Archive for the ‘Regionalization’ Category
Have you ever eagerly anticipated the release of a game only to find out it isn’t coming to the United States? Imagine if the reasoning wasn’t due to licensing issues or internal policies by the ESRB and console developers. Aside from Rapelay, a game I can barely give credit as a video game and was never intended to see a release anyway, I’ve never heard of a game that isn’t welcome in the US. It’s one of those great freedoms that we take completely for granted in this country – we don’t have our media banned or censored federally. This isn’t to say content isn’t stripped down, many of us remember Manhunt 2 getting an AO rating that rendered it unable to release on its intended platforms (PS2 and Wii). As a result, developer Rockstar released a “toned down” version that was approved with an M rating and saw retail release. The difference between this situation and the situation in other countries is that the industry self polices and decides what is allowed and what is not. Currently the major console manufacturers refuse to release AO titles, but that doesn’t restrict a developer from releasing on PC or an available platform. In some other countries, you’re given a stringent refusal to release your product after you’ve created it.
Easily the most referenced source of banned video games because of the Australian Classification Board (ACB), a governmental group, that reviews and rates media. Up until recently the R18+ rating, an equivalent to “R” or “M” in this country, was allowed to be classified for movies but video games were not a valid medium for the rating. As a result, if you couldn’t get an R15+ rating, you were essentially banned. Since the introduction of the R18+ rating in video games, publishers can now pay to have any banned title reclassified if they so desire. If a title is banned in Australia and is found by customs to be attempting to enter the country, the penalty to the recipient is up to $110,000 Australian. For this reason there have been a decent number of banned games, as you can see in the list below. All games with an asterisk (*) were appealed and later allowed to release with no changes whereas any game with a caret (^) was censored and later re-released.
- 50 Cent: Bulletproof^ – violence
- Aliens vs. Predator* – violence
- Blitz: The League – drug use and rewards for doing so
- BMX: XXX^ – sexual references
- Dark Sector^ – violence
- Fallout 3* – use of the name “morphine” for a drug, renamed worldwide to “med-x” and allowed release
- F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin* – realistic violence, later deemed violence was unrealistic and allowed release
- Grand Theft Auto III^/* – prostitution, censored for consoles, uncensored for PC and still received MA15+
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City^/* – prostitution, self-censored to remove prostitutes, re-released in 2010 uncensored and given MA15+
- Grand Theft Auto IV* – prostitution, self-censored on consoles, uncensored on PC and an update patch later uncensored the title on consoles but the MA15+ held
- House of the Dead: Overkill* – realistic violence, later appealed and allowed release due to unrealistic violence
- Left 4 Dead 2^ – violence, German cut released as MA15+
- Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude – sexual references
- Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure - glorification of graffiti, allowed to release and later banned by Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock
- Manhunt - violence and torture, allowed release and later banned by Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock
- Mortal Kombat (2011) – mutilations and gore, reviewed by Classification board and the ban was upheld
- NARC (2005) – perceived benefits to drug use
- NecroVision^ – violence
- Postal - gross content
- Postal 2 – gross abhorrent content, originally released unrated then pulled from shelves
- Phantasmagoria – rape/sexual violence
- Punisher* – graphic scenes of torture, censored worldwide by developer and allowed release in new version (European version)
- Reservoir Dogs - torture
- Risen – incentives to drug use and sexual behavior
- Sexy Poker* – nudity, company changed (WiiWare) content worldwide to be revealing underwear and it was allowed release
- Shellshock: Nam ’67* – violence, later argued that in war context it’s appropriate and it was allowed release as MA15+
- Shellshock 2: Blood Trails – intense violence
- Silent Hill: Homecoming^ – disturbing scene involving drilling a body
- Singles: Flirt Up Your Life – incentives to nudity and sexual behavior
- Soldier of Fortune: Payback^ – dismemberment
- Syndicate – violence including frequent mutilations
- Tender Loving Care* - sexuality and nudity, since it was technically a FMV it was re-rated under guidelines of a movie and given an MA15+
- Witcher 2 - sex as incentive, a minor contextual change was made to specific side mission and the game was allowed to release at MA15+
- Voyeur - graphic sexual language involving incest, released but later appealed and banned
As you can see there are some interesting rules in and reasons that games can be censored or banned in Australia. It still baffles me that Mortal Kombat couldn’t win re-classification under the “unrealistic violence” clause. In truth, it appears they are much more lax with their teen-appropriate ratings than we are in the United States. Unfortunately with the consequences of importing banned titles the most popular option for banned titles has been piracy.
Brazil hasn’t banned too many video games, but some have been blocked over the test of time. In 1999, a mass killing spree where a man injured eight people and killed three more caused the ban of six of these games. Any store selling these games after the decree was fined $11,000 a day.
- Cat in the Hat: The Game - copywrite issues
- Blood – high impact violence
- Bully - school-based violence and harassment
- Carmageddon – pedestrian attacks
- Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now – pedestrian attacks
- Counter-Strike – high impact violence
- Doom – high impact violence
- Duke Nukem 3D – high impact violence
- EverQuest – references
- Grand Theft Auto – high impact violence, only applies to first game and has since been reversed
- Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City - banned in Barueri, a city in Brazil, due to using music by a composer without permission, ban also applies to related DLC however the main game doesn’t use the music and is not banned
- Mortal Kombat – high impact violence
- Requiem: Avenging Angel – high impact violence
- Postal – high impact violence
This all makes sense except that I thought Brazil was known best for its releases of Doom and Duke Nukem 3D on the Mega Drive/Genesis, but I don’t know if these are legal copies. Also unsure if Mortal Kombat refers to the original or the newest one, but I’m pretty sure it’s the original.
- Command and Conquer Generals – “smearing image of China and Chinese army” including the bombing of targets in China (Three Gorges Dam and Honk Kong Convention and Exhibition Center)
- Football Manager 2005 – recognizes Tibet as an independent country, it was later changed worldwide and allowed release
- Hearts of Iron - portrays Tibet, Sinkiang and Manchuria as independent countries and puts Taiwan under Japanese control
- I.G.I.-2: Covert Strike - “intentionally blackening China and Chinese army’s image”
See, not all bans are related to violent or sexual content.
