Japanese Horror prides itself on placing emphasis on the psychological aspects as opposed to the more gruesome and gory side of the western scene. Much of this dates back to the Meiji and Edo eras of Japan where ghost stories, known as Kaidan(怪談), were used to emphasize tension building which involved many cultural themes such as yokai and shamanism. Fast forward to today and you can still see remnants of the very classic style of storytelling in various J-Horror titles such as Corpse Party, or even the popular Higurashi no Naku Koro ni series. Nowadays a lot of J-Horror titles tend to combine various elements of western and Japanese styles, but still retain that very essence that made the J-Horror genre so compelling and incredibly scary. Let’s take a look at some J-Horror titles that we think you should try out!
- System/Platform: Wii
- Publisher: Hudson Soft
- Developer: Hudson Soft
- Release Date: November 19, 2009
While Calling wasn’t a commercially successful title, it did what it needed to do which was provide a J-Horror experience. Taking a lot of reference from Japanese culture, you explore haunted areas such as doll filled houses, internet cafes, a hospital, among other locations. The premise of the game is that you use the Wii remote to interact with objects and move around trying to gather important information. The controller can be used as a mobile device in which many ghosts can communicate with you through the speaker. Furthermore, the phone alones you to warp to other locations, take pictures and record videos of events.
The scary part comes in actually encountering the ghosts where you’ll need to swing the controller while following on screen commands. It’s quite scary in a variety of ways because for one, if you’re not careful you might swing too hard and punch your TV, let alone someone nearby, and two these ghosts are frightening to look at so flailing your arms in a panic is part of the experience. So while the game may not have been the best in terms of overall ratings, Nintendo tried to incorporate a more physical feeling and pair it with the already psychological aspects to make Calling a more immersive title.
9. Clock Tower 3
- System/Platform: PlayStation 2
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom | SunSoft
- Release Date: December 12, 2002
Clock Tower 3 is another classic J-Horror title released by Capcom and places its focus on main character Alyssa Hamilton who’s a part of a family lineage of warriors who travel through time to exorcise evil spirits. She travels from her present world back to the 1960s in order to cleanse troubled souls. In past Clock Tower games where much of the gameplay focused on a point and click adventure, Clock Tower 3 now gives you all the control. There’s no weapon use for majority the game, all you have to do is evade and hide from enemies.
However, when you encounter important battles with enemies known as Subordinates the game equips you with a longbow and you’ll need to figure out how to take it down. Much of your time is spent trying to help find the troubled souls along the way, but it becomes a bit scary after awhile when you have to encounter enemies and there’s no weapon to kill them with. Not only that but at times these spirits who you try to save will attack you, and so having to search around the environment for special items to pacify them is imperative.
8. Parasite Eve II
- System/Platform: PlayStation
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Square Enix
- Release Date: December 16, 1999
Parasite Eve II came out for the PlayStation back in 1999, and so a lot of what scared you then may not provide the same experience now. That is for those who’ve played however, but for those who haven’t played Parasite Eve II it still provides those random WTF moments along with horrid looking enemies that’ll raise an eyebrow. Aya Brea finds herself in the midst of a terrible outbreak, and mitochondrial creatures are now on the hunt for blood and so now Aya needs to uncover more behind this mysterious outbreak and put an end to it before it’s too late.
Parasite Eve II is more traditional in the sense that, when looking back at titles like Resident Evil 2, the controls were a bit more tight which is what made the game scary in the first place.You desperately try to move your character around in this environment but because the controls limit you to only certain movements, panic mode kicks in and you start to make mistakes. That’s where the horror aspect comes into play because you’ll often encounter random enemies at just the wrong time, maybe perhaps you’re low on ammo or health, or because you’re trapped by a horde of them and have no way out.
7. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
- System/Platform: Multi Platform
- Publisher: Chunsoft
- Developer: Chunsoft
- Release Date: February 16, 2012
Zero’s Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward pits you and eight other individuals against each other in the Nonary Game, a game where only one person can survive and it’s either life or death for anyone who participates. You’ll need to come with clever strategies in order to avoid dying, while solving tricky puzzles that the game throws at you quite often to test your brain. Zero Escape doesn’t try to scare you, it simply forces it upon you because there’s really no other option than survival, and if you happen to slip up just once it could spell the end of your gameplay experience.
There’s a number of endings as well in the game that you’ll be able to play through once defeating the game, but Virtue’s Last Reward isn’t a walk in the park.The escape sections and novel sections test both the left and right side of your brain, where in the escape section you’ll need to improvise and use sound judgment to get through each door safely. In the novel section you’ll be doing a lot more reading and so skimming through it all isn’t recommended, since a lot of details are written between the lines and every decision you make plays a role in the outcome of the story.
6. The Evil Within
- System/Platform: Multi Platform
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Tango Gameworks
- Release Date: October 14, 2014
The Evil Within doesn’t tend to place its attention on zombies, but more on these nightmarish creatures that are disfigured and move in ways that make your hairs stand up. Similar to Resident Evil and Dead Rising, The Evil Within runs in a third person perspective and encourages you to make use of your melee weapons along with other tools to overcome the enemy. Traps are set everywhere in this game and so while the game often throws curveballs at you with heart pounding enemy encounters, you often jump in surprise because these traps come out of nowhere and put you under more pressure.
The feeling of being trapped while being pursued by these freakish looking enemies is what makes you sweat profusely because psychologically you’re in fear of dying, so you’re desperately trying to break free to survive at all costs. Stealthy movements and finding collectables are encouraged within the game because it helps in terms of avoiding unwanted encounters, while allowing you to grab rare items that may become useful later on. The environmental design is sure to creep anyone out despite what walk of life you come from, and just the sheer engagement with everything around you is sure to keep you coming back for more.
