We're not going to lie: competition in this category wasn't stiff. Sony's red-headed handheld had a bit of a lackluster year, especially in terms of big new releases, and as much as we believe PlayStation Vita is chronically underrated, we can't pretend its 2015 lineup left us overwhelmed with options. That said, we did find five diamonds among all the rough. Each of these games did something special enough to warrant a little end of year recognition, whether it was delivering silly rhythmic joy or simply standing out from all the other JRPGs on the platform.
With its inviting, painterly aesthetic and distinctive hereditary system--which allows players to spawn generation after generation of demon-fighting family members--Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines managed to distinguish itself from the veritable horde of turn-based Japanese RPGs that call Vita home. Instead of simply leveling up a predetermined party, players actually manage an entire clan over the course of several in-game lifetimes, teaching inexperienced youths to fight, disciplining rebellious adolescents when necessary, and guiding hardened adults into glorious battle. Turning combat into a family affair made for an oddly compelling twist on an already beloved formula, which in turn made Oreshika one of Vita's most memorable experiences this year.
While Lost Dimension couldn't quite muster the unusual appeal of Oreshika's hereditary hook, it still managed to join the notable JRPG club by offering its own unique twist: Within your 11-character party lurks a traitor, and it's up to you to flush them out by any means necessary. For the most part, Lost Dimension sticks to standard JRPG conventions, but forcing players to consider the true allegiance of every character actually elevated both the combat and presentation--as well as the overall experience--above an army of samey games. We only hope developer Lancarse includes this same dastardly setup in a slightly more well-rounded sequel.
Shifting genres but not regions, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls attached a super cool subtitle to an intriguing third-person action spin-off of the popular Danganronpa series. Though some of its action-oriented mechanics felt a little clumsy, its moody soundtrack created an unforgettable atmosphere as Ultra Despair Girl's tale of murder, mystery, and intrigue unfolded across a series of clever puzzles. Fans of the universe should be floored by the story execution, and even newcomers will likely find themselves hooked if they can see past the mediocre shooting and dive deep into borderline disturbing youth rebellion narrative.
Of course, if you need a palate cleanser after all the child-on-adult murder action, there's always the ultra-charming Persona 4: Dancing All Night. The game unfortunately fails on several fronts--the narrative feels unfulfilling, the chaotic visuals occasionally hinder gameplay, the music selection falls a bit short--but it's hard not to love a narrative-driven rhythm game featuring the biggest stars of the Persona universe. We're happy just knowing it exists, and we figured Game of the Year might be a good time to remind you too.
Finally we have OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood, which not only won our hearts with a terrible pun but also impressed us with its super stylish side-scrolling approach to skateboarding. Where Tony Hawk 5 disappoints in every way imaginable, this game succeeds: a deep bag of tricks, an addicting scoring system, and a rapid pace that'll keep you playing far longer than you intended. While we do wish the game had done more to distinguish itself from the original, OlliOlli2 is still the most enjoyable arcadey skating game since, well, the early Tony Hawk titles.
Vita's 2016 is already looking brighter thanks some big announcements at this year's PlayStation Experience, but these five titles were brave enough to keep the torch lit and give the Vita faithful something to celebrate in 2015. For that--and for their one-of-a-kind hooks--we salute them.