One of my favorite things about the internet is that it's given me the ability to buy just about anything I want. Not only can I get some really ancient consoles, but if there’s a game I'm interested in that hasn’t hit stateside yet, it doesn’t take much to buy it, as long as you’ve got the desire and the means. Simply put, importing games has evolved from a relatively painful process to something rather simplistic with today's technology.

That being said, while I’ve gleefully imported a few items in my time, there are standards. While I may be tempted to import Record of Agarest War because it’s never going to hit the U.S., I know that’d be a huge mistake. And why? Because I’d be breaking the rules on importing games. [1]

But what are the rules? I'm glad you asked!


  • Games that will never be released here. Ever.
  • Games where language will not be a barrier to gameplay
  • Games where the plot is either non-existent or utterly irrelevant

A great personal example of this is Starfy 4: The Legend of Starfy. I’m a big fan of platformers on handhelds and Starfy sounded like a lot of fun. There was zero chance of it being released here, gameplay was fairly easy to figure out, and I couldn’t care less about the plot. In short it was a great import

I'm not saying there aren't exceptions. One such example is my Wonderswan collection of Final Fantasy games. These are games where language is a serious barrier, but since I already know them inside and out, it didn't really matter. The important thing here is being true to the spirit, not the letter, of the laws.


  • A stateside release is imminent
  • It’s not compatible with your console
  • That game is an RPG
  • You have any sense of hesitation or doubt

And now the flip side. Back in February of 2003, I was dying of excitement for the release of Final Fantasy XI, which was taking foreeeeevar. I had read up on people who had imported the game, and if it was working for them… why couldn’t it work for me? After some not-so-careful thought, I made the plunge and imported the PC version.

In so doing I broke most of the above rules and ultimately wasted 70 bucks. First off, while the release of the American version was taking forever, it certainly hadn’t been cancelled; in fact it arrived just later that year in October. Secondly, this was an MMO that involved a lot of party play... I wasn't going to be able to talk with anyone. Soloing was only going to get me so far, something I didn't really address. Finally, through a comedy of errors involving language barriers, fake japanese addresses, and credit cards with middle names, I was never able to register an account and play the game the first place! My decision to import was completely premature; without a doubt I was giving into my excitement for the product, ultimately to my detriment.

So consider my tale a word of warning. I should also mention that you need to be careful to look at the region of a game before importing it. Handheld devices excluded (mostly), most games still tend to have region lock-out codes. And no, unless you’re living in another country (or speak the language) don’t ever buy a region’s console just to play their games. Whatever it is, it’s not worth it – in the end, it’s almost always better to wait for a proper translation, or just find something else to play.

  1. I should clarify that this is a guide for importing something from Japan and I'm assuming you don't speak Japanese (watching a lot of anime doesn't count). There is rarely a reason to import something from Europe to the US, so I don’t feel the need to discuss that particular issue. As for the reverse… well, look. If tomorrow I had to live to England, I would be importing all my games from the U.S. It’s an entirely separate set of issues. While things have gotten a lot better compared to 10 years ago, there's definitely still problems. Another discussion for another time.

Posted by Kevin on 8:21 AM


Lindsey Hein KPACTP said...

I have a great story about my experience with a Japanese game. I'm going off of memory here, so my facts are probably off.

I once bought a Kenshin game for the playstation at a convention as an impulse buy. Boy was that an ordeal. First off I quickly realized that I couldn't get the game to play on my playstation. After doing some research I found something online that was supposed to make my playstation play Japanese games, so I ordered it. When it arrived I found out that it involved opening up the playstation and sodering it in a certain place or something crazy like that. Anyways it was way above my head and none of my friends could figure it out either. So back to the internet I go. This time I find something that you plug into the back of the playstation that is supposed to trick it into playing Japanese games or something like that. So I order that(apparently I reeeaally wanted to play this game). When that arrives I find out that it doesn't work with my playstation because I have a newer version or something? My friend(Cerine) offers to let me borrow her playstation to try it out. Finally we get the game to work. Yay, finally I can have some fun playing Kenshin.

Well, it turns out the game is a very dialog heavy rpg. So I had no clue what was going on. The only words I could pick out(mainly through trial and error) were "yes" "no" and a few character names. Since I had no idea what anyone was saying it took me hours wandering aimlessly around town just to get through the first section. Eventually thanks to the internet I was able to find a partial walkthrough of the game. That helped me get through parts of it, but eventually I became so frustrated that I stopped and never finished the game.

Needless to say I learned my lesson on impulse buying of Japanese games. Although I will admit that when I wasn't completely lost on what was going on the gameplay was actually quite fun.

Colure said...

LOL wow, Lei, that's quite the import story! One could say it's a testimonial in support of Kevin's post! ;) haha.

Moral of the story, importing = bad. Unless the RULES are followed ;)

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