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).
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.
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:
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).
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
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.
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.
Let me start off by being completely honest. Play-Asia is one of my affiliates. I promise that this does not effect my opinion of them in this review. Also, I would like to include that since this is not a video game review, it doesn’t follow my standard review structure. I will still give it a percentage-based score at the end, though.
Now, let’s get to it. So, Play-Asia has lots of good reviews out there, and a good handful of bad reviews too. But how good are they, really? Let me share my experiences with you.
I have ordered over a dozen things from Play-Asia in the past. They have always arrived in good condition and at reasonable prices. That’s not to say that everything has been perfect, though.
Prices and Shipping
See, here’s the thing. They look like they have the cheapest prices when compared to the other import locations like www.ncsxshop.com or www.japanvideogames.com. But, that’s only true if you use their cheapest shipping. The problem with that is that their cheapest shipping can take up to 10 business days, or two full weeks, to arrive. What’s worse is that this level of shipping doesn’t even include a tracking number, which leaves you hoping that nothing went wrong with the shipping. It’s never gone wrong for me, but it has gone wrong for others, increasing this 2 week shipping time to 2 months or more. This is because they are based in Hong-Kong, so it’s somewhat understandable, but it’s still not good. They do have better shipping options, but if you want to use the better options to get your game quickly or you want tracking, their shipping charges skyrocket, and suddenly their competitors (especially the ones based in your own country) have better deals for the same item shipped at the same speed.
Availability and Selection
That being said, they still have the best selection out of all of their competitors. They have pretty much everything, and it’s rare that they don’t have what I’m looking for unless it’s old and out of print. They also tend to have pre-orders much sooner as well, such as the BlazBlue Pre-order I’ve talked about before, so you can insure that you’ll be getting a copy through them much sooner than anybody else most of the time.
I’ve personally never received bad service from them before. And what’s more, they almost always include a $5 off coupon in every order, which is a nice touch. If you do buy from Play-Asia, I do recommend shipping your games in a box instead of an envelope. It’s only $1 more, and it will give your game a lot more protection for it’s journey half-way around the world.
My Score: 85%
Good service, good prices, but shipping is either slooooow or expensive with no middle ground.
Have you had a good or bad experience with Play-Asia? If so, post it in the comments. I’ll pick a couple of the best and a couple of the worst experiences mentioned below and put them directly into the review up here. Feel free to include your own score in your comment as well.
The original PlayStation is, unfortunately, completely region locked. By design, a US PS1 cannot play Japanese games. As a result, importing for the original PlayStation is pretty tricky business, at least if you want to play the imports on an original US console. We’ll start off with the most reliable method, buying a Japanese PS1.
Option 1: Purchase a Japanese PlayStation
Unfortunately, even going the straightforward route and buying a console is tricky due to the age of the console. At the time this guide is being written, Play-Asia, the usual go-to import vendor, doesn’t have any in stock. You can always try an eBay search for a Japanese PlayStation, which will most likely be the cheapest route, but you never know if you’ll get one in good condition or even if there will be one in stock. Lately, the most consistent source to buy a Japanese original PlayStation is on Amazon.
Option 2: Action Replay or Similar Cheat Devices
This option is limited to PlayStation consoles that have the Parallel I/O port, because the cheat device has to be separate from the disc tray. To see if you have one, look on the back of your PlayStation, on the far left. It looks like this when covered:
And like this when opened:
Depending on the cheat device, you also might need to stick something in the lid sensor (the little switch that tells the system whether or not the disc lid is closed) so that it thinks that the lid is always closed.
At this time, the best option I could find is this Power Reply Game Enhancer sold through Amazon, which has a couple of reviews that confirm that it works for backups. In general, if a solution lets you play backups, it will usually let you play imports too, even if it means that you have to create a backup of your import in order to do it (though, usually, you don’t even need to do that).
This method isn’t 100% reliable, but it’s easy to use and works on most of the original PlayStation consoles. It will not work on the later PS One, though.
Option 3: Raw Disc Swap Method
In this method, the only modification required is jamming the lid sensor so that the system thinks the lid is always closed. Unfortunately, it only works on the oldest consoles, so it’s unlikely to work on a random console you happen to have or happen to pick up. However, it’s practically free to attempt it, so it’s very low cost. Here’s the method:
Insert an original and local PlayStation disc
Turn on the system, leave the tray open
Listen carefully to the disc motor – it will start off “slow” at 1x
When the disc motor speeds up to 2x, quickly swap it to the disc you want to play
The system should then show the black PS screen – if it didn’t, start over
It will slow down to 1x, wait longer
It will speed up to 2x, wait longer
It will slow down again to 1x, swap the disc out for the original and local PlayStation disc
It will speed up to 2x once more, swap it back to the disc you want to play
If everything was done correctly, AND your console is one that is old enough, it should play the game normally from there. This should also work for backups. At this point, you can close the lid.
