We all know that getting to Japan, to live or just for a holiday, isn’t always the easiest thing to do. So, anything that lets me explore some area of Japan in a video game is a fun relief until those tickets get booked!
If you’re like me, the PS2 was one of the most influential consoles of your childhood. Granted, it may not be the best console for exploring the spectacular landscape Japan has to offer, but the amount of games set in Japan that are available on the PS2 is surprisingly large.
A lot of them are based in ancient Japan with Samurai, swords, and ninjas aplenty, but there are also a few that do things a little differently.
Also, some are Japanese exclusives which means they’ll be rare, expensive, and might not even work inside your PS2. But I can’t complete this list without them so they aren’t going anywhere!
1. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven
Average Price: $40 (on amazon)
Genre: Action-adventure stealth
Developer: K2 Co., FromSoftware Inc., TKO Software, K2 Japan Corporation
Love stealth games? Love ninjas? Well, this is a ps2 game set in Japan that’ll be right up your street! In Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, you’ll assume the role of either Rikimaru (the stealth assassin) or Ayama (the 12-year-old protégé) and continue your fight from the first game against Tenrai, the evil sorcerer.
Through the 10-mission campaign, you’ll venture through a trapped-filled castle, a cemetery, and a ronin village. While there aren’t too many locations, it’s a side of Japan that’s always going to be interesting no matter how limited the exploration is.
At the time it had other stealth games like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Hitman 2 to contend with, and for all intents and purposes, it did a fairly good job. Take a read of this Gamespot review from 2003 if you’re interested in learning more.
2. Blood Will Tell: Tezuka Osamu’s Dororo
Average Price: from $200 depending on the version and condition
Genre: Action-adventure, RPG
Developer: Sega AM1, Red Entertainment, Sega, Paon Corporation
If you’re looking to fight your way through men, monsters, demons, and even a giant mountain with an eye, it’s time to give Blood Will Tell: Tezuka Osamu’s Dororo a try!
On a quest to defeat 48 fiends that have stolen many parts of his body, the cursed Samurai Hyakkimaru and his friend Dororo (a thief) must reclaim what is rightfully his and become a normal human once again. His father, Kagemitsu Daigo is the one who sold those body parts to demons in exchange for invulnerability and power, which makes the backstory of this game all the more interesting.
It’s got some pretty fantastic reviews and definitely a well-loved game from the PS2 era, though good luck finding one at an affordable price!
Average Price: $40 on amazon
Developer: Capcom, Clover Studio, Ready at Dawn
I’ve spoken about ōkami in a previous article about games set in Japan, and it’s well worth talking about again. This may be the most highly-rated game on the list and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve either already played it or heard about it at the very least.
While many other games set in Japan on this list have you control some kind of katana-wielding samurai, ōkami gives you control of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Its classical Japan setting and spectacularly unique art style are two things that make it a must-play for anyone with a PS2 (or several other platforms if you fancy it).
Through learning different fighting techniques, exploring Japanese mythology and folklore, and discovering a multitude of weapons, ōkammi is said to take at least 60 hours to play through. According to those that have done it, that’s 60 hours well spent!
Average Price: from $600 depending on the condition
Genre: Survival horror
Developer: FromSoftware Inc.
Japan is famous for its survival horror games, though Kuon is perhaps not the best example as it received fairly unimpressive review scores upon release. Nevertheless, it’s a PS2 game set in Japan meaning it deserves a place on the list, and being developed by FromSoftware means you should probably check it out if you like any of their other games. Plus, both the narrative and world design were broadly praised – the combat and puzzle design were main the problem.
Taking place in Japan’s Heian Period, mysteries and complex beliefs set the foundation of this game’s storyline. After a sudden outbreak of monsters in Fujiwara Manor, you’ll play as Utsuki, Sakuya, and Abe No Seimei – three protagonists that set out to fight the monsters and solve puzzles.
While the game didn’t receive great reviews at release, it still has a dedicated community. Due to its very limited release and passionate fans of FromSoftware, it’s an incredibly rare and expensive Japanese videogame.
5. Kengo: Master of Bushido
Average Price: from $6
Developer: Lightweight, Genki
While the location and general idea of Kengo are very cool for a PS2 game, it wasn’t finished the way it should have been which left pretty poor reviews at release.
In terms of its setting, it’s the only game out of any that lets you fight one on one inside a dojo. As far as environments go, that’s cool! But it’s not only the environments that make this game a must-play. Aside from battling your foes, you can spend time training using various methods and perfecting new techniques to use in your next fight. Haven’t upgraded your skills enough? Head back to the bamboo forest to cut some shoots, or perhaps learn to extinguish several candle flames at the same time. Whatever makes you a better warrior!
It’s important to note that there are a number of things that make this game less playable and enjoyable than it should be, probably the same things that secured it such a meager score upon release. The combat isn’t fluid, life bars have been re-introduced from the first game, the controls are annoying at best, and the camera is severely frustrating. Anyhow, it’s still worth checking out thanks to its unique take and incredibly interesting setting in Japan.
