When we get international ports of Japanese games, the localization department has to do a lot of work in order to retain the game’s intended tone and feel. Translating the dialogue and menu/ UI options into multiple languages is a hard enough task. Then on top of all that, you have to look at cultural references and subtle things that only Japanese people will understand.
Sometimes, these Japanese references are removed from an international version. It could be something as simple as a piece of dialogue or joke that one of the characters makes. Or it could be much bigger, like an entire minigame/ side quest.
Today, I’m going to take a look at the best Japan exclusive PSP games. If you’re a JRPG fan, the PSP and Vita are two of the best handheld consoles you can buy (or emulate). A lot of these old PSP games hold up pretty well even today, due to their excellent stories and art style.
If you really want the authentic, uncut experience you have to play a game’s original Japanese release. And if you don’t know Japanese on even a basic level, there are fan-made translations that you can download. But for now, let’s get started with the top-ten list.
Top 10: The Best Japan Exclusive PSP Games
Let’s start things off with a classic JRPG series- Valkyria Chronicles. This game was so popular in Japan that it got its own manga and animated series.
1. Valkyria Chronicles 3
|Release Date||January 27, 2011|
At one point, it seemed like this would be the last Valkyria Chronicles game in the series (until we got Valkyria Chronicles 4 in 2018). This is why many longtime fans of the JRPG were concerned when it was announced that this game would be Japan-exclusive. Fortunately, fan translations for the game were released pretty quickly and can be found online.
Much like previous games in the series, this one follows a tactical turn-based combat system. It’s a unique mesh of JRPG-style action and RTS. This game’s story is set during the 2nd Europan War (it’s like a fantasy version of WW2 mixed with the cold war) and follows Gallian Army Squad 422.
2. Initial D: Street Stage
|Release Date||February 23, 2006|
You might have seen memes and clips of the Initial D anime, usually with the “Gas” song playing in the background. The anime itself was based on a real-life drift racer from Japan. The main character is an interpretation of Keiichi Tsuchiya, also known as the “Drift King” due to his unrivaled feats on dangerous mountain courses (canyon racing).
As for the PSP game Street Stage, it’s a portable version of Initial D Arcade Stage 3. You have a variety of race-modified cars from Honda, Mazda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, etc. There are some excellent techno/ pop soundtracks as well, which set the mood for drifting down mountains at night.
3. Ikki Tousen: Eloquent Fist
|Release Date||October 2, 2008|
Do you like teenage high school drama anime with lots of fanservice? Well, Ikki Tousen is basically an interactive anime in which you go around beating up random thugs on the streets while using over-the-top fighting moves. It’s a beat ‘em up in which you play as an attractive girl instead of a one-liner dispensing Hollywood action star who smokes cigars and rides motorbikes.
The gameplay is fairly basic, with occasional special moves that play anime-style power-up scenes. And you don’t get motion cutscenes for the story sections. Instead, there are static images of characters standing next to each other with dialogue boxes underneath (at least the dialogue is voiced).
4. Grand Knights History
|Release Date||September 1, 2011|
It seems like a bog-standard tactical RPG at the outset, with a fairly derivative plot and uninteresting characters. However, Grand Knights History is a game that’s hard to put down once you get a few hours in. Because that’s when the pacing really picks up, with the introduction of new characters and gameplay mechanics.
And the game turns from a monotonous slog to a genuinely interesting experience that gives its player tons of options on how to approach each problem. You can play as one of 3 main classes- wizard, archer, and melee warrior.
The plot involves 3 separate kingdoms, each represented by a different part of the map. You can travel between these “levels” and do various quests that are unique to a specific area.
5. Nayuta no Kiseki
|Release Date||July 26, 2012|
|Platforms||PSP, PS4, PC, Switch|
Of all the games on my list, this is the only one to get a multiplatform international port after its release in Japan. However, the original has a different UI and features better audio quality. That’s because the international version is a remake, with improved character portraits and audio.
It came 9 years after the Japan-exclusive version (story and gameplay remain the same, only the graphics has been upgraded). This game is part of the Trails franchise, and it plays like a Ys game. You have universal magical attacks called “Arts” and character-specific traits known as “Crafts”.
6. Tales of the Heroes: Twin Brave
|Release Date||February 23, 2012|
Fans of Dynasty Warriors are going to like this game since it plays similarly. Unlike most traditional JRPGs designed for portable devices, Twin Brave uses a real-time brawler combat system. You also have a party member with you who assists in fights.
