The PlayStation Portable (PSP) was a landmark handheld gaming system developed by Sony. Released in 2004, the PSP featured incredible graphics, versatile media capabilities, and a fantastic library of games.
Years after the PSP’s production ended, the open-source PPSSPP emulator was created to emulate PSP games on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and more. PPSSPP allows you to enjoy PSP games in HD resolutions, with save states, remapping, and other benefits.
There are two main ways to use PPSSPP – as a core within RetroArch, or as a standalone emulator. But how do they compare in terms of compatibility and performance? Which option will give you the best PSP emulation experience?
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RetroArch is a multi-system emulator that supports dozens of classic systems. It uses “cores” like PPSSPP to emulate individual consoles.
RetroArch provides a unified interface and features like save states, rewinding, achievements, netplay and advanced customization across all its cores. It’s an excellent all-in-one emulation solution.
The PPSSPP core in RetroArch allows you to play PSP games within the same interface as other systems. This provides a seamless experience compared to juggling multiple standalone emulators.
PPSSPP is an open-source PSP emulator for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and more platforms. The standalone PPSSPP application only emulates PSP games but is optimized specifically for that purpose.
Standalone PPSSPP offers simplicity and focused PSP emulation. Its interface contains all settings related to PSP emulation in one place. Some features like UMD switching don’t work properly through RetroArch, and only standalone PPSSPP contains the Vulkan renderer for enhanced performance.
The most important aspect of any emulator is its ability to properly run games. Do RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP differ significantly in terms of game compatibility and playability?
Overall, both offer excellent PSP emulation and can run most games without issue. However, there are some slight differences in game compatibility between the two.
The PPSSPP core in RetroArch uses an older version of the PPSSPP codebase (currently 1.4.2). Standalone PPSSPP sees more frequent updates, so it has better compatibility with newer games and fixes that didn’t exist when the RetroArch core was integrated.
However, RetroArch’s PPSSPP core has custom optimizations specific to RetroArch. So some games that have issues in standalone PPSSPP may work better through RetroArch. Overall they are fairly even in terms of game compatibility.
The majority of PSP games run perfectly or with minor issues through both RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP. But some titles exhibit differences in compatibility between the two.
Here are some examples of PSP games that have known compatibility issues in RetroArch or standalone PPSSPP:
- God of War: Chains of Olympus – Has graphical glitches in RetroArch but runs perfectly in standalone PPSSPP.
- Secret Agent Clank – Crashes at start in standalone PPSSPP, but works in RetroArch.
- Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki – Freezes during battles in RetroArch, not in standalone PPSSPP.
- Final Fantasy Type-0 – Extreme slowdown in RetroArch, full speed in standalone PPSSPP.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep – Broken graphics in RetroArch, correct visuals in standalone.
- Dissidia 012 Duodecim – Severe slowdown in RetroArch, full speed standalone PPSSPP.
As you can see, some games may have issues in RetroArch but work correctly in standalone PPSSPP, or vice versa. It depends on the specific title.
I’ve compiled a spreadsheet showing compatibility reports across a large number of games for each emulator. Check it out below:
|God of War: Chains of Olympus
|Secret Agent Clank
|Crashes at start
|Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki
|Freezes during battles
|Final Fantasy Type-0
|Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
|Dissidia 012 Duodecim
|Gran Turismo PSP
|Persona 3 Portable
|Minor visual issues
|Final Fantasy Tactics
|Locks up during battles
|No lock ups
|Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
|Long load times
|Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
|Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
|Slow in areas
|Mega Man Powered Up
|Broken background graphics
|Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai
|Occasional lock ups
This table shows how certain games may favor one emulator over the other when it comes to playability and compatibility. It depends on the specifics of each title.
I suggest testing games on both platforms to determine which offers the best experience. For best results, use the latest standalone PPSSPP and a recent RetroArch with updated PPSSPP core.
Aside from game compatibility, RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP differ in terms of features, customization options and performance.
Both emulators allow for the enhancement of PSP games with high-resolution rendering, texture filtering, and more visual upgrades.
Standalone PPSSPP has a Vulkan renderer for faster performance on compatible GPUs. RetroArch only uses OpenGL for graphics in its PPSSPP core.
RetroArch may offer more graphical tweaking options since it standardizes settings across all its cores. Standalone PPSSPP tailors graphics settings specifically for PSP emulation.
Overall RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP both provide excellent graphical enhancements to increase PSP games’ native resolution and visuals. Standalone PPSSPP’s Vulkan support gives it an edge on modern PCs.
RetroArch provides robust control customization and supports fully remapping any controller. Its input settings are consistent across different cores.
The standalone PPSSPP can remap controls, but the interface is more specific to PSP hardware. Controllers are mapped to emulate the PSP’s buttons rather than abstract gamepad inputs.
Both programs allow remapping controls to your liking. RetroArch makes it easier to use the same controller layout across different emulators.
RetroArch tends to add a bit more overhead compared to standalone emulators. Running the libretro cores through RetroArch can increase input latency and reduce FPS in some cases.
Standalone PPSSPP is focused specifically on fast, low-level PSP emulation. It has less bloat and overhead vs. RetroArch’s all-in-one multi-system approach.
