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Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Japanese Video Game Obscurities

By Kurt Kalata

101 rare, weird and important Japanese video games

Gaming
109% funded
736 supporters
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Publication date: November 2019

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Japan has produced thousands of intriguing video games. For any number of reasons, not all of them were ever released outside of the country, especially in the '80s and '90s. While many of these titles have since been documented by the English-speaking video game community – and in some cases, even unofficially translated – a huge proportion of the Japanese game output is unknown outside of their native territory (and even, in some cases, within it).

Some of these games are oddities, the kind of uniquely Japanese title that wouldn’t have been commercial viable outside of the country; others may have done well but were victims of circumstance. Plus, for quite a long time, the Japanese industry developed separately from American and European output, with their own landmark titles that created trends and inspired later games. Even the older games have a visual and aural style that make them distinct from similar games from around the globe.

Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Japanese Video Game Obscurities seeks to catalogue many of these titles – games that are weird, compelling, strange, cool or historically important. Some of these may be familiar if you’ve comprehensively read Hardcore Gaming 101 website archives (though the actual text for this book is completely original), but we’ve also included a large number of titles that aren’t (currently) reviewed, and in some cases, have little to no English-language coverage whatsoever. Most of these games are Japanese exclusive, though we’ve also picked some that are suitably obscure outside of the country, or were only localized many years after their original release. In some cases, they’re games that were hugely successful in Japan but barely made a mark in the West.

Beyond the individual selected games, we’ll also be discussing the history of any larger series a game might be part of and any subsequent games it may have influenced. We’ve also picked games that represent a large number of genres – platformers, shoot-em-ups, role-playing games, adventure games – across nearly four decades of gaming, among arcade, computer and console platforms. We’re covering titles from giants like Nintendo, Sega, Namco and Konami, along with smaller titles from long-forgotten publishers and developers. In other words, even if you’re fairly well versed in Japanese video games, you're very likely to learn something interesting and new.

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  • Kurt Kalata avatar

    Kurt Kalata

    Kurt Kalata has been writing about video games, mostly old and weird ones, on the internet for twenty years. In addition to founding retro game website Hardcore Gaming 101 in 2003, he previously started fan sites The Castlevania Dungeon and The Contra HQ. He has also contributed to several other websites, including 1up, Gamasutra, and Siliconera. He has edited and published over ten books through the HG101 website, including the Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures and The 200 Best Video Games of All Time, and has contributed to several other retro themed books, including the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, Unseen64’s Video Games You’ll Never Play, and The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Video Games. He lives in New Jersey, USA with his wife, daughter, and three cats.

  • Segagaga (2001)

    Developer: Sega

    Platform: Dreamcast

    Sega was in pretty dire straits at the turn of the 20th century. The Saturn was failure in North America and was soundly beaten by Sony even in Japan. The Dreamcast had a strong start but its momentum was quickly dashed thanks to the promise of the PlayStation. We all know how history went: eventually Sega gave up the console game and shifted to third party development. But before then, they published Segagaga, a weird little game for the Dreamcast, which had one goal: save Sega.

    Segagaga is half-RPG, half-management sim, with some minigames tossed in there to round things out. As a kid named Tarou Sega, you must restore the company's good fortunes by scavenging through the company's buildings to round up developers, and then decide how to allocate their resources to create new games. It's a remarkably self-aware game, made explicitly for long-time Sega fans, as it's loaded with characters, jokes, and other oddities. Your assistant, for example, is Alis from the original Phantasy Star, just in disguise. At one point, you meet up with former mascot Alex Kidd, who's been forced into retail work after Sonic the Hedgehog took his job. Many of the developers you "fight" are represented by all numbers of Sega characters. The final battle is designed like a Thunder Force-style shoot-em-up, where you zoom into space and fight against variations of Sega's many consoles. Along with this, there's also tons of jokes about the Japanese video game industry and otaku culture.

    It's a profoundly weird game, and even in Japan, it was originally only distributed through the company's mail order service (a second printing was made more widely available.) But it's a beautiful game, just because it's a niche product and it knows it, so it really does revel in its obscureness.

    Kuma Uta (2003)

    Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

    Platform: Playstation 2

    Among all of the weird, experimental games on the Japanese PlayStation 2 library, one of the most fascinating is Kuma Uta ("Bear Song"). It stars a polar bear who decides to ditch his peaceful life in nature and become an enka singer. "Enka" is a very particular style of Japanese music that takes the form of sentimental ballads, often with themes of nostalgia, love and loss. It's very divisive, even in Japan, as it's generally seen as sort of "old people" music. So obviously, seeing a polar bear standing on his two legs, wearing various outfits and crooning songs about life and love is pretty ridiculous.

