Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: Favourite Japanese video games

GameCentral readers discuss their favourite Japanese-made video games, from Chrono Trigger to Katamari Damacy.

The question for this week’s Hot Topic was inspired by reader John and covered every era of gaming, as long as the game was developed by a primarily Japanese team.

In the end the suggestions ranged from well-known classics like Sonic The Hedgehog to more obscure picks like Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, but everyone seemed to have a favourite.

Horror masters
Since it’s been in the news a lot lately I’m going to say Silent Hill. I’ve always been a big fan of survival horror and Japanese developers invented the concept and always seem to be the best at it, so I’m very relieved to know that the rumours of the Silent Hill reboot/remake seem to involve the original creators coming back.

Although you can make arguments for which is the best the first three games are all amazing in different ways and still scary after all these years, no matter how bad the graphics start looking. There’s just something to the atmosphere and tone that is distinctly Japanese and much less literal and obvious than Western attempts at survival horror.

Even Resident Evil, which is much less serious can be scarier in a way that I think Western games rarely are. But I appreciate both styles and glad there are alternatives, as something like Amnesia: The Dark Descent is definitely very good as well.
Cordite

RPG sensei
This could be any of hundred different role-players for me but I’ll plump for what I consider to still be the master of the whole genre: Chrono Trigger. Beyond even Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, this is the best Japanese role-player ever made and for me the best game of any kind.

What I love about Japanese role-players is how you can loose yourself in the world they create but always with a sense of purpose. There’s not the aimless wandering of Western open world games and the stories and characters are always much more memorable and imaginative, at least to my way of thinking.

You don’t get that many big budget examples nowadays but after some trepidation I was satisfied that Final Fantasy 7 Remake honoured the legacy of the original and while the gameplay had changed a lot the tone and look of the game was still distinctly Japanese and not trying to pander to everyone.
Leto

Difficult choices
My favourite Japanese developer is PlatinumGames and it’s quite tricky to decide which of their games is the best. I’d say the two contenders are Bayonetta 2 and NieR:Automata, but they’re very different. Bayonetta 2 is just the best action game false stop and a style of arcade influenced game that I just don’t think Western developers can do at all, even if they try.

For the purposes of this Hot Topic though I’m tempted to give the nod to NieR:Automata, simply because it is soo… Japanese. It’s silly and serious in the way that only Japanese media seems to be and yet it has a very important point to make with fun characters and great action.

Not all of that is down to Platinum but that’s just more reason to wish Japanese developers collaborated together more and weren’t scared to make games that aren’t just pandering to American gamers. The fact that NieR:Automata was a big hit and is now getting remake for the first one is some of the best news I’ve heard from gaming in years.
Cranston

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Monster hit
I’m tempted to say the answer is probably Pac-Man, but just to give a more modern suggestion I’ll say Monster Hunter: World. I’ve always been a fan of the series but this was the point at which it blew up worldwide and suddenly a super niche game that I’d been playing for years was one of the biggest online games around. I couldn’t believe it but was obviously over the moon.

In some ways there’s nothing that obviously Japanese about the idea, although the whole idea of crafting and ‘collecting’ obviously has a lot of parallels with normal role-playing games. The look and style of the game, and the monsters, is also quite Japanese and to me that makes it more interesting because it’s not the usual generic orcs and trolls of Western games.

I’m glad that there’s still a distinctive style to Japanese games and that people still appreciate them, as they were in danger of going extinct last generation. You want as much variety as possible in any kind of art medium and gaming would be very much poorer without the input of Japan.
Kimble

Games with Souls
I think my favourite Japanese-made game is probably Dark Souls. I don’t really care where my games are made as long as they are good, but I seem to have become less and less of a fan of archetypal Japanese games in recent years. I’m wary of generalising, but I find that they have a tendency to linearity both in world design and decision making, and the characters are often more irritating than interesting. Before we had less widespread voice acting this was less of an issue for me, but it’s generally harder to ignore, or reinterpret spoken dialogue. Which brings me back to Dark Souls.

The dialogue and traditional storytelling is minimal, and the world building and exploration is absolutely tremendous. There are different ways to play and different routes to take – and at the time it genuinely felt like something different too. (Something that Japanese games can do well, though they can also be extremely traditional too.)

I hope we continue to see games of all different styles and approaches as the next generation of consoles approaches. The continued growth of digital downloads, indie games, and AA games this gen, encourages me to hope that we’ll have an ever wider selection and wider availability next gen.
Matt (he_who_runs_away – PSN ID)
PS: Shout outs for Persona 5, Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, and Vagrant Story

Roll it up
This could be one of a million different games but for some reason the one that came to mind is Katamari Damacy. I love that game and was very glad it was remastered recently on the Switch.

To me it encapsulates everything that is great about Japanese gaming: bizarre and funny but also completely unique, fun, and complex enough that you can interpret some higher meaning to it. Also it has a fantastic soundtrack.
Korbie

Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here

For the birds
I have always been fascinated by Japanese culture in general and the significant influence this has on video games is only a benefit for me. It was sad to see many Eastern developers struggle through the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era, although most have made some kind of comeback this generation. Capcom’s resurgence along with PlatinumGames and FromSoftware leading their respective fields makes gaming a richer space.

My personal favourite games would be between the Street Fighter series and Final Fantasy 7 (original). Both have taken more of my time than I care to admit over the years. Final Fantasy 7 introduced me to Japanese role-playing games, a genre I have mostly enjoyed ever since.

Street Fighter is arcade gaming perfection in my eyes. Sure, not every entry gets the balances and new additions right, and Street Fighter 5 was dogged by pay-to-access content mechanics, but when you get into a match, facing off in front of you opponent, it is an elegant pugilistic dance to victory or defeat.

As a grown man though I must admit some of the Japanese stylings can be difficult to stomach. The anime exaggerations and innocent schoolgirl obsessions can lead down some strange and disturbing paths. The weirdness was too much for me with Hatoful Boyfriend. I never spent long enough with the pigeon dating sim to get past the bizarre concept and presentation to make judgement on the game underneath (although I seem to recall GC reviewing it quite favourably). It just wasn’t worth the strange looks and questions if/when the wife walked in on me.
ProEvoSan78 (PSN ID)

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The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

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