This game may have suffered from an overestimation of Samurai Shodown's popularity as it required players to purchase two copies in combination from three consoles to get the entire game. However, Samurai Shodown has a loyal base in English territories, and it is a shame we did not get the opportunity to play something so divergent from the rest of the series.
Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits is an RPG, and mostly unplayable without assistance or knowledge of Japanese. The game takes a standard approach to traversal and turn-based battles. Uniquely it features six initially selectable main characters with slightly varying sub-plots, dialogue, and scenes. Two more characters would later join your party, and all the characters from the first two fighting games make appearance in some way including as enemies.
There are items and armor, but weapons are tempered or powered with an element. In battle, characters use their special attacks from the fighting games as special moves, but interestingly they are done using the same input commands from the fighting games. This adds a depth, but is familiar to anyone remembering Sabin from Final Fantasy VI. The world map may be relatively small and the encounter rate high, but Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits would have made for an interesting addition to the English-speaker's PSX library.
Try this PAL release: Chaos Break
When I first started up this game, I immediately thought: "This is the PSX take on A Link to the Past." There are even 7 dungeons and a secret 8th dungeon. I think that initial reaction, with the plain similarities and influence, is a good way to summarize this title. Community Pom has a different kind of appeal and depth to it though as well as a community building/simulation aspect.
The simplified story is that a group of aliens (Poms) fall from the Moon and are blamed for the misfortunes of the world and frequently mistreated changing them into Mooms (which is bad). The main character is a pig-tailed tyke named Luru wants to help them build their own haven in which to live in peace and happiness. Luru can give the Poms tasks to do in the community to build it up based on whatever meat she has with different meat attached to certain commands. Meanwhile, a warlock named Shiviel wants to rid the world of bullies and begins to try to conquer everyone.
Along the way, Luru will encounter strange enemies and comical bosses while whacking everything with her magic staff and charging-up spells. She can bring any three Poms along to aid her and each has a special ability, like elemental breath or making a bridge activated through various means. The Poms can be set to auto-follow Luru or attack autonomously, but violence raises the chance they will be Mooms. Unfortunately, the story segments would be impossible to follow without reading Japanese, but if you can manage to get started the game is highly enjoyable.
Try this NA release: Tail of the Sun
After reading through a discussion on the boards about whether or not a Visual Novel would be successful in North American, Imadoki no Vampire popped into my head. Depending on the subject matter and the other particulars, any game could be well-received and with the rise of popularity for vampires, Bloody Bride might be exactly what a certain demographic is thirsting for. In fact, this game was popular enough to gain some very devoted fan projects.
Bloody Bride plays out similarly to a dating simulation, and it is at times romantic and dramatic while displaying some genuine humor as well. It has a bit more interaction than simply selecting dialogue choices, who to interact with and when, or where to go as it also feature the occasional battle. As the story is the real point of this type of game, I will attempt to not give anything too critical away.
As prince Phaid, you are tasked with choosing a "human" name and journeying to the human world (with the aid and advice of your brothers and a small squad of female helpers) to suck the blood of a "pure" girl and become an adult. The catch is that she must allow you to do so of her own free will. Like other games in the genre, it is mostly linear, with your choices affecting which of the five girls you end up with and a few branches in how that story plays out. There is also an omake gallery after completion for viewing all of your unlocked memories (images). For the non-Japanese speaker this game is nearly impossible to play or comprehend for the same reasons as Policenauts, but for the motivated there are options for playing this game.
Try this PAL release: Crisis Beat
I chose Complete Box as a representative for the series as a whole, and it is on the PSX, but that should not be taken as a judgment of it as being better than other games in the series. If you can only play one, though, this might be the ideal choice.
Super Robot Taisen (Wars) is an Otaku's dream at combining a variety of anime, manga, and gaming characters and series into one tactical/strategy game developed by Banpresto. The general idea is that the mecha from different universes come together in battle on a grid-based plane or over world map they traverse and battle enemies to progress the story. The story is usually overarching and inclusive of all the disparate universes, while the main character is unique to the game.