On top of being compatible with only a few consoles, there is also the small chance that you can accidentally damage the disc motor during the swaps. Compared to modern consoles, the disc motor spins much slower, so there’s only a low chance of damaging it, but it is a chance you have to be willing to take in order to attempt this method.
Option 4: Install a Mod Chip
If installed correctly, this method becomes very convenient. You will have one console that plays both Japanese and American games just by putting them in, and the mod chip handles it from there. However, installing a mod chip requires some soldering. The original PlayStation is one of the easiest mod chips to install, but you still have to be brave enough to open up your console and try to attach some wires to the motherboard.
If you’re willing to try this method, this guide is below your level. I recommend researching the different mod chip options out there, as well as looking up some guides with images for where to attach the mod chip. Or, alternatively, you could look for a second-hand pre-modded PlayStation on eBay.
Option 5: Acquire an Import-Enabled PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3
All PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 consoles can play PS1 games, so you can generally play import PS1 games. The only exception is games that have “expansion discs” that require swapping, because the PS2 and PS3 behaves differently when you open it, messing with the process. There are very few games like that, though, so it generally won’t be a problem. The Beatmania Append games come to mind, but outside of those, it should be fine. To find out how to get an import-enabled PS2 or PS3, take a look at How to Import for the PlayStation 2 or How to Import for the PlayStation 3.
Of course, the Final Fantasy series is a favorite on the original PlayStation, but let’s focus on games that are only available in Japan. Pepsiman is one of the most bizarre and interesting ones, featuring the character from the Japan-only Pepsi commercials, and here’s a quick video of it:
As you can see, it plays a lot like Temple Run, but from a long time before Temple Run ever existed. It’s definitely a great collector’s item. At this time, you can find it on Amazon for around $60-70 used, or for way too much new. ebay seems to have them for around $80 right now.
For a music game experience from way before Guitar Hero, you could check out the Beatmania series, several versions of which are currently available from Amazon and eBay. Just keep in mind that you have to have the original Beatmania first before you can play any of the Append versions, because they actually operate as a swap disc, which also means that only some of the methods listed here will work.
Also, for the best experience, you’ll want to pick up the special controller, the best version of which is called the “Beatmania DJ Station PRO Controller” (pictured above), and is currently only available from eBay, and there’s only one left right now.
The only consistent way to modify an original Xbox to play import games is to install a mod chip. However, if you use Xbox Live, you’ll have to find a mod chip that can be “turned off” or employs a “stealth mode” to avoid being banned for “cheating”. One slip-up, and your MAC address will be banned.
Therefore, if you use Xbox Live on your original Xbox, then you might want to consider buying an imported console. Otherwise, look into getting a mod chip for it. Unfortunately, I have no experience with mod chips in Xboxes, so I can’t tell you how hard it would be.
However, if you’re interested in playing Japanese games on the Xbox 360 games, you might be in luck! Or, conversely, you might not be… Microsoft decided to leave region protection in the hands of the game developers, so some games are region locked and others aren’t.
Some of the more popular online import stores will list the compatibility of each game on that particular game’s product page. Play-Asia seems to be the best at it, so feel free to check them out.
If it just so happens that the game you want is region locked, the options revert back to the same options that the original Xbox has. Install a mod-chip and risk having the machine banned from Xbox Live or buy a Japanese console.
Buy a Japanese Xbox HERE (be warned, they are out of stock at the time of this posting)
Buy a Japanese Xbox 360 HERE (they only have the Arcade version right now)
All Nintendo (Except DSi and 3DS) and Sony handheld consoles are COMPLETELY REGION FREE!!!!!! That means Japanese games will run fine on your American PSP or DS (or any earlier Nintendo handheld console)
One catch, though. For PSPs, which button is confirm or cancel is determined by the hardware. US; O = cancel, X = confirm. Japan; O = confirm, X = cancel. That can’t be changed unless you hack your system, which I won’t cover here since it’s not necessary to play an imported game.
So, all you have to do is buy the game and put it in.
There are a few exceptions, unfortunately. A few Chinese DS games won’t work on a DS from a different region due to language support issues. And then there’s the matter of downloadable DSi content. DS cartridges are still region free on the DSi, but an American DSi will only let you access the American DSi download store. As of this post, there’s no way around either problem. So, just in case you’re interested:
A Chinese DS is hard to find, but then again, so are good Chinese games that aren’t available in the US or Japan. Just a matter of opinion, don’t be offended if your favorite game is a China exclusive, please!
The Gamecube and the Wii have many similarities in the way you can play imported games. The easiest for both is probably the FreeLoader. The FreeLoader is a swap disk made available by Code Junkies, the creators of Action Replay, among other things. The Gamecube FreeLoader works almost flawlessly, with only a very few games not working quite properly. Even those will play, with stuff like Heads-Up-Displays not displaying properly.
