Geek, gamer, writer, graphic artist. The Geek's favorite shows and adventures are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.
1. Genji: Dawn of the Samurai / Genji: Days of the Blade
If you’re familiar with Japanese history, you’d know that the power struggle between the Genji and Heike clans directly inspired numerous mangas, anime, and video games. Genji: Dawn of the Samurai and Genji: 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 historical heroes appear in both games too. For example, Benkei i.e. 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 classic PlayStation titles when it comes to experiencing Japan. During their run, both were highly commended for their graphics and artistic design. In short, these two Genji games will 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 after playing.
2. Yakuza 1–5
Personally, I am totally convinced that no other video game series delivers such a quintessential slice of modern Japan as the Yakuza series does. That is, the shadier side of modern Japan. 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 video-chat flirting.
Other features of the Yakuza games are delightfully Japanese too. Be it the karaoke challenges, or the baseball mini-games, or the struggles of everyday Japanese people told through side-quests. Of note, the Yakuza series is renowned in the world of retro PlayStation games for product placements. 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.
3. Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army / Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon
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 itself 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, the 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 tourist hordes, 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 truly unforgettable characterizations.
4. Persona 3 / Persona 4
Persona 3 and Persona 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.
One intense school year, in other words.
This will sound dreary to anyone, but that’s where the fantasy elements of these two retro PlayStation games step in to provide excitement. Other than class excursions, summer holidays, teenage drama, and cultural festivals, you also get to battle endless mythology-inspired enemies. In short, if you enjoy watching comedic high school Anime, you will definitely love Persona 3 and 4. For other gamers, these two classic PS 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 the modern Japanese psyche.
5. Onimusha Series
When it comes to experiencing Japan through retro PlayStation games, Capcom’s Onimusha series is likely among the first franchises gamers would think of. With bold re-imaginations of Japan’s most famous Sengoku period warlords, 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 exoticism of historical Japan. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you are willing to give Demon Siege a try, it will remain one of your most unique gaming experiences for a long, long time.
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