Although video games as a whole were hard to find until 2007 and the recent Castro assassination mission in Call of Duty: Black Ops caused some controversy, no game has been currently banned in Cuba.
This is an interesting one because they only ban one recent game: EA Sports MMA. The reason for the ban is the heavy use of energy drinks and energy drink promotion, which are outlawed in Denmark.
Theres a lot of controversy surrounding Germany, especially thanks to the Nazi party and gaming’s love with killing Nazis. Basically if you are caught with this material under 18 it is illegal, as is it illegal to sell (the buyer is held responsible) but they don’t seem to prosecute for only single item sales. Any game with Nazi propaganda or the Nazi party is held in the same regard as racist material.
- Mortyr – Nazi references
- Soldier of Fortune: Payback - graphic violence (including dismemberment)
- KZ Manager – Nazi references
- Condemned: Criminal Origins – high impact violence
- Condemned 2: Bloodshot – high impact violence
- Manhunt - high impact violence and cruelty
- Manhunt 2 – high impact violence and cruelty
- Dead Rising – high impact violence and cruelty
- Silent Hill: Homecoming – high impact violence and cruelty (uncut)
- Wolfenstein (2009) - Nazi references
- Scarface: The World is Yours – high impact violence and cruelty
- Left 4 Dead 2 – high impact violence and cruelty
- The Darkness – Nazi references in included comic book
- Bulletstorm – high impact violence and cruelty
- Dead Island – graphic violence
Sega decided simply not to distribute Aliens vs. Predator, MadWorld, and House of the Dead: Overkill in Germany, presumably because they knew it would be banned.
After 10 years in Germany the ban is lifted unless appealed and re-instated. The following games were banned but no longer are:
- Wolfenstein 3D – Nazi references
- Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines - Nazi references
- Mortal Kombat (1993) - high impact violence and cruelty, only on Mega Drive, Mega-CD, and GameGear (Nintendo self-censored this title on SNES and Gameboy)
- Mortal Kombat II - high impact violence and cruelty, the Gameboy version was allowed
- Mortal Kombat 3 – high impact violence and cruelty
Italy and Ireland
Only in terms of video game bans are Italy and Ireland the same – both banned Manhunt 2 for obscene acts of violence and torture and later lifted the ban.
Nothing has been banned in Japan, although for social reasons the “fat man” weapon in Fallout 3 was changed to the “nuka launcher” because of its references to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. References to North Korea and Kim Jong-il were removed from Homefront by Japanese publisher Spike.
Malaysia tends to ban anything that is overtly cruel, sexual or anti-muslim. Most notable are the Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt series and recently demonic and cruel depictions in Dante’s Inferno got it banned as well.
Games are classified by the Office of Film and Literature, a government agency, in New Zealand and thus all banned titles are illegal to sell, buy, own, possess or import.
- Manhunt – high impact scary violence and cruelty
- Manhunt 2 – high impact scary violence and cruelty
- Postal 2 – gross, abhorrent content including high impact violence, urination, animal cruelty, homophobia, racial/ethnic stereotypes
- Reservoir Dogs – high impact scary violence and cruelty
Thanks to the Constitution of Russia, no games are banned in the country. Media across the world falsely claimed that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was banned because of the controversial optional mission “No Russian”, where you invade an airport and shoot innocent bystanders. The game was released in Russia, however that particular mission was removed by Activision for release within the country.
There is a list of banned games, however it appears the government doesn’t enforce the sale of these titles save for Pokemon titles due to links to gambling.
No current bans. Originally Mass Effect was banned due to a sexual encounter between an alien and a human and The Darkness was banned for excessive violence, but both bans have since been lifted.
Typically South Korea banned anything that dealt with the conflict between North and South Korea to avoid tension. Those have been lifted thanks to the principle of free expression, but the following games are still banned:
- Grand Theft Auto III – violence and cruelty
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - violence and cruelty
- Kira Hara – several sensitive subjects
- Mahunt – violence and cruelty
- Manhunt 2 – violence and cruelty
- Homefront – although most diplomatic games were unbanned, this one stuck, probably because of the major issue with North Korea if it released
Thailand has a ban on pornography, therefore games of that type are automatically banned as is the Grand Theft Auto series because of an 18-year-old who killed a taxi driver in a similar fashion. Having said that, there is very little police and government breakdown for the sale, trade, and illegal downloads of such titles.
United Arab Emirates
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – banned for violence, possibly toward Muslims
- Darksiders – contradicting customs and traditions
- Dead Rising 2 – violence, gambling, nudity
- Dragon Age: Origins – sexual themes including homosexuality
- Dragon Age II – sexual themes including homosexuality
- Fallout: New Vegas – sexual themes and gambling
- Godfather II – nudity
- God of War series – violence, gore, sexuality
- Grand Theft Auto series – cruelty and violence
- Heavy Rain – seduction scene in the night club
- Mafia II – excessive violence and nudity (Playboy magazine)
- Mass Effect 2 – potential for lesbian relationships
- Red Dead Redemption – nudity, ban lifted about two months after release
- Dead Island - extreme depictions of scantily clad game characters
Although this may someday change, currently the United Kingdom follows the ratings set by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and Pan European Game Information (PEGI) that provides guidelines to content in Europe. Only a few games were threatened classification, but most were resolved.
- Carmageddon – violence against pedestrians, it was updated to make the humans into zombies and later patched to restore the original content
- Manhunt 2 – extreme violence and torture, both the regular and later censored versions were refused classification initially but the censored version was later reclassified and allowed release
- Punisher - torture scenes during interrogation was seen as questionable to the public, even the US toned-down version was refused but the publisher worked closely with BBFC and an updated version was later allowed classification
While I initially thought that Mercenaries 2 would make this list, it’s a much larger one thanks to the government calling for a complete ban of any violent video game where the goal is to shoot people. This began in November, 2009, due to massive amounts of violence across the country and some 13,000 pieces have been confiscated or destroyed. To date this ban remains, which includes buying, selling, manufacturing, distributing, exhibiting, rental and even use illegal.
