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Looking Back on Retro Japanese Racing Games

An online writer who is also an avid geek to automotive, video games, and anime. Have a soft spot for racing games

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When you hear the word Japan and video games, you will likely have JRPGs come to mind. However, Japan offers many games outside of this genre.

When it comes to the racing genre, the Land of the Rising Sun has a good number of titles. While most of the games are obscure, some of them are fairly popular. The most famous is Gran Turismo, which has become a gateway series for racing simulators.

The unique feature of Tokyo Xtreme Racer: the SP level

The unique feature of Tokyo Xtreme Racer: the SP level

Tokyo Xtreme Racer

The most popular of the obscure Japanese racing games is likely Tokyo Xtreme Racer (known in Japan as Shutokou Battle). This is due to the series having several foreign releases. The series has players racing on the expressway roads of Japan. Whether it’s the main series or the mountain-focused DRIFT spinoff (aka Kaido Battle in Japan and Kaido Racer in Europe/Australia), the series introduced players to Japanese street racing culture.

A major feature in this racing game is the fighting game-like SP meter. Instead of racing point-to-point, you win races by depleting your rival's SP meter. Later installments add different types of races aside from this unique battle mode. The customization features give Need For Speed Underground a run for its money with various tuning and dress-up parts available.

The series has Quest Mode where you face rivals with different characteristics and personalities. Certain rivals have different requirements which must be fulfilled before facing them.

getting-into-japanese-ps1-old-racing-games

Side By Side/Battle Gear

While the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series mainly consists of home console games, Taito’s Side By Side (now known as Battle Gear) series brought the Japanese street racing experience into arcades. Like Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT, the series is focused on mountain street racing, a la Initial D.

For an arcade game, the game is rather technical. While the Side By Side series encourages drifting to navigate the track, Battle Gear forces you to brake before entering the corner. Going too fast will cause you to hit the guard barrier. You have to train your footwork and cornering skills in order to win races in this game.

Before Gran Turismo, there was Advan Racing

Before Gran Turismo, there was Advan Racing

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Advan Racing

Numerous Japanese racing games are based on the motorsport scene in the country. Before Gran Turismo, there was Advan Racing, a PlayStation game endorsed by Japanese tire manufacturer Yokohama.

This game can be described as Japan’s answer to Toca Touring Car Championship. The game sees the player navigate their car against 16 rivals, a feature that was not seen in the PlayStation-era Gran Turismo games. Like Gran Turismo, the player is able to progress through the game and tune up their car to be more competitive against computer-controlled rivals. By progressing in the game, player can unlock rewards such as new cars and FMVs.

You probably know this car from the first Gran Turismo instead of this obscure game.

You probably know this car from the first Gran Turismo instead of this obscure game.

JGTC: All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship

Meanwhile, JGTC: All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship was based on the similarly named grand touring car series in Japan. As the name suggests, the game grants players the ability to drive one of the cars competing in the real-life event. It was one of the last games based on Japan’s top-level sporting event before it changed its name to Super GT. Interestingly, a Super GT-licensed game would come exclusively into arcades in the late-2010s with the release of Sega World Drivers Championship.

getting-into-japanese-ps1-old-racing-games

D1 Grand Prix 2006

Unlike the previous two examples, D1 Grand Prix 2006 mainly focused on drifting rather than racing. The game pits players in a judged drift run against a rival in lead and chase runs, just like in real drifting competitions. While the prior Japanese versions have three judges straight from the official competition, the international version features drift points to help the player understand whether they have fulfilled the winning conditions. The emphasis on drifting and its judging system would later be followed by contemporary games such as CarX Drift Racing Online and FR Legends.

A prime example of RPG racing game is Racing Lagoon. The game also recently received English translation courtesy of Hilltop

A prime example of RPG racing game is Racing Lagoon. The game also recently received English translation courtesy of Hilltop

Racing Lagoon

Square Enix’s Racing Lagoon is notable for being a racing game with an RPG presentation.

The story tells of an amnesiac street racer who wishes to find his lost identity. The main story mode features free roaming in a top-down view. Just like Square Enix’s Final Fantasy games, you can encounter enemies challenging you to race.

While the game saw less success than the blockbuster hit Final Fantasy VII, it managed to become a cult classic that is sought after by Japanese video game fans. This was likely due to its quirky gameplay and jazzy soundtrack. The game also received an English translation done by Hilltop.

Considering the current trend in Japan’s video game industry, I don’t think we'll be seeing racing games like these anytime soon. But we can always look back at the interesting titles from the past. The quirky gameplay of these racing games have made them cult favorites, especially among retro and Japanese video game fans.

So, what’s your favorite retro Japanese racing game?

© 2021 Muhammad Azka Prasetya

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