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The horror genre provides some of the most immersive and emotional experiences in gaming and the best have pushed the medium forward in some groundbreaking ways. However, similar to how the genre is treated in the world of movies, horror games are often snubbed in favor of big-budget action titles. While many classics have commanded the respect they deserve, an equal number are infrequently discussed or forgotten. In an effort to encourage continual discussion and highlight our absolute favorites, we’ve whipped up a list of the best Japanese horror games of all time!
Although there is a slew of fantastic scary games made by Western game makers, it’s hard to deny that Japanese developers have a talent for producing some incredibly disturbing and memorable material. From stories of malevolent spirits to some classic undead zombie terror, the best Japanese horror games offer a wide range of frightening experiences.
We’ve done our best to include games that highlight all manner of the macabre, including survival horror, horror-action, and even horror-adjacent sub-genres. Listed in no particular order, here are our picks for the best Japanese horror games of all time!
1. Resident Evil HD
What better place to start on our list of the best Japanese horror games than the franchise that invented the survival horror sub-genre? Developed by acclaimed studio Capcom, Resident Evil HD is a remake of the original game from 1996. Featuring crisp graphics and a host of undead creatures, this exceptionally frightening title follows special agents Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine as they explore the ominous Spencer Mansion. With minimal ammo and healing items, players must face down the horrors of the mansion as they attempt to uncover the truth behind a viral outbreak. Simply put, Resident Evil HD isn’t just one of the best Japanese horror games of all time, but arguably the most popular horror game ever made.
While Resident Evil puts a gun in the player’s hand and asks them to blast down zombies, Silent Hill transports them to a supernatural town filled with Lovecraftian horror and leaves them with little defense. Following protagonist Harry Mason as he searches for his missing daughter, this classic game developed by Konami has you exploring the fog-drenched town of Silent Hill. Disturbing monsters and challenging puzzles await in this highly atmospheric gem from 1999.
Not to be outdone by its competitors, developer Koei Tecmo started their own flagship horror series in 2001 with Fatal Frame. Set in the late-1980s, this ghost-filled adventure follows Miku Hinaski, a brave young woman who searches for her missing sister Mafuya in a supposedly haunted mansion. Instead of using weapons, players must defeat the ghostly occupants of the mansion by capturing them in a photo. With camera in hand, you’ll slowly tread through the creepy mansion as you locate clues and fend off foes with a snap of your camera. This unique form of gameplay was a breath of fresh air in the genre and remains one of the best uses of photography in all of horror.
4. Clocktower 3
Although the Clocktower franchise started off as a point ‘n click adventure series, by 2002, it had adopted some Resident Evil flair and firmly fit in the survival horror genre. Co-produced by Capcom and Sunsoft, Clocktower 3 tells the story of teenager Alyssa, who is suddenly transported to London circa 1942. As she struggles to find a way back home, Alyssa must contend with violent spirits by evading them and finding hiding spots. With interesting boss encounters and an engaging story, Clocktower 3 is one of the best Japanese horror games of all time and is often underrated in comparison to its competitors.
5. Splatter House
While the horror genre didn’t truly take hold until the early 2000s, there were some groundbreaking titles in the early days of gaming, including 1988’s Splatterhouse. Developed by Namco and released in arcades, this sidescrolling action game featured a surplus of blood and gore, which was incredibly controversial at the time. Taking inspiration from horror films like Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, the game follows two students who fight off horrifying and gruesome monsters in the mansion of a deranged doctor. With its satisfying gameplay, gruesome visuals, and references to classic horror films, Splatterhouse is one of the best Japanese horror games to ever grace the arcades.
6. The House Of The Dead
Speaking of arcades, we can’t create a list of the best Japanese horror games without including this light-gun staple. Originally released in 1996 and developed by Sega, this on-rails shooter tasks you and a friend with blasting down hordes of zombies as you make your way through the mansion of the madman geneticist, Dr. Curien. Truthfully, the voice-acting and storytelling are pretty cringe-worthy, but the exciting gameplay and excess of blood made this a must-play game. Recently, The House of the Dead was modernized and remade for the Nintendo Switch, but nothing can top playing this classic game in a traditional arcade setting.
7. Resident Evil 2
If there’s one horror game that proves just how effective remakes can be, it’s the 2019 version of Resident Evil 2. As a sequel to the original game, Resident Evil 2 offered more action and a switch of location, putting players on the streets of the zombie-filled town of Raccoon City. Playing as newbie cop Leon Kennedy or college student Claire Redfield, you must navigate the infested streets as you try to make your way out of town. In almost every way, the Resident Evil 2 remake is better than the original, with better graphics, gameplay, and tons of unlockable modes. While we love the classic Resident Evil games with fervor, we can’t deny how impressive and enjoyable this modern remake is.
