Some great games come out of Japan. So why not take a look at The Best Japanese Games, *according to Lahftel*.
Feeling a void in your backlog? Nothing looks fun to play till all the big games release? Welcome to the first edition of Lahftel telling you, “You should go and play some more Japanese video games.” Trust me, I happen to be a self-proclaimed expert and this is an attempt to raise literacy in some of the best games out there. That for some asinine reason is never coming up when we talk about the greatest games of all time. This piece solely exists to bully editor David. But you should check it out regardless, maybe your new favorite game is on here. Let’s get to it!
All of the Yakuza Games
With all of them being available on the Xbox Gamepass and soon on the PlayStation Plus Premium and on PC, there is absolutely no reason not to check out this storied franchise. While the games have for the longest time been written off as ‘the Japanese GTA’, Yakuza or in japan known as Ryu Ga Gotoku (Like a Dragon) is far more than that. On the surface, they are action loaded beat em ups set in the night life of some of Japans biggest cities. Their grim tales of guys in suits beating the heck out of each other are wonderful love letter to the underappreciated genre of Japanese crime movies.
Their presentation is throughout the series out of this world and it makes up for one of the most consistent series in gaming. The mainline titles are made up of 8 games, the first seven center around Yakuza outcast Kiryu Kazuma trying to do right by the people in his life. These games are more than just beating up goons with motorcycles and cooking appliances, you get to explore richly detailed recreations of some of Japans most famous party districts and just hang out in them. The series features the most insane minigame collections in gaming, ranging from bowling and crane games to a full on baseball team manager.
In my very humble opinion, every single one of them is worth playing through. Even if Kiryu’s journey alone is six games and a prequel. With the recent remasters and remakes, it should not be that jarring to go back to some of the older titles. If you just want to check out the series, I highly recommend you check out Yakuza 0 which is not only a prequel to the entire series but largely stands alone, making only some references to the previous titles.
If you’re looking for something more modern, check out Like a Dragon: Yakuza. A soft reboot of the series featuring the new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga. While the game continues some of the long running storylines of the previous series, it is a wholly new tale. It’s also a classic turnbased JRPG, just that instead of monsters. You beat up perverts, creeps and gangsters while wearing silly outfits and summon mighty allies by sending them a text message.
If Hideo Kojima is the David Fincher of gaming, then Yoko Taro would be Adam West, Taka Waititi, Sam Raimi and Denis Villeneuve rolled in one person.. of gaming.
It all started with NieR, which recently got a remake called NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…, which was a sequel to one of the joke endings of the Yoko Taro-directed Drakengard. Drakengard was a weird game, a B-moviesque hack n slay action game wrapped around this strange meditation on violence in video games. NieR Replicant follows this up on this heart-warming spin on classic adventure games and the closest you’ll find it it is probably Zelda. Just that things are off and the game quickly devolves into much more than being a Zelda clone.
You play as Nier, a young man who’s trying to find a cure for his sisters illness. He goes on a very JRPG adventure together with a strange book called Weiss, foul-mouthed fem fatale Kaine and a blind boy called Emil to destroy the Shadow Lord. Trust me this is the set up for one of the most powerful experiences you can have in gaming. At least play it for the breathtaking music of Keiichi Okabe and the stunning visuals. It is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
If that sounds just a little too weird for you, there is the Sequel. Don’t worry you can enjoy NieR: Automata without having played any of Yoko Taro’s previous work. Wjoe the story and lore of these games is really wild and sometimes too complex for their own sake, the themes and emotions they evoke on their own is what you’re here for. NieR: Automata takes place in the far future were humans have fled to the moon after an alien invasion. In their stead, androids try to reconquer earth by dressing like french goth lolita maids to fight against the robots created by those aliens.
All of this lifts the curtain on what is probably one the best games of the last console generation. And you know you are in for a ride when Platinum Games’ combat system somehow manages to be one of the less interesting selling points. It is amazing don’t get me wrong, but NieR: Automata is much, much more than that.
While the thought of artificial life discovering their humanity is not a new theme and it is wrapped up in that ‘anime aesthetic’ could probably be best observed in the Ghost in the Shell franchise. NieR: Automata is not interested in re-examining ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, instead it uses the medium of video games to examine what a world without humans would look like and how our thoughts and ideas could influence whoever or whatever comes after us. All of this while also diving deep into the existential horror that is being alive in the first place.