The levels are somewhat open-ended, with a circular map on your HUD that displays the next waypoint. You can choose characters before each mission like a fighting game, and equip them with various items (armor, weapons, etc.). There are unique spells and physical attacks reserved for each character.
7. Digimon Adventure
|Release Date||January 17, 2013|
If you’ve watched the first season of the Digimon Adventure anime, this game’s story is instantly recognizable. In fact, the anime and game share a voice acting team. And some of the theme songs used in this game are also taken from the anime.
The gameplay is similar to PS1 Digimon games, but with much better graphics and larger levels. Battles can have up to 6 Digimon, split into teams of three (you are the team leader).
8. Super Robot Taisen A Portable
|Release Date||June 19, 2008|
Well, it’s a mecha action game with really convoluted sci-fi concepts such as alternate realities and time travel. However, it is still a lot of fun to play through despite the confusing plot and wacky characters. You are given an option at the start to choose between 2 characters.
Depending on which one you select, your story will play out differently. The game is heavily inspired by war anime such as Gundam (hence all the space politics and large-scale battles).
9. Mobile Suit Gundam AGE: Universe Accel
|Release Date||August 30, 2012|
This Gundam game for the PSP is a rather faithful adaptation of the AGE: Memory of Eden anime series which was released in 2011. The plot, characters, soundtracks, etc. are all taken from the animated series. Even the mobile suit designs and art style look similar, which makes it feel like you’re in the TV series.
You will find two versions of this game- Universe Accel and Cosmic Drive, each with exclusive content that you won’t get in the other. It’s kind of like Pokémon Red & Blue, you need both for the complete experience. Universe Accel contains mobile suits from the UC timeline, while Cosmic Drive has mobile suits from Gundam SEED and 00.
10. Tales of VS.
|Developer||Namco Tales Studio, Matrix Software|
|Release Date||August 6, 2009|
If you’re looking for a crossover fighting game series similar to Marvel vs. Capcom, Tales of VS. is definitely worth checking out. It takes a lot of prominent characters from various timelines in the Tales series and pits them against each other in a brawler arena. The combat system is derived from old Tales games, with some elements copied from Super Smash Bros.
You can pick up items that drop on the fighting floor, such as food and weaponry. Your characters have Artes which are basically special/ finisher moves. Game modes include regular 2 v 2 and free-for-all.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Why are some games Japan exclusive?
A: This can happen for a variety of reasons. Some games never get an international release due to localization troubles. Other exclusive games might appeal to Japanese tastes and cultural references; hence they are marketed to that audience.
Q: I don’t want to spend several years learning Japanese; how do I boot up a Japan-exclusive PSP game and play it?
A: Well, you have options. Sometimes, the exclusive will get an international port a couple of years after its domestic release. Or you can try and look for fan translations of the game (these translations work like mods).
Q: I don’t own a PSP; how can I play these exclusive games that weren’t released on other platforms?
A: PSP is very easy to emulate on a PC. If you want, you can get the full portable gaming experience by emulating PSP on your phone. Many PSP games are also available on Vita, so if you own one of those (or buy one 2nd hand) you can experience the old classics.
Q: Was the PSP a good portable console?
A: While it didn’t get close to the Nintendo DS in terms of sales, the PSP was a more advanced piece of kit designed to play AAA games. In fact, it was like having a PS2 in your pocket. The overall design and control layout looks good even today.
Q: How do I secure original copies of these Japan-exclusive PSP games?
A: You can find them on the Japanese eBay site, or through niche forums that cater to fans of import games. If you’re lucky, there might be a video game store near you that specializes in old games and imported stuff. Generally, it’s quite hard to get a copy of Japan-exclusive PSP games unless you live in Japan (the prices are quite ridiculous for some of these old games).
Clearly, there are a lot more Japan-exclusive PSP games that I couldn’t include in this article due to size constraints. Rest assured, there are plenty of similar resources on the web to help you satisfy your Japanese game cravings. If you’re serious about playing these obscure games, I suggest a starter course in Japanese (there are plenty of those available online).
There are all sorts of Japan-exclusive games that were released on other consoles like the Nintendo DS, Sega Saturn, PS2, etc., and you can play all of these via emulation. In modern times, the number of Japan-exclusive titles has gone down to the globalization and diversification of video gaming. In fact, console exclusives aren’t even that big of a deal since pretty much every big AAA title is released on PC, Xbox, and PS simultaneously.