24th Mar2013

How to Import for the PlayStation 3

by Kuro Matsuri

PlayStation 3 with Box

There’s some good news for those who want to import games for the PS3.  For all practical purposes, it is completely region free.  It doesn’t require any modification to play import games.  There are a couple of key exceptions, though.

If you happen to have one that is old enough to be backwards compatible, the PlayStation 2 games are still region locked, as are PS1 games in all PlayStation 3 consoles.  As some additional notes, DVDs are region locked.  Blu-rays are also region locked, but for those in the USA, Japan is considered to be the same region, so it might as well be region free if you’re specifically interested in US and Japan BDs.

The other notable exception is really a technicality.  The PS3 does not support region locking directly, however, it does allow games to see what region the current system is.  As such, there’s nothing from stopping a developer from implementing their own region locking.  So far, only one developer has, and then for only one game: Persona 4 Arena.  As such, P4A is the only region locked PS3 game.

If you would like to play any import game (not just PS3 games) on your PS3, you have two options:

Option 1: Buy a Japanese PS3

As always, the most reliable and the most expensive method is to purchase a Japanese version of the console.  You can find some very interesting Japan-only PS3 models at Play-Asia, but they are on the expensive side, starting at right around $400.  In all honesty, you’re probably better off trying to land yourself an import capable PS2 to go along with a local PS3, partially due to price, and partially due to input lag in backwards compatible PS3 systems, specifically for PS2 games.

Option 2: Install Custom Firmware

There’s lots of risks for this one, it’s considerably less legal, but it also has the benefit of allowing you to play backup titles, assuming you have a Blu-ray burner and don’t mind buying BD-Rs.  It also allows you to have one console to play 3 generations of games on across multiple regions.  It certainly sounds promising.

It does, unfortunately, have the downside that it might lock you out of the PSN and online play.  If that’s something you don’t mind potentially giving up, you can look up the PS3 Jailbreak 4.31 Custom Firmware.  Installation is pretty straightforward: download the custom firmware, put it on a USB stick, and treat it like it’s an official PS3 update.  Keep in mind, though, that you can’t update your PS3 the normal way without undoing the custom firmware or, even worse, possibly breaking your console.

Be sure to thoroughly scan anything you download for viruses.  Unofficial things like this do carry an extra risk of viruses.

Where to Get Games

At this time, import PS3 games are abundantly plentiful.  The go-to source is Play-Asia, but NCSX, Amazon (3rd party), and eBay all have pretty wide selections of Japanese import PlayStation 3 games.

Interesting Game Highlights

For the most part, the most interesting import games on the PS3 are ones that are coming out in the US at some point anyway, such as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Re MIX.  The biggest exceptions to this are game genres that are unlikely to do well in the US market, like Visual Novels or Dating Sims.  Possibly the most notable example of this is Clannad for PS3 (which was announced in April of 2010).

Enjoy your PlayStation 3 imports!

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Disclaimer: use any of these methods at your own risk. Some of them can damage your console.

Endorsement Policy: while some of the links in this post are affiliate links, others are not, and we strive to provide the best options out there, regardless of affiliate status.

24th Mar2013

How to Import for the PlayStation 2

by Kuro Matsuri

PlayStation 2 with Box

Much like the original PlayStation, the Sony PS2 is completely region locked.  While it is backwards-compatible with PS1 games, those are also region locked on the console. If you only want to play some import PlayStation 1 games, take a look at the guide for How to Import for the PlayStation 1.

Since the PS2 will not play import games by design, you have to find a way around it.  Here’s a layout of the options.

Option 1: Buy a Japanese PlayStation 2

For long-term reliability, and for ease of setup, this is the best option.  It also tends to be the most expensive.  At this time, a Japanese PS2 from Play-Asia runs a hefty $350 plus shipping.  Amazon has some for under $200, but only from third-party sellers.  If you get lucky, you might be able to get a JP PS2 for under $100 from eBay.

If you have some extra money and you like collecting rare things, you can look into the PSX.  Despite American shops labeling PS1 games as PSX games, the PSX is actually a PS2 combined with a DVR and a built-in hard drive.  It looks like this:

Official PSX DESR Model Console

They can typically be identified in online listings by the model number, which always starts with “DESR”, like DESR-5700 or DESR-7000, with the number mostly differentiating between hard drive size (160GB and 250GB respectively, in this case).

