[Editorial Tuesday] Why Import a Game If You Can’t Understand It?

Once You Get Past Region Locking

As we discussed in What is Region Locking, import gaming until the rise of the PS3 was rather difficult because of region locking with most consoles prior to the PS3s release. As we also shared in that respective article, region locking throughout the 1990s was pretty simple to get around through either internal mods and/or cartridge converters. Even when players were able to get pass region locking, there was still one obstacle, those games were still going to be in Japanese. So that leaves us to today’s Editorial Tuesday, why import a game if you can’t understand it?

Just to Play or Collect A Game That Will Never Come to Their Country

For some gamers, they just want to buy a game that will never be released in their respective nation. While Dragon Ball Z became popular in the US in the 2000s, in the old days of the Super Famicom or Super NES back in the 1990s, the series was in its prime in Japan (and in Europe and Latin America). So it only made sense to make DBZ games for the Super Famicom for the Japanese players at that time.

One example of a Super Famicom DBZ game that will never have a US release is Hyper Dimension (which also got a European release). Since Dragon Ball Z Hyper Dimension is a fighting game, it is rather straight to the point and really requires no Japanese knowledge to enjoy, and like most fighting games, players can just learn through trial and error. In addition to Dragon Ball Z, there are other games on the Super Famicom based on popular anime of that time period that fans would appreciate such as old school J-RPG versions of Sailor Moon, Ranma ½ and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders.

All in all, it’s about showing one’s fandom for a franchise and love has no language barrier.

While the Sega Saturn wasn’t that much of a hit in the US, it found tremendous success in Japan. As a result, there are numerous Japanese titles for that respective console that makes American gamers realize how under-appreciated it truly was. While the US was treated to the PS1 release of X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, it was painstakingly slow and lacked its true novelty, tag team play. However, with the assistance of the Saturn’s cartridge slot, CAPCOM developed a 4MB RAM cartridge to give players a true arcade experience with no load times and tag play!

Through this external feature, Japanese Saturn owners were treated to perfect arcade ports of Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter, Dungeons and Dragons, Street Fighter Zero 3, and King of Fighters ’97. Beyond these well-known games, it also had some other great fighters and beat ‘me ups exclusive only to Japan such as Asuka 120%, Oyako Tekketsu, and CyberBots.

News traveled fast to the import game enthusiast community of the late-1990s, and they managed to get these games. Plus, the Saturn in Japan had a special limited edition arcade controller that made you feel like you were playing in the arcades! These exclusives for the time that were never going to get an international release is one simple and perfect reason why gamers import from Japan. In addition to its list of quality fighting games, there are some RPGs that were also big hits such as Sakura Taisen, and a Japanese exclusive re-release of the first four Phantasy Star games. So if you thought the Saturn wasn’t that great of a system, you’ll think twice after you play many of their great Japanese titles.

In addition to the Sega Saturn not being that much of a hit in the US, the TurboGrafx-16 is probably non-existent to a majority of gamers younger than 25 (and don’t confuse it with Kanye’s album!). However, it was a hit in Japan during the mid-1990s under its Japanese name, the PC Engine, to the point that it went toe-to-toe with the Super Famicom. A huge majority of its titles were Japan exclusive and only a small handful made it to the US such as established franchise like Splatterhouse, Bomberman, Prince of Persia and a game based on Jackie Chan.

While in Japan, it had game adaptations of the anime of its time such as Ranma ½, Maison Ikkoku, Bubblegum Crash, Top wo Nerae, Record of Lodoss War, Nadia, and many others. So if you ever find yourself in Akihabara’s retro gaming stores, the PC Engine and its software are plentiful there at reasonable prices.

The Novelty of Having a Certain Game or To Stick It To The Man

While the practice of region exclusive titles no longer being as widespread as it was twenty years ago, as discussed in What’s Region Locking, sometimes censorship and other societal factors come into play. While the first two Dead or Alive Xtreme games had American releases, the third game upon release of this Editorial Tuesday doesn’t have one. Due to recent American debates about female portrayals in video games, Tecmo has been resistant in releasing the game to American shores. Thankfully, PS4s are region free and interested fans can easily import the game. But in even better news, its release in neighboring Asian countries got English releases so it’s a win for fans.

Of course, let us not forget another fiasco with RapeLay, a game for PC from Japan that lets the player assume the role as a rapist. Though it wasn’t being sold outside of Japan under the sanctions of Illusion Soft, its Japanese publisher, that didn’t stop some websites from selling it to non-Japanese consumers and it eventually caught the attention of the British government and the entire media. The controversy was so huge that many other governments and corporate distributors such as Amazon banned it. However, some gamers just want this game because they want a piece of controversy and for bragging rights, and are (hopefully) not real rapists. As for the psychological effects of such games, that’s another topic for another Editorial Tuesday. In the end, people just want a game they can’t officially get their hands on just for the sake of it, or they are just serious collectors.

While the distribution of the game has been banned in some nations like Australia, the legal consequences of possessing the game may differ between countries. Of course with some existing laws in place such as trying to bring in such banned pornographic materials through the airport, in that instance, it is subjected to confiscation and may lead to your arrest or any other legal consequences depending on the country. It could range anywhere from a fine, jail time, community service, getting whacked with a cane, deportation, or maybe even the death penalty! So if in the instance you’re visiting a cousin in a different country and if they want to see some sort of ero game, please research your destination’s laws in relation to bringing in pornography!

