Game localization from Japanese to American audiences has come a long way over the years. Not only are high profile games brought over but the market for more obscure and niche Japanese titles has also grown over the years. We get a pretty wide range of titles brought over – it’s just a question of time, and even at that titles are getting localized faster and faster nowadays. But even at that, with the localization industry being what it is today, there are still titles that publishers just won’t touch.
There are a lot of reasons for why a game won’t be brought over from Japan. It could be that no publisher believes the game has enough of a market to justify printing x-amount of copies – though these worries can be mitigated via digital only releases. Japan has a different pop culture climate than we do, and so some games might contain content that would surprise the average consumer over here. These games typically appeal to a niche market over here, and while these fans are the most vocal when it comes to localization, developers and publishers may just not feel comfortable bringing certain games over in the current climate. We have a great list of strange Japanese games here. Some are a little out there in terms of visuals and themes, some are kind of mundane, and some are on the grown-up side.
Here are 20 games from Japan that were way too much for us.
20 Ihatovo Monogatari
Released on the Super Famicom in 1993, Ihatovo Monigatari was marketed as an RPG. But the game is more like an adventure game than anything else. It’s understandable as to why the game was never brought over.
The game was inspired by the works of Japanese writer and poet Miyazawa Kenji and as such would’ve contained many obscure references Western audiences wouldn’t have understood. The game may be a dated, but it’s got great atmosphere and due to its source material has plenty of odd moments scattered throughout.
19 Kowloon’s Gate
Anytime you’ve got a game that’s inspired by a mixture of Jungian archetypes, cyberpunk and gothic architecture, you can be sure it’ll be a strange experience to say the least. The strange mixture of themes all but guaranteed that this game would never leave Japan, despite it being something of a cult hit there.
Kowloon’s Gate is a PS1 adventure game that takes place within the Kowloon Walled City with a supernatural twist. The game’s premise seems pretty standard but it’s rife with visuals, imagery and themes that would make David Lynch’s head spin.
Sound Novels aren’t as well known a genre over here as they are in Japan. The concept is similar to Visual Novels and is something of a predecessor to it. Chunsoft’s Machi is an important title when looking at the history of the sound novel genre, but its experimental nature made it a hard sell outside of Japan – at least when it first released.
The game follows eight different protagonists with intertwining stories, taking place throughout the Shibuya ward in Tokyo. Most of the game is progressed by reading text and making choices that affect the direction of the narrative. It’s a concept that’s finding a nice niche here nowadays, but wasn’t all that interesting to audiences here when it released.
17 LSD: Dream Emulator
LSD: Dream Emulator seems like a game that was made just for the sake of putting together a bunch of weird concepts and seeing how far it could go. The PS1 title is something of a pioneer walking simulator but aside from the strange concept and psychedelic visuals, there’s nothing to really take note of.
The game might not have that much replayability, but it’s surprisingly valuable. Maybe that has to do with it never being localized or the bizarre concept. Scouting out prices online, it looks like it’s valued at about $350 USD. It seems like more of a collectible than anything else though.
16 Captain Rainbow
We initially get a look at a slightly newer game, this time a strange Wii title called Captain Rainbow. The game’s premise starts things off on a weird note; where you basically follow around the titular character on an island of misfit video game characters.
The game has a bunch of tongue in cheek adult humor that might’ve scared off English publishers at the time of its release over ten years ago. With its content still likely to rile up some in the Western gaming community, the chances of this unique title getting an English release are sadly slim.
15 The Firemen
Maybe it’s not the weirdest concept we’ve seen so far, but Human Entertainment’s 1994 title The Firemen never got a release here in North America for a reason. The game was a pretty niche title when it released and didn’t seem to appeal to the wide majority of consumers.
You basically go around and put out fires with a sort of water powered backpack that allows you to adjust the distance of the stream. In that way it’s a lot like Super Mario Sunshine – just without all the puzzles and platforming.
14 Densha de Go!
You’d be shocked as to how big a hobby trains are in Japan. It makes sense; you can find plenty of pictures of the country’s impressive railway systems practically intertwined within suburban areas online. Hobby shops aren’t exactly rare in Japan and while a lot of them are filled with various kinds of pop culture merchandise, you won’t be hard pressed to find shops completely dedicated to model trains either.
The Densha de Go! Series is basically a dedicated and realistic train simulator. They started out as arcade games but have had some console ports as well. Why these were never brought over is kind of a no brainer; just not that many people would buy a game that’s about mastering Japanese public transport.
13 Sumikko Gurashi: Sumikko Park e Youkoso
Picture Mario Party with cutesy designs and frilly aesthetic, and you’ve got Sumikko Gurashi. The Switch title is one of the more recent on this list, and while that may make it a little too early of a call there’s a good chance we never see this brought over.
The Mario Party comparison pretty much sums up all you need to know about this game. It looks like it’s pretty fun and while the Switch isn’t lacking in multiplayer titles, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bolster their ranks a bit here in the West.
12 I’m Sorry
This next game falls under the veil of satire, and because of that pulls no punches in both its commentary and ridiculousness. I’m Sorry is an arcade game that was published by SEGA back in 1985. The game has long since been forgotten by most but due to its nature is still talked about online every so often.
