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The best Japanese games to play on PC

The sun rises

The Japanese games industry is truly huge, and boasts some of the biggest and best titles under its' belt. PC gamers have been reaping the rewards of its renaissance. It took some time for Japanese developers and publishers to get on board, especially with consoles and smartphones remaining the dominant gaming platforms in their native country. Classic console franchises finally made their Steam debuts, with better-late-than-never ports coming with full-fat optimisation options to give you the definitive experience, there really has been never a pbetter time to be a Japanese-loving PC player.

There is no time like the present to dive into a new Japanese game, so here's 10 of the best and most significant games you need installed - whether it's to immerse yourself in world-class game design, get a taste of classic console gaming history or Japanese culture, or, yes, if you just like the look of anime.


Shenmue I & II HD

The saga began on sega's final console, the Dreamcast, with Yu Suzuki's ambitious, ahead-of-its-time tale of revenge. Shenmue is set in an intimately realistic open world with mundane attention to detail.

It's not necessarily aged well, and d3t's port is, well, just a port, leaving all the textures, facial expressions and time to kill just like they were back in 1999. But it's all part of its clunky charm, as you step into the shoes of po-faced and recently bereft teenager Ryo Hazuki, wandering around his hometown of Yokosuka on the hunt for sailors and bikers. The sequel drops you fresh off the boat to the labyrinthian streets of Hong Kong, where money talks on every corner ('Want to play Lucky Hit?').

Whatever you make of it, it's a vital piece of gaming history, which will also nicely prep you for when the saga finally continues with Shenmue III's release next year.


Yakuza 0

Majima dancing in a Yakuza 0 screenshot.

Hyper-masculine, hyper-Japanese, and a perfect distillation of everything Sega, the Yakuza series has long been a PlayStation franchise. But just as the series has finally broken through to acclaim in the West, it also makes its PC debut, starting with the 80s-set prequel. Yakuza 0 isn't just the best entry point, but the most riotously fun.

Whether you're teaching gangsters life lesson with your fists, playing disco dancing rhythm games, or simply taking in the sights of districts modelled on real-life locations in Tokyo and Osaka, there's no game that taps into Japanese culture better. With the remake of the first game also on the way, it's only a matter of time before PC gamers catch up and become well-versed with Kiryu's life story.


Monster Hunter: World

The Monster Hunter series has long been an institution in Japan, albeit on portable devices. With a bold step into a brave new world, this is not just the most beautiful entry, but many quality-of-life improvements also make World the most accessible Monster Hunter to date, streamlining the busy work so you can get to the good stuff.

The thrill of the hunt is intoxicating, whether you're going toe-to-toe with a fire-breathing T-Rex-a-like or massive inflatable bats - but so is turning their carcasses into better weapons and armour so that you can take on even more powerful monsters. You'll get sucked into its enormously satisfying loop.

Even a longer wait for the PC version and a pesky pre-release crashing bug couldn't thwart Monster Hunter: World from becoming the most successful launch for a Japanese game on PC, and 2020’s Iceborne DLC only added to the games’ monstrous success.


Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition

Dragon Quest is Japan's national videogame loved by whole generations, but in its three decades the mainline series has never seen a port on PC - until now. Released day and date with the PS4's English-language launch, Dragon Quest XI is true to its core as a traditional JRPG, from its simple turn-based battle system to an epic tale that borrows from the very best examples of the genre, and it does it all incredibly well.

It may feel stubbornly ultra-conservative when its peers are experimenting with different aesthetics and mechanics, but there's also something admirable in how comfortably confident it is with its identity. If you're looking for the magic of a classic JRPG experience fit for the HD and 4K era, then Dragon Quest XI is an illuminating start.


Dark Souls: Remastered

Dark Souls Remastered gaping dragon boss fight

Not just one of the greatest games of the decade, FromSoftware's uncompromising take on Western fantasy action RPGs is also credited as the game that really opened the floodgates for Japanese games on PC, as Bandai Namco's first release on Steam.

