The news of Japan Studio‘s closure came as a blow to fans of the Sony development team’s games. In many ways, this story felt like a bad omen for Sony’s campaign to reinstate themselves back on their home turf, and adds to the speculation that Sony have made the Japanese market a lower priority. However, Sony’s decision should come as no surprise.
For various reasons, the Japanese market for home consoles has great diminished since the inception of Japan Studio 27 years ago. Furthermore, the output of the studio had become a mere trickle in recent years since the discontinuation of Sony’s handheld consoles. It is the end of an era, but not the end all together.
Although much talent has moved onto pastures new, the remnants of Japan studio have been consolidated into ASOBI Team, a team within the Japan Studio group responsible for the successful Astro series of games. In that sense, Japan Studio lives on, just no longer in name.
Japan Studio famously produced a number of externally developed IP’s such as Bloodborne and Demon Souls, but are also celebrated for developing many iconic greats within their in-house studios. As a tribute to their contribution, here are the 10 best games developed by SIE Japan Studio.
The 10 Best Games Developed By SIE Japan Studio
10. Astro’s Playroom
There’s always a special place in the heart for preinstalled games on a newly purchased console, and Astro’s Playroom is no exception. Not only is it a charming platformer that’s packed full of nostalgic nods to PlayStation history, but it runs amazingly at native 4K and 60 FPS.
The real magic of Astro’s Playroom is in how the game introduces the player to the PlayStation 5’s DualSense. The game has all sorts of use for the haptic feedback, impulse triggers, motion sensors, gyroscopes and even the internal mic, as you blow on your controller as a means of propulsion.
More than the game being a huge showcase for the new controller and console, it’s an excellent little adventure you’d gladly have paid for. The main campaign is unfortunately short, but considering it’s entirely free with your PS5 purchase, one cannot complain.
9. Gravity Rush
The brain child of Keiichiro Toyama (of Silent Hill fame), Gravity Rush is an ambitious game with plenty of innovation to boot. The gravity bending mechanics and scope of the game were not only an impressive feat in terms of originality, but also a notable technical achievement considering the limitations of the PlayStation Vita hardware.
The bold vision of the title isn’t bullet proof, and some have criticised the overall camera scheme and controls. That aside, the thrilling sensation you get from floating around in free flight around a city, the lovely blend Japanese and Western comic art styles, and the overall gameplay make this a very notable creative work from Japan Studio’s Team Gravity (FKA Team Siren).
Since the news of Japan Studios’ closure, the future of this franchise sadly lies in obscurity. We would hope for another outing with Gravity Rush’s adorable gravity defying protagonist, because the series still has plenty of potential. In any case, those that missed or want to revisit the game and it’s worthy sequel can still enjoy the eccentric action-adventure fun on PS4, with PS4 Pro upgrades available for PS4 Pro and PS5 owners.
8. The Last Guardian
Fumito Ueda‘s final game with Sony, and the final entry of the unofficial Ico trilogy. The Last Guardian, although a wonderful game in many respects, will probably always be remembered in infamy in the collective consciousness of gamers. An early demo of the game was revealed at E3 2009 and scheduled for release on PS3, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the game finally surfaced as a PS4 game. The development difficulties on PS3 and huge delays caused Ueda to leave Japan Studio in 2011, which caused even further delays. For a time, it seemed like The Last Guardian would never see the light of day.
Eventually, with external support from Ueda’s new external team GenDesign, The Last Guardian was finally able to deliver on the original vision. The game is very similar to Ico, with elements of Shadow of the Colossus in that you are a young boy trapped in ruined castle that must escape with the help of a magnificent half bird half cat beast named Trico. The player sees a bond grow between the creature and the boy as they grow to understand each other.
The AI of Trico is, if nothing else, an incredibly innovative technical achievement. Trico learns commands over time, as the player directs him in advancing their escape from the castle. The visuals and music are breathtaking, and the experience is endearing above all else. The AI has been criticised as being almost too realistic in regards to the frustrations of handling a wild animal, but for many, that is simply part of the charm. The game had a few technical hiccups running on PS4, but PS5 owners today can experience this game flawlessly on the PSPlus collection.
