Japan is famous for its horror movies, with classic titles such as Juon and Ring, but it also has a excellent reputation for video games as well. Horror games, the combination of these two, are an ever popular genre in Japan. Here I would like to present 15 must play Japanese horror games. The list is organized by platform.
Starting with PlayStation 1.
1. Silent Hill 1bloody-disgusting.com/
(Summary) Harry and his daughter Cheryl get into a car accident. Harry wakes up and finds out his daughter is missing. Frantic, he goes searching into the nearby town of Silent Hill.
The one that started it all!
My heart and soul goes out to the Silent Hill series. Silent Hill doesn’t have the visuals of traditional Japanese horror, such as Japanese dolls, female ghosts with long hair, etc., but it sure inherited the silent, building atmosphere of fear. Silent Hill 1 does have shaky graphics compared to modern day video games (not really a surprise though, given its age and the fact that it came out on the PlayStation 1) , but you can understand why it was such a groundbreaking game back then. Camera angles, mortal protagonist, disfigured enemies, the switching stages, the fulfilling story, and interesting characters all make it a masterpiece of the genre. Official site here.
Next, PlayStation 2.
2. Silent Hill 2www.konami.jp/
(Summary) James receives a letter from his wife, asking him to come to Silent Hill. His very dead wife. James visits the town, with a string of hope in his heart.
I love the Silent Hill series, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. Everything about this game is excellent: the story, the characters, the monsters and the game environment. But the most appealing point is the town itself. The town is always foggy, meaning you can only see about 5 meters in front of you. Doubled up with a radio (which emits static when monsters are around), the deserted town, occasional information from newspaper articles, personal memos, diaries etc., it creates a powerful impression that you are utterly alone.
Highly, highly recommended. Be sure to try the deluxe version with the Maria scenario. Official site here.
3. Silent Hill 3japaneseclass.jp/
(Summary) Heather wakes from a disturbing dream in a diner located in the shopping mall. After calling her father, she gets on her way home. But something is deeply wrong with the mall. The whole town actually.
Heather’s father is Harry, the protagonist in Silent Hill 1. The stories are linked, featuring the same cult and town. Being the first female protagonist in the Silent Hill series, Heather isn’t your usual girl. She fights, swears, cracks jokes, breaks down at times, but is generally very tough.
Compared to Silent Hill 1 and 2, the game stages are more grotesque. In the making of, the production team says they tried creating a more organic feeling to it. They succeeded, too well. Do not play if you’re feeling queasy. Official site here.
4. Silent Hill 4www.taringa.net/
(Summary) Henry wakes up in his apartment, with his door chained up, and a huge hole in his bathroom wall. No matter what he tries, he can’t communicate with the outside world from his apartment. With no choice left, he jumps into the hole.
Silent Hill 4 starts with Henry, a man who lives in a town near Silent Hill. The story is linked on the cult that appears throughout the series. Introducing new kinds of monster that can’t be killed with regular weapons, extremely disturbing characters and a terrifying story line. The character’s point of view changes from first person (Henry’s apartment) to third person (Silent Hill). A little different from the previous games in the Silent Hill series, but definitely well worth a play. Official site here.
5. Fatal Frame 1 (零～zero～）satoshimatrix.wordpress.com/
(Summary) Miku and Mafuyu are brothers and sisters, and are the only family they’ve got. Mafuyu goes to a deserted Japanese house, following a trail of a writer. He goes missing. Miku goes looking for her brother, into the deserted house.
Zero series is one of my favorite Japanese horror game series. Packed to the brim with good, traditional Japanese horror, Zero had created a completely original system from western horror. You fight ghosts, not with guns or weapons, but with a special camera. The closer the photo you take of the ghost, the more effective it is against the ghost. Genius, really.
Not only is the weapon system is unique, the game setting is, too. Set in an old traditional Japanese village, which is very creepy (maybe more for a Japanese person?), you lead the character on the investigation. The characters aren’t soldiers, but everyday people, so they’re slow, even when running. With the slow movement of the character and the camera system, you have yourself one terrifying (and brilliant) game. Also availiable in X-box. Official site here.
6. Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly (零～紅い蝶～)www.tecmo.co.jp/
(Summary) Twin sisters, Miu and Mayu, visit a village, a place of childhood memories, on their summer holiday. The village was planned to be removed from the map, due to a dam project. On their way to the village, Mayu suddenly becomes transfixed, leaving Miu. Going after her sister, Miu finds the village, but the atmosphere is different to how she remembered.
With the same system from Fatal Frame 1, Fatal Frame 2’s best feature would be its story. With the local lore in the village, the existence of twins throughout history becomes the key in the story. Mayu and Miu are good sisters. Too good, actually. Probably with the high possibility of co-dependency, Fatal Frame 2 is not only horrifying as a game, but also with the psychological story behind the twins. A remake is available on Wii. Official site here.
