On June 6, 2013, Sony director of strategic content Shahid Ahmad wrote on Twitter that the company was looking to bring more Japanese role-playing games to the Vita.
"Greetings," he said. "We're looking at JRPGs and similar for Vita. Your votes on which ones you'd buy using #jrpgvita please."
The tweet exploded, drawing attention from JRPG fans on sites like NeoGAF and Reddit, and in the coming months Ahmad would send out dozens of messages just like it, encouraging fans to use the "#jrpgvita" hashtag to express their interest in getting more role-playing games on Sony's underappreciated handheld. "On #jrpgvita - we've let a lot of partners know about your fervent interest," he wrote on July 9, 2013. "We'll keep at it. They're beginning to notice Vita again. :-)"
People went nuts, of course. Big companies don't often do much to support JRPGs, and although Ahmad wasn't clear about whether this new initiative would lead to totally new games or English localisations of games that are currently exclusive to Japan, people buzzed, deluging him with requests for Japan-only games like Final Fantasy Type-0 and Valkyria Chronicles 3. Some optimistic JRPG fans, spurred by Ahmad's teases, begged for him to conjure up new entries from neglected franchises like Suikoden and Chrono Trigger.
Today, after two years, #JRPGVita seems to have done very little. Months of teasing have resulted in a single, mediocre release — Tales of Hearts R, a poorly-localised Vita remake of a 2008 DS game, which won a fan vote on Ahmad's Twitter — and Ahmad hasn't said anything about the hashtag in months.
In one misstep during E3 2014, Ahmad took credit for a Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Vita announcement, calling it a "megaton" for #JRPGVita… only for fans to then find out that it wasn't actually happening. Later that day, publisher Square Enix clarified that Type-0 HD was actually just coming to PS4 and Xbox One.
Meanwhile, the PlayStation Vita is in a worse place than its ever been: Sony boss Andrew House called it a "legacy platform" at a recent talk (although Sony was quick to backtrack on that comment, saying it only referred to the "first generation" of Vita). Although the system still sells decently in Japan — where Sony is actually supporting it — things are dismal for Vita fans in North America these days. Other than indies and the occasional Japanese morsel from boutique publishers like XSEED and NIS America, the Vita's library is lacking.
Of course, it's possible that this campaign's gears are still turning, and maybe we'll see a surge of Vita JRPGs at E3 in three weeks. It's more likely that Sony will dedicate all of its time to the platform that people are actually buying — PS4 — like they have been doing since before #JRPGVita even started.
(Sony has not responded to requests for comment on the fate of the #JRPGVita campaign. Early last year (and again last night) I requested interviews with Ahmad about his initiative, but Sony turned them down.)
Game executives make hypey promises all the time. Often they don't deliver. But it's rare to see a representative for a major publisher make this many specific teases that, after two years, have led to almost nothing. While Ahmad certainly seems passionate — and I do believe he genuinely intended to make something happen — it's hard not to be frustrated when we look back at what he's tweeted over the past few years.
This big tease, for example:
And the continual messages about how hard he's been working on #JRPGVita, some of which led to big threads on message board and fan gaming sites. In June, 2013, for example:
August 2013, shortly after Sony's presentation at the Gamescom conference:
In April 2014, Ahmad announced plans to bring Tales of Hearts R to the west as part of this campaign; it came out later that year, and then... nothing. In a podcast not long after the Tales announcement, Ahmad promised that there were other deals in the works, but in recent days there's been nothing but silence. Just what happened? Did not enough people care? For fans of JRPGs — a genre that has been neglected for a decade now — this has been beyond frustrating.