Photo Credit: Kazue N – Flickr
The gaming medium owes much to the Land of the Rising Sun. The first video games emerged in Japan as early as the 1970s with arcade retro classics like Space Invaders.
Pac-Man and Donkey Kong took gaming to another dimension in the 1980s, before a moustachioed Italian plumber and a green-hooded Triforce-holder would revolutionise the industry for all time. And local studios and creatives kept on delivering genre-defining entries, from action-packed RPGs to story-driven visual novels and intoxicating fighting games.
For all their Japanese lore and aesthetics, though, many such games remain confined to a fantasy setting. So, what if you wanted to embark on a virtual trip to Japan, past or present? Let’s check out the best games that take you to the streets of Tokyo and the battlefields of feudal Japan.
Ghost of Tsushima
Marred by constant civil warring between rival warlords, the medieval period known as Sengoku Jidai has been a backdrop of choice for games blending fantasy and history like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But Ghost of Tsushima takes a different stance and switches the focus to the first Mongol invasion of Japan in the 13th century.
Players control a samurai tasked to protect Tsushima Island at all costs. In so doing, Jin Takai must choose between abiding the warrior code or using dishonourable methods to rid the island of the invaders.
While this action-adventure title leans heavily toward melee combat, its open world is a solid win for all gamers keen on exploring extraordinary landscapes that seem straight out of a painting. The game also offers serene breaks from all the fighting, allowing you to let off steam in a hot spring or take the pen to make up a haiku.
Ironically enough, Ghost of Tsushima is the work of an American studio. But developers at Sucker Punch collaborated with Japanese counterparts to ensure they stayed as historically accurate and true to Japanese culture as possible. And Japanese critics all but responded positively, showering the effort with praise.
The long-running Yakuza franchise comprises eight mainline instalments, all of which continue the events told by their predecessor. Newcomers to the series unwilling to take on eight games in a row might feel left out, thus, if not for Yakuza 0.
Released as a prequel to the original, this entry against the backdrop of late 80s Japan is set seventeen years before the first on-screen adventures of Kazuma Kiryu. Players follow the early years of the iconic reformed mobster, while recurring character Goro Majima also takes much of the spotlight.
The action unfolds in the fictitious districts of Kamurochō and Sotenbori, based on existing hotspots in Tokyo and Osaka. Players are mostly left free to wander the epic open world that made Yakuza so engrossing in the first place. Belligerent passers-by are ready to pick up a fight at a moment’s notice, and minigames like goofy pocket circuit and high-stake roulette await.
For all its casino classics, however, Yakuza 0 doesn’t involve actual gambling. Those willing to go all in without budging from home may turn to live casinos instead. Using video interfaces, such casinos make it possible to interact with a human dealer and fellow players. So, gamers can socialise while having a blast around the poker or blackjack table. And as the camera never flinches, players can always certify the games are fair and square – unlike Yakuza’s shady underground dens.
Persona 5 Royal
The freshly rebranded Persona series, previously known as Shin Megami Tensei, consists of six mainline entries and an endless stream of spin-offs. Delving deep into the human psyche, most installations mesh role-playing, combat, and social simulations.
Rural Japan usually plays centre stage, rolling the action in fictionalised towns nestled in the country. The sixth game in the franchise therefore puts a spin on the formula by visiting the Japanese capital. And Atlus developers made sure their on-screen recreation was on par with real-life Tokyo.
Despite being much smaller in scale than most triple-A open-world titles, the environment of Persona 5 makes the city feel alive in stunningly accurate details – down to unique sets of exotic drinks at the vending machines. Seasons also impact stores in bustling backstreets and travel locations.
Besides, the game consistently rewards curious gamers with gameplay optimisation like confidants and secret spots. Persona 5 Royal expanded the experience further, as this enhanced version included an additional area, among other brand-new features.
Hi! I’m Bryan, and I’m a passionate & expert writer with more than five years of experience. I have written about various topics such as product descriptions, travel, cryptocurrencies, and online gaming in my writing journey. The latter is one of my favorites topics, and you can find some of my premium casino content at OUSC.