As the country that spearheaded some of the biggest movements in the video game industry, it’s little wonder that Japan is the setting for a plethora of titles. Through engaging gameplay and compelling stories, gamers can now partake in the digital exploration of sweeping RPG landscapes, hack-and-slash battlegrounds of the Edo Era (1603–1867), modern-day city life in Tokyo and more.
1. Samurai Warriors
Many iterations of Samurai Warriors exist with the latest being Samurai Warriors 5. The crux of the game, however, remains the same. It’s a re-imagination of Japan’s Sengoku Period (1467–1615). A standard Samurai Warriors campaign sees players take on the role of an officer in battle, fighting soldiers and commanders until they’ve successfully cleared their objective.
The game’s cast of characters are drawn from historical figures during the actual warring states period in Japan. This includes Nobunaga Oda, Mitsuhide Akechi, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and many more. It takes inspiration from several epic clashes such as the Battle of Kawanakajima (present-day Nagano City) and the Battle of Okehazama (present-day Toyoake City). Consider this your interactive history lesson before you embark on any one of Japan’s expansive museums.
2. Persona 5
Part of the larger Megami Tensei franchise, Persona 5 is a role-playing game that has everything from strategy, battle systems, fantasy storylines and even a smattering of romance simulation. You play as the main character simply known as ‘Joker,’ who resides in Tokyo. But due to his awakened abilities, he is also able to traipse into an alternate world known as the Metaverse.
While the Metaverse is a work of fiction, the Tokyo of Persona 5’s world bears a strong resemblance to the city we know and love. Joker’s neighborhood of Yongenjaya is a nod towards Sangenjaya with the same kissaten-dotted quaint alleyways. Another part of the game includes being able to catch fish in Ichigaya, where the backdrop is almost identical to the real-world Ichigaya Fishing Center. Kichijoji’s well-known Inokashira Park also makes an appearance as a hangout location within the game.
3. Ghost of Tsushima
Historical action-adventure game, Ghost of Tsushima takes players through the life of Jin Sakai, the sole remaining samurai of the Sakai clan who is tasked with protecting the island from a Mongol invasion. While the story itself is pure fiction, the backdrop that is Tsushima is inspired by the real destination in Nagasaki Prefecture.
Areas such as Komoda Beach, Watatsumi Shrine and Banshouin Temple are all portrayed via the game’s beautiful visual elements. Sucker Punch Productions, the developers of the game, are even said to have sent an audio team to Japan to record different sounds, including birdsongs, for that extra layer of authenticity. Ghost of Tsushima is so popular and so interwoven into the lore of Tsushima City that it has even spawned group tours bringing fans to the exact locations that inspired the game.
4. The World Ends with You
Shibuya will never be the same again after your first play-through of The World Ends with You. Set in the iconic fashion hub of Tokyo, the premise centers around a group of teenage youths who become trapped in the “Reapers’ Game” where they must complete daily missions in order to survive. Iconic landmarks and tributes to real-life Shibuya are prevalent throughout the game including the ‘104’ building.
The World Ends with You is about exploring Japanese youth culture. Fashion, food and cell phones (the kind we used to send text messages on) are all key aspects of the game but it is through reading the rich dialogue that players are able to grasp core coming-of-age themes such as age discrimination, low self-esteem and building friendships. Released in the mid-2000s, The World Ends with You is naturally a commentary of that period. The sequel NEO: The World Ends with You, which was released in 2021, is a continuation of that but poses a much more modern context.
This old-school action-adventure series puts players in the shoes of Ryo Hazuki, a martial arts expert in training on a murder mystery trail from Japan to China and Hong Kong. Within its Japan arc, one is able to explore the wider Kanagawa region with a specific focus on the Yokosuka area where Ryo is from. Described as one of the greatest games of all time, the open-world format, graphics and breadth of features are just some of the characteristics that make it truly immersive. Shops and buses run to a schedule as they would in real life and Ryo receives a daily allowance that he’s able to spend on leisure items. The original Shenmue game first came out in the late 1990s on the Dreamcast, but you can play port versions of it on any current console such as PlayStation and Xbox.