When psp first came into existence it was the most powerful gaming console, that you could hold in the palm of your hands, on the market and it was advertised as such. A generation of gamers were led to believe that psp would give them console quality games on the go.
I must note that even though the term "console quality" is too wide to mean anything many gamers (including myself) believed that psp would be able to play games of the quality of the ps2. To an extent this was true. Within the first few years we got titles like GTA, Metal gear solid : Portable ops and Daxter that demonstrated that psp was indeed capable of producing console quality titles. There was a problem though.
Traditionally handhelds had been under powered as compared to the consoles. PSP's competitor DS was significantly less powerful than psp and the consoles around at that time. So while it was bashed around in the media for it's weak hardware game developers churned out one compelling game after another on the system. On psp even though there were "console quality" games it took a similar amount of time to develop them and when you have a handheld system on which there are 2 years long development cycles you are going to have trouble finding support for it.
That is exactly what happened. Devs found it difficult to understand why they would invest in a machine that took as long to develop as a console and had a lower rate of success. For a while support for the psp faltered. Meanwhile in japan capcom ported Monster hunter on the psp and it became a run away hit. Capcom followed it up with Monster hunter 2 and it was even more successful than the original game. In japan psp gave rise to a new genre all together and the games came to be know about as the hunting games
Every video game company wanted a piece of action. Namco created God Eater, sega revived Phantasy star and Square Enix took a chance on Lord of apocalypse. By now psp had found it's identity. It would be unfair however to give all the credit to monster hunter.
Sony japan was as much influential in the success of psp as capcom. Games like Patchwork heroes, patapon, loco rocco and Jeanne D' Arc were some of best games that the system had to offer.
Even Square Enix, a company that takes years to release games, released a deluge of must play titles on both psp and the DS. But even they initially started with ports of old games.
NIS took some risks and decided to branch out on psp. As a result they created some very good games that were not srpgs .
PSP led the resurgence of falcom. Both ys and trails in the sky prospered on the system.
Hell during it's prime japanese developers preferred psp over home consoles to develop games for. This is evidenced by games like Yakuza and Valkyria Chronicles on the system.
A more pressing problem that psp faced however was from ps3. In 2006 sony released ps3 and like any new system it did not do well at the start. Sony even sold it for loss initially. To recover quickly they poured all of their development energies into the struggling console. As a result most of sony's first party studios worked on the ps3. The third party developers followed the lead and psp was left to struggle. If it were not for the combined efforts of sony japan and other third party japanese studios psp would sure have faded out of existence.
Now that we have some context it is easier to see how vita is doing as compared to the psp during the same stage. When it comes to hardware psp did a lot better during the same time frame and vita is obviously falling behind it's predecessor. There are a lot of reasons for this but I feel that the most prominent reason is the rise of smart phone gaming. If we compare the sale of 3DS with DS it is easy to see that it is not doing as well as it's predecessor either. But I think that this effect is temporary and if both systems manage to provide compelling software during the course of their lifetime the sales will catch up.
The third party support has been quite good. NFS : Most wanted is the vita's best racer which is quite a statement considering the presence of wipeout. Ubisoft gave us the excellent Rayman : Origins. In terms of new IP Toukiden looks like it could become a successful franchise.
The problem that vita faces is similar to what it's predecessor faced. PS4 has been announced by sony recently and it's very likely that once again the focus is going to shift there. Games like Call of duty and Resistance: Burning skies made with the intention of earning a quick buck did more harm than good.
An encouraging sign that I notice is that the smaller japnese studios that played a big role is success of psp are supporting vita very well. Falcom has already released an ys title and is working on a new legend of heroes game. Game arts has been one of the most prolific supporters of vita with 4 games already released for the system. NIS has been busy porting the Disgaea games and just like psp it will only be a matter of time before they bring something new for the system. The high point was Sega's decision to release massive PSO 2 on the vita.
So every time I hear about vita being heavy on ports I wince. Handhelds have always been port machines. This is not as bad as it sounds as one of the reasons that people buy them in first place is to play remakes of old games on the go. GBA a predecessor to psp and ds had tonnes of remakes and direct ports on it. It was on gba that I got to play games like FF5, Metroid and classic Zelda titles for the first time. No matter what anyone else says part of the appeal of handhelds is the ability to play the classics on the go. It is appealing to the devs cause it gives them a quick and cheap way to test the waters while understanding the hardware of the new machine. While for the gamers handhelds are nostalgia machines that can be carried around.
It will take a while for vita to to discover it's identity. Once more I can see sony japan taking the initiative with the recently announced Freedom Wars. But if all you really want to play are the most cutting edge original games, handhelds might not be a good investment and it would be better to stick to the home consoles. However if you are like me and you don't mind port of console games in exchange for the convenience that handhelds offer vita is a good purchase.
We must manage our expectations though.It is easy to overlook what vita offers at present if we fantasize about what we want from it instead. Vita won't be supported like it's big brother but given time it will have gems that will make all this wait worth it.