6. Way of the Samurai
Average Price: from $10
This is your chance to play as a ronin, a masterless samurai who accidentally stumbles into a conflict between rival village clans. While the game wasn’t as graphically advanced as it could have been, and left fans of Tenchu disappointed, it definitely had a few things going for it.
The most notable feature of this game was the ability to alter its story. Certain decisions you make could have consequences (both positive and negative) later on in the story. Secondly, the combat is definitely one of the better things about the game and it should have any newcomers to samurai combat leaving with a smile on their face.
7. Onimusha: Warlords
Average Price: from $10
Genre: Action-adventure / Survival horror
Developer: Capcom, Capcom Production Studio 2
IGN refers to Onimusha as sort of like Resident Evil, but with demons and monsters from Japanese mythology and folklore instead of zombies. And to be honest, that’s exactly what it is. Save for an annoying fixed camera, this is a survival horror game that lets you explore a cursed-like landscape of ancient Japan, something few of these games allow you to do.
Set in the Sengoku period, Samanosuke Akechi sets off on a quest to save princess Yuki from demons. It’s a fairly standard storyline, but the Resident Evil-esque parts of this game like the ability to upgrade weapons and solve puzzles make it an absolute classic. In fact, it was the first ever PS2 game to reach one million sales, and eventually become recognized as one of the best titles on the console.
8. Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked
Average Price: from $50
Genre: Beat’em up
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture, BNE Entertainment
Modernity and tradition are in a constant dance (or battle) throughout Japan. Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked shows this in a fairly humourous and sometimes ridiculous fashion through its blend of hip-hop and the Edo period.
The integration of hip-hop within the combat system is what sets this game apart from others. Collecting music tracks and using them at will to transform your fighting style is certainly an interesting take on the genre. It’s entertaining, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and manages to hold onto a relatively engaging storyline. Well worth picking up if you’re looking to collect all the ps2 games set in Japan.
9. Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
Average Price: from $6
Genre: Action-adventure, RPG, Hack-and-slash
Developer: Game Republic
The first thing you’ll notice about Genji: Dawn of the Samurai is just how spectacular it looks. From the character modeling to the backgrounds, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful video games set in Japan.
It follows the classic hack-and-slash concept with a load of Japanese mythology and folklore thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the fun combat mechanics, fantastic design, and interesting story are cut short in a game that doesn’t seem to be long enough. At least, that’s the main complaint for an otherwise very interesting game. Still, if you manage to find one, I think the design aspect of this game is enough to warrant a purchase.
10. Red Ninja: End of Honor
Average Price: from $40
Genre: Stealth action
Developer: Tranji Studios
In Red Ninja: End of Honor, you’ll play as Kurenai, a trained assassin bent on avenging the death of her father, a prominent engineer. Unfortunately, most of the game isn’t too engaging – the writing, combat system, and mechanics are all to blame.
IGN called it a “comedy of errors, but without the humor”, so needless to say it’s hard to recommend playing this game unless you enjoy running around without clothes on and killing enemies that seem to have absolutely no sense whatsoever. If you do, then go for it! If not, there are plenty of other better games on this list that are set in Japan.
11. Ninja Assault
Average Price: from $15
Developer: Now Production, Namco
Next up is Ninja Assualt, something a little different from the ninja-based games on this list though not necessarily any better. The graphics aren’t great, the gameplay is rinse-and-repeat, on-the-rails style, and it’s honestly just a little… boring.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played and absolutely loved time-crisis, but this really doesn’t add anything new to the genre, and though it’s technically in Japan, you won’t really get that feeling you’re after with such tight gameplay.
12. Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero
Average Price: from $8
Taking a huge step back from samurai and ancient japan, Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero gives you the chance to race around modern modern-day Tokyo. The unique mechanic of this racer is its peculiar set of rules. Instead of crossing a finish line, the game uses a health bar for each driver. The one who loses all their SP (Spirit Points) will lose, so make sure to stay in the lead!
By doing away with a constructed race course, it makes things a lot more fluid and authentic in relation to the Tokyo drift-style racing. With over 156 cars to choose from, there’s no better way to explore present-day Tokyo on the PS2. Pick it up, now!
13. Fatal Frame
Average Price: around $100
Genre: Survival Horror
Back to what Japan does exceptionally well, a survival horror game called Fatal Frame. Players take on the role of Miku and the quest to find her brother who disappeared in the haunted Himuro mansion
It’s notoriously hard, and honestly pretty scary. If you’re after a horror game set in Japan that has decent visuals and positive reviews, this is the one to try. I’m not a great gamer, and I hate games that scare me so I’ll be leaving this one well alone!
14. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Average Price: from $30 depending on condition
You’ve probably heard of this one, and for good reason too. Persona 3 is a JRPG PS2 game where players take on the role of a high school student in Iwatodai. Together with a few other students, they join the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad to fight the shadow creatures that feed on the minds of humans.
The combat is fun, though repetitive, and that hasn’t stopped top publications from giving it high review scores. The social aspect of this game and the writing are fantastic, so you can expect some pretty great charater development and story telling. Plus, this is one of only a few games I know of where you get to fight in a Japanese school so that’s pretty cool!
