Xbox’s success (or lack thereof) in Japan has become a time-honoured running joke in the video game industry, to the point where Microsoft are almost too self-aware in their complacency. Still, there was a time when Microsoft pursued the Japanese market with optimistic vigour, and although they could barely forge a market share, Xbox enthusiasts were better off for having a pretty enviable selection of exclusives, many which have now become valuable collectibles.
Granted, while a lot of these games have since been ported to PlayStation systems (and understandably so, how else were they meant to break-even?), here are five Japanese developed games which still remain exclusive to Xbox consoles and are worth having in any collection.
Panzer Dragoon Orta
If there was one game that was the envy of Sony and Nintendo loyalists in the early 2000s, it was Panzer Dragoon Orta.
Although SEGA gave each system a fair share of their best games, where the PlayStation 2 got Virtua Fighter 4 and the GameCube was logically given enhanced ports of Sonic Adventure games, it was the Xbox that got the games that have reached near-mythical legendary status. In a very quick turnaround, the Xbox was graced with the likes of Otogi, Gunvalkyrie, Outrun, Jet Set Radio Future, and the holy grail of them all, Panzer Dragoon Orta.
On the SEGA Saturn, Panzer Dragoon had a reputation impacting even those who had never even touched the games, and Panzer Dragoon Orta was a pinnacle cumulation of the series’ ambitious artistic vision. Although it was a rail shooter (and a pretty challenging one at that) it was as if Space Harrier had found itself inside a Van Gogh painting. As a shooter, Panzer Dragoon Orta remains among the best this side of Star Fox 64, and is backed by an artistic direction and lore that will continue to stand the test of time. As a backwards compatible 4K enhanced title, it’s hard to believe a game from 2002 can be visually on par with newer Xbox One X releases.
Blue Dragon marked the Xbox’s most substantial 15 minutes of fame in Japan; it had all the right ingredients of a Dragon Quest game and was backed by the vision of Hironobu Sakaguchi who had bravely left Square Enix to form his own studio in Mistwalker (they make pretty decent mobile RPGs now).
Blue Dragon is still special, and despite its infamously butchered English localisation, some were lucky enough to play the release in-between the Japanese and Western launch which had English texts and Japanese audio, at a time when Asia would get English translated versions of Japanese Xbox games without the English audio.
From its opening sunset scene, it immediately captivates players into a wholesome and traditional fantasy RPG world, featuring some pseudo steampunk sci-fi elements. Blue Dragon didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it took a traditional 8-bit Japanese role-playing experience and brought it to life with the then cutting-edge technology of the Xbox 360.
Blue Dragon was a great debut for Mistwalker, and their next project for the Xbox 360 proved to be more daring and ambitious. Where Blue Dragon drew from Dragon Quest, Lost Odyssey clearly took its inspiration from Final Fantasy but with a far more mature presentation and politically charged game world.
Lost Odyssey had a script which remains compelling to this day, and unlike Blue Dragon the English voice acting was a credit to the overall narrative, as it dealt with themes of death and immortality with a deep and confronting philosophical tone, and aside from the main story it also presented a range of poetically written short stories which made great use of sound and art to bring written expression to life.
As a role-playing game, Lost Odyssey offered a sound turn-based combat system and a great deal of challenge in its boss battles. This is unquestionably the best Final Fantasy game not called Final Fantasy.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
The Kinect was a bit like the many failed add-ons SEGA pushed out for the Mega Drive; a short-lived endeavour which had the right idea but fell short on execution. Perhaps some day a Kinect-style technology can comfortably operate in our living rooms, but what started on the Xbox 360 would unceremoniously get phased out on the Xbox One (apparently many people still make use of its voice functionality for home entertainment purposes).
Must have titles on the Kinect are few and far between, but perhaps the biggest hurrah for the device was D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, notable for its surprise launch and that of the complete first (and to date only) season. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die remains a highly stylised and fresh adventure which made clever use of the Kinect to interact with the game’s environment. The game had a zany but charming plot set in Boston where you play as a Detective travelling into the depths of his own mind to interact with an oddball cast of characters.
Luckily, it is just as enjoyable with a controller.
Wartech: Senko no Ronde
The Senko no Ronde series is a throwback to SEGA’s 90s arcade hit Virtual-ON, and retains most of the gameplay conventions but instead adds an interesting shmup twist to the gameplay where each mech has the ability to transform into a shmup-sized boss ship.
The gameplay appears simple on the surface, but has all the depth and nuances expected of any arcade fighting game. While the original Senko no Ronde on Xbox 360 got a release outside of Japan, there was also a sequel called Senko no Ronde DUO, region locked to Japanese Xbox 360 systems. This is perhaps as obscure a Japanese game you can find on Xbox, and has timeless pickup and play appeal as any arcade hit from yesteryear.
So what do you think? Are any of these classic Japanese titles games that you still play? Have we missed anything out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.