That said, RetroArch is highly optimized and performance differences in PPSSPP are not very noticeable in most cases. But standalone PPSSPP may achieve full speed in some demanding games that are too slow in RetroArch.
RetroArch supports save states across all its cores, including PPSSPP. You can save/load the exact emulation state during gameplay.
Standalone PPSSPP also has save state functionality, but save states are separate between RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP. Transferring save states between the two requires manually exporting and importing the save state files.
So RetroArch provides unified save states while standalone PPSSPP uses distinct save states.
RetroArch has built-in achievements modeled after Xbox Live and PlayStation trophies. Earning achievements is a fun way to add modern gamification to classic games.
Since it’s an all-in-one emulator, RetroArch tracks achievements across various cores like PPSSPP. Standalone PPSSPP does not have internal achievement support.
So RetroArch is the better choice for unlocking achievements during PSP gameplay.
PSP games supported online multiplayer between PSP systems via WiFi. Both RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP emulate this functionality through netplay. This allows real-time online play on emulated PSP games.
In RetroArch, netplay is configured through the cross-core netplay lobby. Standalone PPSSPP handles netplay through its own integrated Ad hoc server.
The netcode is based on the same PPSSPP code in both programs. But RetroArch’s lobby system arguably provides a more intuitive netplay interface compared to PPSSPP’s server browser.
Overall netplay capability is similar between the two. RetroArch may provide a nicer wrapper for setting up netplay.
Some PSP games were released on multiple UMD discs, requiring the user to manually switch discs during certain points in gameplay.
Standalone PPSSPP fully supports “UMD switching” – it will prompt you to switch ISO/ROM files when a game needs to change discs. This accurately mimics the real PSP hardware.
UMD switching does not currently work properly through the PPSSPP core in RetroArch. It only recognizes a single disc ISO.
So for multi-disc PSP games, a standalone PPSSPP is currently required for accurate UMD switching support.
PSP used Memory Stick Duo cards to store game saves. Both programs allow you to import/export memory card save files.
RetroArch saves Memory Stick files per core. PPSSPP standalone emulates Memory Sticks independently.
Accessing the same memory card saves may require exporting and importing between RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP save folders.
The PSP CPU could be overclocked to improve performance in demanding games. This is emulated by both programs.
Overclocking is handled globally in RetroArch’s settings. Standalone PPSSPP overclocks the CPU per game.
Global overclocking in RetroArch provides a set performance boost across titles. Per-game overclocking in standalone PPSSPP allows optimizing each game’s CPU speed individually.
Some special features are only available in standalone PPSSPP:
- Vulkan Renderer – As mentioned previously, standalone PPSSPP offers a Vulkan graphics backend for enhanced performance on compatible GPUs. This is not available in the RetroArch core.
- Touchscreen Controls – The standalone PPSSPP app for Android lets you map touchscreen controls for mobile gameplay. RetroArch for Android does not have touchscreen mapping currently.
So these unique features are exclusive to standalone PPSSPP. RetroArch does not have equivalent functionality.
RetroArch provides a unified interface for all cores but takes time to learn and configure. The settings are very technical with tons of tweakable options.
Standalone PPSSPP has a simpler interface focused strictly on PSP emulation options. Less technical knowledge is required to use it.
First-time emulator users may find standalone PPSSPP easier to get into. RetroArch appeals more to power users willing to invest time in mastering its customization.
The PPSSPP core in RetroArch is based on an older version of the main PPSSPP project. It does not always contain the latest code changes and compatibility fixes.
Standalone PPSSPP sees much more active development. It is updated every 1-2 months with new features, speed improvements, and compatibility enhancements.
So standalone PPSSPP represents the most up-to-date state of the emulator. RetroArch updates PPSSPP less frequently since it bundles many cores.
Given the differences in features and compatibility, which emulator is better for PSP emulation overall?
For most users, standalone PPSSPP generally excels as a dedicated PSP emulator:
- Easier to set up and use
- More frequent updates
- Latest compatibility fixes
- Unique features like Vulkan
- UMD switching support
However, RetroArch has some advantages of its own:
- Unified emulation interface
- Cross-core achievement tracking
- Built-in netplay lobbies
- Shared shaders and settings
- Play PSP seamlessly alongside other classic systems
So there are excellent reasons to use both emulators.
For casual PSP emulation, standalone PPSSPP offers simplicity and focused features. For a consolidated emulation platform across systems, RetroArch provides integration and consistency.
Certain games may favor one over the other due to compatibility differences. Testing games in both apps gives flexibility in case issues arise.
I suggest all PSP emulation fans have both RetroArch (latest PPSSPP core) and standalone PPSSPP installed. Together they provide the best overall experience. Use whichever works better for your needs per game!
RetroArch and standalone PPSSPP offer slightly different approaches to PSP emulation. But they are both excellent overall.
The majority of PSP libraries will run great through either program. Having both options provides compatibility flexibility depending on the game.
Use this comparison as a guide to the pros and cons of each platform. Both are worth keeping installed for smooth PSP emulation and maximum game coverage!