Japan has definitely contributed a lot in the world of console games and pop culture in general. Much of the time when people think of Japan, the first thing that tends to come to mind is technology and video games, which is unsurprising! We have gotten many consoles and famous video game companies from them, ranging from Nintendo to Sega, the NES to Nintendo DS, and many others in between! Many of us grew up with classic game imports from Japan such as The Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog, which has shaped how many of us look at gaming today. As a result of this impact, many of these games has been adapted for an adult US audience. It’s a good time to be a gamer overall.
However, some games will never see American shelves and listings. Many games never leave Japan for a number of reasons. Sometimes companies determine that a game would not be profitable enough for a worldwide release, so they decide to keep it local. Not every game can be an instant classic overseas.
Then there are some games that are just gruesome, distasteful, frightening, and downright disturbing enough to warrant not just a lack of overseas release, but sometimes even bans in some countries. Those are the games we will be talking about on this list today! Here are 25 games that never made it over to the States (at least in their original state) due to disturbing and downright unsettling content.
If you play visual novels regularly, chances are good you have heard of Higurashi When They Cry. It takes place in the village of Hinamizawa, where every year mysterious events occur surrounding the Watanagashi Festival and Oyashiro. Every year, someone goes missing during the festival, and then someone is found murdered (they aren’t necessarily the same person). Keiichi, the main character, is new to the community and has a small group of friends he trusts. However, after the festival this year, the worst kind of paranoia grips Keiichi and the group.
This game is all sorts of messed up. It has several story arcs, many of them involving brutal murder and torture. One arc involves one of the characters inflicting damage on another by using a machine to rip their fingernails off. Another one involves a young girl being brutally murdered on temple steps. You get the idea.
24 Cleaning Squadron Clean Keeper
Cleaning Squadron (or Osouji Sentai) has a seemingly innocent premise. It is a cutesy anime Wii game with a limited release out in Japan. The main character is a young male school student who desires to make his school cleaner. To fulfill this purpose, he assembles a team of young girls who have the ability to clean small “dust devils” away via fairies that they get. This game seems to be a mixture of visual novel with primarily mini games. These mini games mainly involve swiping away dust devils.
Seems innocent enough right? Well, at several points within the game, the player has to rub on the young girls in certain areas to get rid of the dust devils. Keep in mind that these are prepubescent girls. Yuck.
23 Lolita Syndrome
I’m willing to bet you probably know where this game is going to go based just on the title. Lolita Syndrome is a game that takes place in a house called, “Maison Lolita,” where underage girls run around without clothes on and play games that have some unsettling implications. These include a buzz saw table, a human dart board, and many other games. If you win the games, the girl in question takes off all of her clothes. If you don’t, however, she explodes in a flurry of blood and gore.
I don’t think it’s too hard to see why this game was never released in the US. If it wasn’t the blatant blood and gore, it definitely was the involvement of underage girls in a not-subtle-at-all way.
22 LSD: Dream Emulator
This game isn’t disturbing so much as it is unpredictable. In LSD, the player navigates through a dream world where they will see sights ranging from circus animals brightly colored to a somber monochromatic man hanging from a noose. Whenever the player bumps into an object or a wall, they will be transported to another “dream.” The player also runs into enemies like the “Grey Man” and the “Abyss Demon” that will try to trick you into ending the dream early.
What makes this game disturbing is that it isn’t really your typical video game and seems to want to dig into the player psychologically. There is no set path, but it seems like the game reads you every time you wake up from a dream with a chart. As a result of this reading, it can drastically affect whether you end up in a pleasant dreamscape or a nightmare
21 Battle R
This game is so vile, I am not even going to bother putting the full name here. Essentially, this is a fighting game, but with a huge, disturbing caveat. Scantily clad women fight against each other in a typical fighting game platform, but as they take damage, they begin to lose items of clothing. Whichever woman loses the fight ends up getting "assaulted" by the controlling player in a variety of ways that can be chosen.
Battle R had a very limited release in Japan, and has been widely criticized for its endorsment of "assault." Its disturbing endorsements and content make it hard to swallow as a game, and its very existence in the context of Japanese culture is troubling.
