The PSP represented PlayStation’s first major foray into the world of handhelds. As the most powerful handheld at the time, it introduced a number of memorable games based on existing PlayStation franchises, some impressive third-party support, and a format that has stood the test of time and been a hallmark of technology since, the UMD.
OK, no, UMD’s may not still be, or ever were, quite the industry standard, but the PSP still delivered on a number of incredible games throughout its life. Looking back on that little console, we decided to cull together a list of the ten best PSP games of all time, prioritizing games that took advantage of the hardware and represent the ingenuity of developers to bring some amazing franchises to handheld life. So, without further ado, here are our top 10 PSP games of all time.
A spinoff of Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter series, Daxter focuses on the titular ottsel and his ventures shortly before the events of Jak II. True to the Jak and Daxter formula before it, Daxter is a platformer that recaptures the charm and cleverness of the first game. While Daxter is smaller than Jak, Ready at Dawn smartly makes Daxter a worthy platforming protagonist, who is not only smaller but a bit more agile than his best friend.
And while both characters are stark contrasts in terms of height, the gameplay and level design perfectly accommodate Daxter’s strengths and weaknesses. And don’t even get us started on the “dream sequences,” a series of mini-games that see Daxter dreaming himself as the hero in well-known films such as Braveheart and The Matrix. A delightful, worthy spinoff to the main franchise.
9. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Travel back to 2005, and Rockstar had recently dropped three industry-changing GTA games. Back then, the idea of playing a fully-realized open-world GTA on a handheld device was a pipe dream…until Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
It brought us back to the moment and feeling that made GTA such an iconic franchise in the PS2 era, complete with an all-new story and missions, in a prequel to GTA 3. And it was a good enough game that it was ported to PS2 later and held up as its own console-quality GTA release.
8. God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Ready At Dawn was one of the most consistent developers during the PSP’s lifespan. And the studio’s 2010 action game, God of War: Ghost of Sparta, is another game you must buy if you own a PSP. Ghost of Sparta didn’t massively shift the gameplay formula of the other PSP God of War exclusive Chains of Olympus, but it didn’t have to, instead refining and improving on what came before.
And, Ghost of Sparta’s legacy is ultimately the better game because of the pacing and cinematic storytelling that deftly capture the feeling of playing a God of War game in the palm of your hand.
7. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
It took us roughly 14 years before Kingdom Hearts fans got a proper numbered sequel to Kingdom Hearts 2. Despite that colossal gap, a slew of new Kingdom Hearts games debuted, including the only one to grace the PSP, Birth by Sleep. But even though it’s the franchise’s only inclusion on the handheld, it marks one of the best entries in the Kingdom Hearts series, as well as on the PSP itself.
Square Enix smartly adapted the controls and core gameplay mechanics of the series (with a few new additions) to take advantage of Sony’s portable device. The soundtrack is among the best in the Kingdom Hearts series, too, with writing and story to match it, adding a surprising amount of depth and lore. Number or not, Birth by Sleep is an essential Kingdom Hearts and PSP experience.
6. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Although it was part of the mostly ill-advised “Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” umbrella that sprung forth from the meteoric success of the original FF7, Crisis Core stands head and shoulders above the rest of those projects. It doesn’t just re-contextualize some of the most beloved JRPG characters in history, but also delivers a great action RPG in its own right.
It can sometimes dig too deep into the usual excesses of the genre (see characters quoting poetry mid-battle), but Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is an example of a prequel done right, especially now that more of its impact will be seen in future Final Fantasy VII Remake titles.
Lumines was arguably the greatest puzzle game to come along since Tetris. Director Tetsuya Mizuguchi deftly mixed somewhat Tetris-y block-matching with the rhythm of Lumines’ incredible custom soundtrack. The result was a wholly unique experience that could oscillate between being completely mellow and zen to the puzzle-game equivalent of Guitar Hero (which wouldn’t come out for another year).
But it wasn’t just “Tetris with cool music” – it also worked gorgeous, themed visuals and backgrounds into the mix as well, matching the music to create a truly trippy experience. That Lumines still thrives today, many years and many platforms later, is no surprise. But it got its start on the PSP, and it was one of the system’s best-ever games.
4. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable
On a platform loaded with great RPGs, Persona 3 Portable is arguably the best. An updated version of the PS2 game that first popularized the series in the west, it features a band of Japanese high schoolers who attend class by day and investigate the mysterious “Dark Hour” by night. In the course of this 100 hour adventure, you make friends, join social clubs, and try to find out what lies at the top of the Tartarus while rocking out to one of the best soundtracks in the series.
With loads of quality of life improvements and a brand new storyline featuring a female protagonist — a first for the series — it’s an amazing experience. Sadly, Persona 3 is hard to find these days, but if you can get a copy on PSP or Vita, it’s well worth it.
3. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
When veteran hunters regale you with tales from the claw-grip nightmares of days past, this is probably the game that they’re thinking of. As a sort of “definitive edition” of Monster Hunter 2, Unite gave players a chance to experience thrilling new hunts against now-iconic monsters like Nargacuga and Ukanlos.
Various quality of life improvements such as the introduction of the Felyne Comrade system – which has since evolved with each new entry – made Unite a joy to play with friends over the PSP’s Ad-Hoc wireless connection. If nostalgia for the PSP could have a face, the countless hours playing Monster Hunter Freedom Unite would be a very strong contender.
2. Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
Some may say that Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together deserves this spot on the list, but the original Final Fantasy Tactics is still one of the best grid-based RPGs of all time. Sporting a heartbreaking story, snappy menu-based combat, and endless replayability, War of the Lions isn’t just a port of the original game. The update for PSP includes a new translation, voiced cutscenes, new jobs, new characters (including Balthier from Final Fantasy XII), and all of the fantastic story in a handheld format.
A game that can be fiddled with endlessly, Final Fantasy Tactics is the perfect fit for handheld gaming as you can pause longer battles or spend hours grinding a single map to max out job classes. An RPG that can be unbalanced in the best way, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions remains the gold standard for tactical RPGs, and a standout even amongst its numbered-entry peers.
1. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was a self-contained, powerhouse Metal Gear experience, despite living on such a small, unassuming system. Following on from the events of Snake Eater, Peace Walker prioritized pick-up, put-down gameplay, with two game modes: Mission and Mother Base.
The former was the main campaign/story, and was told in digestible, bite-sized mission pieces, while the latter expanded upon the army management gameplay that was teased in Portable Ops, and would later be expanded further in The Phantom Pain. In this regard, Peace Walker bridged the gap between the original and all future installments of Metal Gear Solid.
Once you played through all that single-player content, there was a multiplayer mode that allowed you to play co-operatively with friends or in deathmatch, and there was a slew of additional content which you could download with the PSP’s Network via the Extras menu.
Sure, this downloadable stuff was more cosmetic, like different clothes for the characters to wear or additional music for the Walkman (hey, does anyone remember that?), but you could easily lose yourself in what felt like an endless amount of goodness contained in such a tiny package. Peace Walker was, and remains, one of the greatest Metal Gears of all time.
And that’s our list of the top 10 PSP games of all time! Agree with our list, or think we left any PSP classics off the list? Do you still have any UMDs of Hitch lying around, or is that just us? Well, let us know in the comments below, and while you’re here, go check out our list of the top PS3 games of all time and the top PlayStation first-party exclusives
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Author: Adam Bankhurst