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Xbox 15th Anniversary: 15 Notable Japanese Xbox Games

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It was nearly 15 years ago when Microsoft entered the console wars with its Xbox console, and 15 years later it currently stands in a pretty sweet position with the Xbox One console. During that time we saw the hugely successful Xbox 360 system and next year we can look forward to the Xbox Scorpio. A lot has happened in the last 15 years, but what has always remained consistent is the Xbox’s poor commercial performance in Japan. For numerous reasons the Xbox brand just doesn’t garner the same interest from Japanese gamers, and has consistently to this day remained the poorest seller in the land of the rising sun.

Still, this is the 15th anniversary for all things Xbox, and these systems were graced with a range of excellent Japanese video games. Some were exclusive, some landed on the system first before any other platforms, and some in fact performed best on the Microsoft game box. In no particular order, here are 15 of the most notable Japanese games that graced Xbox systems over the past 15 years.

Ketsui: Kizuna Jigoku Tachi EXTRA
Year: 2010
System: Xbox 360

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There isn’t much value in investing in a Japanese Xbox or Xbox One (well that system is region free), but there is certainly value in investing in a Japanese Xbox 360 which was practically a treasure trove for SHMUP fans. For reasons I’m still not sure of, developers of bullet hell shooters strongly supported the Xbox 360 and carved a niche fanbase in the process. Out of them all, the most notable was Ketsui which ticks all the right boxes in terms of what makes the scrolling shoot em’ up genre such a timeless artform. The design, level layout, and boss battles… Ketsui is the standard bearer for sure.

Raiden V
Year: 2016
System: Xbox One

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We talked about this title earlier this year when it was the subject of an Import Showcase, and Raiden V sticks out as a notable Microsoft exclusive (for now at least) which sports a great soundtrack and makes a nice addition to your Xbox One collection. As mentioned earlier, the Xbox 360 was a SHMUP fan’s dream machine, and while we haven’t seen too many new shooter releases on Xbox One yet, it’s still fitting that a quality shooter like Raiden V continues the trend.

Senko no Ronde Rev. X
Year: 2006
System: Xbox 360

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This is a tough game to recommend, but nonetheless one that is unique and charming, and unlike anything out there. A 3D arena fighter that lets you morph into a towering battleship, Senko no Ronde is a simple and strange game on the surface, but when given time it ends up being a special fighting game experience. It follows the path of Virtual-On, and even something like Little Battlers and Custom Robo. If you’re a fan of those type of combat games where distance is the key aspect of strategy, then Senko no Ronde is worth checking out. It even had a bigger and badder sequel in Senko no Ronde DUO (also on Xbox 360), but the simplicity of the original has aged far better than its flashier sequel. Less is more as they sometimes say.

Ninja Gaiden
Year: 2004
System: Xbox

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If there was one Japanese game on the original Xbox that turned the most heads, it was Team Ninja’s (then lead by Itagaki) reboot of the NES classic Ninja Gaiden. Now this series is still notoriously difficult as a 2D action platformer, and Team Ninja rejuvenated and retained that brutal challenge in their Xbox reboot, but presenting it in a different way. Ninja Gaiden was a sublime 3D action game that rewarded discipline and timing. Forget about button mashing, Ninja Gaiden demanded that you use your tools and attacks in an appropriate manner. No action game during that time had the same level of polish, and the difficulty was addictive because you could always pinpoint where you messed up and how you could do better. Subsequent releases simply paled in comparison, and even now Ninja Gaiden stands as one of the best, most sublime, and polished action games ever created.

Dead or Alive Ultimate
Year: 2004
System: Xbox

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Quite literally the Ultimate Dead or Alive game in every sense. Long before the days of exploitative DLC practices and season passes, video game discs were cram-filled with content. These days we have to fork out money to purchase character costumes in Dead or Alive 5, but back in the good old days Dead or Alive Ultimate was not only the best fighting game on the original Xbox, one that pushed the hardware with some amazing visuals and performance, but also had a ton of unlockable costumes. Dead or Alive 3 was an awesome launch title for the Xbox, but Dead or Alive Ultimate was utter perfection and is a classic in its own right. You not only got a revamped and perfected Dead or Alive 2 with new characters and impressive arenas, but even the SEGA Saturn version of the original Dead or Alive.

Shenmue II
Year: 2002
System: Xbox

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Shenmue III has become one of the biggest Kickstarter success stories in recent memory, if not a record setter. While the future of the franchise may be on the PlayStation 4, for a while the Xbox became the home of SEGA’s revolutionary adventure game. After the untimely demise of the SEGA Dreamcast, which saw a limited release of Shenmue II to close the curtain, SEGA and Microsoft teamed up to ensure more gamers had a chance to experience the game. Shenmue II remains a memorable experience on the Xbox and until they confirm the fabled HD collection, it still remains the best way to experience Yu Suzuki’s epic adventure classic. Not to mention, it presents the original Dreamcast Shenmue as a movie with great results.

