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Japan cautious on PS Vita

PSM3 on why Vita needs Metal Gear, Monster Hunter, and some serious bug fixes

The latest issue of PSM3, featuring extensive coverage of Bioshock Infinite and PS Vita, is on sale now.

PS Vita's first couple of months in Japan have been rocky - increasing the pressure on its UK and US launch on Feb 22nd, with pundits already questioning its ability to compete against iPhone's functionality, and Nintendo 3DS's lower price and expanding games library.

Sony need to learn the lessons of the Japanese launch - outlined by our Japanese correspondent below - or risk a situation akin to the original PSP, whose technical limitations and compromised software left it fighting an uphill, if not futile, battle from day one.

PS Vita's sales in Japan have been sluggish. Yes, the launch lineup was excellent - in the eyes of Western gamers, at least - and first-weekend sales of 324,859 were encouraging. But that dropped to an underwhelming 72,479 in week two and 42,648 in week three. PSP continues to outsell Vita, as does PS3.

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It all comes down to Monster Hunter. The popularity of Capcom's beast-butchering action-RPG to Japanese gamers cannot be overstated - and unfortunately it's not on Vita.

Monster Hunter kept the PSP alive in Japan for years after the West had written it off, with its recent iteration, Portable 3rd, selling over five million copies. Although the franchise isn't as popular in the West, without its success the PSP may not have survived to see late-era games like The 3rd Birthday and Final Fantasy Type-0. The fact that Vita has two thumbsticks is partly in response to millions of Monster Hunter fans, who'd been warping their hands to get around the game's torturous d-pad camera controls.

Yet while it was on home consoles, PSP was the place to play it... until Nintendo bagged it.

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MONSTER SUCCESS

One week before PS Vita's 17 December launch in Japan, Monster Hunter Tri-G stormed onto 3DS - an upgraded version, with improved camera controls and a hideous bolt-on second thumbpad peripheral for hardcore players (with most Japanese players are seriously hardcore). By scoring Monster Hunter, Nintendo struck a lethal blow to Vita. Without its own Monster Hunter, PSP's year-old Monster Hunter Portable 3rd sold better than any Vita game in the same month.

Even the 3DS took a while to pick up sales in Japan at launch, partly due to the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, two weeks after its launch. Monster Hunter changed all that. Nintendo sold a staggering 1.6 million 3DS's in Japan in December alone, and Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, and Tri-G were 2012's three best-selling games in Japan.

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Still, with half a million PS Vita's sold by early Jan, things aren't so bad, and Sony say the figures are in line with their projections. They aren't lagging far behind sales of PS3 and 3DS in the same time-frame, and the PS3's turnaround proves Sony don't play 12-month games; they play ten-year games.

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