Japan: The birthplace of Mario, Sonic, Final Fantasy and Street Fighter — just to name a few. Each year scores of games are made and released here. The best of these come to the West — or rather most of the best do. Each year, a few great titles manage to slip through the cracks for whatever reason and 2012 is no exception.
The following is a collection of the best Japan-only games of 2012 (in no particular order). Some of these will likely never see an international release while others are already rumoured to have one on the way. But regardless, as things stand now, these games remain Japan-only.
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy (3DS)
If you are one of the millions of fans who pines for the "good old days" of Final Fantasy, then Bravely Default is the game you've been waiting for. Bravely Default takes all the basic components of classic JRPGs — towns, shops, airships, jobs, turn-based battles, and a sprawling world map — and turns out a game that is a love letter to the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. But best of all, it doesn't ignore the advances in gaming since that time and incorporates beautiful artwork and excellent voice acting to create a modern classic.
Project X Zone (3DS)
What happens when you mix the most popular characters from Sega, Capcom, and Bandai-Namco into one mega-crossover game? John McLain and Chun-Li teaming up with Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine to fight zombies for starters. Project X Zone is an excellent TRPG that not only manages to mix together a ton of different stories into one single narrative but also provides some of the smoothest and most intense tactical gameplay I have ever experienced.
Using trick camera angles and beautiful 2D sprites, RPG Tokitowa is perhaps the closest you can get to playing an anime. The game's focus on fast-paced combat and complex enemy attack patterns ensure that the game never feels boring. Moreover, it's also both an excellent time travel murder mystery and a romantic tale that somehow manages to be serious and comical at the same time.
Project Diva f (PSV)
Hatsune Miku is the world's most popular virtual idol, and with games like Project Diva f, it's not hard to see why. Sporting 35 songs that are new to the music game series, Project Diva f is a great first effort for the Vita. But not only is the soundtrack awesome, the game also looks great. And while some may have minor issues getting used to the touch screen commands, Project Diva f is still the best music game to come out of Japan this year.
E.X. Troopers (PS3, 3DS)
What happens when you take a hard-boiled sci-fi series and cross it with a shonen-style manga? You get E.X. Troopers. Based on the Lost Planet series of games, E.X. Troopers has a bright manga art style and excellent third-person shooting action that really make it a joy to play. Its inclusion of a coop mode that is directly tied to leveling-up in the single player is wonderful and is something that game developers should keep in mind for future games.
Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney (3DS)
Two game series: one full of brain teasers and the other a courtroom drama. When mixed together, you get a game combining the best of both. Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney is really two games in one. Swapping back and forth between puzzle solving and courtroom interrogation, the stakes have never been higher as Phoenix and Layton battle against the god of a storybook world in an effort to save the life of a young girl. Capped off with great anime cut scenes and an amazing orchestrated soundtrack, Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney is a must buy for fans of both series.
So there you have it, our picks for the best Japan-only games of 2012. If you think we missed an important one, feel free to make your case in the comments section below. As for me, I think I am going to get back to yelling "Objection!" at my 3DS.