In the Complete Box in particular, the first stage is based on Z-Gundam and as your blue units encounter red enemies you are treated to an animated attack sequence. It is very similar to Fire Emblem. As with many RPG style games, the battles are completely playable, but the story and next objective would be elusive without help or understanding the language. Super Robot Taisen draws huge fan support, interest, and creation. The only thing seemingly holding this series back from international release is licensing.
Try this NA release: Vanguard Bandits
If any game on this list is on more systems than Policenauts, while still having never released in English, this is it. Asuka 120% is a school-club-themed fighting game in which the girls of an all-girls private academy compete for martial superiority and the funding to finance their respective club (chemistry, cheerleading, journalism, etc.) for the school year. It is a quirky story for a quirky fighter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two developers of this game eventually moved on to the well-known game maker: Treasure. While the variations of releases each have their own following, I picked Final as the representative, but any Asuka 120% is worth playing should the opportunity come along.
Aside from the setting and its comedic potential, the fighting mechanics are fairly solid, and like nearly every fighting game in existence, play is not dependent on linguistics. Several fighting game standards were in play with the initial release of Asuka 120% that were very inventive and fresh at the time. Other than each girl having attacks based on what club she is in, it is the pace of the fighting that is special. Asuka is combo-heavy, and not in the pre-programmed Killer instinct way. The fighting system is open enough to allow for wildly high-count combos with great flexibility in how to achieve them. Midair recovery and counter-attacking combined with the ease of combos, and the fact that some attacks cancel out your opponent's make pressing any advantage a necessity. With newer games like Arcana Heart and Skullgirls proving that all-female fighters have a following, why not give us a classic?
Try this PAL release: Kensei: Sacred Fist
Umihara Kawase Shun is completely playable without knowing any Japanese, and it is a very unique and challenging puzzle-platforming hybrid.
Umihara Kawase is a nineteen year old girl trapped in another dimension filled with mutated sea life. She wears a distinctive pink backpack and carries a singular useful tool: a fishing lure attached to a line. The line serves to navigate the platform mazes comprising the levels as it attaches to walls and conveyor belts and then depends on physics to get Umihara over gaps and obstacles between her and the exit. There is also a variety of spawning aquatic enemies like fish and snails who patrol routes to block the way. The lure can stun them so she can run by or snag them to be caught in her pack for points. The enemies will eventually return and may even spawn randomly should you sit still too long. Each level has a time limit, but most can be beaten in under a minute.
Umihara Kawase Shun saw a Second Edition release that added more levels, but removed the animated cut-scenes. Both games are worth playing (as is the entire series possibly excepting Umihara Kawase Portable) even though I picked Shun for this entry, and should you get the chance to play one of the games; take it. The real shame of this game and the entire series is that it is so infinitely playable and charming even without knowing Japanese that it could have been released without even needing localization. Of course, that will always hold true and maybe some publisher will hook into the idea and make it available.
Try this NA release: The Rapid Angel
With the recent rise in popularity of the so-called "Souls" series and the deep challenge the three games present, it is interesting to look back into the history of FromSoftware and find a game we never saw released in English and wonder why not? While we did see an English release of a game titled King's Field, it was actually King's Field II. King's Field can be played without knowing Japanese, but some of the dialogue might prove difficult.
King's Field released just two weeks after the PlayStation launched. It featured a first-person perspective and fully 3D environments in which to battle and explore. As is par for FromSoftware, it was also brutally difficult. The main character, Jean Alfred Forester is trying to find his missing father in an underground cemetery. By modern standards, the graphics are somewhat rough, but the atmosphere is tense and dark if a bit sparse. Battles play out with a power meter dictating how many attacks you can make before needing to recharge (should be familiar to Souls fans), and a similar meter governing magic. Defeated enemies drop loot which can then be used to heal or equipped, and there are a number of corpses lying about to loot as well. It is simple, cleanly interfaced, and a great stepping stone into corridor-based dungeon crawlers.
While it is only five floors and therefore relatively short, King's Field laid the groundwork for many of the elements in the series and in the present ventures of the developer. Wouldn't it be nice to see it included as an Easter egg in a future Souls title?
Try this PAL release: Gungage
Front Mission Second is the second game in the main Front Mission series and the third game in the series overall with Gun Hazard falling between this game and the first (which was officially released in English on the NDS).