NieR: Automata will mess you up if you let it. Despite the cool anime robots fighting the other robots with gigantic katanas and laser beam canons. And apparently, there are still secrets to be discovered! NieR: Automata is available for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch come October 6, 2022.
The World Ends With You
Great title for a video game isn’t it? If you ever wanted to see what game inspired the sheer overwhelming style that made Persona 5 the JRPG for people who don’t like JRPG’s. Check out Square Enix’s The World Ends With You. Initially released for the Nintendo DS in 2007, this game managed to be a cult classic even if barely anyone in the western gaming scene remembers it.
The game and its sequel which was released last year is this amazing love letter to culture in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Be it the outlandish fashion or the soundtrack that is just mixing and matching all kinds of genres. All of this is wrapped up in a beautifully paced action RPG presented as a visual novel with lots of exploration.
Its story is revolving around a group of teenagers being dragged into the Reaper’s game, three-week long competition that pits them against monsters in order to make it out alive. And that’s as much as I’m willing to tell you about. Honestly, while being deeply soaked in what we could lovingly call anime clichés it offers a completely unique experience with great characters and a flawless presentation. So check it out! The World Ends With You is available on Mobile and the Final Remix edition with some extra content is available on the Nintendo Switch.
Whenever we talk about Sony’s great exclusives, you always hear God of War and The Last of Us come up. And those are great games for mature audiences, but at the height of the superhero craze, we got this gem. Gravity Rush comes from the unlikeliest of places. Conceptualized by Keiichiro Toyama the director of the original Silent Hill, Gravity Rush is a rather wholesome affair comparatively.
Initially released for the PlayStation Vita in 2012, the game focuses on a young woman called Kat who fell from the sky and is now left without memories and a mysterious cat she calls Dusty. Kat has the power to manipulate gravity, powers she develops as you learn to play the game which creates this amazing ludo-narrative harmony (when gameplay and story create a narrative together), which is rare. Especially in the genre of superhero games.
Kat finds herself in the city of Hekseville, a floating city around a structure called the World Pillar that is going through some kind of crisis. And that’s about all I’m willing to say about this game, while the first one is very much a PlayStation Vita game it is full of charm and loving touches. The game’s aesthetic is a beautiful marriage of French-Belgian comic books and Japanese manga and anime. Also, all the characters speak in cute made-up language which sounds like a mix of French and Japanese. Oh, and the music is fantastic.
Go grab it, it’s available on PlayStation 4 and if you love it, play the sequel which is just more of the first game but bigger and better. That one is also available for the PlayStation 4. Seriously, go and spread the word about these two games. They are some of the best titles for the PlayStation 4 and are criminally underrated and deserve way better.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Oh yea, Lahftel game recommendations are dominated by Square Enix titles, who would’ve thought? Why out of all the Final Fantasy games out there recommend this one? Well, because Final Fantasy XII is not only my favorite, it is also the only one that doesn’t get the love it deserved. After coming out of a very troubled development cycle, it is suspiring what a complete experience the game ended up being.
Based on the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII tells the story of Dalmasca, a small ancient kingdom caught up in the war between two empires. For a JRPG and especially a Final Fantasy, it is awe-inspiring how grounded the story of XII ends up being. You follow the perspective of Vaan, a young man who had been orphaned by ongoing war and is just trying to make ends meet for himself and his friends. And a daring heist would then spiral into him being dragged into the complicated politics of the world which, since it is a Final Fantasy also involves ancient powerful magic.
What makes the game is its amazing combat system which some had taunted as an offline MMORPG. Which is not that far from it but there is a lot more to it. Combat is rather slow so you have some wiggle room to control your entire party at once. The game also has the Gambit System, which allows you to program your party members so that they would heal each other if someone is in low health or to chain together attacks. It might sound weird, but the fact that you can use this system to absolutely annihilate bosses without even touching the controller just shows how good that system is.
All of this is complimented by the License Board system, which allows you to progress all your party members in whatever direction you like. Each character gets to pick two job licences, which they can then use to buy licenses for new abilities or gear. Want to play a mage with a gun? What about a fighter with pocket healer abilities? The game also features the coolest power couple in gaming with sky pirate Balthier and his partner in crime Fran.
