Forget Neverland and Wonderland - who says the real world can't be fun?
Whether it be the bustling and vibrant city of Tokyo, the northern winters of Hokkaido, the southern summers of Okinawa, or even the ancient past, many games that take place in Japan have garnered incredible success over the years.
Clearly, there is a market for Japan-based exploration and, today, we'll be taking a look at some of the games aware of this and how they managed to create a unique representation of Japan.
#1: Persona 5 Royal
Source: Mercury News
Technically, all Persona games fall under the umbrella of "set in Japan" but, seeing as Persona 5 is the most recent (and arguably the most popular), here it is on the list.
Persona, a spinoff of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, sees you as a player spending your days talking with peers, hanging out after school, and developing relationships. Then, once your day is complete, you will be thrust into a parallel world and forced to do battle with the help of mythical companions and crazy powers.
This brief description does Persona a disservice as this game manages to capture the day-to-day life of Japanese residents expertly.
#2: Yakuza 0
Source: Yakuza Wiki
Yakuza takes place in the late 1980s (Japan's so-called "bubble era"), a time where property prices were at historical highs. Throughout the game you'll be able to visit fictionalized iterations of popular Japanese hangouts, like Kabukicho in Tokyo and even Dotonbori here in Osaka!
Yakuza has garnered great attention over the years for allowing players to partake in the underbelly of Tokyo's city scene. Playing as a member of the Japanese mafia, you will get to explore several mysterious locations scattered about the Tokyo backstreets that may have otherwise remained unknown to the general public.
Danganronpa is a strategic mystery game in which you must investigate the culprits behind a string of murders. You will have to choose your questions carefully when debating with those around you in order to discern who is telling the truth and who is nothing more than a murdering liar!
The latest entry in the long-running franchise sees an all-star lineup of characters from each Danganronpa game attending a tropical resort in order to gather Hope Fragments. However, those wanting to explore Japan in particular (or at least hear discussions about real Japanese locations) and are not too excited about simply sticking to a resort that could be anywhere, may want to pick up an earlier entry in the series instead.
#4: The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You is a cult classic (and Nintendo DS exclusive) offering excellent RPG action, memorable characters, and a gripping story.
The game is set in the hustle and bustle of Shibuya, Tokyo. Most of the landmarks are instantly recognizable spots from the area, including the famous Shibuya Scramble crossing, the statue of the loyal dog Hachiko, and the fashion haven that is the 109 building.
The crowded mayhem that awaits on the streets of Shibuya makes it a favorite of both tourists and locals alike. That kind of rollercoaster environment makes it the perfect locale for The World Ends With You's plot, which itself is so shrouded in mystery!
Steins;Gate follows the misadventures of self-proclaimed mad scientist Okabe Rintarou. After one day discovering that his microwave has the ability to reverse time, he sets out on a mission to explore the limitless possibilities that are now available to him.
Steins;Gate's setting takes place mostly in Akihabara, which itself is a haven for anime and electronics fans alike. We see the day-to-day goings-on of Okabe as he spends time at the famous Radio Kaikan building, before dropping in to check on Feyris working in a maid café.
It is incredible just how accurately Steins;Gate manages to replicate the streets of Akihabra - indeed, wandering around the neighborhood is an adventure in itself!
#6: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
This game is perfectly suited to those who want to explore centralized Tokyo. You can hit most of the hub spots in this game from Shibuya all the way to Harajuku.
The game both looks and feels a lot like Persona in that the main premise involves the taking down of supernatural creatures.
However, there are enough differences here to keep things fresh and it is intriguing to see how the same locations are designed differently in each game!
#7: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro is a masterpiece of a game - albeit one slightly different from the games we've covered so far in this list, as it's not set in the present day.
Forget the nightclubs of Shibuya and the hobby stores of Akihabara - this title thrusts you into the violence and turmoil of the late 1500s, the Sengoku period of Japan (think Oda Nobunaga, civil war, and eventual unification of Japan).
Sekiro is a masterpiece of a game and its ability to draw from old artwork to inspire its design is very easily noticeable here. The lush landscapes and quaint towns feel incredibly real and offer up a precious opportunity to walk the streets of many a location that has been lost to the ages.
Okami is a fairly old title, but one that has accrued a cult following over the years - and just like Sekiro, it's set in classical Japan (and really manages to get the artistry of the time down pat to boot).
Playing as the wolf Amaterasu, players must find weapons and take down enemies as they progress through the gripping narrative. Accompanied by your trusty calligraphy brush, you must draw certain characters in order to succeed in combat.
Japan has such a rich artistic history and, while games like Sekiro capture the realism of the time, Okami does a fantastic job of capturing the culture.
#9: Katamari Damacy Reroll
This is the HD updated version of the original Katamari Damacy and features more chaos than ever before!
Most of the games listed so far replicate Japan incredibly well in their design. However, sometimes, it is fun to see creators experiment with their source material, and nowhere better is this expressed than in Katamari Damacy.
Rolling a large ball in an attempt to collect enough matter to create a new star, you must latch on to park benches, vending machines, and more as you journey through the streets of Japan.
Be sure to check out Katamari Damacy Reroll if you're in the mood for a more fanciful, less serious vision of Japan.
Conclusion: Explore Japan, at home
Whether you're looking to explore central Tokyo in the modern day or traverse the wilderness of its historical equivalent, Edo, games like the ones on this list do a superb job of recreating Japan in digital form. For those of you who aren't able to visit Japan anytime soon, rest assured that playing through any one of these games is the next best thing!
Over to You!
What part of Japan do you want to visit the most?
What other games set in Japan do you recommend?
Let us know in the comments or drop us a line on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)! We'd love to hear from you!
ZenPlus is your one-stop shop for all things Japanese. Check out our Toys, Hobbies & Games section for more video games direct from Japan to you!
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Thanks for reading!