November 14, 2012 | J.J. Cappa
PlayStation Plus is coming to the Vita next week and, as usual, the games being given away to subscribers in North America and Europe put the meager Japanese offering to shame. Leading the (Western) pack are Gravity Rush, Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, along with a few other titles that vary by region. Europe, for example, will get Chronovolt and special discounts on nine first-party games, while Jet Set Radio and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions will go to members in the States. In comparison, the only PlayStation Vita title being added to the service this month in Japan is Sumioni: Demon Arts.
Launched in 2010 as a competitor to Xbox Live, PlayStation Plus originally gave members a few discounts and a free game each month, but this past June the service was significantly expanded in Europe and North America, making more than ten titles available at any given time for no additional cost. In Japan, however, the Xbox brand is not as powerful as it is in the West, and as a result, PlayStation Plus did not need to evolve there in order to compete. For a time, it looked as though it never would either, but the Japanese gaming community must have gotten vocal about the discrepancy, because at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, Sony finally made it clear that they intended to rectify the situation.
The first major “renewal” to PlayStation Plus in Japan was not as exciting as expected, though; more free games were put on the service than ever before, yet the flagship offer was a discount on Tokyo Jungle. There was hope, however, that the September update was only a prelude to the major overhaul that is now due next week, when Vita titles will join the PlayStation Plus family. That hope was crushed by the newly announced lineups for the other territories.
At the end of October, when it was revealed that the “free play” catalog would grow to eleven in the November update, it seemed as though SCEJ had finally put together a service worth subscribing to. Even though the Vita would only see a single free game in its debut month, the overall package looked like a reasonably good deal. After it was revealed, however, that titles like Gravity Rush (which is currently on sale in Japan for 4900円 in a bundle with its downloadable content) would be free for everyone else, it became clear than Japanese gamers were once again getting left behind.
This is not to say that PlayStation Plus is not a good investment; even at 5000円 for a yearly membership, the steady stream of free games makes it a worthwhile purchase for Japanese learners. It can feel hard to justify the cost, however, when those that chose to play games in their native language get tons of free content, while the Japanese service does not come close to offering nearly as much value. It might even be a better investment to subscribe Plus in another region and count on some of the games having Japanese support, which is not unheard of with PlayStation consoles.
The bigger issue here, of course, is that the PlayStation Vita is facing serious competition from the Nintendo 3DS, and is even being outsold by its eight-year-old predecessor, the PlayStation Portable. A strong PlayStation Plus lineup could have helped close the gap between the Vita and the other handhelds, though, so it is hard to understand the very modest offering from SCEJ.
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