And I should probably also mention that the team behind it went on to make and borrow a lot of Final Fantasy XII to make the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV and are currently working on Final Fantasy XVI which will release in the summer of next year. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. Go grab it, the HD remaster basically only upscaled the game’s timeless art style and renders.
Zone of the Enders The 2nd Runner M∀RS
Have you ever wondered what the video game version of Neon Genesis Evangelion would look like if you’d exchange all the Christian imagery with ancient Egyptian ones, set in space and written by the guy who made Metal Gear Solid? Here it is. Somewhat recently the second Zone of the Enders got a makeover and there is actually an HD edition of the first two games out there too for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. But I assume this game will be more accessible to more players, so we focus on this.
So yea, besides Metal Gear Solid and the Norman Reedus simulator Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima also made some other games while working for Konami. Besides Boktai, which was a GBA game about you having to go outside to collect sunlight. Zone of the Enders is a small series of games set in the mecha genre. Come to think it, the Metal Gear games only let you take control of their namesake mecha’s once. And all of them are big and clunky and a stand-in metaphor for nuclear weapons.
ZoE on the other hand is fast, really, really fast and makes all of its genre colleagues move at a snail’s pace in comparison. And it is very hard to explain the gameplay so… I’ll try my best here. Imagine an action game in the vein of Devil May Cry, fast hack and slash just that you can move freely in 3D space. All of this happens super fast while you can select from an array of main and sub weapons while navigating through tightly designed levels. Zone of the Enders requires you to think fast and know your arsenal inside and out. It’ll kick your ass if it finds you slacking and rewards perfect execution.
The gameplay is fantastic and there is even VR support for the PC and PlayStation versions. But if you’re playing a Kojima game, you’re expecting a story that seeks its equal. Don’t worry, Zone of the Enders The 2nd Runner does not require to you play the first one. The game centers around the conflict between humanity left on earth and the so-called ‘Enders’ who left for the stars. After Dingo Egret’s fate is intertwined with the mysterious superweapon Jehuty, he gets wrapped up in a conflict that threatens to destroy our solar system.
Not only is the soundtrack amazing, but even after almost 20 years and some HD enhancements the game still looks stylish and plays like a dream. Kind of like all of Kojima’s work come to think of it. Even the old PlayStation One Metal Gear still plays smoothly compared to other titles of its age. Anyways! Zone of the Enders The 2nd Runner M∀RS is available on PlayStation 4 and Steam.
Shadow of the Colossus
I believe that Shadow of the Colossus and a lesser degree its predecessor ICO are those games that everyone in the industry knows that they are good. But as we’re more and more removed from their release. None of the current crop of gamers has actually played them. And it is probably one of those titles, Shadow of the Colossus especially that lingers in the back of everyone’s mind but is slowly being forgotten. With all the shiny melodramatic video games and multiplayer extravagances every year.
So here is my ill-fated attempt to sell you on this classic. People like Zelda right? Especially the new one with the big open world that lets you go wherever you please? Now imagine that but the world is empty and desolate and your only mission is to find and slay 16 monsters roaming it. If you are used to open-world games with maps full of things to do, playing Shadow of the Colossus today is like trying to get sober. To this day there is nothing like it, the closest thing I’ve played in the recent years was probably Death Stranding in those stretches when it just shuts up and lets the world speak for itself.
All those little kinks like the camera doing its own thing, your horse not always listening and your character helplessly flailing about as the elements take their toll on him. You’ll learn to appreciate them. And if I was to come out today and proudly proclaimed that Shadow of the Colossus is the greatest game of all time. I’m certain that there are many that would argue that as well. It is a lost art these days, to have games just shut up and speak for themselves. And while I’d like to gush about this game a lot more, I believe Shadow of the Colossus is more than capable to say a lot by just being experienced.
Go out and play this landmark title which should not be forgotten and probably should get at least a release on Steam, please Sony. There is currently an HD Remaster bundled with ICO, which is also one of the greatest PlayStation 2 games of all time. And more recently there was the PlayStation 4 Remake by Bluepoint which is an almost perfect translation of the original to modern platforms.