So when you consider how frustrating it is that you haven’t seen the unedited version of Manhunt 2 or how stupid it is that the terrorist act scenes in Call of Duty come under scrutiny, remember that this content is regarded under much harsher terms elsewhere. Besides, I can personally attest to you missing out on nothing by not having played Manhunt 2 or Rapelay. I have personally played both games, Manhunt 2 for pre-release review before it was given an AO and Rapelay for an investigative article. They were both pieces of trash in every regard, and this is from someone who doesn’t mind graphic content in any medium.
So now you want to import consoles and games, do you? Well you’ll be happy to know that it is entirely possible on most consoles, however there are some things you’ll have to be aware of before you do it. This article discusses the different things you have to do to both the electric and video signal of various imported consoles. It will also briefly discuss how to get foreign games to play on US consoles, if possible.
No matter what console you are using, it’s important to know the differences between electricity in the US, Europe and Japan.
Japanese Consoles in the US
As you’ll see plenty of times in this article, Japan is quite similar to the United States in many ways, including power. We use 120 volts as our standard for power. Japan doesn’t appear to use a ground (or at least none of the Japanese consoles I’ve ever gotten do, never been to Japan itself), so all plugs from Japanese consoles will be two-pronged and fit in an US outlet. Also fortunate is the fact that most consoles, especially retro ones, will use AC adaptors that work in the US. Never interchange US power supplies into Japanese consoles, you could fry the console or worse. For example, if you import a Famicom, use that console’s AC adaptor and not an US NES one. For newer consoles like Japanese PS2s and PS3s, you may want to check the back of the console, but I think those are good for AC 100-240 volts for worldwide distribution, but I could be wrong. Basically if it generates heat, be very careful and do a search for advice from a reputable source (no, Yahoo! Answers is not a reputable source). Also if you want to be completely safe, there are Japanese voltage converters that allow use of Japanese products here.
European Consoles in the US
Europe is quite a bit difference than us. Not only are the plugs different, but the voltage is significantly different. They use 220 volts in their AC power and the plugs look like the one on the left. If you import a European console, like a Mega Drive for example, you not only need to adapt the plug for the US, but also the voltage (assuming the console doesn’t automatically do that, check the AC adaptor). Since they need 220 volts, simply adapting the plug and plugging into an US outlet will most likely simply not work. The unit won’t get enough power or it will run at low efficiency. If for any reason you were to go to Europe and plug in an US console using a mere plug adaptor instead of a voltage converter, your unit will most likely fry instantly. It will be zapped with nearly twice the power without conversion – of course this is assuming the AC adaptor doesn’t do it for you, which many do. Either way, play it safe, grab a voltage converter.
This is where things get a little shaky and probably the most difficult part of getting consoles to play when imported. These concepts are also useable going the other direction (ie: importing US consoles to Europe) as well.
Japan Television Standard (NTSC-J)
In Japan, like in the United States, the analog broadcasts were in National Television System Committee or NTSC standard. Japan’s version, NTSC-J, is slightly varied with a higher black level, but when displayed on US televisions the difference is hard to notice. In addition, the correction isn’t worth the effort for a simple Famicom game, so just go with it. This standard runs on 525 vertical scanlines interlaced and refreshing at approximately 29.97 frames per second and 60 hz (sometimes referred to as 480i). It may be all just numbers for you right now, but once compared to Europe it explains a lot of the differences. To put it simply: US/Japan have lower vertical resolution than Europe, but the picture moves smoother. From a video signal standpoint, you can basically use any Japanese console on any US television without an issue.
European Television Standard (PAL)
Europe instead uses Phase Altering Line or PAL standard for its analog broadcasts. This is completely incompatible with NTSC televisions and thus requires some work if you’re going to get your retro consoles to work. The reason being is that it uses 625 vertical scanlines interlaced and refreshes at 25 frames per second and 50 hz (sometimes referred to as 576i). As previously stated, this signal has better color saturation and vertical resolution when compared side-by-side with NTSC but the picture moves less smoothly. On occasion games would be migrated from one region to another without adjusting the framerate and resulting in awkward changes. My favorite example is Back to the Future III on the Genesis wasn’t properly adapted to NTSC so it tries to run the PAL standard 25 frames per second at a speed of 30 frames per second. Anyone who knows basic filmmaking will tell you that this increases the speed of the game, making the opening sequence with Doc Brown nearly impossible. Thanks to emulation you can play the PAL version, which is about 20 percent slower. It’s also well-known that Sonic the Hedgehog was purposely left unconverted for PAL regions, which makes him run slower when the situation is reversed, because Europeans felt he was too fast in the US version. To get a PAL console to work on an NTSC television requires a PAL-to-NTSC converter.
Games vs. Consoles vs. HDTV
There are a lot of benefits with modern-day televisions, although they do make your old school games look even worse than before and don’t work with light guns. One is that many HDTVs will work with NTSC, PAL and HDTV. If it does, you’ll be able to locate that information in the manual or online in the TV’s specs. This would allow you to hook up any console from any region into your television, although you may have to toggle this option in the television menu. As far as HDTV, I haven’t yet tested a European console in HD on my US television, but I’m guessing since it’s a standard format that it would work. Then again, only current consoles support HD and this is a retro site so I’m just dodging that bullet altogether.
As for games, this post contains information on getting European and Japanese games to work in US consoles. Please note that while the games themselves are designed for a different region, the video signal that goes to the television is in the console, not the game. This means that a PAL Mega Drive game that you get working on an US console does not need a video signal conversion. On occasion there are some interesting effects when doing so, especially because these titles weren’t originally intended to work outside of their region, but its an unavoidable side effect.