This game did eventually come to the US, but it has a very limited release outside of Japan, making Kuon one of the rarest games to find for the PS2. Kuon deals a lot with traditional Japanese horror and folklore. In it, the main characters, twins named Utsuki and Sakuya, become disciples of a man named Doman. Upon arriving at his manor, the twins get separated and begin to learn more about the true evil nature of Doman and his goal to perform the forbidden Kuon ritual, which makes one “reborn” after creating a cocoon consisting of corpses and a living person.
Kuon is disturbing in regards to a lot of the imagery in the game. The developers managed to combine traditional Japanese scares with absolutely grotesque, unsettling imagery involving corpses. Co-opted with the audio, it makes the experience almost too real.
19 Song Of Saya
This one is a doozy. Saya’s Song (or Saya no Uta) was eventually released to North America, but it took 10 years for it to get to that point (and with good reason). The main character, Fuminori, suffers from a condition called agnosia after suffering severe injuries from a car wreck that killed both of his parents. This condition makes him perceive the world around him as being covered in flesh and gore, and all people look like horrific monsters. Everyone except for a girl named Saya, who looks like a young girl to him. And, like you probably expect, everything goes horribly wrong for Fuminori after this, as he slowly begins to go mad.
It’s easy to see how disturbing this game is. The whole environment is grotesque, the people are monstrous, and the things people do to each other in the game is even worst.
18 School Days
A visual novel that came to North America 10 years after its initial release in Japan, School Days takes the point of view of Makoto, a student who develops a crush on fellow student, Kotonoha. During his second semester, he meet a girl named Sekai due to a seating chart rearrangement, who takes interest in the crush and creates situations to where Mokoto and Kotonoha can be together. Despite her best efforts, however, Sekai ends up developing a crush on Mokoto after this, and everything begins to go wrong (depending on your choices).
The disturbing aspect of this visual novel is the bad ending included. If you play both Mokoto and Sekai and cheat on both of them… let’s just say there is some cleaver wielding, pregnancy, and you may just lose your head. And they definitely don’t make it subtle either.
17 Princess Maker 4
Princess Maker 4 may initially seem like a cutesy life simulator of sorts, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. You, the king, are to raise a girl as you see fit. You can send her off to weapons training so she can fight in a festival, put her on diets, or send her to bars and brothels to raise her “Sin” aspect and mold her into whatever you want. That is what makes this game disturbing.
Moreoever, there is an element of incest since if the daughter is raised incorrectly, the daughter could end up being the king’s concubine or even his wife! It’s the dominant/submissive dynamic that makes this game disturbing, the fact that the player can control every aspect of the daughter’s life.
16 Ju-On: The Grudge
This is another game that was eventually released in the US, but it took a while and was altered in terms of content and censorship. Ju-On is pretty much a Wii version of The Grudge, where the in-game goal is for each member of your family to face their own personal challenge in order to shake off the curse of a grudge that has befallen the family.
This game wasn’t exactly met with the best of reviews, but there are definitely some unsettling features that would be unique to a Wii game. Whenever Kayako (the main specter in the game) grabs hold of the main character, for example, the Wii remote begins to shake, and you can hear her death rattle through the remote itself. The interactive aspects of this game is what makes it disturbing, but also may have been the game’s downfall at times.
Like the previous game, I won’t give the full name of this game due to the incredibly troubling content. The main character of RL, a stalker, is tailing down a mother and her two daughters. His primary goal is to strip, sexually assault, and humiliate these women in such places as the train station and on the train itself. There are a number of highly disturbing and inappropriate options in the game, including feeling up the women and pulling their clothes off of them in public places.
This game has been banned in countries such as Australia and Britain for its incredibly violent imagery. The only good thing about this game is that most endings involve the sadistic stalker getting ran over by a train. So there’s that at least.
14 Love Death
There really isn’t a plot to Love Death, or honestly a ton of information online available about the game. This was an exclusive Japanese release, along with other games in the same series (yes, they somehow made this into a series). According to gameplay, the player can essentially hit women around who seem to be… enjoying it. There are also other things that can be done with the women, ranging from changing their clothes to… certain varieties of physical activities.
