Retro PlayStation Games to Experience Japan With

Updated on October 18, 2018
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Geek, gamer, writer, graphic artist. Yong’s favourite movies and games are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.

1) Genji: Dawn of the Samurai / Genji: Days of the Blade

Playstation 2 cover design of Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
Playstation 2 cover design of Genji: Dawn of the Samurai

Without a doubt, the power struggle between the Genji and Heike clans is the most often romanticized part of Japanese history. Dawn of the Samurai and Days of the Blade bring this epic conflict to life by putting you into the greaves of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the most beloved hero of the saga. In these retro PlayStation games, you journey from being a teenage political prisoner in the outskirts of Kyoto, to Japan’s most celebrated samurai and general.

Other famous Genji heroes appear in both games too. For example, Benkei, Yoshitsune’s giant warrior monk retainer, and Shizuka Gozen, Yoshitsune’s dancer consort. Story and characters are, however, not all there is to these two retro titles when it comes to experiencing Japan. During their run, both were also highly commended for their graphics and artistic design. In short, the two Genji games would make you fall deeply in love with Japan’s age of honor and chivalry. You might even be encouraged to read up the entire history of the Genji/Heike conflict.

Battle before a Shinto shrine in Dawn of the Samurai.
Battle before a Shinto shrine in Dawn of the Samurai.
Fiery death match in Days of the Blade.
Fiery death match in Days of the Blade.

2) Yakuza 1 - 5

Sega's Yakuza series is also known as Ryu ga Gotoku.
Sega's Yakuza series is also known as Ryu ga Gotoku.

I am quite convinced no other retro game series delivers such a quintessential experience of modern Japan as the Yakuza series does. The shadier side of modern Japan, that is. Through the life and struggles of gangland legend Kiryu Kazuma, you get to visit all of Japan’s most famous/notorious night-life districts. You also get to try utterly Japanese adult experience, such as hostess clubs chatting and dating.

Other features of the Yakuza games are delightfully Japanese too. Be it the karaoke challenges, or the baseball mini-games, or the struggles of common Japanese people told through side-quests. Of note, the Yakuza series is renowned in the world of retro PlayStation games for product placement. This commercialization might feel like a turn-off, but believe me, nothing enhances realism more than knowing the shops and restaurants you see in the games actually exist in real-life. At the right moments, you will feel as if you are indeed standing on Japanese soil.

Street scene in Yakuza 3.
Street scene in Yakuza 3.
Osaka evening in Yakuza 2.
Osaka evening in Yakuza 2.

3) Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army / Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon

The two Raidou Kuzunoha games are spin-offs, or prequels, of Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series.
The two Raidou Kuzunoha games are spin-offs, or prequels, of Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series.

Atlus’ Raidou Kuzunoha games feature a Japanese setting that has yet to capture international attention, that of the Taisho Roman period. Named after the brief reign of Japan’s second modern emperor, this was the period during which westernization was embraced with a passion throughout the island nation. The signature Taisho Roman look is a curious but harmonious blend of European and classical Japanese architectural influences.

Both Raidou Kuzunoha titles showcase this unique style in earnest. In addition, the plots could also be said to be distinctively Taisho Roman. It was during this period that Edogawa Rampo, father of Japanese Tantei (detective) stories, achieved his first literary success. The games pay tribute to this by basing protagonist Raidou in a one-man detective agency. If you’re looking to experience a historical period of Japan that has yet to be discovered by general tourist hordes, from the comfort of your living room, these two retro PlayStation games should be the first titles to consider. Being Shin Megami Tensei spin-offs, you can also be assured of strong storytelling and unforgettable characterizations.

Tokyo street scene from Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army.
Tokyo street scene from Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army.
The Raidou Kuzunoha adventures are hands-down the best retro playstation games for gamers fascinated by retro Tokyo.
The Raidou Kuzunoha adventures are hands-down the best retro playstation games for gamers fascinated by retro Tokyo.

4) Persona 3 / Persona 4

Title screen for Persona 4
Title screen for Persona 4

Persona 3 and 4 allow you to experience Japan in a different way. Rather than graphics or famous buildings, or historical references, you get a slice of Japanese life by playing as a high-school student. The overall mission is to survive one academic calendar year.

This might sound dreary, but that’s where the fantasy elements of these two retro PlayStation games step in to provide excitement. Other than battling mythology inspired enemies, you also have class excursions, summer holidays, teenage drama, and cultural festivals to look forward to. If you enjoy watching comedic high school Anime, you would definitely love Persona 3 and 4. For other gamers, these two classic titles are unparalleled examinations of what are possibly the most defining years of a typical Japanese person. In other words, it’s golden insight into Japanese life.

From Persona 3. Many of the cutscenes in both P3 and P4 are hilarious.
From Persona 3. Many of the cutscenes in both P3 and P4 are hilarious.
Persona 3 and 4 are also celebrated for their strong characterisations.
Persona 3 and 4 are also celebrated for their strong characterisations.

5) Onimusha Series

Title screen for Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. The last game in the main Onimusha series.
Title screen for Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. The last game in the main Onimusha series.

When it comes to using retro PlayStation games to experience Japan, Capcom’s Onimusha series is likely among the first franchises retro gamers would think of. With bold re-imaginations of Japan’s most famous warlords from the Sengoku period, everything that one would associate with historical Japan are in these titles. Soaring Tenshu keeps, exotic gardens, mythical temples, they are all here.

What’s more, the third game in the series, Demon Siege, provides gameplay in modern-day Paris too. This is a 2-in-1, perfect for those unable to decide between Europe and Japan for a holiday, and unable to time travel. Needless to say, the contrast between East and West further accentuates the beauty of historical Japan. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you are willing to give Demon Siege a try, it would remain one of your most unique gaming experiences for a long, long time.

Screenshot of Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny.
Screenshot of Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny.
French star Jean Reno plays one of the two protagonists in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege.
French star Jean Reno plays one of the two protagonists in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege.

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    © 2017 Kuan Leong Yong

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