The PSP didn’t have much going for it for a while. Quality software took a long time to show up. Said software came on noisy, energy-sucking UMDs that were easily pirated and quickly rendered irrelevant by digital distribution. On top of that, Sony’s marketing said nothing about what the PSP even did. Remember these horrid things? Yeah, I don’t think anyone would want to.
But hey, every single handheld or portable that has stood their ground — every one — that has fought Nintendo, the king of handheld gaming, has died. Despite all of the PSP’s frustrations, the dang thing survived.
Now that the PlayStation Vita is out it seems certain the PlayStation Portable can lay to rest. It put up a good fight, a much longer than one than any of its predecessors, and by the end it amassed a decent game library. Which brings us to our topic: The best games on the PSP. Or to be more accurate, my favorite games on the PSP.
Thanks to the Vita, a somewhat-kinda backwards-compatible platform, these games can stay alive. Though it lacks a UMD drive, many PSP games are available to download onto the Vita through the Sony Entertainment Network.
Unfortunately, two of the games on this list aren’t available on the PlayStation Store. You can refer to the list here to see all the games on the Sony Entertainment Network that are compatible with Vita. And be sure to read how to get these games on your Vita!
And now, my favorite games on the PSP. The games that made owning a PSP worth it.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy
Not quite a fighting game, not quite an RPG, Dissidia plays something like Power Stone or Smash Bros. in pick-up-and-play portable form. There are Smash Ball-like EX Cores you need to get to execute special attacks, and there are Brave Points you have to bash out of your opponent in a tug-of-war-like fashion before you can deal real Hit Point damage. Knowing when to dodge and dash helps, too, so timing and skill is important. Nevermind whatever a “Dissidia” is, this game helps prove Final Fantasy has versatility. There’s also a second game with a ridiculous title — 012 Duodecim Something or Other — which may or may not be better. It has more characters, music and Things To Do, as well as all the content of the first game, so it’s probably a safe bet.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
This is a game made by guys who understand what the Silent Hill series, at its best, is all about: guilt and psychological terror — not Pyramid Head mugging for the camera. A “reimagining” or a remix of the original PS1 game, Shattered Memories is the best in the series since the first sequel. Dense symbolism, a brisk pace, and in a first for the series, tight writing and natural voice acting (!!!) make this a gem. The psychological quiz portions that break up the main adventure probably reveal more about yourself than you’d like to know as well, and multiple endings and story branches are worth going for at least once or twice after the initial heartbreaking playthrough.
Space Invaders Extreme
A modern update to classic game in the vein of Pac-Man Championship Edition. Extreme adds a lot of graphical tweaks which ought to remind you of the neon world of Tron and it ought to look even better on Vita. A driving soundtrack, boss stages and high-score multipliers help push the pixelated interlopers into the 21st century. If you like the original arcade game, you’ll probably love this modernized version. It’s an addicting little time-waster perfect for portables. Unfortunately, it looks like this one is stuck on the PSP. It’s not available on the PlayStation Store, meaning it’s left to languish in bargain bins on UMD. Publisher Square Enix needs to put this on SEN stat.
Blocks fall to the bottom of a well as hypnotic music thumps in the background. To win you have to match colors on the blocks together to make them disappear before they fill up the screen. That’s all there is to it, but like Tetris before it, Lumines latches onto your brain and doesn’t let go. It keeps you playing — to get higher scores, to unlock new music, to see what new shape or color the blocks will change into next. It’s hypnotic. What else should we expect from Tetsuya “Rez” Mizuguchi? Lumines is easy to get into, challenging to conquer and addicting to play. Sounds like a perfect fit for the Vita. Like with Dissidia, its sequel Lumines II might be better, but my experience with that one is minimal at best. It has songs like “Heavenly Star” from Child of Eden in it, so that might be worth it alone. But it also has Black Eyed Peas — nrrrggh. There’s also a whole new Lumines game available for Vita, so you’ve got many Lumines options. Be sure to get one of them!
