If you’ve been following Asian video game development for a while, doubtless you’ll be familiar with the concept of “doujin” games — these are essentially the Japanese equivalent of our indie sector.
Typically developed by very small teams with limited budgets, doujin games are sometimes based on established properties, and often provide creative takes on established formulae that perhaps don’t get the love and attention from mainstream development that they once did. If you want to play some games inspired by the classic arcade games of yore — among other things! — the doujin sector is the place you should be checking out.
So with that in mind, here’s ten top picks from that doujin sector that you can play right now on your Nintendo Switch.
One Way Heroics Plus
This game provides one of the most creative takes on the roguelike format that there has ever been. Instead of exploring endless dungeons, you’re exploring an overworld map in an attempt to take down the Demon Lord who has been terrorising the land. Only one problem: you’re being pursued by the Darkness, which is slowly but surely swallowing up the land piece by piece.
Mechanically speaking, this means that you constantly need to keep moving “forwards” to the right, and you only have limited time to do things such as interact with people in towns, explore dungeons and suchlike. You’ll need to pay particular attention to the encroaching darkness when performing time-consuming actions such as climbing mountains or traversing water, since it’s all too easy to get swallowed up while you’re not paying attention!
One Way Heroics Plus features a sprawling metagame in which you can upgrade your castle between runs, unlock a variety of new character classes and optionally pursue a “true” ending with some seriously esoteric requirements. Or you can simply enjoy the experience of trying to get as far as you can each time you play; it’s a delightfully flexible game that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
Interestingly, Spike Chunsoft licensed this game and remade it for PlayStation 4 and Vita a few years back as Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics. Although it was a fun reimagining of the game with a wickedly saucy sense of humour, apparently it didn’t do all that well, as this Switch version is a port of the original doujin title.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus
Hakoniwa (“box garden”) Explorer Plus is an isometric-perspective action RPG in which you’re free to approach the overall goal of defeating all the bosses as you see fit. If you just fancy exploring what the game describes as a “wiggly, weird dot-style world”, you can take your time doing that.
Did I mention all the game’s bosses are enormous pixel-art monster girls, many of whom can be found in a variety of somewhat suggestive poses when you stumble across them? No? Well, they are, and that’s a big part of the appeal of Hakoniwa Explorer Plus. That and the fact that your ever-present adventure advisor is a swimsuit-clad girl named, of course, Sukumizu.
This delightful doujin game takes great pains to point out that you should approach anyone you wish to speak to from the front. This is due to its revolutionary butt-touching mechanic, in which approaching anyone from the rear will not initiate a conversation, but will instead cause your character to touch their butt. Sadly, this normally does not lead to a desirable outcome for your character — particularly when Sukumizu is concerned — so you should always take care when approaching friendly characters if you would like them to remain friendly. Good advice for life, really.
Probably the most unpronounceable doujin game on this list, Croixleur Sigma is an arcade-style hack-and-slash game inspired by the Bloody Palace mode from the Devil May Cry series. Playing as one of four characters, you’ll fight your way through a string of arena-style stages in an attempt to reach the finish line as quickly as possible. Each of the main characters’ stories has several endings depending on your speed, so there’s a lot of replay value just in the main story mode.
But there’s so much more than that, too. A selection of even more heavily arcade-inspired modes will challenge you to beat your high scores and best times, a Dungeon mode provides an even stiffer challenge than the main game, and an incredibly demanding Challenge mode will infuriate you in the grand tradition of classic Dreamcast games from Sega.
This is a game that started life as a relatively straightforward doujin title on PC, and evolved considerably over the course of several years. The “Sigma” version which can be found on Nintendo Switch is the very best version of the game out there, offering blistering 60fps hack and slash action, cute girls and big swords. What more could you want?
Touhou Luna Nights
Developed by respected doujin developer Team Ladybug, Touhou Luna Nights is one of many, many, many games based on the world and characters of ZUN’s legendary series of bullet hell shoot ’em ups Touhou. It offers an open-structure 2D platforming experience with a strong emphasis on exploration and action.
Taking on the role of Remilia Scarlet’s maid Sakuya Izayoi, it’s your job to explore a Gensokyo that… just isn’t quite right, and hopefully figure out what the mistress is actually up to. The game features some absolutely stunning pixel art and solid gameplay, and was developed through the Early Access program on Steam. Now that the game is complete, it’s come to Switch so an even wider audience can enjoy it.
Team Ladybug has been around for a good few years at this point, and gained a solid reputation for their doujin games based on properties such as Shin Megami Tensei as well as their own original titles. Touhou Luna Nights makes a distinct effort to provide an experience that is friendly to Touhou newcomers, but which also provides plenty of things that will make established fans happy — such as the adaptation of the series’ “graze” mechanics into a 2D platforming format. Expect a stiff but enjoyable challenge from this one!
If you enjoyed the recent Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin — and it sounds like a lot of you did — the back catalogue of doujin developer Edelweiss is well worth checking out, since it consists of some immensely solid titles with incredible production values. Astebreed is one of their all-time best games, combining solid and creative shoot ’em up action with a mecha anime-inspired narrative and absolutely beautiful presentation.
In Astebreed, you take control of Roy, pilot of the mecha Crossbreed, as you attempt to discover the dark truth behind the Filune invasion — and what it has to do with the sisters Fio and Esto. The story has some exceedingly peculiar twists and turns over the course of its relatively short runtime — one should expect nothing less from a mecha anime-inspired work — but provides an exciting and thrilling tale to enjoy alongside all the blasting. Alternatively, you can actually turn all the story dialogue off and play it as a straight shooter if you desire!
Astebreed is noteworthy for its dynamically changing play styles and camera angles. Levels will often switch from side-scrolling to top-down to 3D rail shooter at a moment’s notice, so you’ll need to be ready to deal with these changes when they happen. With multiple difficulty levels, an excellent score analysis system and some interesting mechanics that take a bit of mastering, Astebreed is one of the best modern shoot ’em ups out there.
I take it back; Croixleur has a rival in the unpronounceable stakes with this one. Don’t let that put you off, though; Cresteaju has an interesting heritage that makes it well worth checking out.
Developed by an individual known only as Shou back in 2001, the original PC release of Cresteaju became something of a surprise hit in Japan back around the turn of the century. It offered a challenging, lengthy scenario that took around 30 hours to complete, and its strategic battle system proved very popular with its audience.
The Switch-exclusive remake remains true to the original 2001 title, but revamps the battle screen to be in full HD widescreen. Japanese character voices have been added to battle scenes, new background music has been added and original author Shou has written a number of new scenarios to add to the game. There’s also an online ranking system to compete against others for the fastest clear time and postgame content to unlock.
Cresteaju is probably the hardest sell on this list due to its dated visuals, even in its remastered scenes. Give it a chance, though; there’s some really solid gameplay to be enjoyed in this one, and although it’s not especially well-known in the west, it’s an interesting piece of doujin history well worth taking the time to explore.
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