The PSP: Not Just an Emu Machine

Welcome to my first ever post on this blog and to kick things off, I thought I’d have a little discussion on a console that I have a lot of affection for: Sony’s PSP.

“The…PSP?” I hear you say. Yes; you remember the first Playstation-branded portable console that valiantly attempted (and utterly failed) to break Nintendo’s vice-like grip on the handheld market? It was a great piece of kit at the time of release and in fairness, held it’s own for long enough to spawn four hardware revisions and boat-loads of software.  There are many factors that contributed to the PSP’s relative failure but the big elephant in the room is Custom Firmware or ‘CFW’ for short. Hacking the PSP was a constantly evolving process that initially required certain UMD discs and permanent hardware modifications that posed the serious risk of “bricking” your system if you didn’t know what you were doing. Sony fought back again and again with firmware updates but new CFW versions kept on coming until it was possible to run the naughty stuff straight from the memory card.

Running CFW was desirable because it allowed for the use of emulators on a console that proved to be bloody good at being a portable Mega Drive/SNES/GBA etc. It also allowed people to download isos of PS1 software to run directly from the card rather than buying from the PS Store. Most of this could be passed off as harmless but what wasn’t harmless was the way on which CFW allowed gamers to download retail PSP games rather than purchasing the physical UMD. Software sales were damaged as a result (several of Square’s Final Fantasy games reportedly suffered heavily for example) and the end of the PSP was nigh.

Now that I’ve given a quick history lesson, let me continue by stating that I’m not here to argue the morality of hacking consoles and downloading software (that’s a discussion in its own right). I’m here to defend the PSP as a genuine platform for great games – many of the exclusives – that should be recognised for more than simply a big screen and buttons to hack as quickly as possible and fill up with teh romz.

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Holy shit: REAL games? Am I a madman?

The PSP has a ridiculous number of quality titles across all genres and many types of games work a lot better than you may think given the lack of shoulder buttons and that (admittedly) annoying, slidey analogue stub. There are a few kings amongst the genres though, types of games that received more support than others and were thus reasons to own a PSP. The most suited genres were:

  • RPG’s
  • Puzzle Games
  • Retro/Arcade compilations

If those types of games float your boat then a PSP is a must-have console in your collection. The fact is though that even the lesser-supported genres received some absolutely stunning games. Don’t forget that the PSP was a lot more powerful than its rival, the Nintendo DS, and had the benefit of more adult-orientated games and the kind of stuff that Playstation owners had been used to playing on their home consoles for years now. Witnessing a fully-fledged 3D Grand Theft Auto on a portable blew my mind for example, especially given that both of the “Stories” games were visually superior to GTAIII and Vice City on the PSP as well as more expansive. Then there was Tekken, God of War, Gran Turismo…the list goes on. Of course, the price to pay for this greatness was a woefully short battery life but you had to take the rough with the smooth as with most rewarding things in life.

But going back to what the PSP did especially well and it’s impossible to not start with the RPG’s. Square in particular really loved the PSP bringing upgraded ports of Final Fantasy I-IV, both Star Ocean‘s, Final Fantasy Tactics, Valkyrie Profile as well as brand-new software in the shape of The Third Birthday (aka Parasite Eve III), Tactics Ogre and Dissidia. Capcom contributed Breath of Fire, Atlus offered up enhanced remakes of Persona 1 & 2 plus a portable edition of the mighty Persona 3, Nippon Ichi made Disgaea go portable (twice!) and a whole host of other publishers pitched in with the likes of Riviera, Valkyria Chronicles, Gungnir, Jeanne D’Arc and much more.

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Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII proved to be massively popular on PSP.

Fighting games were also well catered for with Namco’s mastery of the host hardware blessing owners with Tekken: Dark Resurrection and Soul Calibur Broken Destiny – portable versions of their major home console fighters which looked incredible, played just as smoothly and packed in plenty of content (Tekken 6 also received a PSP port later on). Fans of the traditional 2D front were amply supplied to thanks to Capcom porting sublime updates of Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Darkstalkers. Crisp visuals, smooth animation and all of their bigger brothers’ content made it feel like you had somehow managed to ram an arcade cab in your pocket. Guilty Gear and new kid on the block, Blazblue, also rocked up to the party (with varying results it must be said).

Quick-fire puzzle gameplay was another of the PSP’s important cornerstones with so many to choose from. In fact, I’m still discovering new stuff to this day when browsing for new titles to add to my PSP collection! If a puzzle series exists then chances are, there was a PSP version. Lumines, Puzzle Quest, Puyo Puyo, Bust-a-Move, Mercury and Puzzle Fighter were merely the tip of an enormous iceberg.

And if you’re an old fart at heart (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it etc…) then the retro vibes that the PSP exuded would have been most welcome. Taito, Capcom and Midway all published multiple collections absolutely rammed with classic arcade titles while SNK gave us compilations for Metal Slug, King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown (though admittedly, these can be difficult to find due to being published in tiny quantities).

All of this and I feel as though I’ve barely touched on what makes the PSP great. The import scene for example is especially strong thanks to the console’s lack of a region lock and as you may expect, the PSP soldiered on for much longer in its homeland playing host to a wealth of amazing and quirky software that didn’t cross the water. If you have a PSP or intend to pick one up then it’s well worth investigating what didn’t leave Japan. I live in the UK and so there were also many games that the US got and we didn’t so the import pool is even bigger for us Europeans.

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My own trusty PSP-3000 rocking a naughty Ayane wallpaper…

What I’m saying is, forget about the CFW, roms and emulators for a moment. Take the time to appreciate the PSP for what it offered in stock form and you might just be surprised at how versatile and impressive both the hardware and games were. I DO run CFW myself – a non-permanent version sitting on my memory card that can be switched on and off at will. I don’t use it for emulation or downloading PSP roms however because I much prefer to have a physical copy of a game as I find that tracking a game down and giving it a proper go is more satisfying than simply downloading a large package of soulless roms. I’m a hoarder by nature anyway and so nothing but the actual box in my hand will do! I use CFW simply to create ISO copies of UMD’s I actually own so that I can play the games directly from the memory stick to improve loading/battery life and save wear on the UMD drive. This has meant seeking out larger storage than Sony’s propiertary Pro Duo format offers so I’m currently rocking a 64GB micro SD card in a Pro Duo adaptor.

There’s far too much goodness to go through here so I will probably feature some of the best games in their own dedicated posts to highlight the gems that the PSP has to offer. With this post, I just wanted to big up the PSP for doing what it does without the aid of modifications. I really find it a shame that such a proper gamers console can’t be talked about without somebody replying “Get it flashed asap, bruv” or “U got CFW on it yet, mate?”. What do these people know? Nothing – clearly.

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