You can pick up a DESR PSX for around $400 to $500 from eBay right now, which is definitely expensive.  It’s even more expensive if you are a collector who likes to have the box.

Finally, since the first version of the PS3 was backwards compatible, you could go the route of picking up an import enabled launch PS3.  Check here for more information on How to Import for the PlayStation 3.

Option 2: Install a Mod Chip

This option is very tricky, and requires different mod chips depending on the model of your PlayStation 2.  Overall, I recommend against installing your own mod chip unless you are very good at soldering wires onto tiny points on a motherboard, because that’s exactly what’s required.

What’s worse, it can slightly alter the power traveling through the motherboard and to the laser, which can cause it to burn out early.  Due to the modifications made by the mod chip, it is more difficult to repair as well.  Replacing the burnt-out laser sometimes just causes the new laser to immediately burn out as well.

That being said, when it is working, it is pretty great.  You have one console that plays both local and Japanese games, and you don’t have to think about it.  You just put the game in.  If you really like this idea, and you’re willing to try to install one, you should research all of the currently available mod chips and find highly detailed and picture oriented guides.  If you want these benefits, and you’re willing to risk the long-term reliability of your console, but you don’t have the skills to install it yourself, you can look at Option 3.

Option 3: Buy a Pre-Modded PS2

Most of the usual vendors for this are no longer available, but if you dig deep enough, you should be able to find one.  However, even if you do find a vendor, you’ll likely be dealing with someone shady.  Your best bet is probably to try to find one on eBay or Craigslist, but you’ll have to get lucky even there.

It will be more expensive than picking up a local model PS2, and it will be almost as expensive as buying a Japanese one.  However, if you don’t yet have either, it can be a very economical option overall.

Option 4: Use a Swap Disc

Swap Magic 3.6 Plus

The swap disc of choice is the Swap Magic.  The good news is that Swap Magic is well supported by its creators, and they even have a full Swap Magic guide.  The catch is that you will need to find a way to make your PlayStation 2 think that it has never been opened during the swap process.  How to do this varies based on the model of the PS2, and the Swap Magic guide above helps you select the right tool.  It usually provides more than one option for a given model as well.

Some notes, though: the slide tool for fat PS2s is convenient because it requires very little modification, but it does damage the disc tray motor over time, so it’s honestly not recommended.  For the slim version, however, either option should be fine, as long as it is installed correctly.

If you don’t want to buy directly from Swap Magic because you don’t trust them, Swap Magic discs occasionally show up on Amazon, albeit from 3rd party vendors.  But, at least then you have the buyer protection that Amazon provides.

Where to Get Games

The usual sources apply here.  Play-Asia is the most reliable source in terms of both price and availability, whereas NCSX Shop is a valid US-based alternative, but they tend to be more expensive.  Amazon has some Japanese PS2 games from third part vendors, but very few.  You can always take a shot at finding the JP PlayStation 2 game you want on eBay.

Interesting Game Highlights

Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix Plus

Some of the best games available on the Japanese PlayStation 2 have to be the Final Fantasy International Versions (X, X-2, and XII) and the Kingdom Hearts Final Mix Versions (I and II).  These versions have new systems, new gameplay elements, new items, and new secret bosses added to them, making them an enjoyable play-through, even if you’ve already played the American versions.

Another fantastic game that never made it across the oceans is Namco X Capcom (spoken as “Namco Cross Capcom”), a turn-based tactical RPG in which over 100 characters from lots of different games come together to fight against one another.  It seems that only the fighting game crossovers seem to make it to our shores, but here’s an RPG crossover!  I even have a post about Namco X Capcom as an Interesting Import Only Game from several years back, and it still hasn’t made it out of Japan.

Enjoy your PlayStation 2 imports!

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Disclaimer: use any of these methods at your own risk. Some of them can damage your console.

Endorsement Policy: while some of the links in this post are affiliate links, others are not, and we strive to provide the best options out there, regardless of affiliate status.

04th Mar2013

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Mark of Mastery Edition Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance Mark of Mastery Edition

Welcome to the Kuro Matsuri Video Games review of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance: Mark of Mastery Edition.

Kingdom Hearts 3D, a.k.a., Dream Drop Distance, is a continuation of the Kingdom Hearts series.  In fact, if anything, it is the culmination of the series so far.  It refers to nearly all of the previous iterations of Kingdom Hearts.  In part, that is what makes the Mark of Mastery Edition of Kingdom Hearts 3D so impressive; at least in part, the bonus items reference all of the previous iterations.