Portable consoles are often valued highly by import gamers because until recently there was absolutely no region protection. No matter where the game came from you can pop it into your portable and it will work. Furthermore thanks to included screens and battery power there’s no need for electrical or video conversion. Starting with the DSi and now in the 3DS, it looks like Nintendo’s portables will be region locked from now on, but this is a new development.
Playing Games from other regions on US Consoles
Famicom to NES
For the most part this is a simple conversion: just get a 72-to-60 pin adaptor and plug-and-play. I used to be able to find these all over the place, now they seem to be nearly impossible to come by. The only chance you probably still have is to find a Gyromite, Excitebike, Stack-Up, Hogan’s Alley or Urban Champion cart that works and open it up (a special screwdriver is required) and you should see that these NES games are actually Famicom carts with an adaptor. There you go, a fresh 72-pin to 60-pin adaptor direct from the source, Nintendo of America (NOA). Otherwise there are plenty of 72-to-60 pin converters, some as low as $10, but they are for playing NES on Famicom, so you’ll need a Famicom.
Sega Master System to Mark III or SG-1000
For the most part it’s all plug and play, with a few exceptions. If you want to play SG-1000 carts, you need to get a Japanese SG-1000 Mark III due to BIOS issues, but there is no hardware region lock. If you’re just looking to import Mark III European cards and carts for your US SMS, almost everything works with a few exceptions: Prince of Persia and Jungle Book seem to be janky, however when used in a Genesis with the Power Base Converter, Prince of Persia works fine. It’s possible that Jungle Book will as well, but I have no confirmation on that. Back to the Future III on Mark III will not work on any non-European console because it was never converted out of PAL and this game verified that the console is running at 50 hz upon booting up.
Turbografx-16 to PC-Engine
This was discussed in the Generation Gap: Import Edition post, but you need to get a HuCard adaptor. These are harder and harder to come by these days, but for the right price I still see them on eBay every week or so. Supposedly you could use a piece from an old sewing machine, but I honestly have no idea what machine or where to find it today. On the other hand, playing Turbografx-16 titles on PC-Engine isn’t possible thanks to lockout hardware built into the console. All CD games, on the other hand, are region free and work on all CD consoles (assuming you have the appropriate hardware or RAM carts installed).
Genesis to Mega Drive
There are actually multiple ways to get Mega Drive games to run on the Genesis, unfortunately most of them require money of some kind.
- The first is to simply buy the FireCore (unofficial Genesis 4), which is a 2009 recreation of the Genesis that includes pre-installed games and doesn’t use official Genesis parts. As a result this console is naturally region free and will play any import, but it isn’t compatible with CD, 32x, power base converter or Virtua Racing in any region. There are also occasional graphical glitches and sound issues on games.
- You could also get a Game Genie and simply plug that cart into the top. If it has a code online, it will work. Doesn’t work with everything, but heavy hitters like Golden Axe III are fine. Here is a list of some import codes.
- Buy a Super Mega Key. This is the rarest and best of the import converters out there and with so many options basically makes every game playable on the Genesis except for the Japan release of Alex Kidd.
- Modify your own Genesis. This is the no-solder method that basically has you cutting into your Genesis cartridge slot. European games will play no problem because they have the same slot type, but early Japanese carts had fully rounded edges and won’t fit in a Genesis cart slot. If you heat a knife and cut the corner tabs out of the bottom of your console cart slot, the games will fit. Please note this doesn’t work with any games that have region lockout chips.
In addition you cannot play games from different regions in a Sega-CD/Mega-CD due to a BIOS region lock. The only way to bypass this is to either install a flash cart that has the appropriate region BIOS (it will bypass your console’s built-in BIOS) or re-code the region on the game. In order to re-code the region you will have to rip the ISO, patch it, and re-burn it (burned games work fine on a Sega CD). There are plenty of guides on how to rip and burn Sega CD games, I prefer the bin/cue method and CDR-WIN, but the region changing tool can be found here. Note: It appears games convert better between Japan and US. Europe has varying results in either direction. 32X games are region locked, but there is only one game in Japan not in the US, Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire, and one game, Darxide, in Europe that wasn’t in US. FYI, Darxide is super rare and usually sells for $1000+, so don’t feel too left out.
Super Nintendo to Super Famicom
The answer to this is dangerous, but easy and free. Some say that the Game Genie trick will still work, but unfortunately Nintendo started manufacturing consoles that won’t work with Game Genie. The only difference between the Super Famicom and Super Nintendo is that there are two tabs inside the cartridge slot that need to come off. Once removed, Super Famicom carts are plug and play. The slots require either a hot knife to cut (be careful not to cut anything else), pliers to remove (be careful), or the old hammer/screwdriver combo (be very careful). Feel free to look up YouTube videos on this. There are also some clone consoles that do this, but they’re unreliable, and converter carts, which have a tendency to bend the pins in the SNES.
To play imports you just want to pick up an Action Replay 4M Plus, which plugs into your console and you’re good to go. They’re still online and I know for a fact that play-asia.com still has them (although shipping rates from Asia are quite high). I personally opened up the Saturn, disassembled the board and duct taped the drive door mechanism so that I could do the disc swap trick, but it was so annoying after a while that I just bought the damn Action Replay.
Playstation and PS2
There are many great reasons to unlock your PS1, although I’m probably the only one who feels seeing the original opening to Biohazard (Resident Evil) is one of them. If you want to play imports you either need an old Playstation that has the parallel port in the back (it will be boxy) and you can install various 3rd party mod chips. These chips are solderless and only require a spring in the lid (which comes with the mod usually) and has a disc swapping trick.
The other option, which is best and really easy to come by, is a region switching disc. This works in both PS1 and PS2, but usually the discs are different. Just put the disc in, select the region of the game from the menu, and it will eject the disc or allow you to pop open the PS1 drive door and insert the import. Afterward it will just boot up like normal, no issues. The biggest problem with this method that you’ll hear complaints about online is this doesn’t work with burned games for pirated software, backups or patched fan translation titles.
