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At Vita's Launch: a special report from Tokyo

House and Hirai celebrate; "I want to throw up," says first owner.

Sony execs Kaz Hirai and Andrew House attended an early-morning event in Tokyo yesterday to mark the launch of its sparkly new PlayStation Vita handheld.

The console went on sale in Japan at 7am on Saturday 17th December at stores around the capital, but it was the countdown event at Tsutaya's flagship store in Shibuya that drew the Sony bigwigs - and the world's first officially acknowledged purchasers of a PlayStation Vita.

"I feel cold and tired and I want to throw up," the first person in the queue told Eurogamer, saying that he'd waited since 7pm the previous night in the bitter cold. Declining to give his name, this bespectacled otaku went on to become the world's first Vita owner.

Sony bigwigs Andrew House and Kaz Hirai take a bow.

The countdown event began inside the shop at 6:45am, where a tuxedoed Sony Computer Entertainment president House thanked everyone for turning up so early in the morning.

"I'm thrilled people turned up to celebrate the launch of Vita," said House, in fluent Japanese. "It's my first time to be in Japan for a PlayStation hardware launch. I didn't sleep all night."

"Are you sure you weren't out drinking?" joked SCE chairman Hirai, adding, "I was a bit sleepy before, but now the adrenaline is pumping I feel very excited."

Space at the event was severely limited, and SCE Japan gave most of it to punters rather than press - despite huge global interest, there were only perhaps 30 media outlets present, nearly all of which were broadcast channels (plus Eurogamer of course). The bulk of Tsutaya's ground floor, which is usually dedicated to J-pop CDs and blockbuster Blu-rays, was set out as an orderly queue, its walls decorated with blue Vita banners.

Vita early adopters mob the checkouts.

"Sorry to keep you waiting for so long," said House from the stage, alluding to the 11-month gap between announcing Vita way back in January and its December release. House, who has apparently lived in Japan at some point, greeted the crowd in fluent Japanese.

"Japan will get Vita before any other country in the world, and you will be the first people to get your hands on it. I hope you love it."

Hirai went on to big up the Vita, despite the fact that everyone there was already chomping at the bit to buy one.

"We've thought so hard about what consumers might want from a portable console and all the ways people would want to use it, how to make it comfortable to use for long periods of play," he said. "I feel very confident about it."

At 6:55am, a video montage began showing Vita game adverts and footage from 27th January's PlayStation Meeting, where Vita was first announced under the codename NGP. As the on-screen timer reached the 10-seconds mark, Hirai and House led the crowd in a rambunctious countdown to 7am, before welcoming our otaku friend on stage to pose for photos and prepare to buy his Vita.

The world's first official Vita owner.

"I feel happy, but my mind is totally blank," he told Eurogamer on the way out. "I got the Wi-Fi model. I don't really know what to say, but I have to go to work now!"

Although that guy had waited since 7pm the previous night, Kaneko, the person second in line, told us he'd arrived at around 5am that morning. Most of the customers we spoke to said they had bought a Wi-Fi model, as the 3G data charges are considered quite expensive among Japanese gamers.

In response to this, mobile-internet operator E Mobile is offering a special plan for its Pocket Wi-Fi hotspot-caster, which runs at a whopping 42 Mbps and can be used anywhere and with any Wi-Fi device. Entering a two-year contract meant a discount of about 10,000 yen (£83) on the Vita itself, off the retail price of 24,980 yen (£207) for the Wi-Fi model and 29,980 yen (£248) for the 3G model. Many stores hammered this service hard as customers lined up.

Sales figures for Vita have yet to surface. TheSixthAxis reports today that the Wi-Fi model sold 85 per cent of its stock and the 3G version only 56 per cent, but no one yet knows whether the two models were available in equal quantities, so the numbers are somewhat meaningless. Sony did confirm it would be shipping 700,000 units in total, and while preorders had originally sold out, stores did seem to have more stock than they'd expected.

'Touch my rear panel.'

After the event, we went to pick up our own preordered Vita at electronics giant Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, waiting in line for about an hour. Outside the store, a cosplayer was dressed as a Vita, inviting passersby to touch his "rear panel". Other stores that opened at 7am included branches of Bic Camera and Sofmap.

Perhaps harder to obtain than the Vita itself was a decent-sized memory card. The 32GB version was in short supply, with one shop saying it had only ordered one - perhaps because of the outrageous retail price of 9,500 yen (£79). Supplies of the 16GB card also seem to be short at some retailers.

The Vita launched with a day-one system update (to 1.50), as did many games, including Uncharted: Golden Abyss and hostess club sim Dream Club Zero Portable. Unexpectedly, Sony also released an English-language manual online on Saturday - you can access it here.

Not that the Vita is an easy console to import. Although it is multi-region, we can confirm the rumours that Vita can only be used with one PlayStation Network account - you can't sign in to the Japanese store (the only Vita store that currently exists) and then flick back to your UK account to play games without resetting the device to factory settings and reformatting the memory card - losing all your saves and media in the process.

(Presumably the same is true with two PSN accounts in the same country as well - so you and your little brother won't be able to share a Vita without also sharing a PSN account.)

Also, since the Vita contains a sealed Lithium battery, it cannot easily be sent by airmail from Japan, which has strict rules preventing it; we've already heard of Vita packages being returned to sender. So it looks like most of us will have to wait for that 22nd February European release after all...

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Daniel Robson