In my 30 plus years of playing video games, I have seen some great games come in to my life. I have seen games from the Atari and Commodore 64 system all the way through today’s modern consoles. There are also plenty of stinkers in the mix to balance things out, but I digress. It wasn’t until years later that I became fully aware of games that only saw release in Japan. I mean I always knew that video games and their respective consoles were primarily made in Japan. What I didn’t understand though was that there were games that only saw release in the land of the rising sun. As an adult gamer it is maddening to now see these games all these years later and wonder why the hell they were never brought in to the living rooms of American gamers.
The popular conception is that some of these games didn’t translate well in to English, and/or that the story or events in the story gaming would not resonate with Americans due to the differences in cultures. It is also known that some games were simply rejected by the American side of the business because the content was a little too adult in nature. I guess the people in charge of deciding which games should be brought to North America didn’t like the idea of kids playing games with bikini clad anime characters. Too bad. Games like Parodius would have done really well here in America, I think. Boy am I ever glad the conservatives (read: assholes) got their way. It’s even more maddening when you consider that these games sometimes did see a release in Europe and/or Australia.
To be fair, this is probably a two-way street. There were probably also plenty of games made by American developers that never made their way to Japan due to the cultural differences.
The ones that I cannot figure out, are the ones where there is not a clear reason why the game was never brought to North America. Great examples of this can be seen in both the Tales of and Gradius series.
By all accounts the games from both of these franchises saw a decent amount of success in North America. So when they made a sequels to them, why were it initially only available in Japan? This is still something that bothers me to this very day. Mostly due to the fact that I love the Gradius series. Oh sure I can find it on the Gradius Collection for the PSP, but I would rather have it available to me on my big screen TV. When you factor in that the spin-off game Lifeforce was available to ushere in North America it just makes me wonder that much more. I can honestly see no rhyme or reason as to why this game was not ported to the North American consoles of the day.
Luckily for us, our top scientists have since found a few ways to skirt the system and stick it to the man. With today’s technology we can now enjoy all of those wonderful Japan-only titles from the comfort of our favorite couch or gaming chair.
Between third party devices like the Retron5 console, various adapters, and other forms of mystical sorcery, we have been able to circumvent the region “lock-out” that was put in place to keep the communists out. We have even discovered that you can take a pair of simple needle-nosed pliers and snap out the two plastic tabs inside the North American Super Nintendo console and play Japanese Super Famicom cartridges.
Seriously, when you realize that you can often times buy the Japanese versions of popular SNES games on Amazon for a fraction of the cost of the North American version, you may just find yourself digging around in the toolbox looking for a pair of needle-nose pliers to perform your own open cart slot surgery. For example, the North American Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo is currently going for around $20-$25 USD on Amazon. The Japanese Super Famicom version of that same game is currently selling on Amazon for only $4 USD. While not every game will have this big of a price difference, there are enough out there that it does make searching for the Japanese version of your favorite games worth it.
If destroying things are kinda your thing, then you may also want to check out the phenomenon known as the NES 5 screw cartridge racket. Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System was first introduced to us fat Western slobs in the early 1980’s there were a handful of games that were made using the original 60 pin circuit boards that were used in the Japanese consoles. To assist in saving
In order to accommodate this additional piece of hardware the two external halves of the game case were held together using 5 tiny screws. The later cartridges only required three pins, and used two plastic tabs along the top to secure it. So if you can find one of these old original cartridge games from the NES library and you are feeling a little bit frisky, you can pop it open and harvest the converter and use it to play imported Japanese Famicom titles on your North American NES console. There are dozens of articles and videos available online to help you learn more about this practice. You could also just purchase and import a used Famicom console online or go with a third party console like the Retron5 witch is designed to play these import cartridges.
But enough about that. We are talking about the games that never did make it to the shores of the North American continent. There are plenty of them out there, and thanks to the more nefarious and highly-controversial ability to emulate older gaming consoles, we can now play a lot of these games for free on our home computers. Heck we have even found ways to slightly modify or manipulate some of the newer gaming consoles and handheld gaming devices to allow us to emulate these older consoles using the hardware from these newer systems. This means that you can use the wonders of the world wide web of wonderfulness to seek out and obtain digital copies of the ROM or disc image files to play these games at no cost.
Yes, through the wonderment of modern computing we can once and for all play these foreign games for free to try them out for ourselves. This enables us, the consumer, to evaluate and decide what’s in our best interest, and show those old fuddy-duddies who so idiotically took a pass on bringing these games to North America all those years ago, that they were wrong. We are in control now. We can play these games for free. We can then order physical copies of these games online, and have them shipped right to our front door, and play them through one of the methods listed above.
It feels nice to finally break free from the heavy hands of the companies and parties that so stupidly tried to keep North American audiences away from some of these otherwise fine games. In today’s modern global economy it is easier and easier for even the most casual of gamer to connect with all the different corners of the globe. Wait a second…globes are round and have no corners….that’s the stupidest phrase ever fucking thought of. But I digress…The point I am trying to get at is that in today’s modern world of global gaming, it makes less sense to regionalize games. I feel like we are seeing more and more international releases than we did in the days of the classic consoles. Sure there are still some games that only see Japan releases these days, but there is a bigger market for these kinds of games globally than there was back then, and with all the online video services out there, it’s a lot more difficult to ‘hide’ these kinds of games from the international audiences. I would like to someday see a world where games are released on the international level on the initial go. If that means delaying the release a little to make sure that what is being brought forth unto the world is going to work on an international level, then so be it.