Like the SNES, the N64 modification is simple and fortunately IGN has made a comprehensive guide that when followed step-by-step, has little to no risk. Replacing an N64 these days is only a mere $20-$30, so that helps as well.
Playing import Dreamcast games is limited to swap discs, and sadly the only one that seems to work very well is CodeBreaker. Other swap discs, GameShark, and various 3rd party methods are hit/miss. You can also burn region-free versions of the games onto CD-Rs via illegal ISO downloads online, but given the extremely high legal issue with this plus the fact that it’s basically piracy unless you own the game, make it a poor choice. You can’t even rip from the proprietary Dreamcast format (GD-ROM) on any computer, so without illegal downloads it’s impossible to get copies of these games. Don’t risk it, take the hit and get the CodeBreaker.
Whew. That’s it. That’s about the best options you have when importing. As I said before, the guide in the beginning just tells you what to look for when bringing foreign consoles stateside. If I didn’t mention a home console, it’s because it’s a region-free disc-based console. I hope I’ve remembered most of them, if you have any questions or consoles I missed, just hit me up.
So you’ve decided you may be interested in this import scene, huh? You may want to see what the other regions have to offer? Perhaps you just don’t know what’s out there and you’re just curious. Well here you go – a wrap-up of some of the most popular consoles overseas that didn’t quite it over here.
Sega SG-1000 – Released in: Japan, Europe – Launch: 1983
Sega and Nintendo have been up against each other since day one, literally. While we didn’t see the NES over here until at least 1985, Sega’s first console, the SG-1000, released day in date alongside the Famicom (NES) in Japan. A cartridge based system that had nearly identical hardware to the ColecoVision, Sega’s first outing is most notable for having a solid Donkey Kong clone (Congo Bongo) and some of Sega’s top arcade titles. I’m fairly certain that Flicky made its first home appearance thanks to the SG-1000 as did Monaco GP.
The SG-1000 would undergo plenty of changes in its life, including the redesign SG-1000 II that allowed you to add a keyboard attachment and “MyCard” reader in Japan. It was an attempt, like the Famicom, to make the console more computer-like. An expensive computer version, the SC-3000 (retailing for over $350 in Japan compared to the $175 price tag of the SG-1000 II), came with it a whole new library of games. Surprisingly enough, all SC-3000 games are compatible with the SG-1000 models. Eventually the MyCard reader would get added to the console along with video and RAM upgrades in the SG-1000 Mark III, also known as the Sega Master System. If you’re interested in trying out the SG-1000 carts without importing a console, try searching for the Telegames Personal Arcade, which released in the US and plays both SG-1000 and ColecoVision carts.
Nintendo Famicom – Released in: Japan – Released: 1983
Most of us refer to the Famicom as the Japanese version of the NES, which is technically true, but in many ways it is a completely different piece of hardware. For starters, the controllers are permanently attached to the console, making it much more difficult if one goes bad on you. In addition, the second controller contains a microphone that was used for limited karaoke function in some games – which is why even if you adapt certain Famicom games to work in an NES they are essentially unplayable. The cartridge slot is top loading, which helped prevent the Famicom from having the lovely blinking issue that plagued so many NES consoles. Famicom carts have a 60 pin connection, whereas NES carts have a 72 pin connection, which is why games require adaptors to work in the other console (assuming there’s no internal lockout chip). In addition, all licensed NES carts in Europe and US had the same boring grey boxy design (save for the shiny gold Zelda carts), whereas Famicom titles come in various colors and shapes.
Another significant difference is the 15-pin expansion port for accessories (like a keyboard) and an add-on port on the bottom for devices like the Famicom Disk System (FDS). The FDS released in 1986 as a 15,000 yen (around $125) add-on that used re-writeable floppy disks to play Famicom games. Disk system games were cheaper ways to get your hands on titles. At about $20 per title, nearly half the price of a cartridge, not only were they enticing for initial buys, but you could visit a Nintendo kiosk and re-write the disk to a different game for a mere $5.
This sounds like a great idea at first, but both consumers and developers were quite displeased. First of all, companies would have to decide whether or not to release a game on the Famicom, the Disk System, or both and pay the manufacturing cost. Also, if you had a hit on your hand and it was on the Disk System exclusively – Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Lost Levels in the US) and Yume Koji Doki Doki Panic (which was converted to Super Mario Bros. 2 in US) were all exclusive – your audience was extremely limited. Eventually some games would get ported, Doki Doki Panic would re-release on the Famicom as Super Mario USA due to its popularity, but in Japan the FDS is the only way to play some of these classics. Not only that, the console and its disks were extremely fragile. If you plan to import a console, make sure it has been refurbished with replacement rubber bands otherwise it most likely will not work. FDS disks are easily broken as well, meaning that many you may purchase won’t work when you get home. If you plan to import, it’s important to purchase consoles and games from a reputable (read: more expensive) shop either in the US (Pink Gorilla in Seattle, WA) or Japan (Super Potato and so many more). FDS versions of games do have some subtle but great differences like Doki Doki Panic allowing you to save your progress, extra sounds and sound effects in Simon’s Quest, and a more manageable version of Zelda 2. There is also a hybrid console, the Famicom Twin, which is your best bet when buying today but still requires proper refurbishing and band replacement.
NEC PC-Engine – Released in: Japan – Released: 1987
Okay, this has a bit of controversy because technically, like the Famicom, the PC-Engine released in America as the Turbografx-16. From a hardware standpoint the two are identical until you get into later enhancements (which I’ll get to), but from a game standpoint, they couldn’t be more different. There are literally three to four times the number of games on the PC-Engine than the TG-16, which makes sense given that NEC and Hudson decided what released in the US from Japan. Most of the heavy hitters made it over here, but there are plenty of rare gems, especially shoot-em-up (schmups) that never saw our shores. The only version of Street Fighter II released on the PC-Engine along with a special 6-button controller, both of which are extremely rare today. Getting PC-Engine games to play on the Turbografx-16 is really rather easy – a simple conversion cart can do the job for you – but the price these days is severe for authentic ones and plenty of knockoffs are still on Hong Kong sites. Unfortunately the same cannot be said the other way around, PC-Engines have a hardware detection for TG-16 (US) games that won’t allow them to play if inserted. Basically if you want to import, just get the conversion cart and buy any game you want for your TG-16. I also recently found an amazing web site that contains random PC-Engine facts.