Tales of Berseria
The Tales of franchise is one of the great JRPG series. Similar to Final Fantasy, most entries have their own worlds and characters, with little crossover besides some references. The most recent Tales of Arise did really well in both reviews and sales and is probably the most modern version of those games you’ll get to play today. But it is the previous entry in the franchise I want to talk about. Tales of Berseria. This game itself serves as a sort of prequel to Tales of Zesteria, but the games mostly draw on the same world-building and reference each other a little. So they can easily be enjoyed as standalone titles.
But Tales of Berseria earned a special place in my heart, yes it is at times one of those melodramatic anime games with a bunch of edgy, too cool for school characters. But that comes with the field. While being a JRPG, Tales of Berseria’s twist is that you are playing the villains in a world trying to get rid of everything that is evil and unpure. Protagonist Velvet recruits like-minded individuals to enact revenge on those who wronged her. And what at first seems like a by-the-numbers revenge story, quickly turns into a rather heartfelt meditation on what good doing ‘the right thing’ does for those who suffer for it.
Special praise goes to the English vocal performances, especially Cristina Valenzuela as Velvet and Erica Lindbeck as Magilou. Tales of Berseria was released in 2017 and is available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Steam, trust me its worth it.
Ha thought you could get at least one article from me not mentioning Dragons Dogma you? Never! Dragons Dogma is an action RPG directed by the love of my life Hideaki Itsuno. Yes the Hideaki Itsuno behind Devil May Cry 3, Devil May Cry 4 and Devil May Cry 5 aka three of the greatest action games of all time. The creator of Powerstone which also deserves more love and the guy who recently announced that there’ll be a Dragons Dogma 2. I never stopped believing and I got rewarded.
When it came out, Dragons Dogma was wrongfully accused of being a Japanese spin on the popular Skyrim genre of video games. Because it had Dungeons and Dragons roots and centred around dragons. Instead, Dragons Dogma came out just before Dark Souls was released and quietly came to PC after everyone was already convinced that Dark Souls was the second coming of the video game Christ. I will cut myself short when I say, “I wish Dragons Dogma was in Dark Souls place”. And while I’m confident Capcom would’ve screwed it up, it would still be a net positive for the rest of the industry.
Yes, Dragons Dogma is one of my favorite games, actually, most tiles on this list are. But Dragons Dogma is one of those titles that is so much more than the sum of its parts, coming out in a time when the open-world RPG had yet to be defined by the Witcher 3. It is one of the most talented director’s take on trying to gamify what it’s like to be part in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. That’s why a comparison to Dark Souls also feels a little unfair, because those two games try to create very different experiences.
Dragons Dogma is in love with its combat system, nothing plays like it. The closest you’ll ever get is probably Monster Hunter. Here you scale enemies several times your height, hang on as they try to shake you off and make them fall for a devastating attack. Not only does it let you choose between several classes and their hybrids, every single one of them is broken in their own right. Want to one-hit kill griffons with a giant sword? Done. Want to break a dragon’s head by parrying his dive? Sure. Use magic? You are god now.
All of this is combined with Dragons Dogma’s pawn system, which lets you create your very own AI companion which you get to level up and teach things. You can also rent the AI companions of other players to take on adventures with you. Better yet, if a companion has already done a quest or defeated an enemy type they will shout enthusiastically solutions at you. (Wolves hunt in packs!) They will also learn and copy your behavior. So don’t be alarmed when someone else’s pawn strategically murders every single crate or barrel out there.
And the story of Dragons Dogma is also pretty good, it is your usual fantasy affair but it also feels very alien and weird. Something you don’t really see in other games of its kind. And while it has many issues on a surface level, those issues make the experience so much better. Traveling from A to B sucks, so want to plan out your routes and stock up accordingly.
Go and buy it! It’s really good and available on pretty much every modern platform. And the expansion Dark Arisen is a class of its own, also the music is amazing. Dragons Dogma Dark Arisen is available for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch.
And that’s it with my recommendations of what you should put on your back burner. I think all of those games are more than worth playing, some of them really deserve more love and application. Especially since there are a lot of small design decisions you don’t usually see in western games. But in fairness, I will also give you soon a list of great western games that I think to deserve a great audience. Till then, enjoy some more gaming shenanigans and eSports news here on ESTNN