Sony’s handheld is blowing up in Japan, but it’s not because of the PS Vita price cut

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Don’t call it a come back, the PS Vita may be here for years. Sony’s beleaguered handheld gaming machine spent its first birthday in February as a ball and chain around the company’s already sagging PlayStation division. By the end of the month, Sony showed that it was dead set on turning the device around. The company made simultaneous announcements that the PS Vita would be closely tied to the upcoming PlayStation 4 for remote play, and it would be receiving a price cut. The PS Vita price cut, however, was only for Japan. It’s worked, though: PS Vita sales have quadrupled in Sony’s homeland, leading the Japanese console sales charts for two weeks running.

According to Japanese sales tracker Media Create, the PS Vita was the best selling console from Feb. 25 through Mar. 10, selling more than 126,000 handhelds over that two span since the price drop.

Sony knew that the price of the handheld was too high, especially in Japan. “Based on our research, there are two broad reasons why people who may want to try the Vita aren’t purchasing it,” said SCEJ president Hiroshi Kawano in February, “One, they want to wait until there’s a game they want to play on it. Two, the price is a little out of reach for them.” Fluctuations in the yen forced Sony to keep the price higher in Japan than in the rest of the world. Now the Vita is approximately $214 in the country.

As with all gaming machines though, it’s the games themselves that lure in customers, and PS Vita’s surge in Japan simply may not be entirely replicable abroad. As much as the price drop has provided incentive for Japanese gamers to flock to the system, the PS Vita has also seen the release of three new games that are immensely popular in the country but may have little appeal outside its borders.

The biggest of these is Phantasy Star Online 2, the free-to-play Sega MMO and sequel to the Dreamcast pioneer developed by Sonic Team. Since releasing on PS Vita on Feb. 28 as a totally free digital download and as a limited edition retail game, Phantasy Star Online 2 has sold nearly 72,000 copies. Then there’s Tales of Hearts R, a remake of a crossover brawler based on Namco’s Tales RPGs. Always a hit in Japan, that game sold more than 55,000 copies in its first week on sale. Finally, there’s Soul Sacrifice, the Monster Hunter-style action RPG developed by Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man and Dead Rising. In just three days on sale, Soul Sacrifice sold more than 92,000 copies.

There is a direct correlation between the release of these games and PS Vita’s sales surge in Japan. The price cut was a start, but it wasn’t the sole driving force behind the bump. Even if Sony drops the price of PS Vita in the US and Europe—which it’s already tentatively doing—it won’t see the same revitalized market without actual games to drive the console. No such games have been announced.