Top 10 Cult Hit Games [Best Recommendations]

As a spin-off of our Top 10 Underrated Game list, we are covering games that are considerably underrated but still managed to capture a smaller than average but highly devoted audience. So what are some top 10 hits that have cult status from the old days to now? Read today’s list to find out!

10. Doom

  • System: Multiplatform
  • Publisher: iD Software
  • Developer: iD Software
  • Release Dates: Dec 10, 1993

Brought to you by the same people who made Wolfenstein 3D, the developers used the very same engine and took it to the next 9 levels of Hell as one of the most controversial games of its time, Doom. Just like how owning Mortal Kombat or watching The Simpsons gave you bragging rights in the schoolyard back in the 1990’s, being able to play Doom is the equivalent to winning a Medal of Honor for kids of that time because it happens to be the first game to receive an M rating for its excessive violence and Satanic imagery.

Granted, video games can still cause controversy to this day, it’s nothing compared to how society reacted back then. While it is a popular game for its time and still thrives to this day, what makes this title a cult hit is that its dedicated fans have made their own custom levels for distribution and was one of the first games to pave way for online marketing and gameplay, 20 years before it became the norm.

9. Yakuza (Ryu Ga Gotoku)

  • System: PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
  • Release Dates: Dec 8, 2005 (Japan), Sept 5, 2006 (US)

While the Yakuza series is a huge hit in its native Japan, it is pretty much a cult hit outside of it. In many ways, its fans can understand why this game can have a limited appeal. Yakuza is pretty much in your face a Japanese game in both style and substance. Since casual and hardcore Western gamers tend to enjoy multiplayer games, it is understandable that a one-player only game can lack appeal.

In addition, it can be dragged down by its lengthy cutscenes that make Metal Gear’s feel like a short YouTube sketch. Plus, it can be difficult for some people to relate to this game for cultural reasons, but it is also why it is appealing to fans who have an interest in Japan. To some gamers, a quality story with rich characters can be good enough reason to enjoy it (along with some insane kick-ass action sequences).

Like how Shenmue (SPOILER: another cult Sega classic we’re listing) perfectly captures Yokosuka, Yakuza does an incredible job of presenting Kabukicho in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward. As the series expands, players get to explore the pleasure districts of Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Okinawa, and Hiroshima. When you explore these parts of Japan, you even get to participate in some of its activities such as enjoying drinks with hostesses (motion captured and voiced by Japan’s hottest adult actresses), play SEGA arcade classics, or play ball at a batting cage.

Not only do the games expose players to the dark world of the yakuza, it gives Western players an insight into Japanese society and culture. In a mini-game in 0, you learn how to exchange business cards and where the boss sits in a meeting at a café. While some of the things you see in this game (besides the rampant street fights) can be everyday life in Japan, to Western gamers, it is something appropriately new, which is why it manages to capture a distinct audience outside of Japan.

8. Conker’s Bad Fur Day

  • System: Nintendo 64
  • Publisher: Rare
  • Developer: Rare
  • Release Dates: Mar 4, 2001

Back in the late-1990s/early-2000s, some members of the gaming community and media mocked the N64 as being too kid friendly. However, Conker’s Bad Fur Day took that criticism to heart and challenged that perception. On the surface, some gamers may think of Conker’s Bad Fur Day as your typical N64 platformer for the console in conjunction with Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. While they share the same mechanics and visuals, it’s presentable like South Park with its foul humor by parodying pop culture and society.

In fact, it was initially conceived as a typical cutesy game, but after its initial images were criticized for its kid-friendly appearance, Rare purposely twisted the game to what it is now. Though it purposely plays like the other Nintendo 64 platform games making it instant to pick up, fans came to love the game because it challenges the establishment and critics on every front. While the game was a moderate success, it was difficult to move forward with a sequel because when Microsoft bought Rare, they had little interest in it, and the game’s code was too much in sync for Nintendo 64 for later consoles. Plus, since the game was made as a middle finger to N64 critics, it is understandable that some fans want to keep the game as an N64 hit as a reminder of what it represents.

7. Mega Man (Rockman)

  • System: NES
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Dates: Dec 1987

Mega Man is can be considered as one of the first modern sleeper hit games. In case some of you youngsters didn’t know, while Mega Man has numerous installments, its US debut wasn’t that big of a success. Many people to even Keiji Inafune agree that the US box art is largely to blame for it. If you look at it, it looks like a low budget version to Tron and is by no means a near accurate representation of the actual game.