LocoRoco is probably the wackiest Japan Studio game to date, but in all the right ways. This original take on platforming sees the player control the world, by titling it with the R and L shoulder buttons, to manoeuvre a gelatinous blob known collectively as the LocoRoco. This clever use of physics, including that of the shapeshifting and multiplying of the LocoRoco, makes for truly amusing gameplay, albeit not all that challenging. There’s something really satisfying about rolling around as huge blob, deforming to fit the landscape, and launching yourself at enemies.
The quirky music and the bright colours makes for a really aesthetically pleasing output 100% of the time, and it becomes even more enjoyable as your collective blob grows in number, gaining additional voices singing along in unison. LocoRoco wasn’t a huge commercial success but it was well received by players, and very deserving of being on this list for the sheer originality of the concept and accessibility of the play. LocoRoco was succeeded by LocoRoco 2, and a remaster of the original is currently available on PS4.
As this list will testify, Japan Studio are known for innovative titles, and no stranger to rhythm games. That being said, the ingenuity of Patapon took everyone by surprise. Patapon combines rhythm with strategy, as you command eyeball-like warriors known as the Patapon with timed button sequences to smite their Zigaton enemies. Successfully well timed input sequences will whip the Patapons into a frenzy for more effective damage and defence, whereas poor timing or incorrect sequences will leave your little cyclop brigade in chaos.
The visual style of the game is very distinctive, and although quite monotonous, has a certain intriguing charm. The audio of the game will rattle round your brain for weeks, just internally singing “pata-pata-pata-pon!”. It is a non-stop entraining experience (literally, you can’t pause) that also offers some strategic depth in the resource and troop managing parts of the game. The game also offers some variety, in the form of mini games that can reward resources to be used on your main missions.
Patapon could not only be considered as one of the greatest rhythm games of all time, but also as one of the best PSP games of all time. Patapon, and its very excellent sequel are also available as ports via PS Store for PS4 and compatible consoles.
5. Parappa The Rappa
One of the earliest of Sony’s projects, and a special memory in the hearts and and of all 90’s gamers. Parappa The Rapper was conceived from the minds of musician Masaya Matsuura and artist Rodney Greenblat, in conjunction with Sony, as a new musical medium that players could interact with. The end product was this comical rhythm based game, where players must input commands as prompted, in timing with the beat of the music.
The story that joins the stages together sees the titular loveable 2D rapping canine, with the help of the Onion Master, outdo his cocky rival, Joe Chin, in order to impress the girl he likes. Everything from the music to the artwork and characters are absolutely unforgettable. The only issue Parappa The Rapper had is the shortness of it, although successive playthroughs are incentivised by a secret ending and unlockable characters via a “cool” rank at every stage.
Parappa The Rapper spawned a PS2 sequel, a spin off, and even a TV show due to its popularity. not only that, but Parappa The Rapper has been huge influentially in pioneering the rhythm game genre. Ports of the original game are available for PSP and PS4, for anyone wanting to throw down some rhymes on another chorus.
Fumito Ueda’s first game with Japan Studio was one of the most influential in the minds of video game developers globally. The combination of distinctive cel shaded models and bloom lighting effects gave Ico a hypnotic aesthetic that drew a lot of attention. Additionally, Ico was developed with a “subtractive design” which removed any element that wasn’t critical to the story or setting, in order to maximise the immersion of the player. This genius approach to graphics delivered as intended, and not only did it set the graphical concept of Ueda’s later games, but it also influenced the design of other big titles such as Metal Gear Solid 3.
The premise is of a young horned boy, believed to be cursed, and imprisoned in a ruined castle where he meets a captive girl. The girl, foreign of tongue and ethereal in appearance, is revealed to be the daughter of an evil queen that rules that castle. Together they must escape the shadows that the queen sends in their chase, and defeat the queen herself. The game is a sequence of puzzles that the player must solve by cooperating with the girl, holding her hand to lead her and calling her to follow. The fighting mechanics are very simple, but compliment the overall minimalistic style of the game.
The classic “boy meets girl” story in Ico, intensified by their inability to speak to one another is one of the most powerful narratives in video games, despite the fact there is so little dialogue in the game. The effect has transcended the medium of video games, and even earned praised from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. The only real drawback on the game is perhaps its short length and lack of replayability, but it is nevertheless a timeless and original experience. Hopefully Ueda’s new studio will revisit this kind of interactive experience in future games, but in the meantime, Ico can still be enjoyed on the PlayStation Now streaming service.
