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