Japan has a long and storied history in the video game industry. Although the first video games didn’t come from Japan (Tennis for Two was designed and built in New York), it was Japanese companies who refined and perfected the video game art form throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Classic consoles like the NES, Sega Genesis and PlayStation are all Japanese creations, as are many video game household names like Mario, Sonic and Link.
That said, the Japanese have never been huge on PC gaming, which has traditionally been a Western discipline. Real-time strategy games, first-person shooters and MMORPGs have just never managed to find a foothold in the Land of the Rising Sun; their cultural touchstones are far more accessible on consoles. The advent of From Software’s Dark Souls and its subsequent PC port changed all that, though, and now PC gaming’s star is in ascendancy in Japan. Let’s take a look at some of the best PC games to come from that venerable land.
Dark Souls (Remastered) (From Software, 2011)
Where better to start than with the game that kicked off the Japanese PC gaming revolution? The Dark Souls PC port is a difficult one; on launch, it was riddled with bugs and technical hitches, partly thanks to its use of the now-defunct Games for Windows Live label. Namco Bandai’s Daisuke Uchi has spoken before about the technical difficulties of bringing the game to the PC, especially for a non-PC-oriented Japanese studio. Things improved over time with patches and player-made mods, finally culminating in an official Remastered release this year which overhauled the game under the hood and made it possible for modern PCs to run it without a hitch. Dark Souls deserves every word of the effusive praise heaped on it by the gaming community; its difficulty is perfectly balanced, its world is moody and involving and its combat is satisfyingly varied. If you’re new to the PC gaming world, this is the perfect place to start.
Dragon Quest XI (Square Enix, 2018)
Until Dragon Quest XI, the only way Dragon Quest aficionados could play their favourite franchise on PC was through less legal means (or by playing the so-so Dynasty Warriors-style Dragon Quest Heroes). Thankfully, Dragon Quest XI isn’t just the first of its series available for this platform; it also might be the best Dragon Quest game ever released. Creator Yuji Horii has spoken about wanting to move forward with the franchise while also retaining its most beloved traditions, and that’s exactly what Dragon Quest XI achieves. The core gameplay loop is the same as it’s ever been: visit towns, gather information, solve problem du jour by beating up a rather nasty monster, repeat. Dragon Quest XI doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but its breathtaking presentation and distillation of a decades-old formula to its quintessence makes this the definitive entry for PC gamers.
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (Capcom, 2017)
What do you do when your franchise, which was once a byword for quality and influence in the industry, is now a laughing stock? If you’re Capcom, who faced this exact quandary with old favourite Resident Evil, you take things back to basics. Resident Evil 6 was a sprawling mess of action-movie cliches and ridiculous plot twists, but Resident Evil VII brings the franchise right back to where it started: a spooky house in the middle of nowhere in which things very definitely go bump in the night. New protagonist Ethan Winters finds himself in rural USA searching for his missing wife when he comes up against a family of psychopathic rednecks out for blood. What follows is a twist on the classic Resident Evil formula of “look for key to open door, fend off horrifying monsters in the process”. Resident Evil VII takes its rightful (and surprising) place as the scheming regent to Resident Evil 4’s monarch, and it’s a sight to behold on PC, all pretty graphics and atmosphere.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Konami, 2015)
Much has been made of Metal Gear series creator Hideo Kojima’s acrimonious split with Konami. If rumours are to be believed, Kojima has been consistently wrong-footed by his erstwhile partners, culminating in the cancellation of planned horror sequel Silent Hills (heralded by the excellent playable trailer P.T.). His final contribution to his beloved franchise is fraught with problems; the story is nigh-on incomprehensible, the characters don’t feel like the ones we know and love and the game, despite being pretty lengthy, is over far too quickly. That said, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain does so much right that it’s hard not to love it. The central gameplay mechanics are the most polished and satisfying they’ve ever been in the series, iterating on handheld entry Peace Walker but moving that game’s loop to a huge open-world setting. Pick this one up on PC and marvel at its incredible visuals, then be moved not only at the game this currently is, but at what it could have been if Konami had let Kojima get on with it.
Final Fantasy X HD Remaster (Square Enix, 2016)
Final Fantasy X is the best of its series. There. We said it. It’s not a popular opinion, with most backing longtime favourite Final Fantasy VII or SNES-era gem Final Fantasy VI for that coveted title. Those are both fine games, but they don’t have the depth and complexity of Final Fantasy X’s world. Blitzball player Tidus is wrenched from his home of Zanarkand and brought to the world of Spira, in which a vast creature called Sin periodically wrecks villages and brings terror to the inhabitants. Summoner Yuna must embark on a quest to defeat Sin, with Tidus and his motley band as her guardians. What follows is the typical Final Fantasy unforgettable story of friendship and destiny, but with a dark through-line of religious control and abuse of power running through it. The PC version is fantastic, with the game finally looking the way it should in PAL and NTSC regions. Just avoid the awful, awful sequel and you’ll have a great time.