    Your goal, as the player, is to help the bear, Kuma, reach the top of the charts by helping him write these songs. Here, you can suggest various topics, after which he'll scrawl out some lyrics and show them to you for approval. The main gimmick is that none of the songs are prerecorded, and are instead "sung" on the fly using a synthesized voice, one of those things that's made easier in Japanese thanks to its syllabic structure and consistent pronunciation. If this sounds similar to Hatsune Miku and the virtual idol phenomenon, that's absolutely correct... except Kuma Uta predates the Vocaloid software by a few months, and a good number of years before it really caught on with the greater public.

    Obviously pop idols and their peppy music are a much easier sell than the absurdist crooning of a disaffected polar bear, which is why Hatsune Miku and friends are basically household names, whereas nobody really remembers Kuma Uta. Plus, unlike the rhythm-based titles from Sega, there's not much of a game in Kuma Uta – you just help write songs and then listen to them. Without understanding Japanese, some of the humor is lost, but its surrealness is still universal.

    Read more...
  • 10th June 2019 Final Cover Reveal!

    Here is the final, colored cover for the Japanese Obscurities book! We're putting on the final touches and sending it to print very shortly. The schedule has shifted slightly - backers should receive their books in October while the book will be publicly available in November. The pre-order listing is already on Amazon, which you can find here:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hardcore-Gaming-101…

    2nd December 2018 Design sample and other book news

    Hi all! Sorry for the radio silence since this project completed, but honestly, there hasn't been a whole lot to update, as the text has been completed as of the summer and the design and editing process has begun. The tentative release date is October 3, 2019, though all backers should get their copies about a month before hand.

    I've attached one of the design samples as an early preview - please…

    10th July 2018 Completion of the manuscript and submission to the publisher

    Hi all! Just a quick update on the status of this. I'm getting together the final steps for submitting everything to the publisher. The manuscript has technically been completed for about a month or so, but I've spent the past few weeks collecting and organizing images for use in the book (and polishing up some of the text). One major thing I realized during this process is that some of the box covers…

    14th April 2018 Funding complete via Kickstarter!

    Hi all!

    Earlier this week, funding this book was completed via Kickstarter. Of course, if you already pledged via Unbound, then you're already in line to get your copy when it's ready!

    As for my progress, the writing is about 95% complete. I still need to do some edits on the text, plus finish gathering some images. I'm also weighing importing some PC games to get some nicer quality cover scans…

    27th January 2018 Column on HG101 Site and other Updates

    Hi all! It's been awhile but we're still working on this! Pledgers kinda plateued over the past couple months so I've been working on a few things to help generate some more interest.

    First, since I've got all of these already completed write-ups just lying around, I figured I'd start posting a handful of them, concentrating on stuff that's not already on the site. I'll be posting them weekly around…

    12th September 2017 Cover Line Art by by Thor Thorvaldson

    Here's the completed line art for the cover by Thor Thorvaldson! As you can see, there have been quite a few new additions since the sketch was last revealed. I made sure to include a request for the Battlemania / Trouble Shooter gals!

    20th August 2017 Write-ups: Digan no Maseki and Last Armageddon

    Hi everyone,

    We've just reached out 20% of the total amount to fund this - huge, absolutely gigantic thanks to everyone who've pledged! - so I figured I'd post a few drafts of some of the other games that will be featured here. I've started with the ones that go with those nice art prints we're featuring, both computer RPGs from the late 80s. As the funding hits more milestones, I'll be post a…

    9th August 2017 Cover Sketch by Thor Thorvaldson

    Hi everyone!

    Thor Thorvaldson, who you may remember as the cover artist for our 200 Best Video Games of All Time and Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 2 book, has prepared a cover sketch for the Japanese Video Game Obscurities book, shown below:

     

    See how many characters you can name!

    Disclaimer though: I'm still waffling on whether to include Wonder Project J or its N64 sequel, so that one…

    3rd August 2017 Tentative List of Featured Games

    Hi all! Since a few people have asked, here's a tenative list of games that are planned to be featured here. Though the writing of the book is about half completed, I'm always swapping titles in and out based on whatever I dig up, so not every title might end up in the book (though all of the ones featured in the video and in the mock-up definitely will).

    As the campaign continues, I'll be posting…

  • These people are helping to fund Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: Japanese Video Game Obscurities.

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  • Matt Sephton
    Matt Sephton asked:

    Do you plan to list the 101 games? Or have I missed that information?

