It’s been a while since we did not talk about PPSSPP, the open source PSP emulator available across most platforms, including the Pandora. Last time I mentioned it, it was for the 0.9.6 version, and since then there’s a lot to say about it. Obviously the Pandora is nowhere near powerful enough to run most games made for the PSP (especially the 3D intensive ones), but there’s now a good collection of games that run pretty well.
Let’s say there are like 5 categories of games with PPSSPP on the Pandora:
- PERFECT: running pretty much like on the original hardware (smooth!)
- ENJOYABLE: running well enough to focus on the game and not the emulation.
- PLAYABLE: obviously lacking in performance, while speed-wise it can still be played.
- SLIDESHOW: way too slow to be remotely playable.
- BROKEN: something breaks the game somehow (either crash or critical feature).
I have tested a good amount of PSP games with that version and let me give you an overview of what runs well and what fits in each category. Of course, what is acceptable for you may not be acceptable for me – for example, there are some titles in the PLAYABLE category that I could see being close to “enjoyable”, but there’s a fine line between something that’s running 90% well and something that’s more like 60%~70% or worse. Note that all the following tests were done on a 1Ghz Model.
PERFECT (i.e. pretty much like on the original hardware)
Final Fantasy III: one of the few emulated PPSSPP games that run extremely well even on the Pandora. The 3D is certainly not too complex and makes it possible for the Pandora to deal with it just fine. And… that’s it! Yeah, I could not find many games where performance is that close to being perfect. Obviously I did not test all PSP games out there, so I am certainly missing a good number, but among the ones I tested FFXIII was the closest to perfection I could find.
ENJOYABLE (i.e. works and performance is very good)
Half Minute Hero: this 2D crazy indie game from Japan is generally working very well, very fast, but somehow music stutters now and then. A minor issue that does not get too much in the way of this funny game.
Corpse Party: a simple 2D game (mixed with horror elements) which runs pretty much like the real deal, except for some slight music stuttering constantly.
Castlevania: a 3D game with a 2D side-view, running very well on Pandora, with some occasional slowdowns in heavy scenes, and some music stuttering a little bit.
Amagami: this visual novel plays very well but suffers from the ongoing slight music stutter. Otherwise it’s pretty much as you would expect.
Darius Burst: a very cool shoot’em up, probably among the best you can actually play on Pandora. Very cool large bosses at the end of each level, and the games runs sufficiently well for you to focus on the action rather than the framerate. There’s some slight music stutter now and then but it’s barely noticeable when you trying to survive.
Ys1 and Ys2: a 2D RPG game, very, very close to the real thing, with the occasional very slight music stutter when there are too many moving sprites on screen.
Legend of Heroes: another RPG by Falcom – this time it’s in 3D (apart from the main characters as sprites) and it runs amazingly well. There’s some occasional music stutter, and slightly lower framerates sometimes, but all in all it has awesome performance on Pandora.
Trails in The Skies SC: This second chapter of the Trails trilogy(?) runs beautifully on Open pandora, as you can see in the below video. There are some frequent slow downs with the sound every single time you jump to a new screen, but apart from this minor annoyance the framerate is very decent and the game… delicious.
Megaman Power-up: Capcom tried to reboot the series with this episode on PSP using a different art style (much more child-like). It used to be in the “playable” realm but now the emulation is fast enough for me to classify it as enjoyable. Framerate is still not perfect but it’s now acceptable to consider playing this game for real if you like the Megaman/Rockman series.
Disgaea: For fans of Tactical RPG, this is a very well known series. You can also play it on Nintendo DS with Drastic, but the PSP version is clearly superior. It runs almost perfectly if not for the introductory scene where flames cause heavy sound stutters. Other than that, it’s pretty much like on the original hardware.
Disgaea 2: the sequel runs very well too – maybe not as smooth in the village scene (there’s clearly lower framerate there) but it does not go in the way of the game at all. So there you go, two very good Tactical RPGs very enjoyable on Pandora via PPSSPP.
Lumines: this puzzle game from the early PSP days runs pretty well, but depending on the level (and its background effects) you’ll see some slight slow-downs and reduce frame-rate. Most of the time it’s harmless but it’s a little too far fetched to call it perfect.
Zettai Hero Project: another tactical RPG working pretty much like a charm on PPSSPP – it’s not perfect as you get a couple of slow-downs here and there, but it’s pretty good and runs as you would expect – and the 2D scenes are flawless. As you can see there are presently a lot of games that fall in this category. This is amazing considering that the PSP runs a 200 Mhz MIPS processor and the Pandora only runs a 1 Ghz processor and has to emulate CPU, Sound and GPU instructions in a very effective fashion.
