It’s usually fairly easy to compile a list of games that are homebrew/freeware. The crop is vast and growing every year and the quality is often surprisingly high. What’s more surprising is that a lot of freeware games offer a kind of fun that a lot of commercial releases are lacking. The problem I face here, however, is suggesting a list of Japanese freeware games that you may or may not have heard of, but which you should check out nonetheless.
As I lamented before in a previous post homebrew, though alive in Japan, doesn’t seem to be so pervasive. Possibly because it is mostly in Japanese and so the only market is the paltry Japanese PC users one, limiting the amount of exposure usually offered to the western scene, where freeware games often, and rightfully, gain cult status,. If you read this blog it probably means you’re interested in games, Japan and Japanese games, so you might already know some or all of the titles listed. But if you don’t, do yourself a favour and check them out!
Cave Story by Pixel
Cave Story is a fantastic little platformer hat combines elements from classic titles such as Castlevania and Metroid. It’s a fairly long game but luckily it’s been translated by a band of loyal fans. It can get quite hard a little later on, which means that a decidedly average player like myself never got to finish it. What I did play was immense fun, though, with items and power-ups to collect and a variety of bosses to battle. The story is engaging if a little mad and the execution very tight.
Playability: The game was fully translated by some fans, so no Japanese worries here.
Download: here, or with the English patch here
Ikachan by Pixel
This earlier game by the creator of Cave Story, the eponymous “Pixel” is a very much simpler experience, but a lot cuter. “Ika” means squid, and as you probably know “-chan” is the sub-nominal social title given to the young or the cute. It is at its base just a platformer but that doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. The environment is a little samey, the whole game map being set underwater and it isn’t quite as easy as latter-day platformers. The control is reminiscent of any thrust type game and works really well. A fun diversion.
Playability: As far as I know this game has been translated but you won’t need Japanese ability to play it in the original form anyway.
Download: here or here or here or at many other locations
Guardian of Paradise by Buster Hashimoto
As a die-hard fan of the Zelda series I am always on the lookout for action RPGs or action adventures. Sadly they are fairly few but this freeware game lists amongst my favourites. As a home-made game you have to admire the quality of the graphics and execution, though the story isn’t anything particularly innovative. The game also isn’t too long but enjoyable to the very last.
As the hero you travel through various worlds battling monsters and finding the various power-ups that open up new areas and a way to defeat the boss. The specific use of the power-ups is usually limited to the area in which you find them, with a final world where they are all combined to some extent.
This game is the only one listed that I actually completed and I remember feeling sad it didn’t go on for twice as long. That is certainly not a gripe about the length of the game, more a compliment to the skill of the developer in creating such a fun and free experience.
Playability: As some later puzzles require elementary Japanese I recommend getting the English translated version.
Download: here or with the English patch here
Akuji the Daemon by Buster Hashimoto
An earlier Buster classic was this little platform adventure that was both fun and engaging. As a cute daemon you travel a series of levels in search of that blasted hero that once defeated you. Expect a lot of platforming and some cool but not too challenging bosses.
Playability: An English patch exists but I couldn’t find a link to it on my first try. However, the game is playable without any Japanese ability if you don’t mind guessing at the story.
La Mulana by GR3Project
This action adventure deliberately mimics the look and feel of an MSX game, which has quite a charm in itself. On top of that it is long, very long and hard, quite hard. A huge world spanning many levels, a vast array of weapons, items and cartridges to collect and enemies that quickly sap your stamina make for an old-school experience; meaning frustration, retrying over and over but, surprisingly, a lot of fun. The game has been fully translated, which is good as many of the hints you are given are quite vital. I can’t imagine working your way through this epic game merely guessing at what to o and when.
Be prepared for a long session if you ever plan to complete this game. I haven’t gotten very far in it, but what I have experienced just oozes charm and enjoyment. I guess it helps if you had an MSX to play with as a kid. Ah, nostalgia.
Playability: Get the English patch. Seriously.
Download: here or with the English patch here
How come all of these games are decidedly retro? I’m stumped. It could be because those types of games are easier to create, compared to fully 3D mega-epics, or maybe it’s just that the guys making them love their retro gaming. La Mulana certainly seems to be steeped in MSX loving. But don’t let that detract you; these games are fun and worth your attention!