8. Resident Evil 4
After releasing multiple successful games in the Resident Evil franchise, Capcom continued to shape the future of the genre with the groundbreaking Resident Evil 4 in 2005. Breaking away from the story of its predecessors, this sequel sees Leon Kennedy investigating a rural village in Spain afflicted with body-modifying parasites. Like the rest of the franchise, Resident Evil 4 delivered plenty of scares, but surprisingly, it’s the camera angle that makes this game so memorable. Resident Evil 4 was the first game to adopt an “over the shoulder” style perspective, which has become a mainstay in almost every third-person game since. In addition to fundamentally changing the way we played games, Resident Evil 4 offered a thrilling adventure that many consider the best in the series.
9. The Evil Within
Developed by Tango Gameworks, The Evil Within offers disturbing body-horror, supernatural oddities, and more blood-soaked action than you could ever want. Similar in gameplay style to Resident Evil 4, the game follows Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who must blast his way through a horrifying realm of insanity while investigating a case at the Beacon Mental Hospital. Mixing a hefty amount of terror with heart-pounding action, The Evil Within is one of the few third-person horror games to rival Resident Evil in terms of fear-factor and gameplay satisfaction. Although it often gets lost in the shuffle and overshadowed by Capcom’s landmark franchise, The Evil Within is absolutely one of the best Japanese horror games of all time.
Before they made a major splash with their incredibly tough third-person action games, developer FromSoftware was whipping up some truly interesting titles. Inspired by games like Resident Evil and Fatal Frame, FromSoftware whipped up Kuon in 2004, a title that explores Japanese Kaidan ghost stories and features three unique characters as they make their way through the monster-ridden Fujiwara Manor. Like the classic Resident Evil games, Kuon heavily emphasizes caution in the face of danger, encouraging players to evade enemies rather than eliminate them. With its branching story, interesting puzzles, and undeniably creepy atmosphere, Kuon was more than just a Resident Evil clone and stands strong as one of FromSoftware’s earliest efforts in the survival horror genre.
11. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
While the first Fatal Frame was a wonderfully frightening introduction to Koei Tecmo’s world of ghosts, the sequel is easily the best in the franchise. Due to players being too frightened to finish the first game, Tecmo made a dedicated effort to tell an intriguing story that would motivate players to the end. Disconnected from the narrative of the original, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly follows twin sisters Mayu and Mio as they explore the abandoned Minakami Village. Like the first game, players must take snapshots of ghosts with their camera, forcing them to face the horrors head-on. Thanks to its unwavering atmosphere of anxiety and intriguing narrative, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly has earned a spot in gaming history as one of the scariest games ever made.
12. Silent Hill 2
Like the Fatal Frame franchise, the original Silent Hill is respected, but many consider Silent Hill 2 to be the superior game. The sequel tells the story of the widowed man James Sunderland, who receives a letter from his dead wife beckoning him to the town of Silent Hill. When he arrives, James encounters a host of horrors and must find a way to escape, all while seeking his long-lost love. Silent Hill 2 made multiple improvements in key areas, including better lighting and graphics, tighter gameplay, and a story that explores the origin of the eponymous town. Combining traditional horror elements with psychological scares, inventive creature design, and a beautiful soundtrack, Silent Hill 2 is one of the very best Japanese horror games of all time.
After trying out loads of different genres, developer FromSoftware found success with the third-person action genre, starting with their iconic game, Demon’s Souls. In 2015’s Bloodborne, they combined the action-focused gameplay of the Souls series with a horrifying Lovecraftian setting, creating one of the most revered action games ever made. Set in the Gothic-style city of Yharnam, the game follows a hero simply known as the Hunter, who travels to the city seeking a cure for an unknown illness. Unfortunately, instead of healing, the Hunter is greeted by a slew of otherworldly beasts, all of which want them dead or destroyed. In signature FromSoftware style, Bloodborne takes players on an unforgettable journey through a perplexing and horrific world of terror, where death is almost guaranteed. It might not be a traditional example of the genre, but Bloodborne is easily one of the most respected Japanese horror games in the modern era.
