In an age where pretty much every major console is region-free and most games are localized globally anyway, the allure of importing games is not what it used to be. However, there was a time when Japan would get games years before the rest of the world. At times, notable games would never make it across the shore. Heck, it took decades for the now-massive Fire Emblem franchise to get a chance at international stardom.
Though I remember the days of seeing import order sheets in the back of video game magazines, I didn’t really start importing games until the Nintendo DS era. The advent of online made it not only easier for me to learn about these great Japan-only games, but to buy them as well. Here are a few titles I bought from a faraway land!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Years before Phoenix Wright became a global phenomenon, it was a Japan-only franchise with roots on the Gameboy Advance. When I started falling down the rabbit hole of importing games, this was the first one I bought. Wildly unique from anything I’d played before while also having full English support, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney not only opened my mind to the concept of importing games, but to the genre of visual novels. By the time the series reached our shores, I was totally that guy that could say, “I liked it before it became cool.”
How amazing would it be to have a Smash Bros. game with all of your favourite manga and anime stars? It was done over a decade ago with Jump Superstars. Featuring a massive roster of characters spanning many different manga and anime properties, it allowed you to create dream matches that you never thought were possible. It’s a cool game, but the language barrier made it difficult to understand what special moves I was equipping on the touch screen. Unfortunately, this one was never released internationally.
One of Nintendo’s many odd forays into music, Electroplankton was a collection of aquatic themed synthesizers that one could use to make music. It looked really cool and sounded neat, but its limited scope really hampered one’s creativity. International releases of this came out not long after the initial Japanese release, which makes me wonder why I didn’t wait.
Bleach: The Blade of Fate and Bleach: Dark Souls
The Bleach series of fighting games were released in Japan years before making their appearances internationally. When I bought the first Bleach fighter, I had no idea that it would ever make it here. I fell in love with its wildly creative combat, as the battle could take place between two 2D planes, and the characters all fought with crazy weapons and unleashed killer combos. By the time the 2nd game was announced and I knew that the franchise would eventually get ported internationally, I still imported Bleach: Dark Souls in order to skip the unbearable wait for an English version.
Daigasso! Band Brothers
Daigasso! Band Brothers was technically Rock Band years before Rock Band. Each DS would take control of an instrument, and together you’d play a song by tapping and holding the buttons on your controller. It was neat for the time, but the music selections were not aligned to western tastes, limiting my enjoyment of this one somewhat.
Puyo Puyo Tetris
In modern times where most games are released internationally at the same time, Puyo Puyo Tetris is an anomaly. The gap between its Japan-only debut and its international release is a whole three years. I bought this one at an expo and really enjoyed it, even though I’m awful at the Puyo Puyo parts. Not long after I bought it, an international release was announced. Even so, I’m still glad to have this one!