Overall, this game runs in the category of distasteful, especially given the way it treats women. If there is a main storyline line elsewhere other than manipulating the women available in the game, I certainly can’t find it.
13 Night Of Sacrifice
There is apparently a lot more Wii horror games out there than I thought! Night of Sacrifice is about a group of college students that take a trip to a place called Tsukuyomi Ravine to do a “test of courage” at the encouragement of the leader of the group. There really aren’t too many mechanics to this game other than to run and not get touched by spirits, otherwise the player will get killed. It also has a similar dynamic to Calling in which your Wii remote is used as a cellphone where you can receive calls from spirits.
This is another game that didn’t get great reviews, but did have moments of sheer terror and panic due to the avoidance nature of the game. As a result, this game was unsettling to many who played it.
12 Sweet Home
Sweet Home was specifically kept from an outside of Japan release due to the use of brutal imagery within the game, and actually went on to inspire games such as the Resident Evil series. This is well known as one of the first successful survival horror games. The main story is that a team of documentary filmers entered the mansion, seeking to recover a famous artist’s paintings. However, they end up trapped in the mansion by the ghost of a woman who threatens to kill them. As a result, they have to split up to find a way out.
This game involves a lot of graphic imagery, including a baby being burned to death and bloody deaths for any of the team members who end up dying during the search. Such imagery, horrific as it is, did inspire many horror games we know and love today.
Gal*Gun on the surface may just seem like your typical rail gun game, but it is so much more than that. The protagonist, Tenzou, is shoot with several Cupid arrows by the apprentice angel, Patako, who is out trying to finish her apprenticeship. This suddenly makes him the most attractive man in the area, and all the women flock to him as a result. However, there is a caveat. If he doesn’t win the heart of his true love by sunset, he will be cursed with loneliness for his whole life.
Sounds cute right? Well, it’s cute until you shoot the mobbing women with your… pheromone gun... and cause them to fall to the ground in ecstasy. And are there tentacle monsters? Why yes, there are! Glad you asked! There are also close up features you can implement with the women, and I’m sure you can guess what that means.
10 Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti
Considered bloody enough to be shocking, Splatterhouse was a parody of many classic horror movie characters and enemies. In the game, a woman named Jennifer is crying over the grave of Rick, the protagonist of the game. Suddenly, Rick is revived by a lightning strike and Jennifer is kidnapped by an enemy known as the Pumpkin King. It turns very quickly into a “save the princess” scenario much like Mario, but with a lot more blood and crude humor.
This game is considered disturbing in the sense that it combines unthreatening, cute images with that of slash and hack horror films. This game is definitely not shy about blood imagery, which makes it unique given that it was considered a parody. This imagery is ultimately what kept it from an American release.
9 Corpse Party
The first in the series, Corpse Party involves a group of high schoolers telling scary stories together after a festival at their school. Suddenly, there is an earth quake, and the group decides to split up and look around. The group is followed and tormented by an evil spirit in red, who in her previous life had been threatened and killed by a teacher at the school.
A lot of the content that the spirit brings up is a lot of the reason why this game was blocked from a US release. There are explicit references to "assault" at the hands of a teacher and suicide by the spirit, which plays a very big part in the story and motivation of the spirit. This game has been commended otherwise for its frightening atmosphere and dynamic storyline.
8 Haunting Ground
Haunting Ground was eventually released in North America, and was considered controversial for its similarities to Clock Tower. This game involves a woman named Fiona, who finds herself in a cage in a cellar after a car accident. She finds her way out and sees that she is in a castle. After this, she is encountered and stalked by people who want to kill, impregnate, or eat her as she explores the castle, trying to solve its mysteries and figure out who she is.
This game is very disturbing in regards to how it starts as well as how it treats Fiona. Fiona is incredibly sexualized, desired for her ability to reproduce as well as her ability to provide in a way that only a cannibal can appreciate. This follows her to the end of the game, one possible ending involving her forcibly being impregnated by an enemy.
7 The Houchi Play
This is a pretty straightforward game. The Houchi Play is a side scroller where you play as a middle aged Japanese man named Taro Heibon. The goal of the game is, to put it bluntly, move in on young women and hit on them, or grab their rears. That’s pretty much the extent of it.