Panzer Dragoon Orta
Year: 2002
System: Xbox

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Who would have thought back then that the legendary Panzer Dragoon trilogy on the SEGA Saturn would see its 4th iteration on a Microsoft console of all things. Panzer Dragoon Orta remains the series’ finest hour, and is the most sublime and spectacular rail shooter to this day. Visually and graphically, it still remains one of the best looking video games ever created, and one that simply screams for a HD update on modern platforms. Artistically there are few games that can match Panzer Dragoon Orta, with every inch of the game oozing with fine detail. As a rail shooter Panzer Dragoon Orta is one of the most rewarding, challenging, and unforgettable experiences the rail shooter genre has ever seen.

Blue Dragon
Year: 2007
System: Xbox 360

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When the father of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, left SquareEnix he would go on to create his own studio called Mistwalker and was immediately thrust into a partnership with Microsoft. This unlikely alliance would lead to two brilliant RPGs, with the first being Blue Dragon. Brought to you by the minds behind Final Fantasy AND Dragon Quest, Blue Dragon had a lot of hype to live up to… and unfortunately unreasonable expectations prevented the game from being more successful. For what it was, Blue Dragon was a pure and sincere Japanese role playing game that was Xbox’s Dragon Quest in everything but name, and more. It was a simple, charming adventure that had the magic of 16-bit RPGs with a visual coat that was awe-inspiring at the time. It’s still a fun nostalgic experience for any Japanese RPG fan, especially Dragon Quest fans.

Lost Odyssey
Year: 2008
System: Xbox 360

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Mistwalker’s second Japanese RPG epic on the Xbox 360 after Blue Dragon was Lost Odyssey. It was quite simply the follow up to Final Fantasy X that fans had dreamed for, and unlike Blue Dragon it was able to deliver on its hype. A turn-based RPG with a strategic and challenging combat system, and an epic story that was presented in a refreshing manner by way of visually charged short stories in addition to the cutscene shenanigans. Lost Odyssey truly felt like a Final Fantasy game, if not the most mature Final Fantasy game you could imagine.

Eternal Sonata
Year: 2007
System: Xbox 360

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The music and life of the historical Frederick Chopin served as the inspiration for the plot, music, and visuals of Eternal Sonata. The themes may have been too jarring for most, but no one could deny how visually breathtaking Eternal Sonata was as it sported the best cel shaded visuals at the time. Musically it was a JRPG’s fan dream come true, featuring a soundtrack that had the timeless compositions of Chopin fused seamlessly with energetic Japanese orchestra tempos. The story may have had its cringe inducing moments, but the visual and art direction dropped jaws without fail. Not to mention, it had a fun and interesting battle system that combined the best of turn-based conventions and action RPG fluidity.

Tales of Vesperia
Year: 2008
System: Xbox 360

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A Tales game exclusive on the Xbox 360? It certainly was an interesting era as the Xbox 360 was getting games like Infinite Undiscovery, Last Remnant, Star Ocean 4, and more. Many of these titles eventually did appear on the PlayStation 3, but if you want to experience Tales of Vesperia in English then the Xbox 360 version is the only way to do it. Tales of Vesperia is certainly one of the better and respected releases in the long running series, ranking up there with the likes of Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss. Protagonist Yuri Lowell was a pretty badass dude who certainly displayed more maturity than your typical JRPG archetype, and the combat system had the trademark Tales excitement and polish. This is a game that any self-respecting fan of the Tales series must experience.

Bayonetta
Year: 2009
System: Xbox 360

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The best action game of the generation first made waves on the Xbox 360 before it became more synonymous with the Wii U. Back in the day the Xbox 360 housed the best version of Bayonetta, with the PS3 version being a watered down port that didn’t run nearly as smoothly as the sublime 60 fps Xbox 360 version. The Wii U release of Bayonetta 2 comes with the original Bayonetta as an extra, fully spruced up with new content, which makes it the most definitive way to enjoy it in HD (you absolutely need the Wii U Pro Controller but). Still, the Xbox 360 version isn’t a bad way to experience this awesome action game at all.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
Year: 2014
System: Xbox One

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In an era dominated by story-driven adventure games by Telltale Games, with the likes of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us picking up numerous awards and accolades, a Japanese studio called Access Games teamed up with Microsoft to give us the highly refreshing and very strange D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. A murder mystery where a detective literally and physically travels into the depths of his memories to unravel the murder of his wife, D4 simply oozed with unique personality and charm, and presented an intriguing story that was very bizarre and yet compelling enough to hold your interest without confusing you. Sadly, the status (importantly, conclusion) of this fascinating tale remains up in the air as there seems to be no plans for a Season 2.

Akai Katana
Year: 2010
System: Xbox 360

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Akai Katana is worth it just for the gorgeous artwork and presentation alone, and is one of the few Japanese SHMUP releases that actually got an international worldwide release. It’s visually a gorgeous game with beautiful orchestra music. In terms of gameplay, it’s basically what you’ve come to expect from the genre, but the variety of gameplay modes and unique mechanics makes it a worthwhile experience.

Gunvalkyrie
Year: 2002
System: Xbox

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No video game exemplifies the term “acquired taste” quite like SEGA’s Gunvalkyrie. This was a  high score-chasing action game, driven by a set of quirky and unique mechanics that were simply designed to be studied and mastered. Gunvalkyire was one of those games that was all about mastery of its gameplay and that became part of its frustration, satisfaction, and addiction. From its precise boosting and jumping system, and its skillful and precise shooting system, Gunvalkyrie is a video game simply made for the hardcore gamer.

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