Average Price: from $20
Genre: Action-adventure, Beat ’em up
Developer: Sega, Amusement Vision
We’ve spoken about the Yakuza video games quite a few times on this website, and while the later games get a little silly, their humble beginnings were a little more down to earth. One really interesting thing about Yakuza is that it featured an open world. Granted, that world was only 2 square miles, but that freedom really meant something.
Players get to explore a fictionalized version of Kabukicho, and though its map is on the smaller side, it’s densely packed with things to do, see, and discover. Any game that lets me explore downtown Tokyo (even if it is fictionalized) gets a win in my book!
Average Price: from $100
Genre: Adventure, JRPG
Developer: Punchline, Victor Interactive Software
Maybe it’s not quite as cute as the Japan-inspired Animal Crossing towns, but Chulip is easily the most adorable game on this list. After moving to a rural Japanese town that’s famous for an ancient legend, you make it your mission to see that the legend comes true. That legend states that whoever kisses underneath the old tree on the hill will live happily ever after. Can you spread love throughout the town by solving a number of puzzles, and manage to kiss the girl living in the pipe (you read that correctly) and live a long and happy life together?
The crowd is fairly split on this one. Most of the people who’ve played it absolutely adore its quirky design and sweet storyline. However, the critics don’t believe there’s enough to keep you entertained, perhaps suggesting it’s not a complete game. Bear in mind, this is first and foremost a Japanese game so the translations are also not 100% accurate either. So, while it’ll be a ridiculous purchase for some, for others it will be the cutest PS2 game set in Japan that they’ll just have to get their hands on! …and for the price this game is going for, you’re going to really have to love it!
17. Nihon Tokushu butai (Special Forces)
Average Price: $30
Developer: Vingt-et-un Systems
Is there any other game in the world where you can raid a Japanese Konbini? This has to be one of the coolest locations in Japan on this entire list!
Japan hasn’t made too many first-person shooters, but when they do, it’s normally in the form of a law-abiding citizen or police officer. This strange little number is as much a stealth game as it is a shooter. Players succeed by pinning the enemy down and handcuffing them, but that task becomes extremely difficult when you have another 3 robbers shooting at you. Oh, and for some reason, I really appreciate the English name for this game: “The Japan Special Forces: Villanous Crime Archipelago 24 Hours”… Catchy!
Average Price: from $25
Genre: Survival horror
Developer: Japan Studio, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Project Siren
Back to Japan’s specialty, survival horror. Siren is a game that has you exploring the small Japanese village of Hanyuda. A lovely place to visit, apart from the blood-red sea and large selection of mutant creatures. Not the kind of place you’ll want to hang around!
Sightjacking is the most notable difference between this and other survival horrors. It allows you to see through your enemy’s eyes and help you avoid detection. It’s a pretty cool mechanic, but apparently, once you’ve figured out which enemies to avoid and which you need to kill, you’ll find them all to be fairly mindless.
The environment, the thing we’re most interested in for this article, is relatively small. Not only that, but since this is more of a stealth game, the speed at which you progress through each stage is sometimes incredibly slow. Not ideal if you’d rather see as much of Japan’s landscape as possible, even if it is infested with mutant zombie-like creatures.
19. Tokyo Bus Guide 2
Average Price: from $50
Genre: Driving Simulator
Thankfully there are plenty of other games for those of us who don’t enjoy running for our lives and being scared out of our skin, myself included! Call me a nerd, but Tokyo Bus Guide is far more up my street.
Ever wanted to have a job as a bus driver in Tokyo? Well, now’s your chance! Think of this more like a simulator that will have you following all the rules of the road, and less like the frantic chaos that is Crazy Taxi. It was only ever released in Japan which means you’ll have to import it, and even then I’m not sure if you’ll need a region-locked Japanese PS2. Let me know in the comments below if you have any insight.
Simply deliver your passengers to their required stops, and become the best damn bus driver that Tokyo has ever seen. And take a look at some of Japan’s awesome streets, landmarks, and buildings at the same time!
20. Shinobido: Way of the Ninja
Average Price: from $60
Last but by no means least is Shinobido: Way of the Ninja. Considered by many as the epitome of ninja stealth games on the PS2. Enemies pose real threats and you have to use your brain to navigate to your objective in the best way possible. That means you shouldn’t have to destroy every enemy you come across, just the few that block the path through the castle.
The game also features an ending that can be altered depending on your relationship with the shogun. All that in a PS2 game? It’s honestly a little mind-blowing and easily one of the best games on this list.
While PS2 games may not be powerful enough to show Japan’s landscape in all its beauty as the PS5 can, there are still quite a few options if you want to play video games set in Japan. It’s generally heartwarming and incredibly nostalgic to go back to these games. Lots of them have held up far better than I would have thought, and some are very playable even by today’s standards. Have I missed out on a must-play game that’s set in Japan? Let me know in the comments below what it is and why you think it should be on this list!