First, here’s a note of everything that comes with the Mark of Mastery Edition of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance:

Kingdom Hearts 3D Mark of Mastery Edition Contents

The Mark of Mastery Edition comes with a variety of items.  The box is multi-layered with a white and grey design on the outside, and a black and grey design on the inside.  Of course, it comes with the game.  In addition to the game, it also comes with a set of postcards that go through every iteration so far of the Kingdom Hearts series. This includes the Final Mix re-releases, so there are quite a few high-quality postcards with very pretty and clean art on them.  It’s practically an art collection for the series.  In addition to that, it also comes with a set of 5 AR (augmented reality) cards.  These serve multiple purposes within the game.  The first is that it allows you to specifically place your Dream Eaters (the monsters that are on your side) onto a location and circle around them with the camera as though they were really there.  Additionally, some of them allow you to get rare Dream Eaters by scanning them; Dream Eaters that cannot be obtained any other way.  Don’t worry; if you don’t have these, don’t think you’ll be at a significant disadvantage.  The secret Dream Eaters are modifications of Dream Eaters that you can normally get in the game, but with marginally improved characteristics.  It’s a nice touch for the collector, but it won’t hurt the experience in any way for the non-collector.

Finally, it comes with a protective case for the 3DS with a Kingdom Hearts design on it.  The protective case is in two pieces.  The top piece has a nice black-on-clear design on it, while the bottom piece is only clear, serving only to protect.  As such, I’ve chosen to only use the top piece, as it adds a nice style, but it doesn’t prevent you from using the charging dock included with the original 3DS.  As a note, this case will not fit on the 3DS XL.  Here’s what the top layer of the case looks like on my red 3DS (note, the Keyblade attachment is not included):

Kingdom Hearts 3D Case

Overall, the Mark of Mastery Edition includes a nice array of extras.  It includes practical items, like the 3DS protective case.  It includes digital items, like the Dream Eaters you get for scanning the AR cards.  It also includes collector’s art items, like the postcards and the AR cards themselves.  All-in-all, it is one of the better collector’s editions out there.

Now to the actual game:

Pacing: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

The pacing is always limited when you’re talking about a handheld console.  Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance does a good job of balancing portability and pacing.  Generally, a portable game needs quicker pacing, and the ability to put the game down at any time.  Dream Drop Distance achieves this by providing a mechanic by which the user is encouraged to play for shorter periods of time; it’s called the Drop mechanic.  After a set, but unspecified, amount of time, you will be forced to switch between Sora and Riku.  It can be jarring, but it does provide a sense of urgency.  Additionally, it manages to break up the action into bite-size chunks; perfect for a handheld experience.  That being said, if you are attempting to experience the entire game in one go, it can mess things up, and it can be frustrating.

However, it does allow you to immediately switch back to the character you were playing as, which alleviates a lot of the frustration.  You do lose out on some bonuses during the switch, since you gain optional bonuses by getting enough points between drops, but the bonuses are fairly nominal, and going without them doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in your capabilities.

Story: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

The story brings all of the stories from the previous Kingdom Hearts games together.  All of them play a role, even Kingdom Hearts: Coded.  They culminate into one experience that explains a lot, albeit in the same obfuscated way that all Kingdom Hearts stories seem to go about it.  If the story wasn’t so contrived, this would be an amazing story from beginning to end.  Instead, the story comes of as “good, but hard to understand”, meaning that the level in which you have been involved in the other Kingdom Hearts stories will heavily dictate how much you enjoy the story in this one.

Don’t worry, though, if you have missed some of the previous games.  It provides flashback sequences, as well as text-based re-caps, of many of the previous games’ stories.  This means that you can miss some games and still get the grand sense of the overall story.  However, if you haven’t played any of the previous games, the grand over-arching plotline will likely be lost on you.

Presentation: 5/5 Stars (Superb)

Given the resolution of the 3DS, the graphics are very impressive.  It runs smoothly the entire time, and it proves entertaining throughout.  This honestly seems like some of the best graphics the console can manage, even though it is so early in the console’s career.  All-in-all, nothing is really missing from the presentation in Kingdom Hearts 3D.