3. Ape Escape
Ape Escape is one of those fine examples where Japan Studio took the absurd and made something incredibly fun with it. With the help of a cerebrally enhancing helmets, Sinister Simian Specter sends his fellow theme park monkeys through history in order to change the fabric of time. The hero, Spike, with the help of various gadgets, must catch the apes and put an end to their dastardly plot. The comical tone set by the premise never lets up throughout the game, and it’s all the more enjoyable for it.
Ape Escape was the first game to require dual analogue control, which has since become the standard for all game design. It was particularly innovative at its time for how you controlled your character with one stick, and the other for gadget use. The level design, various use of vehicles and gadgets, and unlockable mini-games made for an addictive loop that never ceased to provide a good laugh.
The cherished PS1 Platformer has since spawned an entire franchise of games, including a great sequel in Ape Escape 2 which is available via PS Now for those who still fancy their chances in trying to thwart the simian plot for world dominance in full HD.
2. Astro Bot Rescue Mission
Due to the popularity of the robots in Asobi Team’s The Playroom VR, Astro got his very own first featured VR game. Since then, it seems that Astro has gone strength to strength, and perhaps now arguably the strongest candidate to take the long vacant mantle of PlayStation mascot (sorry Knack). Astro Bot Rescue Mission exceeded all expectations with a genuinely excellent and innovative platforming experience, and certainly one of the best PSVR games to date.
The beauty of Astro Bot Rescue Mission is in the cohesion it forms between the DualShock 4 and the PSVR Headset. The player is an active member in the screen, interacting with the scenery, but also acting as the camera and aim. The player controls Astro through each level, where you must acquire tools, save your robot friends, and fight bosses. The tools, such as a grappling hook, are deployed by the DualShock 4, which appears physically in the screen as well. It sounds quite complicated when explained, but it all works so perfectly in practice, creating an almost 4 dimensional experience.
The game was a critical success, and its sequel, Astro’s Playroom, has also been the subject of praise. Now Asobi Team is all that remains of Japan Studio, it would seem that Sony is very serious about Astro, and we will surely be seeing another outing for the bots over the course of the generation.
1. Shadow Of The Colossus
Simply put, one of the greatest video games of all time, and debatably the crown jewel of Sony first party games. Fumito Ueda’s audacious vision has had a lasting legacy, with a significant influence on the culture of video games as an art form. Shadow of The Colossus inherits the minimalist and graphical style of its predecessor Ico, but the implementation manages to succeed in taking immersion to a new level.
Brimming with archetypal themes, a tragic hero sets out into a barren wilderness to slay sixteen colossi in order to resurrect his deceased lover. The reality you face is less romantic than it sounds. The defeat of each mystical beasts persists to make the world feel even lonelier, and the virtuous quest seem less noble. Furthermore, the empty world inadvertently acts as a mirror to your soul, as you traverse the lands questioning the morale legitimacy of your actions. Shadow of the Colossus manages to provoke all this with nothing but a dedication to minimalism. It’s astounding.
An unintended effect of the game was the bond that players developed with the hero’s horse, Aggro. This observation by Ueda would inspire the groundwork for The Last Guardian, where the game revolves around animal interaction. The horse becomes integral to defeating certain colossi, but in most cases is left on the sideline while you’re clinging to the giants for your life.
Similar to Ico, the game mechanics are quite simple, but the grip system used to cling to the beasts fur was like nothing else at the time. This gameplay element added a heap of suspense to the puzzle of felling each colossus, as every climb became a risk.
Shadow Of The Colossus is a timeless classic that still holds up on the PS2 which it first released on. Fortunately though, Shadow of The Colossus has one of the greatest, if not the greatest, remake of all time. Bluepoint Games‘ remaster of the title is a phenomenal looking game, that brings a detailed richness to the world without compromising anything. PS4 Pro and PS5 owners can also enjoy this game at 60 frames per second, which is unbelievably transformative still.
Players who have yet to play Shadow Of The Colossus certainly need to give this masterpiece their attention, but for those that have already played the original game, the remaster is more than worthy of their time.