System-by-system guide to getting into imports

The games importing hobby can be a difficult one to get into, purely due to logistics. As always, we want to help! So here’s the rundown on systems’ barriers and specialties, to help you know where to start.

Nintendo systems

Famicom (NES)
Region lock: Cartridges use a different pin output. Adapters are available, as are clone systems with Famicom-specific slots.
Import appeal: While the library is vast and diverse, the Famicom’s really the most ideal fit for fans of the platformer. There’s all sorts of weirdness we didn’t get in the West, even though we did get so very much.
Check out our system recommendations here.

Super Famicom (SNES)
Region lock: Cartridges are different shapes. You can play Japanese cartridges easily, though, by breaking off some plastic.
Import appeal: I love the Super Famicom, but its specialty is the least import-friendly genre: RPGs. They’re great ones, though, as the wave of fan translation efforts indicates. Still, there’s a bit of everything else on the system, too, and it’s a great place to start.
Check out our system recommendations here.

Nintendo 64
Region lock: Cartridges are different shapes, and modifying the system’s not as easy. Still, you could take apart the cartridge shell.
Import appeal: Not much, really. There are a few interesting titles, like a sequel to Flying Dragon and some two-dimensional shooters that publishers didn’t think would be marketable in the West, but it’s still not your first choice for fighters or shooters. (Those are both better found on the Saturn and Dreamcast.)

GameCube

GameCube
Region lock: Yes. Import boot discs are available.
Import appeal: It’s not a robust library. There are a few gems, though, like Giftpia, Homeland and Nintendo Puzzle Collection. Generally speaking, what it offers is unprecedented weirdness, if you’re into that. And if you’re reading this site, that’s not unlikely.
Check out our system recommendations here.

Wii
Region lock: Yes. Can be bypassed with software mods.
Import appeal: We got most of the Wii’s best games, but people who like action-RPGs or rhythm games will find some nice options. The enticing bonus here is access to the full GameCube library as well as a wealth of Virtual Console releases.

Wii U
Region lock: Yes.
Import appeal: Taiko? Taiko is pretty great, and the system has three exclusive releases. Otherwise, you’re really looking at the Wii U as a way to access the Japanese Virtual Console, and maybe also jump into some of those Wii games we missed.
Check out our system recommendations here.

Switch
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: Not much yet. We’ll keep you posted.

Game Boy Light

Game Boy/Game Boy Color
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: The great part of the Game Boy is its simplicity; almost the entire library can be figured out regardless of the language barrier. There are some late-life gems we missed because the GBA was already out, like Game Boy Wars 3, Mobile Golf and Pokemon TCG GB 2.

Game Boy Advance
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: Platformers are back in full force on the system, as well as revived 16-bit franchises. It’s a great place to start for import newbies. If you’re venturing into the land of translation patches, that also opens up RPGs like Mother 3, Oriental Blue and Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade.

Nintendo DS
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: It’s also a great place for RPGs, and quirky things. The library’s huge, and games play on modern systems. Check out games like Touch Panic, Densetsu no Starfy 4 and Learn with Pokemon: Typing Adventure!

Nintendo 3DS
Region lock: Yes.
Import appeal: Lots, if you’re willing to pick up a Japanese system. It has built an especially robust catalog of rhythm games and, for some reason, beat-’em-ups.
Check out our system recommendations here.

PlayStation

Sony systems

PlayStation
Region lock: Yes. Import boot discs are available.
Import appeal: With high popularity and low development costs, the PS1 has some truly bizarre games. That said, it’s strong in a lot of genres.

PlayStation 2
Region lock: Yes. Import boot discs/tools are available.
Import appeal: Once again, lots of stuff here, like rhythm games, fighters and (if you can handle them) RPGs. (And demo discs, if you’re into that!) It may not be the easiest platform to get started with, though.

PlayStation 3
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: If you just want to dip your toes into the import world, the PS3’s a great place for that. Get started with a little Aquanaut’s Holiday: Hidden Memories (in English!), E.X. Troopers or something with a Gundam in it.

PlayStation 4

PlayStation 4
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: There are a few choice titles like Gundam Breaker 3, but we’re only recently getting the full weight of Japanese development. More should be on the way! The enticing area for importers is the growing collection of “Asia English” games, which have been translated (if not exactly localized) and are easier to play without that pesky language barrier.
Check out our system recommendations here.

PlayStation Portable
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: RPGs. All of the RPGs. Also, if you like Monster Hunter and want to play about 300 games that are trying to be like Monster Hunter, boy, are you in the right place! In all seriousness, the platform offers some good (if supplanted by successors) rhythm games worth checking out.

PlayStation Vita
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: Rhythm games are once again a big deal, but they’re joined by a nice collection of action-RPGs. And, well, visual novels. Yeah, don’t start by importing those; they’re very language-dependent.
Check out our system recommendations here.

Mega Drive

Other notable systems

Mega Drive (Genesis)
Region lock: Yes, though earlier games didn’t have one.
Import appeal: It’s a great system for fans of shoot-’em-ups! Also a few action-platformers. The platform had a lot of success in the West and relatively little in Japan, so there’s less of a wealth of Japan-only fare.

Sega Saturn
Region lock: Yes, bypassed most easily with an Action Replay.
Import appeal: Almost the system’s entire library remained exclusive to Japan, but what the system was best at was advancing 2D in a 3D era. If you like detailed sprite work, the Saturn is the system for you. Also if you like Bomberman and have a bunch of controllers and Multitaps.

Sega Dreamcast
Region lock: Yes, bypassed by an import boot disc.
Import appeal: Fighters and shoot-’em-ups are myriad here, as the Dreamcast was the last of the generation of consoles focused on replicating the arcade appeal. If you miss the last days of the quarter-consuming cabinet’s dominance, that’s what the DC’s for.

Neo Geo Pocket Color

Neo Geo Pocket Color
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: While its older brother is great, it’s also crazy-expensive for new importers. The Pocket is much, much cheaper, and also has fighters and arcade-style games that are refreshing in their simplicity. (Also play Card Fighters 2.)

Microsoft Xbox/Xbox 360
Region lock: Yes, though some games aren’t locked.
Import appeal: I put both of these in one item, because they need to be included, but neither has much for importers. Well, Western importers. Japanese importers probably love these things!

Microsoft Xbox One
Region lock: No!
Import appeal: Basically none? There are a few aberrations like a port of Puyo Puyo Tetris, but there’s essentially no Japanese community for the platform.

PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16)
Region lock: Yes
Import appeal: Were you looking for all the scrolling shooters?

Hopefully that gives you a good idea of where you should start, though once you get in, there’s a whole world to explore! I apologize to your bank account in advance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *