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.
Where to Get Games
Play-Asia is generally my go-to source for import games, and they do have a decent selection of Japanese PS1 games still available, though most are Ultimate Hits or Legendary Hits versions. They are well-priced, though, particularly compared to most of the Japanese PS1 games available through Amazon sellers. If you’re worried about whether or not Play-Asia is reputable, you can check out the Play-Asia review as well. And, as always, you can always search eBay for some Japanese PS1 games, which is often quite the mixed bag of random selection and random prices.
Interesting Game Highlights
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.
Enjoy your PlayStation imports!
Disclaimer: use any of these methods at your own risk. Some of them can damage your console.
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