In collaboration with Monsutā, Japanese Icons brings you the biggest stories from the birthplace of Monsutā’s lineup of drinks, Japan. Winning the coveted title of Japan’s Best International Lager in 2022, and recently launching a range of alcoholic lemon, mango and pineapple chūhais, Monsutā, along with its iconic Sumo, is a brand that symbolises and celebrates the best of Japan. From music to film, sports to gaming, this series celebrates the Japanese Icons that share the Monsutā legacy.
From the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Sega Genesis and beyond, Japan has produced some of the most iconic consoles to grace living rooms around the world and some of the biggest characters in video game history. Too big for consoles alone, many of these characters have expanded beyond their games, finding their way into everything from film and television to concerts and theme parks. Here are just a few of the biggest names in Japanese gaming to become decades-spanning media franchises.
Super Mario Bros.
With over 250 games, multiple television series, two films (including a questionable 90s live-action outing) and theme park attractions, there’s no bigger video game franchise than Mario. Making his first appearance in the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game as Jumpman (rescuing his girlfriend Pauline), the real breakthrough for the franchise came with the release of Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985.
This game revolutionised the gaming industry by popularizing side-scrolling platformers and set the bar high for future releases on platforms like Nintendo 64, Wii, and Switch. Settling three decades of speculation around the title Super Mario Bros., Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed in 2015 that Mario and Luigi’s last name is indeed also Mario.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Originally developed for the Sega Genesis in 1991 as Sega’s answer to Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog has been running, spinning and jumping onto peoples’ screens over a variety of platforms for nearly 35 years. Despite Sega’s attempted “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” marketing campaign in the early 90s, Sega struggled to gain a foothold in the video game industry and turned their attention to creating a flagship character. Combining a blue hedgehog with red and white shoes inspired by Michael Jackson’s Bad album cover and the “can-do attitude of Bill Clinton,” Sonic the Hedgehog was born and Sega was finally taken seriously in the console market.
Long before Ryan Reynolds’ confusing stint as Detective Pikachu, Pokémania made its start in Japan in 1996. Coinciding with the release of the Gameboy Pocket, the first Pokémon games, Poket Monsters Red and Poket Monsters Green were developed by Satoshi Tajiri based on his love of childhood bug collecting. Following the relative success of the games in Japan, Pokémon exploded internationally in 1998 with overseas releases of Pokémon Red and Blue as well as the animated series and card games, much to the confusion and ire of many late ’90s parents and teachers.
While the peak of Pokémania was largely over by 2002, it returned with the Pokémon Go phenomenon taking over in 2016. Now regarded as the biggest media franchise in the world, Pokémon celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021 and the games continue to introduce new Pokémon and worlds with recent releases like Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.
The Legend of Zelda
With a live-action adaptation finally confirmed to be in the works, video game fans everywhere are filled with equal parts joy and cautious optimism to see how one of the most iconic video games of the last 35 years will be brought to life on the big screen. Making its start on the Famicom Disc System with The Legend of Zelda in 1986, the franchise now includes 19 games, some of which are ranked among the greatest video games of all time.
Another iconic Shigeru Miyamoto creation, the original broke the mould for video games of the era, introducing non-linear gameplay and expansive storytelling and becoming the first console game to feature a save function. Recent outings Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom continue to test the boundaries of possibility, introducing open-world exploration and game mechanics seemingly limited only by the player’s creativity.
Taking inspiration from other popular Japanese titles like Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy was born from the last-ditch effort of struggling game developer Square to create a successful RPG title. An unexpected success, developers quickly set to work on creating a sequel but, with little room to expand the original story, were forced to turn Final Fantasy into an anthology series. Now spanning 16 major titles as well as various sequels and spinoffs, Final Fantasy has become one of the most influential RPG franchises of all time, introducing a variety of game mechanics that have since become industry staples and receiving multiple film and television adaptations including a 2017 soap opera.
With a distinct fusion of art, design, music and storytelling, Japanese video game producers have a knack for crafting stories and characters that transcend worlds, platforms and generations to become household names. Sharing the same passion for Japanese art and storytelling, Monsutā’s is a Japanese made beverage best enjoyed with friends and family and their newly-expanded lineup of drinks is available at BWS, Dan Murphy’s and Jimmy Brings.