Games that Defined the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP)

Presented by Rawblink w/ Racketboy & Ziggy

The handheld gaming market has traditionally been in Nintendo’s stronghold for quite a while. There have been a handful of formable opponents over the years, but Sony was the first to give a pretty strong fight (against Nintendo’s DS platform) with their first portable entry, the Playstation Portable.

The PSP was the first handheld console to really show strength as a modern 3D machine and it flexed its muscles with a lot of iconic games and properties. In addition to iconic games that felt like a proper on-the-go compliment to the PS2 (or even the PS3 later on), the PSP also had a healthy amount of original games that gave it its own personality and made even Nintendo loyalists a bit envious.

Below, we’ll cover the best PSP games that gave the system its personality over the different phases of its impressive lifespan and helped define its history.

This piece was heavily collaborative with our community as it was tricky to narrow this down and rank properly, but you’re welcome to share your opinions in the comments section below. Also, be sure to check out our recent Rare & Valuable PSP Games Guide for another side of the PSP’s library as well as the rest of our Defining Games series.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories

The Playstation Portable’s main appeal at launch is that it opened up the possibility of a true 3D-console-like experience in a cutting-edge handheld. In the midst of the PS2 era, there wasn’t a bigger presence in the mainstream gaming world than the Grand Theft Auto series and its open-ended action.

Some of the most iconic sellers for the system (at least in the west). The appeal alone of “3D GTA but Portable” was enough to get players to jump back into two of the PS2’s most iconic locations.

With Liberty City Stories launching in 2005, Vice City Stories in 2006 each, and GTA Advance coming just a year prior in Fall 2004, these two made a case early on for the gap in power between the PSP and its competition. Back in 2005 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 managed to recreate the feeling that made GTA such an iconic franchise.

Vice City Stories didn’t rest on the laurels of its predecessor and pushed the PSP in all the right places to bring the Grand Theft Auto world to life in ways that seem impossible for the technologically limited PSP. This was thanks in part to a new game engine, resulting in a cleaner, more visually-stimulating handheld Grand Theft Auto.

While both served as prequels to their console counterparts, both Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories provided a full-on GTA experience, including lengthy campaigns, side missions and even multiplayer modes.

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God of War: Ghost of Sparta & Chains of Olympus

If GTA defined the middle part of the PS2 era, God of War was the main buzz on the PS2 during the tail end of the PS2’s console reign. And just like the original God of War showed that the Playstation still has some life in its hardware, the portable versions managed to push the PSP hardware further as well.

Similar to GTA, both PSP God War games served as interim bits of story for fans (taking place before and after the first game) while still offering full God of War console experiences in portable form.

The same Greek myth-inspired hack and slash action that made a splash on the PS2 translated nearly flawlessly to the PSP. Despite the lack of a second analog stick, both games took full advantage of the hardware and showed that the PSP still had some juice under the hood coming out at 3 to 5 years into the system life. The first portable installment, Chains of Olympus impressed at its release and sold quite well, but you could tell some compromises were made for the platform.

Ghost of Sparta didn’t massively shift the gameplay formula of the other PSP God of War exclusive Chains of Olympus, but it refined and improved the formula into a stunning package that is often regarded as one of the very best games on the PSP. Ghost of Sparta also thrives in the pacing and cinematic storytelling that deftly capture the feeling of playing a God of War game in the palm of your hand.

In addition to the epic opponents and fantastic worlds you’ll encounter, this hack and slash title also features some pretty tricky puzzles that you need to overcome if you are to progress through the levels. Both games were later ported to the PS3 in several God of War HD packs (Origins Collection and Saga) but like GTA, still run fine and show off what the PSP can do at its best.

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Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7

The definitive PSP exclusive that has yet to be ported anywhere else, Crisis Core was the long-awaited finale of Square’s original Final Fantasy VII expanded universe project “Compilation of Final Fantasy VII”.

Crisis Core puts players into the shows of First Class Soldier member Zack Fair and paints a prequel tale leading up to the events of Final Fantasy VII. The game featured a unique action RPG combat system and a hefty amount of side content. Despite being a prequel, it felt like a full entry in the series. It was also the most positively received of all the FF7 Compilation pieces resulting in it being one of the highest-selling games on the platform.

To this day, much like the Onimusha series, rumors as to why Crisis Core hasn’t been ported tend to revolve around the likeness of Japanese pop star GACKT being used as the face of one of the key antagonists in the game. This has never been officially confirmed but as no other major reasons have been mentioned in interviews this tends to be the commonly held belief. As of the time of writing the FF7 Remake project is also in full swing under Square currently and there seem to be planning to at least retell Zack’s full Crisis Core story to some extent. Whether this means some type of remake remains to be seen but for any PSP collector Crisis Core is a must-own, with copies still very easy to come by.