Front Mission Second takes the series into the same polygonal 3D graphics later seen in Front Mission 3, and follows the stories of three main characters as they battle against a successful uprising. In brief, their military forces are forced from a country as a local resistance succeeds in overthrowing the government, and the three begin to rescue POWs with the intent of eventually freeing the captured government officials. It is likely the similarities to real-world events that prevented this game from releasing in the NA region, and that is a shame because the tactical game-play and the story are as good as fans could hope for.
Battles play out in the familiar blue and red grid seen in other "tactic/strategy" RPGs and are playable without knowing Japanese once you understand the controls. Each of the Wanzers (the mechs your characters pilot) have a specified movement range, and their weapons have individual effective attack areas. The interesting twist in this series is that specific body parts can be targeted for different effects. Shooting the legs hinders or completely halts movement, the head ruins accuracy, and the arms prevent use of that respective weapon. Your party is nearly always at a disadvantage and outnumbered and strategic use of your abilities and the environment are the only hope of winning. Even though we have also missed out on Front Mission 5, the Front Mission series does not require knowledge of previous entries to enjoy. Front Mission Second is as good as the rest of the tactical side of this series, and it is a shame we missed it.
Try this NA release: The Misadventures of Tron Bonne
Squaresoft (now Square Enix) made Driving Emotion Type-S seemingly out of the blue, but if you look back in time you might find Rad Racer for the NES. In 1999 you also would find that the company made a little game called Racing Lagoon. Squaresoft combined racing with role-playing for a very unique and special hybrid. This is not the only game to combine the two genres or to have RPG elements, but with Square's popularity especially during the PSX era and the release of films like The Fast and the Furious and the Gone in Sixty Seconds remake, the time was ripe for Racing Lagoon.
The game basically consists of a free-roam Yokohama at nighttime, a drag event in Wangan, and a downhill drift battle on Mt. Hakone. While cruising around you can enter "battles" with other racers by high-beaming them or be challenged when they do it to you. You can escape battle challenges, but might lose one of your car's precious parts. When you win a race, you get a part from the loser and can use that on your cars. Each car has a level and higher levels allow for more improvements: a faster engine, a lighter body, better suspension, custom parts, etc.
The story plays out through "levels" complete with cut-scenes, interaction with your driving team, and battling an end-level Boss. While it can be tenuously followed, it is most likely that the story will lack detail and specifics for the non-Japanese speaker. However, the racing itself does not require knowledge of the language. Racing Lagoon is one of those rare examples when a company does something different, but unfortunately many potential fans missed out on an exceptional game.
Try this PAL release: Rapid Reload
#1: Policenauts (PS)
While we did see Snatcher on Sega CD, Konami and Hideo Kojima's epic has remained unreleased in English despite making an appearance on several different gaming systems. With each release there a slew of fan translations and walkthroughs that prove there is legitimate interest in this amazing game.
Policenauts is a detective story set in a space colony, and is presented mostly in the first-person perspective as a "point-and-click" adventure with some shooting segments. It has a very deep science fiction story that I do not wish to spoil, but suffice it to say, the game is worth all the acclaim it receives. If you are familiar with Snatcher, then you may know what to expect from Policenauts.
Like some other notable Kojima projects, Policenauts is known for its cinematic approach and flair, and features extensive voice acting and FMV sequences. While I would really like to go into much greater detail about Jonathan Ingram's (the main character) adventure, I am trying to hold back, but I would say to research this game and play it if you haven't already. Policenauts is one of those quintessential gaming experiences and should not be missed.
Try this NA release: Danger Girl
Not every game could fit into only 10 spots, but there are many, many games that released for the PSX, and many of them only saw release in Japan. Some titles may be more popular than others and all is dependent on personal preference, but here are a few more Honorable Mentions:
X: Unmei no Sentaku * Playable without knowing Japanese
Devilman * Playable without knowing Japanese
Pepsiman * Playable without knowing Japanese
Black Matrix (series)
Samurai Deeper Kyo * Playable without knowing Japanese
The Mystic Dragoons
* I am working on a much larger project to highlight around 150 lesser-known Japan-only games, but I hope you enjoyed this list for what it is.
List by Sohogojo (08/13/2014)
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