PLAYABLE (i.e. works but Performance is so-so)
Final Fantasy Tactics: It runs well most of the time, but along with occasional music stuttering, the biggest issue is that the game completely STOPS when you use magical spells, making you wait a couple of seconds until the graphical effect is loaded. Unless you really care about the 16:9 aspect ratio, it’s probably a better idea to play the PSX version.
Loco Roco 2: it’s definitely playable if you choose de degrade the bezier curves details, giving you a reasonable framerate most of the time. As scenes get more and more complex, you get more frame drops and music stutters more noticeably.
Valkyria Chronicles 2 and 3: The funny thing is that these games used to play very well in the earlier versions of PPSSPP, but things have now changed for the worse and while it’s still playable, the framerate in-game is really horrible, making it hard to “enjoy” such games. Too bad since these two are really good examples of excellent PSP exclusives.
Persona 2: I would have categorized this in the slideshow category until recently, but the latest version bring this a level up – it’s nowhere as slow as it used to be, and while the framerate is still pretty low, it’s now in the realm of playable games. Not that I would recommend anyone to play it in that state.
Project Diva: it’s quite impressive how well this game featuring Hatsune Miku works- but at the same time it’s a music game and slow-downs and drops in framerate are critical to the gameplay. In any other game genre these imperfections would have been acceptable, but in the worst cases the fps drops make you miss the right time to trigger your action. It really depends on the songs, some have rather simple 3D scenes and are perfectly enjoyable while others cause the aforementioned issues. Grand Theft Auto Chinatown: It used to be either in the broken.
Final Fantasy IV Complete: a great remake for the famous FF episode (more colorful than the original) yet it runs a little bit like shit compared to what it actually displays. The framerate is certainly not great, and there’s clear slow-downs and stutters when an enemy is killed and destroyed in pieces. Otherwise, very playable.
Criminal Girls: it runs here again better than in the previous versions, but every single time there is a dialog with voice-over, you get heavy audio stutters.
Killzone Liberation: it used to be a broken title for PSP emulation. Would not even start. Now it starts, remains extremely slow in the menu screens (apparently the menus were made to be GPU intensive), but the video are running decently. In-game, you get what you deserve for trying to run that game: a heavy-stuttering slideshow. But hey, it still works!
Lego Batman: the performance has massively improved compared to the earlier versions. It used to be something like a 0.5 FPS slideshow. Now it’s probably in the 2 to 3 FPS range, which is a huge relative improvement, but still does not change the fact it cannot be played.
GTA Chinatown Wars: it’s almost playable in certain scenes, and this game has come a long way. It used to be full of graphic glitches and now it almost looks correct in most scenes. It’s just too bad the game gets really slow when you start driving in the city, which is one of the main points of playing GTA. Still, impressive progression compared to the previous versions.
Wipe-Out: no surprise here, while it used to be one of the earlier PSP titles (and the first one I bought with my original PSP, it was unseen on a portable back in 2004!), it’s still extremely graphically intensive and too much for the Pandora hardware to handle. Since it runs at like 3 to 5 FPS you can still kind of play it, but the sound is awful and there’s no way once could enjoy this without being on drugs. Note that most racing games (probably with the exception of Ridge Racer) run like slideshows on the Pandora.
Sakura Taisen I and II: while the performance has steadily improved compared to the previous version, you still get stuttering music and corrupted graphics that keeps making this game unplayable. I tried the same game on REICAST, too, and it’s even worse there. So for now, there’s not much luck to playing Sakura Taisen on the Pandora. I should probably give a go to the Saturn emulator but I seriously doubt it will be very fast.
Jeanne d’Arc: it runs much better than before. It used to be an awful slideshow (like 1fps or less) and now it’s going at something like 3 to 5 fps. Amazing progress if anything! It still features the same issue as before though: characters are almost invisible (or at least partly visible in this latest version) so for me this is a deal breaker anyway.
A Final Word
As you can see, the Open Pandora is not dead! There are now many PSP games that you can play (and enjoy!) with PPSSPP in its latest iteration. What’s great about the PSP is that it brings some newer games that were only available on PS2 so far (like the Persona series and Disgaea just to name a few) while still being a reasonable emulation target for our hardware. Of course there are many titles that won’t run well (and probably never will) but it would be unfair to cast away this emulator just because it can’t run every single game well out there. There’s plenty of gems to discover or re-discover in the PSP Game Library.