Update as of 7/7/22: This past June during the annual slew of games press conferences (in light of the actual E3 event being on hiatus this year) a slew of new Final Fantasy VII content surrounding the remake project got announced including the much-requested HD Remaster of Crisis Core, subtitled Reunion. The PSP version is still worth a look for lovers of the handheld but for those interested in the modern ports of the remaster they can be found here.

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Daxter

While Daxter, on the surface, seems like another console-to-portable supplement, Ready at Dawn (the same devs responsible for the PSP God of War titles) managed to once again craft a much more unique experience that put players directly into the shoes (fuzzy feet??) of the main series wise-cracking secondary protagonist. Story-wise, Daxter takes place before the second Jak game with players taking control of Daxter in order to break Jak out of jail after he becomes imprisoned before the second game begins.

The game features more precision platforming and unique dream sequences, some leaning heavily into almost Conker’s Bad Fur Day levels of parody. Fans of 3D platformers and the Jak series as a whole owe it to themselves to check Daxter out.

Daxter also happens to be one of the more graphically impressive games on the system to complement some top-notch gameplay and puzzles. The cohesive package results in one of the very best games on the PSP. Currently, Daxter remains a PSP exclusive and was never ported elsewhere. It did however sell very well, making hard copies cheap and readily available.

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Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Portable Ops & Acid

The Metal Gear Solid franchise has been a mainstay on Sony platforms since the beginning of the Playstation and Sony would ensure that MGS would have a home on the PSP in one way or another. As you’ll see, it took some experimenting before fans saw the best of what MGS could be on the portable, but the journey was worthwhile.

AC!D/2: the mid-2000s were a time of decadence for the Metal Gear series. With the release of MGS3 reaching critical heights. Konami had several spin-offs and side games planned for the upcoming PSP. The original AC!D was a launch game set in an alternate universe featuring a very unique card battle strategy style of gameplay combined with Metal Gear-style stealth elements. A year later, the sequel would build on this concept (with copies of the game even going so far as to include a set of 3D glasses for gameplay segments) and improve many of the original game’s ideas, ironing out a good handful of flaws. The AC!D series, strange as it was, is worth a look for any fans of Metal Gear and unique card battle video game experiences. Sans temporary ports to mobile phones in PAL regions only, these games remain locked to the PSP.
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Portable Ops/Plus: Portable ops was a more traditional take on Metal Gear for the handheld. Taking place after the events of MGS3. Players took on the role of Big Boss once again and were tasked with a variety of different mini-missions and built up what was, at the time, a new piece of the story. The only issue with this is that the game was eventually retconned due to Kojima not being directly involved with the writing, just overseeing the production. Peace Walker would eventually supplement this but as PW was 4 years away from Portable Ops 2006 release, it served as a solid entry on the handheld. It also included a major multiplayer suite. The multiplayer aspect was fleshed out and popular enough for its time that a standalone expansion title (Portable Ops Plus) that included online play, was released a year later and added more content along with the ability to transfer multiplayer data from original PO save files. While the multiplayer is most likely only able to be enjoyed locally these days, the original Portable Ops is arguably still worth a look for long-time Metal Gear fans looking to really dig into the series’ side stories and is a must-have for PSP owners.
Check for Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops on eBay
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Peace Walker: If there’s one Metal Gear game that would define the PSP, however, it is Peace Walker. As mentioned prior, Peace Walker was a full blown MGS experience, written by Kojima himself. The events in this game chronologically take place after MGS3 and Portable Ops and lead directly into what later would be Metal Gear Solid V. This game was a later PSP launch but took full advantage of the hardware including the multiplayer ideas presented in Portable Ops. The game was ported to the MGS HD pack released on 7th gen consoles but the bite-sized mission structure of the game arguably makes much more sense on handheld systems, making this another must-own for PSP and Metal Gear fans. While all are worth a look, if there’s one Metal Gear game every PSP owner should have its Peace Walker.
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Lumines Series

Straight from the mind of the legendary Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Tetris Effect), the Lumines puzzle series combines psychedelic imagery and incredible sound design to great effect while serving as a launch title for PSP.

While it might not have had the big marketing budget of the blockbuster names on the platform, it had a lot of early buzz and became a mainstay with a lot of PSP enthusiasts. One could argue that Lumines brought the puzzle genre back into the mainstream gaming world for the first time since Tetris was a killer app for the original Game Boy.

