Monday, April 5, 2010

Pictures of Japanese computer games

Following on from a major article on Japanese home computers in Retro Gamer, I post all my unused images of insanely cool games you’ve likely never heard of.

Eight months ago, bored from the lack of Japanese coverage in Retro Gamer, I pitched a major feature on Japanese home computers. I was graciously assisted by the experts over at Tokugawa forums and, I hope, it will act as a permanent record of their sterling work when it comes to archiving English-language knowledge on the obtuse Japanese computer scene. It's also been emailed to HG101 central for later posting as a feature.

Anyway, the designer decided to focus the article on a series of hardware shots I’d accumulated (thanks to NFG for those), with maybe 3 or 4 screens dedicated to the actual games. I find the hardware ugly and mostly pointless thanks to emulation, so here are my original game screen-grabs with my original intended captions. They’re not spectacular, since I was on a tight deadline, and stuff like Edge is only superficially similar to Strider, but hey, it all adds to the mystique, right? Battle Gorilla might also be the most amazing strategy game I’ve never played. I gave it about an hour, barely scratching the surface due to the difficulty of the Japanese interface, but my impression is of something truly special. If any fan-translators want a challenge, I recommend they look into it.

These are in a random order, and the selection is based partially on what I like, what’s easily playable in English, what’s actually available to download (some are bloody tough to find), and what’s exclusive to the hardware or in some way especially interesting.

Many thanks to Ben, Danjuro, Peter and everyone else at the Tokugawa forums for providing so much expert help, photos and more information than we could ever print. Also, thanks to and and for use of images.

CLICK TO ENLARGE – the blog annoyingly shrinks them, losing the pixelised detail which I strived so hard to maintain when converting to low-colour gifs.

Technopolis was a slightly naughty magazine covering Japanese computers back in the day. Comiket coverage was often more than 10 pages, with a detailed floor-plan and listing of every single doujinsoft available.

Battle Gorilla
Format: NEC PC88
Year: 1988
By: Xtalsoft
Of all the games listed this is the most difficult to learn, but also the most rewarding due to its uniqueness (and that rockin’ music). Imagine a roguelike-styled, tactical version of Commando where bullets and enemies only move when you do – there’s nothing else quite like it. Using Numkeys, Space and Esc at the menu: 1) choose map, 2) stats, 3) free mode, 4) buy weapons, 5) check weapons, 6) start. During the game Space accesses the inventory and Shift shoots.

Night Slave
Format: NEC PC98
Year: 1996
By: Melody
What could be better than an action-packed clone of Assault Suits Valken crossed with the weapons system of Gradius plus (optional) scenes of graphic lesbian bondage? Not much, we’d wager. Although not the smoothest of games, Night Slave’s intense diversity makes it shine, with your mecha rampaging through rainy jungles, snowy wastes, alien bases (pictured) and more. The armaments system, with recoil physics, also has you permanently levelling up your various main- and sub-weapons in an RPG-like fashion using power-orbs.

Kagirinaki Tatakai (限りなき戦い)

Format: Sharp X1
Year: 1983
By: H. Ishikawa (Enix)
With non-mirrored, separately drawn sprites for the left-and-right walking animations, a diverse range of interesting enemies, fully destructible environments, a convincing physics engine, plus a for-the-time plethora of weapons, this could be the most revolutionary forgotten gem of its time. While carrying three weapons or more has been done by most games since (except Halo), and plenty have had destructible environments (except Halo), you must remember this was released in 1983 on cassette tape. Still, miles f***ing better than Halo. Known in Japanese as: 限りなき戦い.

Die Bahnwelt
Format: X68000
Year: 1992 (now freeware)
By: Glodia
Despite predating it by a year, this feels like a Japanese version of Chaos Engine. Anime cut-scenes, bizarre sci-fi plot (which is fan-translated!), plus different sidekicks with good AI whom you can chat with or order to adopt various tactics (conserve ammo, cover me, etc). As you wander the post-apocalyptic ruins there are plenty of weapons to collect, and they can be changed in real-time. Find items and maps, unlock doors and stockpile ammo. Just don’t forget to share with your partner!

Format: FM Towns
Year: 1993
By: Toaplan
Although temptation was to go with Wrestle Angels for some girl-on-girl fun, a shmup seemed more appropriate (and Rayxanber sadly isn’t as good). Also known as Truxton 2, this was the only home version of Toaplan’s frenetic arcade shooter, ported by Ving. With relentless waves of enemies, screenshots can never convey how intense things are. A simple power-up system, plus super bombs, keep everything intuitive despite the high difficulty. Regarded by many as the system’s best shooter.

[X68000] Thumping rock soundtrack, sumptuous graphics, multiple crazy weapons and Bionic Commando-style swinging: Aquales is absolutely essential.

The Scheme
[PC88] With music by Yuzo Koshiro and a design similar to Metroid, games like The Scheme are the reason for searching archives.

Hover Attack
[PC88] Flying mechas, maze-like levels, and missiles shooting everywhere – Hover Attack was the inspiration for Treasure’s Bangai-O.

