When it comes to technological advancements, Japan has been one of the leading countries on the planet. Some of the biggest innovations in digital technology and engineering can be traced back to Japanese companies. This includes the video game industry. Japanese companies like Nintendo and Sony as well as Japanese games development studios have created some of the most influential gaming experiences to date.
In this post, we take a look back at some of the cornerstone Japanese gaming consoles, platforms and titles that have shaped the gaming industry we know today.
Known in the West as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Famicom paved the way for home consoles for generations to come. It brought intricately designed games as well as popular arcade titles to the living room. It was one of the first gaming consoles to have a controller with a cross-shaped directional pad, a standard still used today. With legendaries titles like Super Mario Bros, Castlevania and The Legend of Zelda, the Nintendo Famicom shaped the tastes of gamers and laid the foundation for home console gaming.
Japanese gaming ingenuity didn’t simply stop with the home console. Nintendo once again innovated in the portable video game space with the introduction of one of the most iconic gaming devices in history: the Game Boy. While portable games were already ubiquitous by the time it was launched, the Game Boy demonstrated that home console gaming could be taken on the go as well. The vast majority of the Famicom’s library was ported to fit the Game Boy’s architecture and monochromatic screen. It was on the Game Boy that the iconic Pokemon series was first introduced, an RPG that captured the imaginations of young gamers from across the globe.
Japanese developer and publisher Sega, best known for the Sonic franchise, was Nintendo’s long-standing rival. They were the company that gave birth to one of the most successful home consoles, the 16-bit Mega Drive (or Genesis as it’s known in the US). While The Big N was focused on family-friendly games and entertainment, Sega targetted a growing market of hardcore gamers. With its black color and more tech-focused exterior design, the Mega Drive was what sparked the first “console war” with its rival counterpart being the Super Famicom. Sega’s legendary console remains etched in gamer memories thanks to titles like Golden Axe, Streets of Rage and Altered Beast. It’s important to also note that the Mega Drive’s version of the popular Mortal Kombat fighting game included the full blood and gore included in the arcade release of the game.
When the 5th generation of home consoles began its run in the mid-90s, another Japanese behemoth entered the fray. Sony with the release of the PlayStation took the gaming world by storm. Along with Sega’s Saturn, it was one of the first consoles to make use of Compact Discs instead of game cartridges, allowing for features like full-motion video and 3D polygon-based graphics. It also brought a lot of arcade-only titles, such as the Tekken and Street Fighter Alpha series, to the living room. Halfway through its lifecycle, the PlayStation received an upgraded controller. Called the DualShock, it sported the form factor with the twin analogue sticks and four shoulder buttons that can be found in modern gaming pads today.