One of the most exciting things about traveling the world is getting the chance to experience new cultures. The world is filled with interesting people, places, and cultural differences to explore.
For me, Japan is the number one country on my list of places to go. The culture in Japan seems so incredibly fascinating from the bits I’ve experienced through popular culture. In fact, most of my perception of Japanese culture comes from movies and video games (I’m looking at you, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift).
Today, we’re going to dig into video games that are set in Japan. When you play these and experience a bit of what the country is like (though heavily modified through the eyes of the developers), you’ll definitely want to visit it and experience it for yourself.
1. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Series
When it comes to getting a taste of Japanese culture, there’s no better series of games than the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series. Specifically, you should play Persona 3, Persona 4, and Persona 5, as they hold up better today in terms of gameplay and they offer a more modern look at life in Japan.
The games follow a group of high school students who are given the power to enter an alternate world to fight monsters in a turn-based RPG. However, entering the other world, though fun, isn’t what’ll make you want to pack up and head to Japan. Instead, it’s the part where you live the day-to-day life of a high school student that’ll have you itching to travel. The games paint Japan in such an interesting way that it’ll be impossible to keep your wanderlust in check!
Games to Play: Persona 3 FES (PS2), Persona 4: Golden (Vita, PS2), and Persona 5 (PS4)
2. Yakuza Series
While Persona might be about the life of a high school student, the Yakuza series goes in the exact opposite direction, instead electing to tell the story of Kazuma Kiryu, an on-the-outs Yakuza member. However, unlike games like Grand Theft Auto, which elect to tell an extremely gritty crime story, the Yakuza games are far more lighthearted.
Of course, the Yakuza series isn’t a completely realistic look at Japanese culture, but it feels authentic enough that’ll make you want to go to Japan just to see how much Yakuza gets right. Plus, it’s a damn fun series of games, which is reason enough to play!
Games to Play: All of them, starting with Yakuza 0. For Yakuza and Yakuza 2, play the Kawami remakes for PS4, as they’re superior in every way. For Yakuza 3, 4, and 5, you’ll need to play the original PS3 versions. Yakuza 6 is available on the PS4.
3. Shenmue Series
If you prefer your video games to come with that retro feel, Shenmue might be the perfect series for you to dip your toe into the world of Japanese culture. While the gameplay is rudimentary compared to more modern games, the stories told hold up pretty well, and it’s interesting to get a feel for what “open world” games were like back in the Dreamcast days.
The games follow the story of Ryo Hazuki as he seeks revenge in a 1980s Yokosuka, Japan. Like most video games, it takes some liberties with the setting, but it’ll still give you a feel for Japan through the eyes of the game’s creator Yu Suzuki. Even for as old as the games are, they really do make you feel like you’re living in its world, which is exactly what we’re looking for.
Games to Play: The first Shenmue game on Dreamcast (it’s also available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC). Shenmue 2 takes place in Hong Kong, so it won’t give you the feel of Japanese culture. If Shenmue 3 ever actually comes out, it might be worth a play.
4. The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You is a crazy RPG set in a modern version of the Shibuya shopping district of Tokyo, which is a place you’ll most definitely want to visit should you actually venture into Japan. In the game, the player experiences much of the fictionalized version of Shibuya through the Underground (UG). However, while you’re battling for survival in the UG, the Realground (RG) is happening all around you, letting you see the world of Japan.
If you’re into RPGs, and you want something that really steps outside of the box, this game is perfect for you. It’s fun, and it really does give an interesting look at what Japan is like, though it’s slightly less realistic than the other games on the list.
Games to Play: The World Ends with You: Final Remix is the best version and it’s available on Nintendo Switch. If you don’t have a switch, you can get the original game on Nintendo DS, iOS, or Android.