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101 rare, weird and important Japanese video games

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.

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.


Funding complete via Kickstarter!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

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…

Column on HG101 Site and other Updates

Saturday, 27 January 2018

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…

Cover Line Art by by Thor Thorvaldson

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

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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!

Write-ups: Digan no Maseki and Last Armageddon

Sunday, 20 August 2017

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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…

Cover Sketch by Thor Thorvaldson

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

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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…

Tentative List of Featured Games

Thursday, 3 August 2017

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…

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:

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 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:


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 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 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.


Unbound Support

Anonymous Donor
Anonymous Donor asked:

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

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.

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