Personally, in the PSP era, I was a Nintendo DS fan and greatly enjoyed Mizuguchi’s other puzzle gem, Meteos, but I was always secretly jealous of Lumines on the PSP as significantly more people talked it up.

Featuring a unique four-square block arrangement of puzzle-solving, like many of Mizoguchi’s games, the music and presentation combined with addictive gameplay was what made Lumines such a hit on the PSP. To this day, Lumines retains the legacy as one of the greatest puzzle games of all time.

The sequel would feature a slightly more pop-centric soundtrack but was still popular nonetheless. Though a remastered version exists on modern platforms, the original Lumines is still extremely cheap and easy to come by in physical form for the PSP and should be essential for puzzle fans and PSP owners.

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LocoRoco Series

LocoRoco and its sequel were hybrid 2D puzzle platformer games from Sony’s Japan Studio (previously known for Ape Escape). The nature of LocoRoco’s hybrid gameplay has prompted some to refer to LocoRoco as a mix of Super Monkey Ball and Rayman). Players are actually put into the role of the planets that the titular creatures reside on and are tasked with guiding them on their journey to survive an alien invasion.

The core gameplay revolves around tilting the levels so the blob and liquid-like characters can reach their destinations. The gameplay was innovative and had a charming, comical, but sometimes dark personality to it. To top things off, LocoRoco visual style and catchy soundtrack helped solidify it as one of the big buzz-worthy hits in the PSP’s middle years before the system really took off. For those gamers that weren’t necessarily into the modern mainstream hits, Loco Roco was actually kinda a killer app of sorts for the PSP for a few years.

One of the most unique series on the system, sold quite well making it easy to pick up and an essential for players looking for a unique experience on the PSP.   We eventually saw Loco Roco Remastered arrive on the Playstation 4, but it remains a classic on the PSP.

The simple controls and the rather short level design also make this game ideal for children or just adults that don’t want a heavy commitment. But as you progress, Loco Roco will test your problem-solving capabilities and spatial intelligence. While the series might not have topped the list of most modern PSP owners, it is a great addition to round out a library and an underrated favorite for those that were heavy into the system.

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Patapon Series

Japan Studio essentially followed the innovative Loco Roco with another fresh and innovative series in Patapon. While the Director, Producer, and Designer were different between Loco Roco and Patapon, (and the gameplay also differed), the approach to the visual style and the innovative hybrid gameplay made them feel like they were close cousins of sorts.

Patapon’s unique combination of rhythm and real-time strategy gameplay was another large hit on the PSP in the middle of its life span and was unlike any other game before it.

Originally launching in 2008, Patapon puts players in the role of a faceless god who beats a drum for the titular characters with the catch being that commands must be relayed in a rhythm game-style call-and-response input system.

The sequels would build upon the core mechanics of the original adding more troops and commands as well as multiplayer modes by the 3rd entry in the series. The first two games received PS4 conversions digitally but the 3rd remains a system exclusive. All three titles are relatively easy to find and serve as another unique experience for PSP owners and collectors.

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Monster Hunter Series

Capcom’s Action RPG powerhouse built a great foundation on the PS2 before seeing adaptations on the PSP (and eventually other platformers). The Monster Hunter series needs little introduction to fans of the genre, but the PSP was arguably where the series began to flourish the most in its earlier days. Being able to play portably was a major addition to the addictive loop of the game.

While Monster Hunter would take its time to grow audiences in the West, this was one of the highest-selling, system-pushing PSP series in Japan. Much in the way that World would lay the foundation for modern follow-ups like Rise today, the original portable entries available for the PSP would help flesh the series out and continue to build the framework for the future releases that would come to the 3DS in the next generation.

Currently, most of the western releases aren’t terribly pricey and sold well enough so local multiplayer with a few friends is still a viable option if you don’t mind looking into an older, but still well-loved, era of the Monster Hunter series.

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Jeanne D’ Arc

One of the strengths of the PSP was the quality lineup of RPGs it had to offer. Jeanne D’ Arc just happens to be one of the very best of the bunch – especially if you enjoy Japanese turn-based strategy. Its interesting use of historical fiction presented with slick style is also icing on the cake.

Developed by Level 5 (Dark Cloud, Ni no Kuni) Jeanne D’ Arc puts players in the role of the titular Joan of Arc in a loosely detailed adaptation of her involvement in the English occupation of France during the Hundred Years’ War in the early 15th century.

When it comes to gameplay, this Strategy RPG utilized a new approach from Level 5’s more traditional turn-based fare in the past but functions much like some of Squares classics as well as Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series.

There are a handful of notable strategy RPG series across the platform but the combination of balanced strategy gameplay and interesting story adaptation make Jeanne D’ Arc one of the higher-quality titles to try out in the library. Only released in North America and Japan, the game remains exclusive to the PSP to this day.