When it comes to the CD version, however, you’re going to need to do some more work when importing. It’s worth it, though, because the import scene on the PC-Engine CD are much better than the poor US releases. There are 3 types of PC-Engine CD systems: regular, Super CD (SCD), and Arcade CD (ACD). The biggest differences of the consoles is that there is additional allocated RAM specifically used with these games. If you do not purchase a PC-Engine Super CD or Arcade CD, you can easily insert a RAM cart (either SCD or ACD respectively) into any PC-Engine or TG-16 console to play these games. There is no region lock or encoding on any CD, SCD or ACD title. Basically, again, the best bet to play all forms of PC-Engine games is to get a Turbografx-16 CD (or Turbo Duo, the two-in-one system) and grab an SCD and ACD cart.
Finally there is the hardware update for the PC-Engine/TG-16 known as the SuperGrafx. I didn’t want to give it a separate console slot because basically it’s a PC-Engine with four times the extra RAM and an extra video RAM chip that could be combined with the traditional video card or combined for varied effects. I do believe that a SuperGrafx hooked to a Turbografx-CD or PC-Engine CD will allow SCD playback without a cart. The SuperGrafx will play any PC-Engine game and enhances a whopping two titles: Darius Alpha and Darius Plus. As for the library, there are only five (yes, you read that right, five) games available for the console: 1941: Counter Attack, Aldynes, Battle Ace, Daimakaimura (Ghouls N Ghosts) and Mado King Granzort. Due to the rarity and expensive retail price, a SuperGrafx will run you $200-$300 and about $200+ for all five games. If you want to save yourself some time and money, you can be talked out of this purchase by viewing this amazing video from Wired.
Nintendo Satellaview – Released in: Japan – Released: 1995
Sega brought every accessory for the Genesis/Mega Drive out in the US so we all get to balk at the crappy “Frankenconsole”¹ to our heart’s content. As you can see already from this article, Nintendo was just as guilty but it was smart enough to hide these add-on failures in Japan only. The Satellaview didn’t come over here mostly because it was a console based on broadcasts that would have been expensive to set up in the US. Basically you would buy the add-on as well as a BS-X cart that would receive weekly or daily broacasts of all kinds of content. For the most part there were Best Selection Games (BS games) that could be everything from direct ports of Super Famicom titles to updated versions of Famicom games (the BS version of games basically got the same treatment as Super Mario All-Stars). There were also BS Original titles, applications, contests, and even digital magazines offered in the service. It was also compatible with carts that utilized the additional hardware to run limited games and applications.
It’s almost useless to purchase the console today, even in Japan, unless you want it for collection purposes. The Satellaview network shut down in 2000 and can no longer be used to download anything. Granted, I’m sure there are some used consoles with some decent software still in the memory, but most items in the console expired or deleted after a certain number of plays or period of time. Of the content that was most cherished, the text-based novel Radical Dreamers: Nusumenai Hoseki (translated “Radical Dreamers: the Unsealable Jewel”), which was a side story of the plot from Chrono Trigger and laid the groundwork for Chrono Cross. This was one of the few bits of content that didn’t expire, making it a coveted and rare piece from the 90s and still fetches a high price in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. Another gem, the BS version of Zelda no Densetsu, which looks like an updated version of the first game despite Link not being the protagonist (technically an offshoot and the 5th Zelda title). Although I’m fairly certain that the game deleted itself and it required SoundLink cues broadcast live, there are ways to play the game in all four episodes, in various languages, via emulation. It won’t be the same, but purists still keep it alive anyway. There were additional titles in this series on Satellaview, all preserved and playable in emulation, but for obvious reasons remain in underground cult status.
Bandai WonderSwan – Launched in: Japan – Launched: 1999
Released in Japan to compete with the Gameboy and Neo Geo Pocket, the WonderSwan is one of the many portables that released initially in monochrome and less than a year later in a color format. There was also a later “crystal” version that had a TFT liquid crystal display. Aside from the games, the most noteable feature of the WonderSwan is that it could run 40+ hours on only one AA battery! If you decide to import, don’t even worry about battery life, even if you get the color or crystal versions that can cut the life half. Unfortunately all games are in Japanese only and given the heavy text in most games, the WonderSwan is has a limited audience of those that can read Japanese.
Of the games, the most notable are enhanced ports of Final Fantasy I, II, and IV, all of which are appreciated among the most hardcore collectors. Among the others are Human’s original release of Clock Tower (now entitled “Clock Tower: The First Fear”), which never released in the US. An addicting port of Beatmania that you don’t need to know Japanese to enjoy. Japanese gems like Front Mission, Fire Pro Wrestling, Magical Drop, and Nobunaga No Yabou all got ports to the WonderSwan. I have also heard from Kat Bailey, a longtime freelancer that spent some years in Japan, that the Super Robot Taisen series is quite addicting and fun for those compulsive Pokemon fans out there.
Nintendo 64DD – Released in: Japan – Released: 1999
It just seems like Nintendo always wanted to release a disk (or disc) based console but no matter how hard they tried, they just didn’t know how to do business when someone else is the manufacturer. The 64DD, standing for “disk drive”, had two purposes: to expand existing games and to release new ones. With 64 mb of storage on a magneto-optical disk, this potentially doubled the storage size of an N64 game (each cartridge had a max ROM size of 64 mb). This meant that the a disk could be used to add the content stripped from titles like Resident Evil 2 or Mortal Kombat Trilogy ports on N64 or give a different option to potential customers. Unfortunately, it really didn’t do either and failed so fast that it never left Japan’s shores despite an US release window in 2000.
