Retro PlayStation Games to Experience Japan With

Updated on April 12, 2017
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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

PS2 cover design of Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
PS2 cover design of Genji: Dawn of the Samurai

Without a doubt, the power struggle between the Genji and Heike clans is the most often romanticised 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 them, 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. Such as Benkei, the giant warrior monk. And Shizuka Gozen, Yoshitsune’s dancer consort. Story and characters are, however, not all there is to these two retro PlayStation titles when it comes to experiencing Japan. During their run, both were also commended for their graphics and artistic design. In short, the Genji games would make you fall deeply in love with Japan’s age of honour and chivalry. You might also be encouraged into reading up the entire history of the Genji clan.

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 that no other game series delivers such a quintessential experience of modern Japan as the Yakuza series. The shadier side of modern Japan, that is. Through the life and permutations 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.

Other aspects of the games are delightfully Japanese too. Be it the karaoke tracks, or the obsession with baseball, or the struggles of common Japanese people told through side-quests. Of note, Yakuza is one of the most famous game series for product placement. This commercialisation 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.

The two 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 when westernisation 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 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 pays tribute to this by basing protagonist Raidou in a one-man detective agency. If you’re looking to experience a period of Japan that has yet to be discovered by general tourist hordes, these two retro PlayStation titles should be your first ones to consider. Being Shin Megami Tensei spin-offs, you can also be assured of strong storytelling and memorable characterisations.

Street scene from Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army.
Street scene from Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army.
Entrance to the detective agency in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon.
Entrance to the detective agency in Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon.

4) Persona 3 / Persona 4

Title screen for Persona 4
Title screen for Persona 4

These two retro PlayStation titles allows 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 the two games step in to provide excitement. Other than battling mythology inspired enemies, you also have class excursions, summer holidays, and cultural festivals to look forward to. If you enjoy comedic high school Anime, you would definitely love Persona 3 and 4. For other gamers, these two titles are unparalleled examinations of what are possibly the most defining years of a typical 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 likely is the first name most gamers would think of. With bold re-imaginations of Japan’s most famous warlords from the Sengoku period, everything 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. By my guess, Demon Siege would also 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 also plays one of the two protagonists in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege.
French star Jean Reno also plays one of the two protagonists in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege.

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    © 2017 Kuan Leong Yong

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