14. Ju-On: The Grudge
Video games based on movies are usually pretty bad, but surprisingly, Ju-On: The Grudge stands out as one of the lesser offensive adaptations. Developed by feelplus and directed by Takashi Shimizu, who also created the film series, this Wii-exclusive game saw players exploring several linear areas with just a flashlight to guide them. Truthfully, Ju-On: The Grudge leaves a lot to be desired in terms of gameplay, graphics, and replayability, but it’s great to see talented horror creators experimenting with the gaming medium. While the game received overwhelmingly poor reviews on release, we still look back on this haunted house simulator as an admirable effort to add some interactivity to one of the most terrifying films ever made.
Developed by Japan Studio and released in 2003, Siren was a survival horror game that, like Kuon, details several different stories while encouraging evasion over combat. Set in the fictional town of Hanuda, Siren details a mysterious supernatural disaster, playing out from the perspective of ten different characters. Hunted by undead enemies known as shibito, players can use their “sight jacking” psychic powers to dodge capture and gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, shibitos can not be killed, so any weapons will simply incapacitate them long enough for you to turn tail and run. Between its inventive gameplay elements and sprawling story of supernatural disaster, Siren was a highly ambitious title and one of the best Japanese horror games of all time.
Short for “playable teaser”, P.T. is, without question, one of the scariest games ever made. Developed by master game-creator Hideo Kojima with assistance from Guillermo Del Toro, P.T. was essentially a demo for an upcoming sequel in the Silent Hill franchise, but it was canceled by publisher Konami before release. In the demo, players make their way through a looping hallway, encountering ghostly apparitions and other extremely disturbing events as they attempt to make sense of the madness. Playing P.T. is a surefire way to give yourself a panic attack or nightmares and it’s an absolute shame that Konami canned the project. With just a few hour’s worth of content, P.T. has made a lasting impression on the horror genre, leading to tons of fan remakes and copy-cats. While we will likely never see the full version of P.T, this hard-to-find demo is still a godsend for fans of Japanese horror.
17. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
By the time the Resident Evil series hit its seventh mainline entry in 2017, it was overdue for a change of pace. In a stunning switch-up, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard made the leap to a first-person perspective, inspired by games like P.T. Going back to the series’ roots and highlighting horror over action, Resident Evil VII tells the story of Ethan Winters, a man who travels to the swamps of Louisiana in search of his missing wife. While he is able to locate her quickly, he is subsequently captured by a demented family of cannibals and must fight for his survival. Ditching the zombies in favor of more grotesque creatures, Resident Evil VII dips hard into the realm of body-horror while maintaining a steady atmosphere of suspense. Capcom took a creative leap of faith with Resident Evil VII and their efforts paid off, as it’s definitely one of the best Japanese horror games of all time.
18. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
Visual novels are all the rage in Japan, but North American audiences got a great taste of this fantastic genre with the horror-themed game series, Zero Escape. The Nonary Games combines the first two games in one stellar package, offering both narrative-focused segments and escape room-style gameplay. In both games, players take on the role of a prisoner in an elaborate game of life or death, where contestants must escape from a complex series of trapped rooms or suffer brutal consequences. Designed with replayability in mind, the games feature dozens of different endings, spurred on by key decisions you make throughout the story. While it might not be as scary as some of the other games on this list, Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is an excellent compilation that every fan of Japanese horror should check out.
19. Dead Rising
For their first big Xbox 360 game, developer Capcom moved away from the slow-paced survival horror roots of Resident Evil and instead created a game that’s all about slaying hundreds of zombies while trapped inside a shopping mall. Obviously inspired by the iconic horror film Dawn of the Dead, Dead Rising sees journalist Frank West investigating rumors of a violent outbreak in the small town of Willamette. With three days until his transport helicopter arrives for evac, Frank must explore the infested mall, using an assortment of everyday items as his arsenal. Overall, Dead Rising is more about providing the player with a playground for bloody fun than it is about suspense and scares, perfectly representing the power fantasy of a hero inside a zombie apocalypse.
20. Luigi’s Mansion
For the final entry on our list of the best Japanese horror games, we found it necessary to include the iconic launch game for the Nintendo GameCube, Luigi’s Mansion. While it’s barely a scary game by modern standards, Luigi’s Mansion exists as one of the very few horror games designed for kids. In the game, players step into the shoes of the beloved hero Luigi as he explores a mansion searching for Mario. Armed with a powerful vacuum that sucks up spirits, Luigi must find and capture the dozen-plus ghosts that call the mansion home. Fun, lighthearted, and effectively creepy for youngsters, Luigi’s Mansion is a wonderfully entertaining adventure that perfectly highlights Nintendo’s ability to make any genre approachable for new players.