5 underrated games rooted in Japanese folklore

Those into mythologies around the world might want to pick up these games (Images via XSEED/Capcom/Marvelous)
Those into mythologies around the world might want to pick up these games (Images via XSEED/Capcom/Marvelous)

The Japanese gaming industry has been surprisingly consistent in delivering acclaimed games across different platforms. These include legendary franchises such as Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Legend of Zelda, and Dark Souls to more cultural experiences, like Taiko no Tatsujin.

On that note, there have been a few titles that also celebrate the country's rich folklore.


These games introduce players to supernatural worlds of Japanese mythos

5) GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon

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Konami is primarily known for Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Silent Hill, so it was surprising when they decided to revive one of their older franchises recently. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a roguelite side-scroller hack & slash released first for the Nintendo Switch last month.

The seal to hell has been broken, with demons terrorizing the land of the living. As the 27th leader of the Getsu clan, players must descend into the depths of hell and put an end to it. The focus is on martial-arts inspired combat with numerous monsters across Japanese lore.

Coming to the gameplay, this is what users would get if Dead Cells had slower-paced combat and a celshaded aesthetic. It is similarly a 2D platformer, allowing gamers to gain new abilities while exploring the labyrinthine arenas and beating enemies.

As it is a roguelite, death sends them back to the start, though, so a cautious playstyle is advised.

The game is also available on PC via Steam.


4) Yomawari: Night Alone

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Japanese horror titles are a rarity these days, so Yomawari: Night Alone from Nippon Ichi Software was a nice change of pace. Released for the PS Vita in 2015, it is a survival horror experience that got a PC release the following year and a Nintendo Switch port in 2018.

The plot revolves around a young girl who finds her dog and elder sister missing. To make matters worse, the streets of the quiet town are prowling with vengeful spirits of all kinds.

The main attraction is exploration and stealth. The former has the girl explore the dark streets armed with a flashlight, while the latter sees her avoid the baddies that want to kill her.

It employs a heartbeat system to make players aware of surrounding threats. The hand-drawn 2D visuals also add a cute but creepy charm to the atmosphere.

Yomawari got a sequel in 2017, with a third entry to come this year.


3) Muramasa: The Demon Blade

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Initially released for the Nintendo Wii, Muramasa is a 2D hack & slash RPG game made by Vanillaware in 2009. Despite its charming exterior, the narrative is relatively dark.

It follows two protagonists throughout Japan's Edo period. Kisuke is an amnesiac ninja on the run for a crime he does not remember. Meanwhile, Momohime is a girl possessed by a vengeful samurai spirit.

Gameplay occurs across 2D levels as gamers hack and slash their way through primarily linear interconnected levels boasting beautiful art direction. These are teeming with dangerous monsters and spirits.

Battling them employs the duo's Blades, which come in several different types. In general, movement and the combat pacing are very fast, which is expected from a studio with previous experience with 2D beat 'em ups.

Publisher Marvelous also remastered the game for the PS Vita in 2013, re-titling it to Muramasa: Rebirth.


2) Okami

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A PS2 cult-classic that has seen a slow rise in popularity throughout the years, Okami is a unique action-adventure from Capcom's Clover Studio (whose key staff went on to form Platinum Games). Users take on the role of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who incarnates in Nippon in a wolf form to save its denizens from danger.

It takes heavy inspiration from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, particularly for its dungeon design and ability progression. However, the stylish hack & slash combat is the real star here.

Players can use the Celestial Brush, allowing drawing shapes to conjure elements and other powers from thin air. So drawing a circle with a small line on the circumference spawns a cherry bomb at the target location. Or making the infinity symbol sets the target on fire.

This mechanic is key in battling the countless demonic forces that have corrupted these once-peaceful lands. The wolf deity explores many hub areas and comes across citizens in need, with the art style backed by a breathtaking water painting design.

The environment can be interacted with, like restoring life to dead trees or feeding animals. This earns the character Praise, used to increase stats. There are dungeons, too, each having new enemies and puzzles to solve.

All in all, it's a one-of-a-kind experience that fans of the genre should not miss. It is also available on Wii with a remaster released for PS3, PS4, XB1, Switch, and PC.

On a related note, Platinum Games' co-founder Hideki Kamiya has expressed an interest in bringing the franchise back on modern platforms.


1) Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin

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Developer Edelweiss and publisher Marvelous teamed up in 2020 to bring a game that is part-brawler and part-farming-sim. Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin follows the titular harvest goddess Sakuna.

She and a bunch of humans were banished to the Isle of Demons as punishment, so the deity must protect the mortals from demons as they live their lives on the islands.

One part of the game is reminiscent of the other entry on this list, Muramasa, which had similarly fast-paced side-scroller hack & slash combat. Exploration is also key, with levels featuring collectible resources.

The other half is all about growing rice crops with a 3D camera, with crops being tended to throughout in-game seasons.

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin is on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC.

Note: This list has not been written in any particular order and only reflects the writer's opinions.