I’m Sorry features former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka going around collecting gold bars, which is supposed to be a shot at his corruption scandal. Throughout the game you face off against Madonna, Michael Jackson, Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis and Kazuyoshi Morita, a Japanese comedian. That’s some classic Japanese weirdness right there.
11 Toilet Kids
There’s a pretty good chance that this next entry is going to be a little unsettling, especially for those of you who dislike toilet humor. Toilet Kids was released in 1992 for the TurboGrafx-16 and followed the adventures of a young boy flushed down the toilet, fighting off the denizens of that world.
As you can imagine, the game’s whole shtick revolves around bathroom jokes. It stylizes itself as a shoot ‘em up which gave the developers plenty of room to fit in as much dirty jokes and references as they could. This game pretty much screams “Japan only”.
10 Boku no Natsuyasumi
We move on from one of the more stomach-turning entries on our list to what’s likely the tamest of them all. The Boku no Natsuyasumi series has been around since 2000 and in each entry follows a young man named Boku.
The games are centered on Boku enjoying a relaxing summer vacation, with each game taking place in a different time period. The games are filled with a bunch of “activities” with the length of each one varying. The end goal of each game is to just have an enjoyable summer vacation which might not be the most exciting premise, but still sounds fun nonetheless.
9 The Idolm@ster 2
Idols are huge in Japan. Male or female, some of the country’s biggest stars are Pop Idols either going solo or working in a group. It’s pretty similar to what boy bands and girl groups are here. The Idolm@ster 2 takes this and runs with it in the form of a raising simulator.
In the game, you take on the role of producer and work on building up your Idol group into a success. The game takes place throughout 55 weeks, where you manage your Idol trio and navigate through scripted events to advance the story.
8 The Houchi Play
Given the nature of this next title, it’s not all that surprising to have it pop up so high on our list. The Houchi Play has you playing as a raunchy old Japanese man trying to sneak a peek at whoever’s on the screen next to him.
You move around by smashing the left and right triggers as fast as you can, stopping if you see the AI beginning to move in your direction. It’s a simple game and more of a novelty than anything else. It’s definitely something that would spark controversy here.
7 Super Table-Flip
Everyone deals with stress differently. There’s plenty you can read online about how stressful working life is in Japan, and the long overtime hours the country’s salarymen and salarywomen are expected to put in. Well this next game captures that frustration perfectly.
Super table-Flip tells you everything you need to know about it in its name. The arcade game has a few different scenarios to play out – a man at the table with his family, a frustrated office worker, a bride at her wedding ect... – each giving the player 60 seconds to pound their hands on the table and flip it. It’s crazy and a must try for anyone who gets the chance to.
6 Cho Aniki: Otoko no Tamafuda
If you had to give someone a quick rundown of what Cho Aniki was all about, you’d tell them it was a muscleman card fighting RPG. That may leave them with more questions than answers, but it’s a fairly accurate description without going too in depth on the games.
The fifth Cho Aniki game, Otoko no Tamafuda lets the player choose one of several protagonists. Once chosen you wander around space looking for opponents. Yup, musclemen card fighting in space. Sounds amazing, no?
The GameCube had a ton of great, imaginative titles and we’re lucky that a lot of those titles made their way over here. But some games still fell through the cracks. One of those games, Giftpia, could’ve really been an enjoyable experience had audiences over here gotten the chance to play it.
The game has drawn comparisons to the Animal Crossing games, and there are definitely similarities between them. But Giftpia focused more on completing objectives throughout the story. The game has a lot of quirky and out there humor that probably scared some publishers off.
Segagaga is notable for a few reasons. It was one of the last games released on the Dreamcast shows SEGA pointing fun at themselves in a way that you don’t really see from most developers – especially when this game released in 2001.
The game markets itself as a “SEGA Simulator” and has the player take charge of the developer as it struggles to keep relevant in the current market, with many self-parodies made throughout the game. A fan patch has been in the works for a while but hasn’t yielded great results.
Hideo Kojima is of course known by many as the man behind the Metal Gear series. Kojima has worked on a number of titles outside of Metal Gear. One of the most notable and sought after by fans is his 1994 visual novel Policenauts.
Though the title didn’t get an official release outside of Japan, some fans got together and translated it for those curious. The game is still praised for its storytelling, and is seen as a must play if only to experience more of Kojima’s storytelling.
2 Mizzurna Falls
Released a year before their closure, Mizzurna Falls was an ambitious title by Human Entertainment that may be notable to some here for its Twin Peaks influences. Though obscure, the game has a following here and there have been attempts at an English patch.
The game presents itself as a murder-mystery with a day/night cycle that determines what players can do and who they can talk to at a given point. It’s a shame about this never getting the attention it deserved as it really could’ve been an interesting experience for English speaking game fans when it released.
1 Natsuiro High School
Well, there’s not all that much mystery surrounding why this next game hasn’t found its way out of Japan. Set on the fictional island of Yumegashima, Natsuiro High School has the player take the role of a new transfer student who at the beginning of the game joins the school’s journalism club.
The game has over 150 quests, 300 interactive NPC’s and a bunch of other activities, all within an open world setting. Of course the main point of the game is photography and that’s the issue here. Players will spend most of their time trying to take "specific" shots, which is what likely scared off any English publishers.