It’s no secret that the PlayStation Vita is an excellent console for retro console emulation and RetroArch is an excellent all-in-one solution for doing just that. However, only installing the VPK will give you a pretty ugly interface which might give you the wrong idea about RetroArch so in this article, we’ll be looking at the proper way to do things!
Part I: Downloading files & getting them onto your PSVita

Before you start doing anything, you need to download some files namely:

  • The RetroArch VPK (link)
    • This comes in at around 170MB and contains all cores (RetroArch-speak for emulators) available for the PSVita which range from NES to Genesis to NeoGeo and much more
    • For a full list of cores, check out this GBATemp thread
    • A two part article series about what the Vita can emulate can be accessed from these links (part i, part ii)

  • RetroArch’s data files [RetroArch_data.7z] (linkthe link is specific to RetroArch 1.7.9 which is the latest version as of writing this article but you can find links for newer versions easily when they’re available)If you just install RetroArch’s VPK without the data files and the configuration below, it won’t look pretty

    • This contains the stuff that will make RetroArch look great including fonts, menu icons, themes, audio/video filters and much more

  • Optional – A wallpaper of your choice to make the interface look even better. I personally think that ‘minimalist’ wallpapers look the best

After you download the above, you can grab your PSVita and do the following in order to install what you just downloaded:
Obviously, your PSVita must be in hacked mode so run HENkaku/h-encore/Trinity before you start unless you use HENkaku Enso

  • Open VitaShell and connect your PSVita via USB (you can do it via FTP but copying the data files might take 20-30 minutes as they’re composed of a lot of small files)
  • Copy RetroArch’s VPK (RetroArch.vpk) to any directory you please
  • Extract ‘RetroArch_data.7z’ and copy the ‘retroarch’ folder into ux0:/data [as a result, you’ll now have a ux0:/data/retroarch folder]
    • This step might take a while
    • If you want a custom wallpaper, the instructions are below

  • Disconnect the Vita from your PC and install RetroArch’s VPK which you just copied
  • Congrats, you’ve successfully installed RetroArch on your PSVita and can now proceed to setting it up
    • Up till now, you have menu icons and RetroArch looks better but you’re not quite done yet!

Part II: Setting up RetroArch on your PSVita

Now, open RetroArch on your device and start setting it up by following these steps:

  • If you’re accustomed to having X for confirm and O for back, head over to Settings -> Input -> Swap OK & Cancel Buttons and toggle it
    • There are some options for touch controls but they don’t seem to work
    • You can also change the combination to get the option menu while in-game which I recommend doing if you’re using a Phat PSVita (Vita 1K)

  • Now, go to Settings -> User Interface -> Appearance to make RetroArch look greatThe difference between this image and the above image is night-and-day

    • Fonts: Navigate to Menu Font and from here go to ux0:/data/retroarch/assets/glui/font.tff
    • Different Menu Icons: Navigate to Menu Icon Theme and see what you prefer (I personally prefer Systematic)
    • Menu Color Theme: Navigate to Menu Color Theme and figure out which style you prefer (I personally prefer Undersea)
    • Icon Shadows: Navigate to Icon Shadows and toggle it (I personally think RA looks better with shadows on but this is a matter of taste)
    • Menu Layout: You can toggle it between handheld and console with the former providing a bigger interface and the latter providing the default UI (I personally go with Console)
    • You can also change some stuff like the background’s opacity, font colour
    • After doing the above, RetroArch looks pretty decent and using it is much more pleasant!

  • For a custom wallpaper in RetroArch’s menu, you have to follow these steps since Settings -> User Interface -> Appearance -> Background doesn’t seem to detect PNG/JPG files on the Vita
    • Go to ux0:/data/retroarch/assets/xmb/(theme you chose)/png
    • Name the image you want as a background to ‘bg.png’ and copy it to the above directory
      • It’s recommended you use a 960×540/960×544 image

    • You may need to change the background’s opacity in Settings -> User Interface -> Appearance to make your wallpaper look nicer

Part III: Other things you can do with RetroArch

If the XMB UI isn’t your thing, you can use Ozone for a Switch-like experience. You’ll need to add data files to ux0:/data/retoarch/assets/ozone from a PC installation of RA and make sure you remove ‘cursor_border.png’ or else, it won’t work well

If you properly followed Part I and Part II, you’ll get a decent looking RetroArch that uses around 200MB of your device’s storage. However, if you want to customise your experience even more, you can:

  • Set up Dynamic Wallpapers which change as per the core you’re using (guide)
  • Create your own playlists and introduce thumbnails for your games into the mix (guide)
    • Thumbnail files (i.e. game front covers) come in packs which include all games for the system so downloading them might take a while

  • Use a different menu driver such as Ozone which gives you the Nintendo Switch UI
    • This can be done by going to Settings -> Drivers -> Menu

  • Customise a lot more stuff which you can learn about by checking out RetroArch’s documentation