Thankfully, its strong fan base outside of Japan was strong enough to make its multiple installments (with an 11th game recently confirmed) reach international shores. Beyond that, what makes Mega Man a distinction is that it is one of the first games to allow players to select their levels in any order they want (as opposed to a predetermined order), and at the end of that level, they fight its respective boss.

Upon defeating that boss, you can take his special ability as Mega Man’s. While the levels can be played in any order, once you get the hang of the game, you can learn what abilities other bosses can be weak to so it can give you an idea on how to strategize your own personal order. The design is simple and yet intricate, and its soundtrack and sound effects is another contribution to the wonder of 8-bit.

6. Psychonauts

  • System: Multiplatform
  • Publisher: Majesco
  • Developer: Double Fine Productions
  • Release Dates: April 19, 2005

If you could make the aesthetic of Tim Burton’s movies like the ultimate acid trip, then you pretty much get the visuals of Psychonauts in a nutshell. The game largely shares numerous similarities to 3D platform games on the Nintendo 64 but is structured a bit differently. In this game, you explore the consciousness of various characters at a camp to stop the people who are running it. The level design is very difficult to describe which you have to see for yourself but is appropriately chaotic and yet fun to explore.

It’s a game that really dwells into the human subconscious like a twisted psychiatric experiment. All we can say is, if anyone tries to argue that video games aren’t art, this game is a perfect example to prove otherwise. While the game was praised by critics, the game was a commercial flop and didn’t find any traction until it was distributed online, which later paved way for its present cult status. Thankfully, a sequel is in the works for a 2018 release.

5. Phantasy Star Online

  • System: Dreamcast, GameCube
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: Dec 21, 2000 (JP), Jan 29, 2001 (US)

Perhaps online RPGs for home consoles were inevitable but even so, Sega was one of the first to accomplish this with Phantasy Star Online, which make use of the Dreamcast’s internet capabilities. Taking inspiration from their Phantasy Star series from the Mega Drive Genesis, Phantasy Star Online allows you to play online and form parties to accomplish the missions you are tasked with, or you can go solo. When you start out, you can choose to be a hunter (for close range combat with short blades), ranger (gun users), or force (magic users).

While talking by mic wouldn’t be the norm for a while, Phantasy Star Online uses symbol chat is a means to communicate with players around the world regardless of language. If you had the keyboard, you can just type it what you wanted to say. Other than that, it’s more or less like other modern-day MMO but this is the OG of the genre. Like the original games, it is a good mix of intergalactic sci-fi and fantasy. And thankfully, this game does have an offline mode for you to play. Last, if there is any reason why this game has hit cult status, it still has some private servers still set up by passionate fans of the game to continue online campaigns.

4. Xenoblade Chronicles

  • System: Wii
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Monolith Soft
  • Release Dates: Jun 10, 2010 (Japan), Apr 6, 2012 (US)

Considering it has the word Xeno in its title and is a brainchild of Tetsuya Takahashi, it is rather reasonable for gamers to assume it is a sequel to Xenogears, which has been in demand since its release. In fact, Takahashi wanted to continue the franchise but Square chose not to focus on it in favor of its more established titles such as Final Fantasy. Eventually, Takahashi went on with Xenosaga and Xenoblade Chronicles, which would serve more as a spiritual successor as opposed to have any direct connection with the original Xenogears game. However, they all share themes that relate to philosophy and religion.

Xenoblade Chronicles is the latest installment of Takahashi’s Xeno titles. In comparison to its successors, Xenoblade has a more open world for wider exploration. One quality this game has that distinguishes itself from other RPGs is a party affinity system that measures the relationship of the characters. Depending on their relationship, they can work together in battle. Unfortunately, the Wii console was never really made for hardcore RPG players in mind, which is what only made it a rather moderate success, but still enough to pave way for two more installments for international releases.

3. Earthbound (Mother 2)

  • System: Super Nintendo
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Ape Studios
  • Release Dates: Aug 27, 1994 (Japan), Jun 5, 1995 (US)

Long before Final Fantasy VII made Japanese RPGs mainstream, Earthbound was one of the first that attempted to try that. While the game received criticism in Western media for some of its story and humor, it ended up being the appeal to its fans. In addition, its self-deprecating ad campaign of saying the game stinks as humor didn’t help either. Earthbound is one of those games that found some popularity long after its initial release thanks to its dedicated fanbase who promoted it. What also helped bring more attention to this game is the inclusion of one of the game’s characters, Ness, into Smash Bros.

