Why the World Needs a New AAA Racing Game Set in Japan

    Deja vu...

    It’s no secret that I love racing games, but I feel as if they have been stagnating in recent years. There are some good sim racing options out there right now, but the genre otherwise feels like it lacks games with a distinct identity. Need for Speed: Unbound seemed like an honest attempt to bring variety back to racing games, but, unfortunately, it fell a bit flat for me. So, how do we go about breathing new life into a genre? I believe that a big-budget racing game set entirely in Japan is a possible solution. 

    An Iconic Street Racing History

    Even if you only have a surface-level familiarity with motorsports, the imagery of Japanese street racing is likely recognizable to you. From “touge” racing to iconic vehicles, Japanese car culture has seen some pretty heavy representation in media. You likely know at least one Eurobeat track from Initial D and there’s an entire Fast & Furious movie dedicated to Japanese street racing. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

    In addition, there is also the story of the secretive Mid Night racing group. This group consisted of mostly wealthy business people meeting up to illegally drive their expensive vehicles at insane speeds around the Shuto Expressway late at night, as their name might suggest. Their exact history is somewhat clouded in rumors, but it’s agreed that they were the most active during the 80s and 90s. This group would be the inspiration for the manga Wangan Midnight and the Midnight Club games. 

    Japan is also home to some iconic race tracks as well. If you ever played some simulation or simcade racing games, you likely recognize tracks such as Twin Ring Motegi (now known as Mobility Resort Motegi), Suzuka Circuit, Fuji Speedway, Tsukuba Circuit, and more. As you can see, a Japanese setting could provide a great mix of sanctioned circuit racing and illegal street events for a big-budget racing game.

    There Are So Many Indie Racing Games Set in Japan

    Apex Point official screenshot

    You don’t have to take too long browsing Steam to find a lot of smaller games that take inspiration from Japanese car culture. There’s a clear demand for it, and currently, only smaller studios are trying to tap into that market. The quality of these titles can obviously vary quite a bit, but it helps to show that people want a racing game set in Japan. 

    Take a look at Apex Point. It’s an early-access title with a lot of ambition, but it still has a long way to go. It promises to be an open-world racer set in Japan focusing on Japanese car culture. What is out is a neat proof of concept so far, but it’s still too early to tell if it will deliver on its vision. I hope it is able to, but that is beside the point.

    What’s important here is that there’s a good amount of smaller games out there to take some inspiration from and expand on. People want to play a racing game set in Japan, but the current options out there are a bit questionable. A high-quality title could easily stand out amongst the crowd of early-access titles and cheap games you can find on Steam. 

    The History of Japan and Racing Games

    R34 GT-R Nissan Skyline

    Japan and racing games go quite a ways back. The most obvious example I can think of is Gran Turismo. The original game was incredibly innovative for its time, possibly being one of the most important racing games ever made. Sure, there were some racing games on the market targetting realism, but the vast majority did not have a car list and career mode to match Gran Turismo‘s. It was many people’s introduction to the genre and featured an abundance of Japanese cars. 

    There have also been some lower-budget efforts in the past to capture Japanese street racing culture. The Tokyo Xtreme Racer series is a great example of this. These games take inspiration from the illegal street racing seen on the Shuto Expressway in the 80s and 90s. In addition, there are also the two Drift spin-off games that focus on touge battles. It would be neat to see a new game that combines the two types of racing somehow. 

    There are some other interesting titles out there as well, such as Auto Modellista, which was Capcom’s stylish attempt at entering the racing genre in the 2000s. It’s somewhat unlikely that we’ll see a game like it again, and that’s a shame. The racing genre could really use more games that have a solid sense of identity and style. I feel as though a big new Japanese racing game could bring some of that sense of identity back. 

    Make a Big-Budget Racing Game Set in Japan

    Two parked cars in Japanese Drift Master

    One of the most commonly requested locations I see for the next Forza Horizon game is Japan. It’s no wonder why. Japan offers a great variety of racing opportunities and a rich car culture. An open-world racer set in Japan would make for a great automotive playground, but I don’t know if Forza Horizon is the series that is going to do it. Of course, I’m not necessarily asking for a game with the same budget as a massive AAA game, but I would like something substantial. 

    There is an opportunity for a big publisher to take a bit of a risk and try something different here. It might help breathe some new life into a genre that feels like it has been somewhat stagnating for a while. If a developer is able to make a game with convincing enough physics, yet is still approachable by general audiences, I think it has a chance to be a big hit with the appropriate marketing. 

    If you add an in-depth story mode, give players the freedom to customize their vehicles as they please, and utilize some slick presentation, you’ve got an amazing racing game on your hands. Perhaps the upcoming Japanese Drift Master can deliver something similar to this. However, I think there is potential to go bigger. I don’t know who would make a game like this, but I think it’s about time for one. 

    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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