Mega Man Powered Up
A remake of the very first game in the 25-year-old Mega Man series, revamped with 2.5-D graphics and lots of extra features like new playing as Cuts Man or Roll. You can build your own Mega Man levels and post them online to be ranked and shared. That is, if anyone still did that. Though the create-your-own content scene dried up, the online modes are still active, so there is a whole trove of user-made levels waiting to be played. Just don’t expect to do that on the Vita since it’s not available on the PlayStation Store. Odd, since the game has been up on the Japanese store for a while now. If you want to see what Powered Up‘s like (it’s really, really hard) you need to hunt down those dusty UMDs. Unless Capcom makes it easily available online!
Remember how I said I’d review this? Well here it is: Ys Seven is the action-RPG other action-RPGs wish they could be. Combat is lightning quick and it feels powerful, especially since every enemy defeated explodes into a crunchy mess of collectibles you can use to craft new weapons and armor. Even simple roll-dodging does the trick, as it flings each character across the entire screen in an instant. You’re given three party members at once, each with a different set of special moves and attacks. You can switch between characters on the fly and they all have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Bosses are gigantic and really challenging. The main quest is a meaty 30 hours long, the graphics are colorful and the designs are distinctive (blue-haired girls, man). The music by developer Falcom’s famed JDK Band matches the frantic action perfectly. The basic fantasy plot and wordy dialogue gets in the way a bit, but don’t let that deter you, it’s got more depth than it lets on. This is a rock solid, superbly designed game.
Ys: Oath in Felghana
I couldn’t decide a while back what was the better Ys game – Seven or Oath, which is a remake of Ys III. I realized lately I’m a fan of short and sweet concentrated goodness when it’s done really well and Oath does it all really, really well. If Seven is the modern action-RPG with lots of characters and options, Oath is the classic, streamlined Ys experience. No party members, no extra bells and whistles. It’s just Adol Christin on his lonesome in an atmospheric, WAY more challenging game with plenty of platforming and difficult-as-hell boss battles to surmount. I mean, extremely difficult. But if you keep dying, the game offers the chance to lower the difficulty. A blow to the ego, sure, but it’s nice to have the option. It’s got another simple basic story, though this one knows how to stay out of the way. There are also three ways to listen to the music — 8-bit, 16-bit, and orchestral — which is just damn generous of Falcom. Pair this with Ys Seven and you won’t see action-RPGs the way again. And to have them on the go? That’s just sinful. Just be sure to mute the voice acting.
Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
I missed this game the first time on the PS1 due to its laughable script and steep difficulty, so thank goodness Square made this port/remake/update. The mature story finally shines through with legible dialogue more verbose and intricate than most games (or movies), and although the game still has odd difficulty spikes I finally got to enjoy it to the tragic end. New additions to this PSP update: new characters like Balthier from Final Fantasy XII, new items and new jobs — yes, Final Fantasy V‘s brilliant Job System returns. The turn-based chess-like style is a perfect fit for portable play, and it’s accompanied by one of the best video game soundtracks ever made. If, like me, you skipped this before, go ahead and jump in now. Its attractive 2D-on-3D graphics and gorgeous cel-shaded “hand-drawn” cutscenes must look even better on the Vita’s OLED screen. This is arguably the best game with the Final Fantasy name on it. Arguably.
Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
Port #453 in the PSP library might be the best of them all. A 2.5D remake of the best Castlevania game in the series, Dracula X Chronicles also comes with the original PC Engine version of Rondo of Blood and includes its sequel, one of the best games on the PS1, Symphony of the Night. The former features Richter Belmont in classic stair-climbing, jumping-and-whipping style, while the latter stars Dracula’s son Alucard in the open-ended action-RPG Metroidvania style. Both are classics with timeless play mechanics and memorable soundtracks. Both are required playing if you care a whit about 2D action. That is a quite the all-around package. Guess that makes this PSP game the best Castlevania game. Be ready for a challenge though, and be ready to look for and unlock those two classic games within the 2.5D-make.
Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X
One of the best SNES games made its way to a portable system, remade and redone in 3D? Of course it’s going to be one of the best games on PSP as well. Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X is just as breezy and vibrant as its 16-bit counterpart, with added difficulty modes (Easy and Hard), characters (play as Boba Fett look-alike Vile), cheesy voice acting (“Chill Penguin, I can’t believe YOU’RE a Maverick!”) and cutscenes, including an anime episode that acts as a prologue to the game’s rebellion story. Item placement and armor upgrades are rearranged so veterans have to search for them all over again. Besides that, this is Mega Man X. Portable. If you haven’t played it yet, I dunno what to say to you. Like, c’mon. Get with it. It’s one of the best games ever made. Maybe you should play the original Super Nintendo version, but why pass up a portable version with lots of added stuff? Show Capcom you still care about the Blue Bomber and give it a (charged up) shot.
Persona 3 Portable
Uh-oh. Another port. Yeah, the PSP has a lot of them. That’s kind of what it was known for for a while. This one, however, is pretty damn great. Atlus managed to shrink a huge AAA PS2 RPG down into bite-sized format and add a fair amount to it — new characters, scenarios and battle mechanics. The biggest change: In the original, you could only control one party member, the protagonist. In Portable, everyone’s under control, so Mitsuru never has to cast Marin Karin ever again. But damn. This game. The style, the music, the story. It’s all so damn well done. When this music started playing? I was done. Done. I knew this game and I were meant to be. This was my first complete experience with Persona 3 and I loved every moment. It’s the definitive way to play a 100+ hour RPG — on the go. Atlus plans to repeat P3P’s success with Persona 4: The Golden on the Vita. I have a feeling they’re gonna do it. Oh, and once that’s out, it’ll be possible to have the entire Persona series thus far on one system. Pretty groovy. Pretty sugoi.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the culmination of everything the series has done so far — camouflage, amassing an arsenal, first-person and over-the-shoulder aiming, bizarre historical fiction — and it refines them into a Monster Hunter meets Pokemon meets Metal Gear mix. Behind reigning champ Metal Gear Solid 3, Peace Walker is probably the best games in the series. It’s definitely series creator Hideo Kojima’s most focused work since Snake Eater. The story is no longer out of control. Heck, it steps aside completely most of the time to give the game all the room it needs to spread its feet. As Snake, or any of the schmoes he hilariously parachutes back to Mother Base, you can do everything you can in previous games, except faster and better.
It’s Metal Gear‘s bare essentials, in over 100 hours of digestible mission-based format and it’s almost all multiplayer, which just makes everything better if you’re lucky to find like-minded Big Bosses. It’s clear Kojima put a lot of love into this, a lot more than in Metal Gear Solid 4, which felt more like an obligation than something he actually wanted to do. Along with the amount of playable content, the amount of supplementary material to enjoy — characters discuss their personal histories, Stanley Kubrick, the Turing Test — is staggering. This is one of the best games of this generation. Play it on PSP. Play it on the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and use Transfarring to play at home and on the go. Play it on Vita. Just play it!
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
There can be only one game on this list better than Peace Walker, and that’s the one that directly inspired its multiplayer and portable aspects to begin with. There’s a reason Monster Hunter kept the PSP alive in Japan. It’s life or death. It’s you or the roving beasts you have to kill or capture to carve new weapons and armor out of their hides. It’s risk-reward at its zenith. Wail away at the enormous dragon or giant enemy crab until it croaks, or risk your life and lose the mission, your
money zenny and your time to trap and tranquilize it and gain more spoils? It’s old-school sensibility — memorizing enemy patterns, timing attacks carefully — married to new-school technology that allows you to play with up to three other hunters. It’s social. It’s Shadow of the Colossus without the climbing or the angst. Downtime comes in the way of preparation: buy items and weapon-making materials at the village shop, farm crops, eat meals that temporarily enhance stats.
You have a choice of 11 weapons to master. Think of them like the characters in Street Fighter. They each have their own idiosyncrasies and evolution trees, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. What you use is up to you. What you do is up to you. You can fish, cook meat, mine ore, combine items, and complete hundreds of quests until you’ve had your fill. It’s everything Capcom does well — cutesy humor, gorgeous graphics, catchy music, rage-inducing reflex-based gameplay. It’s a constantly rewarding game, especially with fellow hunters. Monster Hunter is one of the most robust, exhilarating experiences out there, portable or otherwise.
If you love portable games, check out our Neo Geo Pocket Color X-List, too!