True, it was a pretty poor port that took a mod to unlock its potential, but the remaster released this year largely fixes those issues, now also supporting 4K and 60fps, as well as a few other graphical enhancements. Though improvements are fairly minimal, the brutal majesty of Lordran remains a towering achievement, as is the agony and ecstasy of conquering its bosses.

Even if director Hidetaka Miyazaki has officially laid the series to rest, and whet our masochistic appetite for the Japan-set ninjatastic Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the flame of Dark Souls still burns bright.


Rez Infinite

The game that began Tetsuya Mizuguchi's journey in exploring the synaesthesia of music and games, Rez Infinite is a trippy out-of-this-world experience like nothing else. When you get down to it, the gameplay is essentially a simple on-rails shooter, but once you lock on and fire, and every shot ripples into an explosion of colour and melody to compliment the clubby beats and abstract dreamscapes, the results are sublime.

For those with VR headsets, you can also fully immerse yourself in the game in the way that it's intended. But if nothing else, flying around in the all-new stunning Area X is worth the price of admission alone.


Bayonetta

Bayonetta is Hideki Kamiya's crazy sexy cool masterpiece, whose titular witch shoots and kicks the shit out of all God's messengers while looking absolutely fabulous. Hardcore action combo-driven games are a rarity these days but when you need that hi-octane fix, the only studio that can satisfy you is PlatinumGames.

Sure, the story's a load of hokum and you can debate whether Bayonetta's character is sexist or feminist until the cows come home, but once you're activating Witch Time, spanking angels into bloody oblivion and heel-smashing demi-gods in the face, it's all just Platinum Perfect.

The port may have taken its sweet time to arrive, but with 4K, locked 60fps and next-to-no loading times, this is the fastest, slickest and prettiest Bayonetta has ever been. Hopefully one day the sequels will make their way to Steam, too, but for now - let's dance, boys!


Puyo Puyo Tetris 2

Sonic Team aren't what they used to be when it comes to their eponymous mascot. The consolation, though, is that they're responsible for developing the best competitive puzzler ever.

Tetris will probably be the main draw of this crossover, but it's those mean beans of Puyo Puyo are where it's really at. It's all about matching four of the same colour Puyos to make them pop, but the beauty is in taking the risk of stacking them up, trying for the perfect drop that sets off an explosive chain to bury your opponent's screen .

It's taken a while for Puyo Puyo to really break the West, but this anticipated sequel proves to be the best version, not only featuring more customisation options but also new stories and modes for its kawaii cast of characters.


Dragon Ball FighterZ

The world's most popular anime series finally gets the game it deserves. Following on from Arc System Works' cel-shading and animation effects in the Guilty Gear series, this 3v3 fighter totally nails the look and animation speed so it's like you're actually playing the anime itself.

Of course, looking the part would be nothing without the fighting mechanics to match. Matches are fast and ridiculous where dash attacks and screen-filling supers are the norm, but with many of its inputs executed with just a button press or a quarter-circle motion anyone who's ever passed within feet of Street Fighter can enjoy this.

But if the simplified controls open the game up to a larger audience, it's not been at the expense of technical depth - not if the high-level play showcased at prestigious tournaments like Evo is anything to go by. It's one of the best new fighting games of the year.


Persona 4 Golden

Atlus' Persona name has been established longer than you'd think - beginning as a spin off from the pivotal Shin Megami series, Persona games have come into their own and reached massive heights of popularity.

The port finally came to PC, and brought the improved Golden changes with it. Persona 4 is a true JRPG and that shines through in both story, and design. Set in gloomy, fictional town of Inaba, the game follows a pack of quirky friends through their adventure to solve the mystery behind a series of murders by delving into the TV world.

It's not quite Persona 5, but it'll do. The fourth entry into the whimsical series was a surprise release onto PC platforms, and still holds the same magic as the original incarnation. It seems that Atlus is becoming less scared of PC platforms as Persona 5 Strikers also came to Steam.

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Alan Wen

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