I’ve been fascinated by Japanese games for as long as I can remember, going right the way back to faux-Japanese Amiga games like Leander and Apidya II. There's something appealing about Japanese game design and art which can't quite be matched by western titles, and although many would argue that Japan is becoming less important as a creator of video games, it has a lineage which simply cannot be matched by any other region in the world. Japan has given us the likes of Mario, Sonic, Metal Gear, Tekken, Ridge Racer, Pac-Man and Space Invaders, to name but a few blockbusters. However, it has also given us numerous other niche games which provide an experience that simply cannot be found elsewhere.
Modern gaming has thankfully seen to it that we can now buy titles like Xenoblade Chronicles and Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi in English, and there are plenty of excellent doujin games to choose from on Steam. So we’re sorted when it comes to scratching that import gaming itch, right? What else could Japan have to offer?
A slew of untranslated games and thirty years of still-untapped history, that’s what.
The first thing to catch your eye with a Japanese game is of course the box art, and that always goes one of two ways – you’ll either be assaulted with some impossibly sharp anime art that looks like it’s about to burst off the cover or instead find something as delicate and detailed as an Yoshitaka Amano watercolour.
It doesn’t stop there though; once inside you’ll see full colour manuals packed with beautiful illustrations and the sort of background stories and character info the rest of us have to scrape together online. And don’t get me started on limited editions, each one a treasure box that runs the full gamut of the sublime to the ridiculous: beautiful lithographs, high quality statues, exclusive arrange albums, egg timers made to look like meat getting roasted over a campfire, pencil cases that will never see stationary and even pocket watches! You'd think by this point there just couldn’t be any more game-related merchandise out there, but somehow they keep finding ways to throw incense, pendants, jigsaw puzzles and even plates into enticing oversized boxes just begging to be bought.
There are times when I like to pretend I’m above being swayed by fancy packaging and shiny trinkets, so it’s good to know that import gaming also offers eye opening experiences that you just can’t get anywhere else (not legitimately, anyway). From should-have-been-classics like the Game Boy’s Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (AKA: For the Frog the Bell Tolls) to downright bizarre titles like PlayStation pet simulator Jellyfish: The Healing Friend, there’s absolutely something for everyone, even if you never knew you wanted them in the first place!
Even if you’re not the sort of person that decides to learn a new language just to play a few RPGs there’s still plenty to try. Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai, Densha de GO! 2, Soukyugurentai...in just those three titles you’ve got a modern rhythm game, a train-driving sim and a classic 2D shmup – all unique, all import only, and all playable without doing anything as crazy as learning how to read a new alphabet.
So if you ever find yourself staring at the endless shelves of safe blockbuster titles and their focus-tested space marines in your local game store and long for something a little different, hop online and grab yourself Puyo Puyo Tsuu Remix for the Super Famicom, Magical Taruruuto-kun for the Mega Drive or Star Soldier Collection for the PSP – it might turn out the be the first entry in your import game collection.
Have you previously dabbled in import gaming? What appeal does it hold for you? Do you think the age of digital downloads will make import collecting a thing of the past, or render it even more enticing? Post a comment to share your thoughts.