But with Internet piracy and file sharing, this just makes things easier. Beyond RapeLay, many games disclaim that they are intended to be for sale in Japan only, but people still get their hands on any Japanese game anyway. As shared in What’s Region Locking, this is to help international branches of gaming companies get their fair share of the profits. But when a game is permanently exclusive to Japan, it’s rather counter-intuitive to claim keeping a certain game exclusive to Japan does not help the American branch of a company if an American gamer imports it. But if there are any other business experts reading that say otherwise, feel free to share your thoughts.

Gamers Want to Get a Game ASAP

While many games do get an international release, some games are released in Japan first and don’t hit US and/or European shores for awhile, or a very long time to the point that fans speculate whether or not certain games are going to leave Japan so they might as well import it. One easy example is SEGA’s Ryu Ga Gotoku series, or known as Yakuza around the world. While Yakuza 5 was released in Japan on December 5, 2012, it didn’t get an international release until December 8, 2015! That’s three years after its Japanese release! With Yakuza 0, it was released in Japan on March 12, 2015, for the PS3 and PS4, while it didn’t get an international release until January 24, 2017, as a PS4 exclusive

The reason for why it takes long for SEGA to internationally release Yakuza is because the development teams who do the actual games and localization are the same. But with the majority of other companies and/or projects, there is usually a different department who does the localization. Plus, Ryu ga Gotoku Studios are also making new games for the Japanese market as they localize games for non-Japanese audiences, so doing two things at once is of course difficult. Plus, considering how the series is a hit with Japanese audiences and it only has a small and yet dedicated following outside of Japan, it is only natural that SEGA prioritizes the Japanese audience.

Even if you have to wait to the point that you doubt the possibility of a local release, as stated before, you can simply import the games since PS3s and PS4s are region free. But considering how dialog and text heavy the Yakuza series is, the language barrier is still going to be a huge obstacle on every front possible. Even so, considering that newer installments also explore other regions of Japan such as Osaka, Fukuoka, and Hiroshima, even for students of the language, the dialog within those settings rely a lot on the local dialects to the point that it could be difficult for even native speakers!

Do you think a native Tokyo person could understand the dialects of Fukuoka, maybe or maybe not? Osaka dialect is rather common in Japanese comedy and the real yakuza tend to use Osaka dialect because many organizations are based out of that region. So for those of you who wish to play Japanese games for scholastic purposes, that takes us to our next topic of discussion, studying Japanese.

To Study Japanese

Some people like to study Japanese through anime and many people think its cool, and there are others that think it’s ridiculous. In comparison to anime which is a more passive medium, gaming is a more active form of entertainment and considering the decision-making process some games require, maybe games are a much better tool for developing your language abilities as opposed to anime. While anime is mostly listening with Ok subtitling, games allow you to listen and read in a more proper way. However, it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the basics of the Japanese language first such as how to read hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

In most RPGs or any other action-adventure title, there are going to be many yes and no questions, and/or do or do not questions. For yes and no, you will always see はい (hai) for "yes", andいいえ (iie) for "no". As well as する (suru) for "do", and しない (shinai) for "do not". For menu options, in some instances, they can be in English, in some instances they are exclusively in Japanese. For fighting games, some generic menu options are 1人対戦 for one player, and 2人対戦 for two players. If you have read our previous a previous Editorial Tuesday called "Should You Study Japanese Through Anime", we recommend some of the study materials we listed there to help you get ready.

As for what games are best for practicing your Japanese, it is rather difficult to make a decision. Yakuza, or Ryu Ga Gotoku, is mostly for advanced learners. But for its spiritual predecessor, Shenmue for the Dreamcast, is probably a great alternative, or the best tool for learners of all levels to use. In addition to its great use of the language, the environment is a very great representation of the real Japan itself. In the game, you are going to ask for directions to a certain place, or ask about how to find people. It also teaches gamers that many houses have hypostasis, or name plates to indicate the family who resides there. The game can teach you how to ask and give directions. Even if you can’t pick up on all of it, you can eventually learn that hidari means left, migi means right, and massugu means straight.

For the Japanese releases of Pokemon, they only use hiragana and katakana so you can use your reading skills for those games. While RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are nice, a lot of the dialect isn’t something you’d see in realistic conversations but would be very beneficial to your literary development. Maybe dating sims such as Love Plus are probably a good way to work on basic conversation skills. It has speaking and text, so if you don’t feel like you understand something, you can memo it and look it up in a dictionary.

While there have been some passion translation projects such as Mother 3 and RapeLay, there are numerous others that will never have that same treatment. On the other hand, if you don’t want to study Japanese, there is always GameFAQs at your disposal for simple translation guides that can get you through.

Economic Reasons

While this may not apply to American gamers, this certainly applies most to European gamers. While most US games average around $60, in Europe they can cost to the equivalent of $100 (depending on exchange rates and values of currency)! Thanks to importing through modern day methods such as the Internet, non-Japanese and non-US gamers can manage to import games at cheaper prices even after shipping. As to why prices are set this way, a lot of economic differences factor into it such as cost of living, distribution, taxes, etc. But it’s only logical that gamers want to find the cheapest way possible to purchase a game.


Final Thoughts

In the end, passionate fandom knows no language. If some people are dedicated to a certain franchise or game to the point that they want to play it, they are going to play it no matter what. These days, it’s as easy as pointing and clicking if you got the cash to pay it. Or for some gamers, they want the novelty of purchasing a game in Japan itself. Some games from back then or modern day may never get an official release outside the Land of the Rising Sun, but it doesn’t mean that a copy from Japan will never find a home outside of it.

Justin

Writer

Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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