeanne d’Arc

Jeanne d'Arc for PSP

Jeanne d’Arc is a tactical role-playing game for PSP developed by Level-5 and published by Sony. It actually didn’t get a European release, but PSP games on UMD are region-free, so if you can find an American copy you can play this on a European PSP with no issues.

As the name suggests, the game is loosely based on the real historical story of Joan of Arc, but brings things into the world of fantasy with magical and demonic elements. Some characters have access to magical armbands which can be used to transform them into more powerful incarnations of themselves, and these often carry with them their own unique mechanics — Jeanne, for example, can keep chaining turns together in her transformed incarnation as long as she keeps defeating enemies.

Level-5 developed the game to strike a deliberate balance between accessibility and challenge factor for genre veterans. They were also keen to create a game that would be enjoyable even for those who didn’t know much about the historical period the game was loosely based on — and like many of Level-5’s other games, they made a strong effort to produce a localised version that was more than a straight translation, even going so far as to recruit a French vocal coach to ensure the voice actors pronounced things properly.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth for PSP

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is an enhanced PSP port of the first Valkyrie Profile game, which originally came out for the original PlayStation. The Valkyrie Profile series has always been known for its unusual gameplay in the role-playing genre; rather than adopting a top-down or 3D perspective, Valkyrie Profile games tend to unfold as side-scrolling games, with combat systems based around timed button presses and choosing the order in which party members attack.

The series is noteworthy for its rather melancholic atmosphere; as a Valkyrie, you are a personification of death itself as you usher souls into the afterlife, and as you might expect this can lead to some rather dark narrative paths to explore.

The game features music from Motoi Sakuraba, who has worked on a variety of great role-playing games over the years, including entries in the Golden Sun, Star Ocean and Tales series as well as Monolithsoft’s Baten Kaitos games and the musical RPG Eternal Sonata. More recently, you’ll have heard his work in the soundtracks for the Dark Souls and Super Smash Bros. series.

ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman

ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman for PSP

There are a number of great Nippon Ichi Software titles available on PSP, but a lot of these have already ended up ported to other platforms. One that remains PSP exclusive, however, is the delightfully named ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman, a game which combines the depth of Disgaea’s character progression with the mechanics and structure of the roguelike genre.

In ZHP, you take on the role of the Unlosing Ranger as you attempt to rescue the Super Baby from Darkdeath Evilman. Unfortunately, you’re not quite strong enough to do this at the outset of the game, so you begin a rigorous training programme to beef yourself up and prepare for numerous “final” battles.

ZHP’s roguelike elements appear in the fact that each new dungeon-crawling expedition resets your character to level 1 — but between expeditions you can upgrade your equipment and increase your base statistics, so over the course of the game you still get gradually stronger and stronger. There’s a frighteningly comprehensive character customisation system — as one would expect from a Nippon Ichi game — and a ton of levels to explore, plus the same sort of irreverent, witty dialogue you’ll find in the Disgaea series.


What are your favourite PSP games? Let us know in the comments or via the usual social channels!

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Pete Davison
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