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Getting Into Japanese Old Racing Games

An online writer who is also an avid geek to automotive, video games, and anime. Have a soft spot for racing games

getting-into-japanese-ps1-old-racing-games

When we heard the word Japan and video games, we might be thinking about games like Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) set in fantasy setting filled with adorable characters. In reality, Japanese game scene is more than that.

When we are into the racing game genre, Japan got a decent list. While most of the games are obscure, some of them are fairly popular, like Gran Turismo where it became a gateway for broader players to racing simulators and established a competitive scene.

Perhaps, the most popular of obscure Japanese racing games is Tokyo Xtreme Racer (known in Japan as Shutokou Battle), thanks to the series fortunately saw several foreign releases. The series sees players racing on the expressway roads of Japan. Whether it’s the main series or the mountain-focused DRIFT spinoff (a.k.a Kaido Battle in Japan and Kaido Racer in Europe/Australia) the series introduces players to Japanese street racing culture, on which the game was based.

the unique feature of Tokyo Xtreme Racer: the SP level

the unique feature of Tokyo Xtreme Racer: the SP level

The center of the racing game is the fighting game-like SP meter. Instead of racing point-to-point, you win races by depleting your rival SP meter. Later installment, however, adds different types of races aside from this unique battle mode. The customization part, on the other hand, gives Need For Speed Underground a run for its money with various tuning and dress-up parts available.

The series has Quest Mode where you face racing rivals with different characteristics. Each teams and rivals have different personalities reflected in their bio. Certain rivals also have different requirements which must be fulfilled before facing said rivals which might be troublesome yet challenging for the players.

getting-into-japanese-ps1-old-racing-games

While the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series mainly consists of home-exclusive games, Taito’s Side By Side (now known as Battle Gear) series brought Japanese street racing experience into an arcade cabinet. Like Tokyo Xtreme Racer’s spinoff Tokyo Xtreme Racer DRIFT, the series is focused on mountain street racing a la Initial D.

For an arcade game, the game is rather technical. While Side By Side series encourages drifting to navigate the track, Battle Gear enforces you to braking before entering the corner. Going too fast and you’ll end up hitting the guard barrier. The chance is, you are going to train your footwork and cornering skills in order to win races on this game.

Before Gran Turismo, there was Advan Racing

Before Gran Turismo, there was Advan Racing

Numerous Japanese racing games are based on the motorsport scene in the country. Before Gran Turismo made into the racing game scene, there was Advan Racing, a PlayStation game endorsed by Japanese tire manufacturer Yokohama.

The Atlus game can be described as Japan’s answer to Toca Touring Car Championship, accentuated by the image of a Toyota touring car on the cover. The game sees player navigate their car against 16 rival cars, a feature that did not even see the light in PlayStation-era Gran Turismo games. Like Gran Turismo, player is able to progress the game and tune up their car to be more competitive against computer-controlled rivals. By progressing the game, player can unlock rewards such as new cars and FMVs.

you probably know this car from the first Gran Turismo instead of this obscure game

you probably know this car from the first Gran Turismo instead of this obscure game

Meanwhile, JGTC- All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship was straightly based on the similarly named grand touring car series in Japan. As the name suggests, the game grants players the ability to drive one of the cars competing in the real-life event. It was one of the last games based on Japan’s top-level sporting event before it changed its name to Super GT. Fun fact: A Super GT-licensed game would come exclusively into arcade in late-2010s with the release of Sega World Drivers Championship.

getting-into-japanese-ps1-old-racing-games

Unlike the two examples, D1 Grand Prix 2006 mainly focuses on drifting rather than racing. The game pits player in a judged drift run against a rival in lead and chase runs, just like real-life drifting competitions. While the prior Japanese versions have three judges straight from the official competition which this game is based on, the international version features drift points to help player understand whether they have fulfilled the winning condition. The emphasize on drifting and its judging system would later be followed by current era games such as CarX Drift Racing Online and FR Legends.

A prime example of RPG racing game is Racing Lagoon. The game also recently received English translation courtesy of Hilltop

A prime example of RPG racing game is Racing Lagoon. The game also recently received English translation courtesy of Hilltop

What is notable from Japanese old racing games is the integration of elements from story heavy games such as visual novel and RPG. Square Enix’s Racing Lagoon is a prime example, as the game was notable for presenting a racing game in pure RPG fashion.

Accompanying the cutting-edge game graphics is the storyline that tells an amnesiac street racer who wishes to find out his lost identity. Main story mode features free roam in top-down view. Just like Square Enix’s Final Fantasy games, you can encounter enemies challenging you to race.

While the game saw less success than blockbuster hit Final Fantasy VII, it manages to become a cult classic sought after Japanese video game fans. Perhaps because of its quirky gameplay or pumping jazzy soundtrack. The game also recently receive an English translation done by Hilltop. You can get it

Considering the current trend in Japan’s video game industry, I don’t think similar games like the aforementioned examples will make an appearance once again. But looking back at those days where these obscure games were on shelves, it was interesting to see Japanese video game companies take on racing games. The interesting take on and quirky gameplay are the things that make these games become cult favorites, especially among retro and Japanese video game fans.

So, what’s your favorite old Japanese racing game?

© 2021 Muhammad Azka Prasetya

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