There are only nine games, making it an easy console to collect, but given the limited run of only 15,000 consoles and less than that number of games, the price isn’t low. Four of the nine games are the Mario Studio collection that have various multimedia creation software. F-Zero X Expansion Kit basically added two new cups and a car and track editor. While it still requires the cartridge to work, it basically gives you access to the very tool set the designers used and allows up to 100 tracks to be stored on the disk, not too shabby. SimCity 64, which is not the same as the N64 game SimCity 2000, was developed by the talented group at Hal and overseen with Miyamoto himself. It allowed night viewing of your city and street level exploration, factors that wouldn’t become playable until Sim City 4 in the US. Doshin the Giant and its expansion Rescue from the Front by the Toddlers that Tinkle at the Large Meeting-Hall were both released. It’s basically a god simulation game that saw a Gamecube release in Europe and Japan but due to some issues with Atlas, never came to the US. Finally is Japan Pro Golf Tour 64, which I’m sure you can imagine is a golf title.
What’s more impressive is not the collection of available games, but rather the collection of games that should have come out. Earthbound 64 was set to release on the DD, later being ported in Japan only to the Gameboy Advance as Mother 3. Dragon Quest VII was set to be a DD game, but due to the cancellation of the console, ended up on PS2 as one of the few Dragon Quest titles not on a Nintendo console. Final Fantasy VII, which had a life on N64 as well before the eventual Playstation release, was slated for the DD. Super Mario 64 2, which may or may not have ended up becoming Super Mario Sunshine was slated for release. Plenty of games were also converted to cart form: Super Mario RPG 2 was later released as Paper Mario, Zelda Gaiden (“gaiden” often stands for “side story” in Japanese) would become Majora’s Mask and explains a lot, Ultra Donkey Kong became Donkey Kong 64, Twelve Tales: Conker 64 became Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo Kazooie 2 would become Banjo Tooie. As you can see, there were some heavy missed opportunities that clearly forced Nintendo to consider disc-based gaming for future consoles, although I’m not sure GameCube was quite what developers had in mind.
Aside from micro computers, which will be handled in a different post, that’s about it for the non-US consoles. If you are thinking about importing, there’s a lot to consider and in some cases you will only get the hardware instead of doing much “gaming”. On the other hand, in cases like the PC-Engine, you’re basically good to go from the beginning. If you have any questions about these consoles or other imports, feel free to hit me up in the About section of the site. Coming up next, we discover how to get import consoles and games to work in the US and with your US consoles (if possible).
Ghostbusters released on almost every platform in the 80s, but if you picked up the NES version you would be greeted with an all-too-common error: the completion screen proudly exclaims “Conglaturation!!!” Back in the late 80s I was a mere seven when playing NES games and improper spelling or verbage was something I shrugged off as not understanding. I never assumed the game was wrong, I just assumed that I didn’t get it. See, back in the 80s most games were lucky to get a decent translation, let alone a full localization, and it made playing many of the Japanese games difficult. Nowadays it’s a completely different world – pioneers like Atlas and Square Enix have full-blown localization departments that are hellbent on creating the best possible experience for a specific regional audience. It’s more than just a translation, it’s a retooling for another culture.
What is localization?
Localization is a generic term that doesn’t quite pertain to the video game definition, Webster’s is hardly a decent source in this particular case, but has been self-defined by the industry as “taking a product and making it linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target locale (country/region and language) where it will be used and sold”.¹² As you can see, it’s a bit more than simply translating text, which anyone who is bilingual can attest is necessary when going from one language to another. Not only that, things have to be made contextual because traditions of one land will usually not mesh with traditions of another. A quick example using Japan and America - it’s cute and funny in Japan to name people after food but it comes off as awkward and not funny to American audiences. You also may reference texts that are known by one audience but not to another. These are all reasons why it’s best to localize a game for a specific audience instead of merely translating it, unfortunately that comes with it a much more expensive and arduous task.
It’s important to understand the necessary changes when localizing games and I feel that the most essential are:
- Translation – adapting the dialogue to an acceptable quality on par with the original version and script
- Adaptation – adjusting references, names, literature, setting, and possibly even score and sound effects to the local region
- Gameplay – making appropriate tweaks to aspects of playing the game as they are necessary to the audience; often regarded in difficulty
These specific aspects are not the only things adapted for localization, but for the sake of a general overview, they will remain the focus for this article. In addition, there will be an attempt to globalize discussion of region changes but most video games are localized for Japan, United States, and Europe.
This is the earliest and probably the most botched example of localization. It is as old a practice as one can imagine and began its days as literal translations in the 80s. Companies attempted little more than changing the script from Japanese to English. For so many reasons, this created some weird meaning changes and translations as well as puzzling numbering systems. Since it’s most fun to show off some of these errors, I’ll simply give some background to the most noticeable.
“I feel asleep!” – Metal Gear (NES)
In Snake’s opening moments of Hideo Kojima’s first iteration to the series, he is taxed with sneaking up on a sleeping guard. If you wait too long, though, the guard will wake up and instead of the obvious “I fell asleep!”, he will exclaim, “I feel asleep!” Since I’m fairly certain sleep is not a state of emotion, we can assume this was an oversight. Fortunately Kojima and his Konami team would learn their lesson and the Metal Gear series stands as one of the best regionalizations today.
“All your base are belong to us!” – Zero Wing (Mega Drive)
One of the most popular poor translations out there, I bet many Americans who mock this game can’t actually tell me what it is. The reason being that Zero Wing never came out in America. The Mega Drive version, released in both Japan and Europe, was poorly translated to english by Sega of Europe and included the infamous intro. Unlike the ports on arcade, PC-Engine, and Mega Drive in Japan, the hilarious line, “All your base are belong to us,” is only found in the terribly translated European english version. Other choice lines are, “somebody set up us the bomb,” and, “you have no chance to survive make your time”. Due to region locks, this game is quite difficult to bring to the US thanks to it not working on the Genesis and the PAL and electric issues with the European Mega Drive in the US. There’s always emulation, though.