To gain more courage and move in on women more quickly, Taro can obtain sake as a power up of sorts. Each round, the target woman has a specific skill Taro has to adapt to so he can move in quickly enough to grab the women’s rear. These women are highly sexualized in the game, affecting Taro in different ways. Are you starting to see why this never got greenlit for a US release?
6 Sweet Pool
Oh boy. So, Sweet Pool is a BL (boy love for those unfamiliar) visual novel game involving a quiet young man named Youji. While at school, another young man named Shironuma begins to come onto and hit on Youji, to his great confusion. From this point on, there are a lot of unsettling aspects that begin to pervade the game, including excreting meat monsters (yes, meat monsters from the butt), menstruating Youji (a male), "assault," and general viscera and gore. Need I go on?
To add on to the weirdness, unlike most BL games where there are happy ending options, there are absolutely no happy endings in this game. Generally, Youji and Shironuma are supposed to end up together, but even in endings where they don’t end up together, Youji ends up getting "assaulted" and eaten alive. Overall, this is a rough game to even read about.
5 Yomawari: Night Alone
Another game that was eventually released to North America, Yomawari is about a young girl who takes her dog out for a walk. After nearly being killed in an accident while out walking, she finds that her dog is missing. Her older sister goes out to find the dog, but after a while, the younger sister gets worried and goes after her older sister. The young girl finds that there are monsters roaming the street threatening to kill her, so she must find ways to avoid them as she certainly can’t fight them.
The combination of the young girl and the absolutely terrifying looking monsters is what makes this game more unsettling and disturbing than anything. The survival horror format doesn’t help much either, putting players on the edge of their seats.
4 Clock Tower
Clock Tower has never been officially released out of Japan, but fan translations and patches are available out on the internet. This game is unique in the horror scene in that it is a 2D point and click game. In Clock Tower, you play a character named Jennifer who was adopted by a wealthy recluse and brought to a mansion called, “The Clock Tower.” While exploring the mansion and trying to figure out its mysteries, you are stalked by a murderous little boy known as the “Scissorman” who wields an insanely large pair of, well, scissors!
What makes this game so disturbing and unsettling is the concept of not being able to fight the enemy. More so, Jennifer can’t even run away from Scissorman and have to find roundabout ways to get away from him. In general, the unsettling atmosphere of the game keeps tensions high.
Another Wii horror game, Calling was also eventually released in the US but went through alterations. This games involves references to the Dark Web, and mainly revolves around a website called “The Black Page,” a website that has a counter on it saying how many people have died after visiting the website. After being led into a chatroom on the website, the main characters are pulled into a sort of purgatory where they must explore various areas and avoid being killed by the spirits that dwell there.
Calling is unsettling for similar reasons to Ju-On, except the Wii remote has a more disturbing purpose. The Wii remote is used as a sort of cell phone for spirits in that realm to call the player, and the calls tended to be less than, ahem, friendly. The reference to the Dark Web adds a degree of discomfort as well.
2 Rule Of Rose
This particular game was controversial enough to warrant a ban in some countries. In Rule of Rose, which takes place on an airship, a young woman named Jennifer is at the mercy of the Red Crayon Aristocrats, a group of cruel children. They force her to bring an offering every month so that they won’t kill her. She encounters other adults and children on the airship, but they tended to be unkind or distant from her.
The grounds on which this game was banned from countries such as Britain is the strong erotic undertones involved with the cast of underage females, as well as the excessive violence against children. The developers have argued against this, but to no avail in some places.
The premise of 177 is simple enough, but also controversial and… unsettling enough to warrant a very, very limited Japanese release. In this game, you are a man running after a woman through the woods with the sole intent of non-consensually ravishing her. That’s pretty much it. Worst yet, up in the right corner you can watch the woman’s face morph into terror while you are chasing her. Worst yet, if you do catch her you are given a mini game to play, which involves said ravishing mentioned earlier. You must “satisfy” the woman in a way she will find pleasing. If you win, the woman will marry you.
This is a pretty disgusting game. There are no undertones or anything, and everything is out there for the player. As a result, this game has been banned.