[PC88] WiBArm has you roaming realistically rendered 3D worlds, fighting aliens in 2D and transforming from a mecha into a tank and flying jet! Utterly amazing, and also released for DOS in English.

[PC88] Sorcerian is a magnificently complex action-RPG by Falcom, but if you’re not fluent in Japanese get the DOS version instead.

[FM Towns] While not as good as its two successors, there’s only one machine you can play the original Rayxanber on.

Popful Mail
[PC98] Trust us on this one – Popful Mail, whichever system it’s on, will be the best gaming experience of your life... unless it’s the dull SNES version.

[PC88] One of Square’s earliest games was Genesis: Beyond the Revelation, a post-apocalyptic RPG now fan-translated.

[PC98] Developed by just one man, the first five games of the Touhou Project, a series of bullet-hell shmups, are only available on PC98.

[X68000] Though ported to the PS1 as Castlevania Chronicles, the original Dracula version is still highly recommended.

[PC88] Silpheed was released after Game Arts’ Thexder, and both were brought to America by Sierra.

Thunder Force
[X1] Like a free-roaming Xevious, the original Thunder Force by Tecno Soft has little resemblance to later titles (better on the X1 than PC88).

Super Mario Bros Special
[PC88] Super Mario Bros Special is not a port – it’s a wholly new, sadistic, surreal and slightly insane take on SMB, by Hudson.

[PC98] Fancy some ultra-fast, futuristic, Strider-meets-Double-Dragon brawling? You’ll be wanting to play Edge then. Quick, someone call Langdale!

Farland Story
[PC98] All six of the Farland Story games have been translated, giving plenty of Shining Force-style strategic battles to work through – with mouse support!

[PC98] Think of your favourite console game, and there’s probably a computer equivalent. Rusty mimics Super Castlevania quite nicely.

[PC98] Hack away with swords, grapple with throws, or knock-em-out with kicks – Briganty proves to be quite an adept fighter.

Usagi Panic
[PC98] It’s a mad, crazy dash in Usagina Panic, to defeat enemies and collect carrots on the way to the exit, all while your health slowly ticks down.

Galt Rio
[PC98] A lot of cool games aren’t in Western general circulation. Galt-Rio was accidentally found on a Japanese blog.


  1. Thanks. Found something interesting for me, i.e. Night Slave, I'm looking for the Assault Suit clones.

  2. Damn, a lot of those games look really awesome. If I ever go to Japan, I know what obscure PC games to get :).

  3. Wonderful! What issue of RG is this article in?

  4. It's really a shame that so few of these games ever see a release in the West, even if they still get more exposure than Korean and Chinese PC games. An acquaintance of mine who actually played Sorcerian on an IBM Dos computer when he was a kid had no clue that it was actually a Japanese game until I told him it was made by the same people who made Ys.

  5. It was issue 67, the Bomberman issue.

  6. Very nice entry, I already knew Night Slave which is quite good (I played until the alien boss capturing your red flying friend). I'm sure that with the thousands of PC88/98/FM Towns/X68000 games out there, there got to be some awesome ones among them, thanks for sharing your findings! As this is my first comment here, let me add that this blog/site is really unique, keep the good work and thanks for making me discover realms of the hauting!

  7. Sketcz, thanks for this great post! I've always been curious about Japanese computer games, partly just because I love that lo-color pixel art. Edge looks fantastic. Without speaking Japanese, it's very difficult to find out anything about this stuff.

    I wish some entrepreneur would gather up a bunch of these games, translate them if necessary, and make them easily accessible to play on a modern-day PC (kind of like that "Intellivision Rocks" compilation). I'd pay for that.

  8. Any chance you might know where some of these can be downloaded? Not as simple as finding NES roms, I'm afraid.

  9. using the search function on Tokugawa forums should yield a lot of them. As should checking out the PC98 screenshot archive, which puts different games up each week.

  10. Much thanks for the info. I've found a few games by searching around. It would be great if the archive had downloads for everything. I wonder if there is such a repository anywhere out there on the web.

  11. great list! i'd recommend checking out umihara kawase for the snes. it's a really challenging physics game...that's about the best description i can give.

  12. "Hey? You´re talking about Japanese old games and you´re forgeting MSX?
    Check out on the web. There´s more than 50 games not translated yet.

  13. An acquaintance of mine who actually played Sorcerian on an IBM Dos computer when he was a kid had no clue that it was actually a Japanese game until I told him it was made by the same people who made Y

  14. Much of the early game development happened in Japan - Pong was developed by Atari, a US company, but the other early titles mentioned above were created by Japanese game designers. And as home consoles closed the gap between home use and coin-operated games in the mid-90s, Japanese creators and publishers again led the way. Nintendo, Sega and Sony dominated the console market, though Sega was forced out due to the fierce competition of the 90s, and the only real rival to have arrived since is Microsoft. Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS brought portable models to a whole new level. Japan also introduced the world to Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh (pic) and showed how a TV series, trading cards and a game can be combined to create a worldwide mega-hit.


  15. If videogames from the east was ported to the outside their nations origin, more often. It would barely give anybody breathing room to be creative. I am glad things stayed the way they were. We have no real organized community for videogames, because every idiot has some kind of problem with society.