7. Fatal Frame 3 : The Tormented (零～刺青の聲～)vgboxart.com/
(Summary) Freelance photographer, Rei, has a job to take photos at a Japanese house rumored to be haunted. There she sees her fiance, Yuu. Her dead fiance. Rei goes after him, going deeper into the house.
Compared to the previous versions, the graphics of Fatal Frame 3 : The Tormented have been much improved. Miu from Fatal Frame 1 also plays a part in the story. The story consists of two parts; the house and reality. The more you explore the house, the more haunted your reality (Rei’s house) becomes. Needless to say, the house’s are terrifying, but it was the subtle horror tricks in the house scared me the most. Official site here.
8. Siren 1www.hardcoregaming101.net/
(Summary) In a secluded village, a secret ritual was performed, creating an underworld with red water. Those who survived the ritual try to survive in this world. But this new world is full of strange creatures…
I confess; I couldn’t finish Siren. It was extremely hard as well as being terrifying. The graphics aren’t that great, but look very similar to real life people. No excessive background music, just moans and noises. A map, which isn’t really a map because it’s too simple and you have to figure out by yourself where you are every time you look at it. Since the character’s are real life people, you die in one blow. You can’t finish this game without using 100% of your brains and skill.
There are several characters (some who can’t equip weapons), and the point of view changes with them. The myth arc is extremely unique, based on the Japanese version of mermaids. The story itself is extremely depressing, but quite satisfying. Official site here.
9. RULE of ROSEwww.amazon.com/gp/
(Summary) Jennifer was riding a bus when a boy came up to her and asked her to read his book. After giving her the book, the boy got off the bus. Chasing after him, Jennifer arrived in front of an orphanage.
RULE of ROSE isn’t your typical monster/underworld type of horror game. It has an unique story line which may seem tricky at first, but will gradually enthrall you. Changing stages to the orphanage, air balloons, the staged orphanage. You have a very reliable buddy, Brown the dog, who you can ask to sniff after things and attack others. Official site here.
Now onto PlayStation 3.
10. Siren : New Translationwww.comshop.co.jp/
(Summary) Howard gets a strange message, and visits the village mentioned in it. An American TV crew witness a strange ritual in the village. They get swallowed into the darkness, into an underworld.
This is a remake of the original SIREN. It explains how the main monster in SIREN came to be. The story is told from the perspective of several characters. The fighting system and maps are much easier to handle than the original SIREN. The graphics are good (due to being on the PS3). It has an extremely depressing ending, but this is the SIREN series, so no surprises there. Official site here.
Moving on to Wii.
11. CALLING : The Black Incoming Call (CALLING～黒き着信～)www24.atpages.jp/
(Summary) There’s a rumor on the internet that there’s a site called the “Black Page”. Normally it’s just a black page, but sometimes you get to connect to the underworld. If you do, you receive a phone call and are transported between the world between life and death to wander. In reality, you’re comatose, and will eventually die.
The biggest feature of Calling is the fighting system. You run around the “between” world with only your cell phone. When something attacks you, you either struggle, or call a different cell phone and transport to another place. There are 4 characters, and you transport to them, solve their stages, and move on. Official site here.
12. FRAGILE DREAMS : Farewell Ruins of the Moon (FRAGILE～さよなら月の廃墟～)www.fragiledreamswii.com/
(Summary) Seto is heading east, for the big red tower. His grandfather, who is desceased, told him to, searching for other survivors. The world is slowly crumbling down into deserted ruins.
FRAGILE DREAMS : Farewell Ruins of the Moons is known as a “Ruins Adventure” in Japanese, and as the name suggests, the game is set in some ruins. Ruins where you can see the evidence that people were once there, but the place has been deserted for years. This isn’t exactly a horror game, only the setting of the game is kind of terrifying. The atmosphere, combined with the great music and graphics, is soothing. Official site here.
13. The Grudge Haunted House Simulator (恐怖体感 呪怨)www.amazon.co.jp/
The Grudge Haunted House Stimulator doesn’t quite have a story. There are chapters with different characters, and you guide them through the stage (abandoned factories, hospitals, apartments etc.). But the jump scares and being grabbed by the infamous Kayako & Toshio is quite an experience. Great for parties. Official site here.
14. Ikenie no Yoru (イケニエノヨル)
(Summary) 4 college students go to search in a haunted house and things spiral out of control.
Ikenie no Yoru has 4 characters, and the story revolves around them. The characters are in pastel texture, whilst the game environment itself is in horror. You can play the game with a 2nd player and occasionally jump scare them. Official site here.
15. Fatal Frame 4 : Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (零～月蝕の仮面～)myvideogamelist.com/
(Summary) Years ago, a ritual involving 5 little girls was performed. The ritual failed, and destroyed the village. The little girls survived and grew up, and now they’re going to find out what exactly happened…
The 4th installments of the Fatal Frame series, Fatal Frame 4 : The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a different and more intense experience. Since it’s on the Wii, the controls are harder and makes you sweat. Sounds come out of the Wii controler too (which occasionally jump scares you). The graphics are smooth and the textures are great. Revolving around 4+ characters, the story is complicated and immersive. Official site here.