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Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions + Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

If not Jeanne D’ Arc, then Squares strategy RPG classics are surely must-plays for the PSP. Based on their original PS1 versions (of which Tactics Ogre was originally a SNES game) both FFT and TO:LUCT feature a myriad of improvements and additions that make both of these the definitive versions of each to own.

The only downside is that, due to the PSPs UMD loading, some slow down can occur in various segments, especially in Final Fantasy Tactics. Despite this, both games are major staples in the Strategy RPG genre and fit perfectly on handhelds.

Each received numerous script enhancements and revisions in the localization department and the development of both these enhanced versions was overseen by many of the original team members from both titles. War of the Lions did receive a mobile port but Let us Cling Together remains a PSP exclusive

Check for Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions on eBay
Check for Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions on Amazon

Check for Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on eBay
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Castlevania Dracula X Chronicles

While this release might not rank as highly to the mainstream gamers that the PSP was targeting, it resonated strongly with old-school gamers and that strong segment of PSP loyalists that appreciated its niche, classical game selection.

Rondo of Blood was, for a time, one of the oddest entries in the Castlevania series. The original PC Engine release, though praised by critics and deeper series fans, never saw a western release proper. Instead, released as Dracula X on the SNES, that version of the game would feature various cuts to the story and gameplay for the sake of conversion to the SNES. Not quite a bad port but not at all a worthy adaptation to the original.

It wasn’t until the PSP remake release in 2007 that Rondo of Blood would get its due. Dracula X Chronicles featured a full-on 2.5D classical overhaul of Rondo of Blood. This version not only was translated into English for the first time, but with new voice acting and new stage challenges.

On top of all that, Dracula X Chronicles also gave fans the ability to unlock the PC Engine original and more importantly, yet hardly advertised as much, the ability to unlock Symphony of the Night (the direct sequel to Rondo). Taking this the extra mile, the Dracula X Chronicles compilation used the same voice actors for Rondo and SOTN, making the connection between them even stronger. SOTN also had some additional content compared to the PS1 original (but not quite as much as the Saturn port).

All in all, these bells and whistles made it a very attractive package and the ideal way to play this phase of the Castlevania timeline all in one place. It’s an essential release for Castlevania and PSP fans alike.

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The Ys series

Falcom’s Ys series would find a well-loved home on the PSP.  After the series’ long-awaited return to consoles with the release of Ark of Napishtim (Ys VI) to PS2, the games would begin to be ported to Sony’s handhelds with Ark first then Oath in Felghana (a retelling of Ys III), Origins (I & II) and the next major entry, Ys Seven, all making appearances in the west throughout the lifespan of the PSP.

These action RPGs put the player in the role of adventure Adol Christen and often recant his wild adventures to become the legendary hero he is known for being. As the PSP features such a vast handful of entries in the series each has its own gameplay style.

Origins is the most unique as it is based around the original two series entries. Oath in Felghana plays much like Ark of Napishtim and Ys Seven featured a new more complex 3D style that involved character swapping and would be used in future remakes and new entries. With Ys gaining more modern exposure, the legacy would continue onto the Vita and other modern platforms, including PC in homage to Falcom’s original releases, but these PSP entries are must-haves and would define the system’s ability to gather up games from more niche yet still beloved series.

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Wipeout Pure

It’s always nice to have a solid racer on a portable system and it’s hard to choose a better franchise to fit the PSP than Wipeout. Its hue-infused futuristic take on the racing genre is only rivaled by Nintendo’s F-Zero and Wipeout’s legacy for a killer soundtrack translates nicely to the PSP’s strong media reputation.

Wipeout Pure is set an additional 100 years into the future than previous installments and happens to be one of the stronger entries in the Wipeout series and first on the PSP. The game originally launched around the North American PSP release and was widely praised by critics as a solid adaptation of the series.

Pure is also notable for being one of the first PSP games to allow for DLC. All of the DLC packs were free and released over the first few months of the game’s launch. Though the original site for the packs has been shut down, they have been preserved through third-party means and often included new tracks, vehicles, music and artwork for the futuristic racing classic.

Check for Wipeout Pure on eBay
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Ridge Racers

Of course, the Wipeout series has traditionally also had the Ridge Racer series by its side on the Playstation platforms and the PSP is no exception.

Namco’s Ridge Racer series would make its way to the PSP in a solid pair of entries. The first installment, simply called “Ridge Racer” (or “Ridge Racers” in Japan), would serve as both a launch title for the PSP and a bit of a “best of” type entry for the series featuring tracks, cars and music from a variety of the previous titles. Despite not being especially original, Ridge Racer sold quite well on the PSP.

