When you hear about Japanese developers, “third-person shooters” isn’t one genre you would usually associate them with. The genre is Western developers’ staple. However, that does not mean they can’t make competent or completely unique shooter experiences. From the early 2000s in the heyday of sixth-generation consoles to the late seventh-gen life cycle, the developers from the land of the rising sun have tried to put an interesting take on the genre with a variety of fan recognition. Here are nine games that any shooter fans should try at least once in their lifetime.
And to note, this list is not sorted from best to worst and I’m not talking about the “best” titles of the genre either.
1. Binary Domain
Talking about Japanese-made shooters, I think it’s fair to open up this list with Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio‘s second attempt at making a third-person shooter game, Binary Domain. In the futuristic world of the year 2080, Amada Corporation secretly produced human-like androids that violate the New Geneva Convention. Sergeant Dan Marshall and his squad of multinational mercenaries were then hired to put an end to it.
This isn’t just a case of an Eastern developer copying a Western trend competently. It elevated the gameplay that started to get stale by using a unique enemy type: robots. Instead of acting like shiny bullet sponges, Binary Domain managed to make gunning down robotic foes feel as violent and good (if not more) as fighting typical flesh-based humanoid opponents. Headshots can lead to chaos as your enemies lose visual sensors and end up attacking each other, armor breaks into pieces of metallic shrapnel, blown off legs forced enemies to relentlessly drag themselves to your position.
And that’s not the only “twist” that makes this particular stand out even among its Western peers. The game is also packed with multiple endings based on your relationship levels with your teammates. This and Yakuza: Like a Dragon are definitely solid proof that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio can successfully branch out of the Yakuza‘s open-world beat-em-up formula.
In this game, you play as Sam Gideon, a DARPA soldier-slash-scientist who was sent to the frontlines of space America-Russian war armed with an experimental “Augmented Reaction Suit” that lets him go super fast to the point of slowing down time. Imagine Max Payne wearing booster jets on his legs. Yeah, that’s basically what Vanquish is.
Lots of third-person shooters (even Binary Domain) expect you to hide behind chest-high walls and play whack-a-mole against enemies that fortifies themselves in similar positions. But not Vanquish. Made by PlatinumGames and headed by Shinji Mikami, it plays exactly like what you expect from a PlatinumGames title. Fast-paced action, varied weapon selection, and combo system, all bundled up in a plot full of non-sense.
To experience this game “properly” you have to utilize Sam’s jet booster as aggressively as possible; zipping around the battlefield, meleeing bigger robots and follow it up with a barrage of rockets, shooting grenades and enemies’ explosives out of the air in the middle of a slowdown, and even bait the robots’ thermal sensors with your cigarette butts. The chest-high covers are there only to let you take a deep breath and analyze the area for a second before going Sonic fast again. The only biggest flaw Vanquish has is one: not letting you play around with the booster limiter unlocked after finishing the game.
3. Earth Defense Force 5
If beat-em-up has the Musou sub-genre (Dynasty Warriors, Sengoku Basara, and its ilk), then third-person shooters have Earth Defense Force. In this game, you play as a member of the titular peace-keeping force where you try to protect Earth from swarms of invading alien species. Even though it looks quite unimpressive – even cheap – at first glance, it’s really hard to find non-top-down shooters that basically throw you into a huge play area filled with hundreds of on-screen enemies.
Although fighting bugs and alien robots sounds like things could get repetitive quickly, there are always welcome surprises in each title in the series. Shipped with 100+ levels (even more if you buy the DLCs), each game also features different kinds of enemies and weapons of mass destruction. From giant dragons, frog-like aliens that the soldier NPCs keep saying look just like humans, a Godzilla rip-off, to giant robots that let us punch that Godzilla thing straight in its jaw and devastating artillery strike appropriately named Rule of God.
The series indeed started its debut as one of many budget releases from the Japanese Simple 2000 series on PS2. But between the unimpressive graphics and sometimes performance as well (once my Xbox 360 crashed from playing EDF 2025 split-screen co-op), it all ends up being part of the experience. This is especially considering the only thing that EDF as a whole has to offer are just enormous space ants and explosions. And honestly, I don’t think the developer Sandlot intends to stray from that formula ever since it made its debut back then.
4. Metal Gear Solid V
Hideo Kojima’s works are mostly praised for their story, but I think their biggest strength is the ability to deliver those interesting ideas with unique gameplay mechanics that fit the theme. When he wanted to tell a story about how people are getting more disconnected from each other (and incidentally, the phenomenon was propelled further with the COVID pandemic), he made Death Stranding. When he wanted to make a space opera filled with Egyptian motifs, Zone of The Enders was the result. And when he wanted to portray character-driven war stories while paying homage to Escape to New York and countless other action movies, the Metal Gear series was born.
And in terms of gameplay, Metal Gear Solid V is undeniably the culmination of Kojima and his team’s experience from developing all previous games. The base-building elements have been expanded from Peace Walker. Like MGS 3 and 4, you’re given tons of tools to play around from guns to fluid CQC and evasive actions with. This time in wide, open stealth sandboxes which give you almost limitless possibilities to tackle each mission.
