6 Cult Japanese Video Games Still Worth Playing [MUO Gaming]

Dave Parrack 11-07-2012

japanese gamesThe history of video games is littered with the dead corpses of titles that never quite fulfilled their promise. Not because they sucked – far from it, in fact – but because they didn’t sell in anything like the number they deserved to. Critical acclaim didn’t result in commercial success.


Many of these titles are slow-burners or a little strange, but those gamers who took the time to become fully immersed in their worlds became hooked. This is the essence of a cult game; they still have a strong following years after their original release. The following six titles are cult video games originating from Japan that are still worth seeking out and playing now.

You owe it yourself, to the developers of these gems, and to fans of games with a little more depth to them than the latest Call Of Duty to find the time (and a copy on eBay).

Vib Ribbon

japanese games

PlayStation: 1999

What Is It? Vib Ribbon isn’t much to look at. It consists of nothing more than a thin white ribbon which Vibri, a female rabbit, travels along encountering obstacles molded by the music. But not only is its simplicity part of its charm, it leaves ample room for compelling gameplay. Vib Ribbon is a pre-Guitar Hero/Rock Band Top 10 Most Entertaining Guitar Hero & Rock Band Videos Of All Time The Guitar Hero and Rock Band games aren't the force they once were. The last Guitar Hero game released was Warriors Of Rock while the last Rock Band game was Rock Band 3, both released... Read More rhythm-action game that needs to be experienced at least once.

But Wait! It’ll be too Japanese for some. It’s likely to be the strangest game you will have ever played. The music is a combination of charming and very, very annoying. To get the most out of the game you need to create new levels using your own music. If you like this also check out Parappa The Rapper.



japanese video games

Dreamcast: 1999

What Is It? You’ve probably heard of Shenmue. You may even have tried playing it before giving up. This is a game that only gives its all to those willing to put the effort in. You may not think it’s much fun wandering around aimlessly, drinking cans of pop, or working at the docks. But it is, it really is.

But Wait! There’s no question that Shenmue looks dated now, but the storyline is enticing, and the living, breathing world created for the game has rarely been bettered since. You’ll either be fully drawn into the experience or reject it almost instantly. If you like this also check out Shenmue II.

Skies Of Arcadia

japanese video games


Dreamcast: 1999 / GameCube: 2002

What Is It? Skies Of Arcadia was unfortunate to be released on the Dreamcast, which failed to sell well. But in the short time developers were working with it they created some phenomenal games. This was one of them, and it really deserved a wider audience. The same audience that took to Final Fantasy VII in their droves.

But Wait! This is a Japanese RPG, and a quirky one at that. Which is going to tell you much of what you need to know. Skies Of Arcadia isn’t a game to enter into lightly as it will take up a fair portion of your life. Like Shenmue it also looks dated, but its visuals do not detract from the gameplay. If you like this also check out Star Ocean: Till the End Of Time.

Ico [No Longer Available]

japanese video games

PlayStation 2: 2001 / PlayStation 3: 2011

What Is It? Part platformer, part puzzler, all experience, Ico transcends pigeon-holing because it’s a unique game that has influenced many titles in the succeeding years. None of which have managed to surpass their inspiration. It’s a simple game at heart, but it’s one that immerses you fully from beginning to end.


But Wait! Some people won’t like the sparseness, the slow-paced action, or the methodical approach needed to make progress through the story. It’s also a short-lived experience, with few people needing more than 10 hours to complete it. If you like this also check out Shadow Of The Colossus.


cult japanese games

PlayStation 2 : 2006 / Wii : 2008 / PlayStation 3 : 2012

What Is It? Okami is another game that somewhat defies classification. It stands alone in its own genre, one that needs to be played to understand. The basic premise is you’re a goddess in the form of a white wolf who travels across Japan ridding the landscape of a curse. You’re aided by using a celestial brush, which sounds crap but is actually pretty damn awesome.

But Wait!The cel-shaded visuals mean Okami is one of the few games on this list to have survived the pace of change. This is another game that doesn’t seek to thrill or offer instant rewards, so this is one to avoid for those impatient souls. If you like this also check out Flower.


Valkyria Chronicles

japanese games

PlayStation 3: 2008

What Is It? Valkyria Chronicles is a game you’ll either love or hate. It’s a tactical RPG that incorporates overhead map-planning and turn-based action sequences. If your eyes have glossed over already then leave it well alone. The visuals are stunning, having been created using Sega’s CANVAS engine.

But Wait! It’s fair to say tactical RPGs aren’t for everyone. The constant stopping and starting, and over-complicated storyline involving a fictional war in a fictional part of the world, will put many off. But like all of the games on this list it requires a little effort on the part of the gamer to truly get the most out of it. If you like this also check out Ar tonelico: Melody Of Elemia.


This is but a small selection of Japanese video games considered to have a cult following, but they’re the ones that deserve more attention. I only chose relatively recent titles so that there is at least a hint of good visuals to be had.

Do you have fond memories of playing any one of these titles? Perhaps you happened upon one and wondered why more people didn’t know about it. Let us know what you think of these games, or any more you’d personally add to the list, in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Axel Tregoning

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  1. Tim Brookes
    July 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Great list. I would add Seaman to this list to accompany the legendary Shenmue (which is the best console game from its generation).

    Did you know Shenmue is getting an HD remake by the way? Oh yeah, gonna buy it all over again!

    • Dave Parrack
      July 11, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      Oh, good shout. I actually never played Seaman but it was on my most-wanted list. It still is actually, as I still have my Dreamcast :)

      I'm so buying Shenmue 1 and 2 if they come to PSN in HD form. That's a week of my life set aside right there!

      • Tim Brookes
        July 12, 2012 at 12:08 am

        PSN and XBLA in HD. Apparently it's been finished for ages, which is a bit shit really (but disappointment is synonymous with the series, so no surprises).

        • Dave Parrack
          July 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm

          OK, this and then Shenmue 3, right? I can but dream.

  2. That Guy
    July 11, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    No mention of 2004's Cave Story?
    It's a classic, and it's free.

    • Dave Parrack
      July 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      That's a good game, definitely Japanese, and definitely with a cult following. Nice pick :)

  3. Dontae
    July 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    I cant figure out how to actually play vib ribbon. I can open it just fine and can navigate the menu but cant seem to find a play button

    • Dave Parrack
      July 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      You mean you have an original copy? Damn, I'm jealous, I sold mine years ago and now wish I hadn't. Are you trying to play it on a PS One, PS2, or PS3?

      • Dontae
        July 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm

        oh you mean you cant play it on the website lol