The Wii FreeLoader is a bit of a different story due to firmware updates. If you keep your Wii updated, then there’s the chance that any of those updates could break the functionality of the FreeLoader. Getting one means that you could run the risk of buying something that doesn’t work. Hey, at least it’s cheap (around $20 + shipping).
The other method is by mod-chip, which requires soldering a chip to the internal circuits of your Gamecube or Wii, and sometimes installing an external switch along with it. It’s a high risk procedure that can be expensive (especially if you break your console). Furthermore, since the Wii is a more recent console, mod-chips haven’t yet been perfected for it, and there may or may not be a mod-chip with all the functionality that you want. Even further furthermore (I know, horrible grammar =P), mod-chips are a legal grey-market. Since mod-chips generally allow you to play burned games as well, and downloading a game you don’t own (or circumventing any copy protection on a disc in order to have a copy) is illegal, the legality of the mod-chip itself is somewhat in question. Still, sometimes a mod-chip provides you the best functionality, and it’s up to you to find the right chip and assume the risks associated with installing it.
However, the GameCube has a third option. The only difference between the motherboards of the two different regions is a single connection. If this connection was never connected, it is one region. If it is connected, it’s the other. You can actually install a switch to switch the GameCube back and forth between the two regions. This still requires some soldering, but it’s a relatively easy procedure.
And, of course, there is ALWAYS the option of purchasing a Gamecube or Wii from Japan to play your games on. This is generally the most expensive, most effective, and safest way to play any of your import games.
Here’s the original NES, the one you probably know all too well:
And here’s the original Famicom, the one released in Japan:
The only REAL difference between the two (at least as far as importers are concerned) is the fact that they use a different number of pins for putting games in the console. As such, as a stand-alone, imported games will not work in your home console. What’s more, Japanese games are much smaller in size than American ones. They wouldn’t even reach the pins, unless you happen to have one of the top loaders shown here:
With the top loader, both the Japanese and the American models look very similar (though, since the original Japanese one already loaded from the top, the re-release was called the A/V Famicom instead, due to the fact that it could use normal A/V cables. The composite ones. The red, white, and yellow ones =P). However, they STILL use a different number of pins, so importing isn’t straightforward.
Here’s what a Japanese cartridge looks like:
There are a couple of options for making Japanese cartridges work. The cheapest method is a pin adapter. It simply takes the pins from the Japanese games and attempts to reroute them to the proper pins for the American console. It doesn’t always work. Also, there are a number of more sophisticated adapters, and they often have a mini-Famicom built in to the adapter itself to get more accurate gameplay. However, all of the ones I’ve seen and tried have truly crappy build quality, and they are far from recommended.
Furthermore, the original Famicom isn’t recommended. Unless it’s modded, the original Famicom only uses an RF out, and Japanese channels are at different frequencies than American channels, so you might not be able to tune in to the frequency the original Famicom produces. You might get lucky around channels 95 or 96 or so, but you don’t want to count on getting lucky.
The recommended option is unfortunately the most expensive. And that is to import an A/V Famicom. That is the only way to consistently play these games in their original quality. Sad, but true.
Importing for the SNES or Super Famicom, and importing for the N64
Super Famicom is the Japanese name for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
It’s really easy to get Japanese Super Famicom (SF) games to play on your American console, but there is a bit of risk, and it isn’t QUITE perfect.
For the vast majority of SNES/SF games only have a physical region lockout. As such, the only thing keeping you from playing these games is two little plastic pieces that block a Japanese cart from reaching the pins. Carefully break these pieces off with a pair of needle-nose pliers, and voila! You can play Japanese Super Famicom games on your American SNES!
The only catch is that a FEW games are locked out using a CIC check. Getting around this is seems to involve modifying the cart itself, and really isn’t recommended, especially if you’re a collector. Then again, if you’re REALLY a collector, you’ll want to buy a Japanese Super Famicom instead of breaking off anything in your American one, but that’s all up to you.
If you own the SNES Jr. (the smaller remake of the console), here’s a great way to mod it without actually breaking any part of the console:
Modifying a Nintendo 64 is very similar, but admittedly a bit more difficult. The plastic pieces don’t break off nearly as easily, but the method is more or less the same. To do it safely, it takes a bit of work and a tool or two (most notable the Gamebit and Triwing screwdriver tools, special screwdrivers for opening Nintendo consoles and cartridges), as described here: N64 Import Mod. You could probably just use pliers to reach in and break them off like the SNES mod, but it is pretty easy to break more than what you meant to this way. Of course the SAFEST way is still to buy a Japanese N64, but that’s also the most expensive method (assuming all goes well).
To buy a Super Famicom, try HERE
To buy a Japanese N64, try HERE
To buy a Gamebit or Triwing tool, try HERE