The follow-up, titled Ridge Racer 2 was released everywhere but the US. Similar to the first PSP installment, Ridge Racer 2 is less of a true sequel and more of a “best of” compilation type game featuring even more content than the first installment.

Both Ridge Racer releases are essential for racing fans on the PSP. Even though Ridge Racer 2 wasn’t commercially released in North America, it’s quite easy to import these days due to the high print run.

Check for Ridge Racer Series on eBay
Check for Ridge Racer Series on Amazon

Dissidia: Final Fantasy/Duodecim

Part Power Stone part anime arena fighter, Square’s Final Fantasy fighting series took root on the PSP and offered one of the most unique and content-rich experiences on the handheld.

Serving as a celebration of the series, Dissidia allowed players to choose from their favorite hero or villain in the series up to FF XII at the time and go at it in big arena-sized 3D battles that spanned numerous series locations.

Instead of just fighting till life bars dropped, the games featured a unique mechanic of struggling back and forth for life points. This encouraged more thoughtful gameplay than just dashing in and mashing buttons. The sequel, 012 Duodecim, despite having such an odd name, added more characters and content to the first and even came with all the main story content included in the original. The eventual arcade and PS4 follow-up were not as well-received due to major changes made in-game functionality but these first two mid to later-life PSP releases should be essentials for system owners and Final Fantasy fans all around.

Check for Dissidia: Final Fantasy/Duodecim on eBay
Check for Dissidia: Final Fantasy/Duodecim on Amazon

Star Wars: Battlefront II

Last but not least, a long time ago on a portable far, far away, Pandemic Studios’ Battlefront II sold quite well and offered most of the features of the console and PC versions of the same name, including the popular multiplayer suite of features.

Allowing for up to 4 players wirelessly, Battlefront on-the-go was just as impressive at the time as many of the other console-to-handheld adaptations offered on the PSP.

This port of Battlefront II sold so well on the PSP that LucasArts actually made several spin-off sequels. While Renegade and Elite Squadron were not quite as well-received, both featured a slew of enhancements that built upon what was established in Battlefront II and are worth a look for Star Wars fans and PSP owners in search of a solid multiplayer experience.

Check for Star Wars: Battlefront II on eBay
Check for Star Wars: Battlefront II on Amazon

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters (eBay)
  • Secret Agent Clank (eBay)
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (eBay)
  • Silent Hill Origins (eBay)
  • Crush (eBay)
  • Tekken: Dark Resurrection (eBay)
  • Gran Turismo (eBay)
  • Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade (eBay)
  • Burnout Legends (eBay)
  • Valkyria Chronicles series (eBay)
  • Mega Man Powered Up (eBay)
  • Mega Man X Maverick Hunter (eBay)
  • N+ (eBay)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Series (eBay)
  • Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror (eBay)


6 Comments

Cronson says:

I was curious if MGS Peace Walker would make this list. That was my fondest memory of the PSP (other than maybe the day I bought one). I played the shit out of that game with Ad Hoc mode through the PS3 with a forum member from this site (Weasels). Such a great experience. Like you wrote, bite sized gaming perfect for a hand held. I’m not sure how it holds up, but it was a blast back then.

racketboy says:

Thanks for sharing! It seems like Peace Walker is held up pretty well as one of the very best on the PSP — but it’s always nice to hear reinforcement from the RB community 🙂

Chris says:

What a great system. I think both Sony portables are really fun. I had a blast getting this system and many of the game as they came out . Too had mine has a disc drive thst sounds like its on its last legs

racketboy says:

Yeah, its a very interesting platform that’s been nice for me to finally dig deeper into. But it does seem like its original hardware is often its weak point in the modern experience.

Hulk Logan says:

Fantastic article! Always nice to see the PSP get some love. Any chance of getting a PSP hidden gems article?

Also, more DS and Wii coverage would be great! As a lifelong Nintendo fan, that was a great era for us.

Anyways, it’s been great seeing more and more 7th gen articles on this site. I’ve been very nostalgic for that era the last few years (I was a teenager back then, late ’20s now), and it was the last time gaming truly felt magical for me.

racketboy says:

Thank you!
I have a PSP Beginner’s Guide in the work, but I would think I would eventually get a Hidden Gems out there someday, but probably not as soon as everyone would like lol.

And yeah, I think Wii and DS is probably in that same zone of wanting to branch out.
There’s always this balance of me making sure the classic stuff is updated and up to my newer standards while also generating new stuff.

But I’m pretty much on the same page as you — just a matter of time!

Thanks for the support!

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