3D: 5/5 Stars (Superb)

Not everyone likes 3D, but it does add some extra depth in Kingdom Hearts.  It does take some practice to hold it still enough to fully enjoy the 3D without it getting in the way, but it manages to be engaging even at the highest 3D settings once you get used to it.  If you can’t manage to get used to the 3D effects, you can turn them off without any real hindrance to the gameplay experience, but you will be missing out on just how interactive and immersive the 3D gameplay can be.

Gameplay: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

The new Flow Motion abilities are great fun to play around with.  They allow you to travel across the areas at great speed, and they allow you to perform relatively low risk and relatively high-damage attacks to enemies in the middle of a battle.  Given the time constraints forced upon you by the Drop mechanic, this fast-paced movement is much appreciated.  But, more than that, it’s outright fun.  Darting around the level at high speeds just makes the experience that much more entertaining.  Unfortunately, it does manage to expose some of the flaws in the levels when you hit unexpected invisible walls, but they don’t interfere as much as you might expect.  Overall, the gameplay is very polished and very clean.

It does borrow from the previous game in the series, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, for the Deck Commands.  At any point, you can press X to perform the highlighted special attack or spell.  This lets you customize how you play quickly and easily, while almost always allowing you to continue being effective.  Additionally, since this is only a part of the fighting mechanics, there’s plenty to do outside of the Deck Commands, giving you lots of flexibility in battle.

Kingdom Hearts 3D also allows you to train Dream Eaters to fight by your side.  These Dream Eaters effectively replace the roles that Goofy and Donald played in some of the previous games.  They are your computer-controlled allies, and they can be powerful.  Creating new Dream Eaters and leveling them up also provides a way for you to increase your own skills and abilities, similar to the way the Sphere Grid worked in Final Fantasy X.  You build up points and use them to travel around each Dream Eater’s grid to unlock new skills, stats, and abilities.  It allows for a lot of customization of the gameplay, letting you play how you want to play.

If only it weren’t so complex and confusing.  There are so many aspects that allow you to customize how you play that it can be overwhelming at times.  However, if you just continue to play and “go with the flow”, if you will, you’ll find it very enjoyable.

Exploration: 5/5 Stars (Superb)

The Kingdom Hearts games, at least in part, are known for their relatively linear paths that also allow for plenty of exploration.  More so than other games in the series, there is a lot to explore in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.  There’s enough branching paths and open areas that it can be difficult to thoroughly explore all of it as you look for more treasures, but that’s exactly what makes it interesting.  Even in the early levels, it can be quite the challenge to find every treasure box and fight every special enemy Dream Eater.  If you want to complete the game, you will have a lot of fun continuously exploring each of the worlds to find every nook and cranny in your attempts to collect every item available.

Replay Value: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

Thanks to a New Game Plus feature, you can carry over the Dream Eaters you’ve created in a previous game.  They lose their levels and abilities, but it goes a long way towards helping you complete the Dream Eater bestiary as you play through multiple rounds.  Additionally, beating the game on the initial hardest difficulty, Proud Mode, unlocks a new difficulty, Critical Mode, giving you extra incentive you play through the game once more as you increase your Kingdom Hearts skills.

Difficulty: 3/5 Stars (Average)

Let’s face it, the difficulty in Kingdom Hearts as been up and down throughout the series.  The first Kingdom Hearts had plenty of challenge, and the second Kingdom Hearts was way too easy.  358/2 Days was awkward to play, and Birth By Sleep was very smooth to play, but both were reasonably difficult.  Dream Drop Distance really falls somewhere between all of these.  The challenge level is pretty low, even at the hardest difficulties.  That being said, it is nowhere near as easy as Kingdom Hearts II was.  It will provide a reasonable challenge on Proud Mode, and a real challenge on Critical Mode, but nothing extraordinary; that is, unless you want to go for a Level 1 Critical Mode play-through by blocking all experience points.  That certainly does prove challenging.  But, one step below that is only a reasonable challenge, and nothing more.

Overall: 4/5 Stars (Above Average)

All things considered, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is a lot of fun to play.  It ties lots of previous Kingdom Hearts stories together in a meaningful way, and provides a reasonable challenge.  It also features a drive for collection by keeping track of how many treasures you’ve found, as well as providing you with the option to create more allies and level them up to gain new abilities and stats.  This is one of the better games in the Kingdom Hearts series, right up there with Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts II.  It is well worth the purchase.

Enjoy the game!

-Kuro Matsuri