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    Yup, I've posted an update with a tentative list: https://unbound.com/books/japanese-video-game-obscurities/updates/tentative-list-of-featured-games

    Jack Gowrie
    Jack Gowrie asked:

    What size shall the book be? In terms of the size of the pages, A4 etc, as opposed to page count.

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    It will be Crown Quarto (256 mm x 189 mm / 10 in x 7.5 in)

    Douglas Miller
    Douglas Miller asked:

    Hi! I'm in the US and must have missed the Hardback (US Delivery) option when I pledged. Is there a difference in estimated shipping time or shipping costs between these two options? Should I change my pledge or just keep the basic Hardback option since I've already pledged?

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Douglas, Thanks for getting in touch. We've sent an email about this today so please do keep an eye on your inbox. Best wishes, Unbound Support

    Vincent Lefevre
    Vincent Lefevre asked:

    Hello, What is the financial target regarding funding and is there a tentative release date of the book ? Shouldn't his be displayed clearly on the page itself ? I'm interested in the book but this lack of basic information is not a great signal. Apologies if I missed the info

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Vincent, Thanks for getting in touch. We don't show the total amount of money needed to raise in order for us to publish the book because, due to the way that the levels and algorithms for costing these projects work and the costs for fulfilling certain pledge levels can vary, the total can change depending on who supports the book at which level. Therefore a percentage, rather than a fixed cash amount, is shown in real time based on the amount raised so far and the average level supported. Authors do of course have access to how much their funding target is as well as the amount that has been raised, and this is discussed with them before a project goes live on the site. I hope this helps! Best wishes, Unbound Support

    Christian Aldekamp
    Christian Aldekamp asked:

    What's the deadline to get this funded?

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    None currently, it will keep running until it's funded (or it's clear that it's plateued and the project will be canceled).

    Tim Sestito
    Tim Sestito asked:

    How many different games do you want cover? How many pages is your goal? Why is Dollar = Euro? Best Regard

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    101 games being covered, at two pages each, so 202 pages for the main content (plus some extra pages for the table of contents, backer listings, etc.) As for the currency conversion, this is decided by the website.

    Anthony Grimando
    Anthony Grimando asked:

    So is this shipping from the UK? If I'm in the US would I pay the international shipping price?

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Anthony, Yes, we're shipping from the UK, so the shipping price is calculated from the UK to the US. This is calculated at the checkout once we know your delivery address and we send all books via a tracked for service. Thanks, Unbound Support

    Anonymous Donor
    Anonymous Donor asked:

    Why was a Kickstarter launched? What happens to pledges done on unbound.com?

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    A Kickstarter was launched by Unbound to complete the remainder of the funding (it's 46% here so it's for remaining 54% on Kickstarter). This is just due to the popularity of the platform. All of your pledges are still recorded here on Unbound, so there's no need to pledge again.

    Isaiah Mohr
    Isaiah Mohr asked:

    Congrats on the Kickstarter working so well! What's going to happen next?

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    Hi, the Kickstarter should be finishing in the next couple of days. I'll be finishing up work on the book (it's about 90% complete) and then everything will be submitted to Unbound so the production of the book can begin! I'll be submitting updates on the status of these as well.

    Kylani Pekli
    Kylani Pekli asked:

    Hey Kurt, I noticed when I was checking this page for updates, it says for Hardback (US Delivery) 25.00$ then the 10$ shipping for a total of 35.00$ When I originally pledged way back, my pledges in my account info say I paid 20.00$ + 10.00$ for a total of 30$ Did the amounts raise? Or is this some sort of weird unbound thing? Just want to make sure there are no issues on my end, I have every one of your books and really looking forward to this one. Thanks!

    Kurt Kalata
    Kurt Kalata replied:

    Hi Kylani, I do believe Unbound did raise the price a little after a certain amount of time, though I'm not sure why, it may have had to do with mitigating shipping costs. But your pledge will be fine regardless of when it was made.

    Michael Morejon
    Michael Morejon asked:

    I live in the USA, and I missed out getting the pledge for the Hardback (US Delivery). Will there be more books being delivered to the USA, or will the book be available say on Amazon or somewhere else after it's release?

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Michael, If you pledge for the standard hardback level you can still get the book delivered to the US. Just add your delivery address during the checkout process. Thanks, Unbound Support

    Radek Koncewicz
    Radek Koncewicz asked:

    Hey Kurt, since making my pledge I've moved to Canada, but it's not an available country-option for a new address on Unbound. While I realize this could add shipping costs, there's no way for me to get the book shipped now. How can we address this?

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Radek, Please contact us via support@unbound.com and we can change the address for you. Unbound Support