While the game takes a modern American setting, its themes are very much in tune with post-bubble Japan of keeping up a positive attitude when the going gets tough. The game both challenges and advances traditional RPGs of the times, but has characters and a world that its audience can relate to. It can be dark and humorous. It has a combat system that is in tune with RPGs but still has distinctions with health and healing that can appeal to both veterans and rookies to old-school RPGs. All of these qualities are what helped make dedicated fans still attached it to this very day.

2. Panzer Dragoon Saga (Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG)

  • System: Saturn
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Team Andromeda
  • Release Dates: Jan 29, 1998 (Japan), Apr 30, 1998 (US)

Outside of Japan, the Saturn was an unfortunate colossal failure for many reasons we can get into to the point that it qualifies as its own article. Putting that aside, just because the Saturn was non-existent in the US and Europe doesn’t mean it had zero quality games. One game that has stood the test of time has to be the RPG installment of Panzer Dragoon, Saga. Taking elements from the first two games of being a dragon riding rail shooter, Saga expands the universe of the game and manages to stay faithful to the franchise.

It does share some loose elements of Parasite Eve of having free movement while in battle, but Panzer Dragoon takes it to a unique distinction by flying around enemies to avoid attacks and exploit weaknesses. It has a combat system in tune with RPGs but also finds ways to implement many of its elements from the first two games by allowing not only its freer movement but have adjustable camera angles that move with the characters thus giving it its own identity.

Like other traditional RPGs, there are customizations but you get to do with your dragon and depending on what you do, you can change its color. It contains many elements that have never been done or yet to be emulated in a good majority of mainstream games. It offers a distinct kind of interaction that appeals to original fans of Panzer Dragoon and RPG fans alike for an experience like no other. As the Saturn was discontinued in the US, the game consequently became a rare gem to the point that English copies go as high as $300 plus on most auction sites. But if you have any Japanese comprehension, you can get a Japanese copy for the equivalent to $30.

1. Shenmue

  • System: Dreamcast
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: Dec 29, 1999 (Japan), Nov 4, 2000 (US)

As shared not only on previous lists on Honey's but by many gaming websites and experts, Shenmue is considered to be the first modern open world game. It was praised for its graphics, story, action, and gameplay. Unfortunately, the franchise fell victim to its budget that ranged between $47-$70 million, and the Dreamcast didn’t have the user base to make profits. Sega went as far to comment that if they wanted to make a profit on Shenmue, it would have to sell 2 copies per Dreamcast owner.

To add more insult to injury, then Sega of America president Peter Moore would cancel the US Dreamcast edition of Shenmue II just a few days shy of its release in favor for an Xbox version (since he would later assume an administrative position as Microsoft). In recent years, Moore humorously shared a story that at an airport, a TSA agent who was a fan of Shenmue called him an asshole for Shenmue’s downfall and would even admit he messed up.

Beyond that, Shenmue’s fanbase is probably the most dedicated in all of gaming. A good percentage of them have gone as far to visit the real-life locations of the game in Japan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China, and share pictures and videos on fan websites. Some fans have gone as far as opening a school in Guilin, China, where the ending of the second game takes place. While fans waited years for any solid news on a game, players continued to play on their Dreamcasts and discover certain things that were new to not only themselves but to other fans such as certain events or an NPC’s daily routine.

However, if there is one moment that proved how dedicated Shenmue’s fan base is, it is its Kickstarter campaign for Shenmue III back in E3 2015. It met its goal of $2 million within 2 days, and by the end of its one month campaign, it managed to make over $6 million making it the highest crowdfunded game in history upon publication of this list.

Final Thoughts

In addition to our 10, we give some shout outs to Spec Ops, Parasite Eve, Katamari Damacy and King of Fighters. Whether a game is a success or not doesn’t matter to its most hardcore fans as long as they enjoy it. In many instances, the demand for a continuation can also be sympathized with. However, some of the fans of these franchises can show you never to underestimate their influence or dedication. When given the opportunity, they are willing to put their money where their mouths are, most notably with Shenmue III.

As for the other games on this list, if given the opportunity, many are positive they would be willing to contribute to a crowdfunding project for a new installment. Some are on the shelf because of legal reasons, other reasons are because the company has no interest in it. But in most instances, it’s mostly due to money and what’s the point of making a game that doesn’t make money (even at the expense of quality)? Even so, thanks to the power of the internet, dedicated fans can get together and share memories or tips of these games, and help spread the love.

Doom-game-Wallpaper Top 10 Cult Hit Games [Best Recommendations]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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