5. Deadly Premonition
- System/Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
- Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
- Developer: Access Games
- Release Date: February 23, 2010
Deadly Premonition follows FBI agent Francis York Morgan as he investigates the gruesome murder of a young girl, which shares a resemblance to other murders that have been taking place around the US. What makes Deadly Premonition really intriguing is that unlike other J-horror titles that follow a more linear based approach to level design, it grants players access to an open world that’s nonlinear while throwing in some light comedy to stir things up. Every character in the game has their own personal life to attend to and the storyline allow you to roam freely at your own will.
Despite this sense of openness and freedom, many of those who played the game had mixed feelings about it which resulted in the game taking home a Guinness World Record for being the most polarizing.Perhaps it’s the fact that the game incorporates just so many elements that everything overlapped sloppily, or perhaps it’s because the game is so deep and comes with it’s own unique set of fear traps that mess with your brain on several different occasions. Whatever your reasoning the fact remains, Deadly Premonition leaves you petrified with its interesting plot, but has you bursting out in laughter in other moments which can actually help to ease the tension at times.
4. Resident Evil 4
- System/Platform: Multi Platform
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Date: January 11, 2005
Capcom delivered with Resident Evil 4 and combined both Japanese and western elements beautifully to create an experience unlike any other horror title. RE4 is widely considered by many fans to be the best in the series, because it introduced a lot of new features to the RE world while still producing the same effects that made such a remarkable impact on the series as a whole. You star as Leon who needs to save the president’s daughter, who has been kidnapped and sent to a rural area of Spain.
The truly freakish thing about Resident Evil 4 isn’t so much the location itself, which is brilliantly crafted and feels incredibly intuitive, but rather how the locals communicate and just their odd unpredictable movements, along with being void of any life when looking into their eyes. You just never know how the locals will respond to you, and so a lot of time the game makes you question every intent before proceeding onward. Will this gun work? Do I just need to run? How much ammo will I need for this enemy? A plethora of questions start to generate in your mind which then start to freak you out, because you’re not sure which will work in your favor.
3. Silent Hill 3
- System/Platform: Multi Platform
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: May 3, 2003
Silent Hill 3 takes place seventeen years after the events of the original, and places much of its attention on the main protagonist Heather Mason. She becomes an immediate target for the cult, who wants to use her body as a vessel to birth their new god but constant conflicts now erupt between them. There’s a genuine horror that can be found in Silent Hill 3 compared to its predecessors because there are a handful of moments where you constantly feel impending doom, and there’s this uneasy feeling that leaves you paranoid.
As we stated in the opening paragraph many J-Horror games place heavy emphasis more on the psychological than the physical, and in Silent Hill 3 this is very prevalent.While it may be a bit rough to follow the story for those who haven’t dabbled with the original, Silent Hill 3 still provides a glorious package that you can still dive into and freak yourself out. Everything from the graphics, ambience and strong audio cues generate more of a scare because it all feels so real to the point where you just want to put the controller down for a while.
2. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
- System/Platform: Wii U
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Koei Tecmo
- Release Date: September 27, 2014
Fatal Frame has always placed a lot of its success on incorporating a lot of Japanese cultural references pertaining to spirits, exorcism, and ancient enchantments. So when a lot of western players dive into Fatal Frame they often times play through the game and don’t truly find themselves immersed in the experience, because a lot of the cultural themes breeze by them. However Koei has tried their best to ensure everyone does enjoy their title, because to be honest when you come to understand the underlying themes of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water the experience gets exponentially more satisfying.
The experience with the gamepad felt a lot more real simply because it’s as if you were holding an actual camera under pressure. When your brain is overwhelmed with fear your hands start to shake and so targeting the ghost feels organic in that sense, so trying to get a good shot with the gamepad can be challenging most of the time. Pair that with spirits who come from out of the blue and surprise you with their creepy presence, and you have a title that really freaks you out whenever it feels like. The boss battles aren’t necessarily tough by any means, it’s the fact that your palms are sweating and you’re in a panic because you don’t want to die that makes these encounters such a thrill to play.
1. Siren: Blood Curse
- System/Platform: PlayStation 3
- Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
- Developer: Project Siren
- Release Date: July 24, 2008
In Siren: Blood Curse, much of the title is a reimagining of the first title and follows the story of an American camera crew that visited Hanuda Village in Japan, along with a young student who receives a mysterious email from the village. The strange part about it all is that the village apparently had vanished several decades ago, well before these individuals set foot there. Furthermore, the village is home to rituals pertaining to human sacrifice and fortunately one of the locals was saved by the young boy.
The plot itself is already pretty freakish considering that this village wasn’t supposed to exist in the first place, but when the crew arrives they see that it still does but not in the way they imagined it. Random monsters known as Shibito pop up from out of the blue and attack the crew members, flickers of lights happen every so often to throw you off your trail, and you play as various characters who try to unlock the mysteries behind this village and just why all of this torment is taking place. Siren: Blood Curse goes well beyond the gore and grotesque and into a world that gnaws at your psyche, tearing you apart from the inside out and leaving you mentally scarred for a while.
As we’ve seen recently with the commercially successful Resident Evil 7, the horror genre is starting to make its triumphant comeback. We’d certainly love to see some remakes of the classics like Parasite Eve or even make VR versions of titles like Fatal Frame, that would take the J-Horror genre to the next level of fear. With there being so many great choices out there, we’d like to leave it up to you to provide us with some of your favorite J-Horror titles. Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to share our articles on social media to keep the community thriving!
As always, if you want to know about all the latest buzz straight from the bee’s nest in Japan, be sure to keep it locked here at Honey’s Anime.