Horrible translations like this can go on forever but it’s not limited to only the translation. Names are often changed in the move from one region to another. The Kunio-kun series, best known in Japan as Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (literally “Downtown Hot-Blooded Story”) was rightfully changed to River City Ransom in the US. Not only was the title changed, but the name of the main character was translated from Kunio and friend to Alex and Ryan. Further installments in America would attempt to refer to Kunio as “Crash” for the game Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge, but the names and title would only be utilized once.
The Final Fantasy series would also suffer one biggest renumbering of the series in America when Final Fantasy IV was released here as Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy VI was released as Final Fantasy III. This is because we never got the NES version of Final Fantasy II or III and Final Fantasy V, originally releasing as Final Fantasy Extreme was also canceled in the US. It wasn’t really much of an issue aside from those in the importing scene until Square Enix decided to re-release the titles in America for the Playstation and Gameboy Advance using the original Japanese numbering system. It also explained why we had no idea why the fourth installment to the Final Fantasy series on Playstation was Final Fantasy VII. It wasn’t just the names that changed – Square Enix changed difficulties, removed plenty of content, and changed the names of spells in Final Fantasy II in the US. Thankfully Square Enix would focus on localization, leaning on the decent Ted Woolsey for the SNES era and moving on to the amazing Richard Honeywood in the Playstation era. This great story was covered on 1up in this article.
School systems worldwide are very different depending on where you grew up, which explains why a Japanese student would stare at you blindly in the face if you referred to “freshman year” but we have no idea what “high school grade 2-A” is (aside: this refers to the year and the class - second year, A class). In order to keep things consistent, it may be necessary to adapt a video game to its specific audience. This can definitely be in what they say – you may make a reference to the popular book Journey to the West to instead be a Shakespeare or even a bible reference.
Furthermore, Japan deals heavily with the concept of heaven and hell, which makes angels and devils a common theme in games. In America we aren’t so fond of demonic or devil themes and symbols, so they are usually changed in the US version. There may even be simple changes like the removal of shoe slots in a classroom for an American game (the Japanese remove their shoes in class). We’re also quite puritanical from a sexual standpoint and thus simple changes are made in the interest of preserving a lack of sexuality. Birdo, the egg-spewing boss in Super Mario Bros. 2, is described as a cross-dresser in the Japanese manual and the names of bosses Damnd and Sodom were changed in many US versions of Final Fight. Some of these themes still slip through the cracks, though, like the sex scene in Golgo 13 on NES and whatever happens to your character with those homosexual wrestlers in Final Fantasy VII.
One of the best companies at doing an adaptation rather than a translation of its games is Atlus, known best for the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series. Starting in 1991 Atlus brought a slew of great titles to America and has eventually managed to re-release most of its catalog over here. In the Playstation era Atlus releases are cherished collector’s items including Ogre Battle, Persona, Persona 2 (only half of the game in America, the second part Innocent Sin was just released on PSP this year) and many more. Ironically some decisions, like location, were kept intact to adjust to the fans of the series, dubbed the audience, for authenticity. This is one of those rare instances where you actually choose not to regionalize a location or aspect because the fans understand its foreign roots and expect some things to remain intact. It also explains why Atlas decided to try to keep the suicide aspects of Persona 3 intact in the United States, which ended up getting approved for an “M” rating by the ESRB.
There are so many obscure examples of this that I will merely graze over the most apparent and obvious of the bunch. From the Nintendo era on the most common change is difficulty. For whatever reason most NES games were made easier for American audiences, games like Super Mario Bros. 2, known in America as Lost Levels, were adapted to make the game less frustrating to our audience. This doesn’t make the Japanese the more hardcore gaming crowd, not by far, especially when you consider games like Ninja Gaiden 3 and X-Men on arcade are far more difficult in America. I think it mostly stems from the fact that US games were released months, sometimes years, later than the Japanese counterpart and in that time tweaks were made to the game, some for better and some for worse. In the case of X-Men it also comes to the compulsive behavior of the player – Americans were more eager to pump quarters into an unfair game than the Japanese, who had more options in an arcade. Even as recently as Halo, which was made significantly easier in Japan due to the lack of popularity of first-person shooters in Japan, provides examples of tweaking difficulty.
Popular culture can have a great effect as well. In Japan there will be no lack of board/card game ports that are cultural staples like Mahjong, Pachinko, and Go. These games, for obvious reasons, rarely made their way to the United States and other countries because they are not familiar to that audience. As a result, you would not only have to teach a gamer the interface, but also the rules of the game. It makes the game more than a simple simulation, it also requires it to be an artificial teacher. With the translation issues already mentioned in this article, it’s not hard to imagine why instructions and teachers for games like this would be avoided completely. The same can be said for all regions – in Europe there are plenty of exclusive soccer (called football) titles and we have our fair share of football (called American football) and baseball titles.
In short, localization is much more than simply translating text, it’s about adapting a game for a specific locale and keeping in tradition with all the customs of the area. Having a player simply cook and eat bacon could spell commercial suicide in some areas and the practice is far from perfected even today. Whether it’s the fact that no one understands why the puzzles in Catherine could be viewed as addicting or the “No Russian” mission in Modern Warfare 2, localization is a practice that has no rule set. At the same time, we’ve come a long way from “all your base are belong to us,” and as a fan of many genres and types from across the globe I couldn’t be more thankful. If it weren’t for strong talent and dedicated individuals we would never have enjoyed gems like Earthbound and Final Fantasy IX as they were intended. For some of those forgotten classics, like Policenauts by Hideo Kojima, we have the amazing talent of those that localize for free via Internet patches. Good or bad, localization allows us to enjoy titles we would have otherwise never known existed.
¹ Miguel Bernal Merino's article on the Translation of Video Games: http://www.jostrans.org/issue06/art_bernal.php ² Bernal references Esselink for his definition of localization: Esselink, B. 2000. A Practical Guide to Localization. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.