The AI adapts to your habits as well. Going guns blazing? They’ll be more aggressive and numerous in numbers. Relying on headshots or smokes? They’ll wear helmets and masks. It’s a shame that Kojima took too long developing it and the game’s storytelling together with more ambitious open-world elements suffer from it.
While most developers keep regurgitating realistic-looking military-themed games for the PVP experience, along came Splatoon. Nintendo’s little new IP that could. In this team-based game, two teams compete in filling up the arena with their own colors. As Inklings, you can shoot inks to “splat” opposing players as well. Meanwhile, the walls and floors that have been inked can be traversed in squid form to hide, replenishing your ink supply, or even act as ambush routes at unsuspecting enemies.
It’s not just that Splatoon managed to bring back colorful pallet into the dull, grim, brown-and-grey world of multiplayer third-person shooters. But also it delivers that brightness in experimental gameplay that’s fun to both watch and learn. Sure, some people argued that it copied a long-forgotten, unreleased XBLA game’s ideas. But does it actually used the paint mechanics as a smart horizontal-and-vertical mobility option that also fits with the game’s lore? I don’t think so.
6. Resident Evil 4
Kill.Switch might be the first third-person game that utilized the slightly off-center over-the-shoulder viewpoint and Gears of War might be the one that popularized it. But Resident Evil 4 is definitely the first one that pretty much kick-started the sub-genre. Interestingly, while it ditches the series’ staple fixed camera, RE4 still works well as a proper horror game with a sense of claustrophobia.
The game may provide more open environments than its predecessors. Yet the 50-degree FOV still limits your view, Leon still moves like a tank, aiming forces you to stop your tracks, and the elaborate reload animations don’t help either.
It’s no wonder that future action-horror titles from Dead Space, The Evil Within, to the new RE Remakes, haven’t really able to emulate that feeling of dread. Especially when they give you more than enough flexibility to deal with whatever in-game horrors that stumble in your way. Though there have been rumors swirling about regarding RE4 Remake. Can Capcom and its supposed developer partner M-Two capture the magic once again?
7. Resident Evil 6
If RE4 is the golden boy of the franchise, then RE6 is the washout nobody wants to remember. However, I don’t think I’ve ever feel another thrill like countering a zombie dog’s lunge, sliding through waves of zombies while dropping a pack of C4, detonating it then doing a tactical roll to avoid an incoming attack, and pops a zombie’s head with my back still against the floor in other games. All done in split seconds.
Unfortunately, the cramped map designs and sparse enemy positions in the story mode don’t really accommodate that break-neck playstyle. You have to play the bonus PVE Mercenaries No Mercy or the PVP Survivors against other players to be able to properly utilize those hidden mechanics.
Although the whole package did end up becoming a huge mess – still counted as a loss despite selling 5.2 million copies worldwide in 2013 and becoming one of Capcom’s best-selling games – its attempt at combo-based melee-shooter hybrid combat shouldn’t be forgotten. Perhaps Capcom could rework it for other franchises, like a Dino Crisis revival? I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.
8. Lost Planet 2
While we’re talking about Capcom’s forgotten third-person shooter, we might as well reminisce about Lost Planet. Imagine Starship Troopers meets Monster Hunter. Despite its rather janky controls, this series was one of the early modern third-person shooters that play around with grappling hook as one of its core mechanics. Your health is also tied into the Thermal Energy mechanics, giving the arcade-y game an additional ticking clock element without the use of a traditional timer.
The first entry was known for its iconic snow environments but it was pretty barebones. Thankfully the second game put in a much-needed variety of locales like a forest, desert, and space station maps, along with other features such as an assortment of multiplayer modes including co-op, more Vital Suit mechs, and bigger Akrid monsters. If you and your friends can tolerate the slow start, the rather outdated controls and menu, and Games For Windows Live (on PC) you’ll definitely find more than enough content to satisfy your need to hunt giant monsters in armed to the teeth giant robots.
Capcom actually ported Dead Rising and Street Fighter IV from GFWL to Steamworks recently. It easily gives those titles a much-needed second wind since setting up multiplayer games is no longer a hassle and in some cases even removed region-locking. However, for some reason, the whole Lost Planet series was left in the dust. But anyway, talking about third-person shooters and mechs…
9. Armored Core 3
Thanks to its satisfying high-speed combat and oftentimes featuring robust customization options the whole Armored Core series has pretty much become the benchmark of mech-based third-person shooters. But if you need one title to represent the franchise then most fans agree that AC3 is the answer. It’s packed with 49 missions, 200+ mech parts, and still retains the basics of the original PS1 titles, only with updated features that haven’t been burdened by micro-management of the later games.
Despite the fact that the controls and/or difficulty spikes can be frustrating at times, it can be rewarding when you finally adapt. There’s nothing more satisfying than finally beating Cypress after hours of bashing your heads against the wall… at least until you have to fight Controller Agents.
Lots of developers, from big names in Japan like Bandai Namco with Daemon X Machina and its countless Gundam titles to lesser-known ones like Born Ready’s Strike Suit Zero, all have their own take on mech games. And the AC series, considered being the gold standard among fans, is the best gateway to get into the forgotten sub-genre.
And those are nine Japanese-made titles that easily stand out in the sea of generic third-person shooters. Do you think there are other franchises or entries that should’ve made it into the spot?