New Nintendo 3DSs
Image: Nintendo Life / Damien McFerran

As we all know the 3DS and Wii U eShops are closing down, taking with them countless classics in all genres. It's a decision that's understandably left many of us scrambling to find our old passwords and make those last minute purchases, finally turning those 'Maybe next time' purchases into a wallet-busting reality.

Nintendo's decision to region-lock the 3DS after decades of easygoing handheld gaming has added another problem to the mix — the Japanese eShop. This forbidden store is packed with delights, not least in the Virtual Console section, where the games are comparatively so cheap, and some of their original releases are now so expensive (before shipping), and so otherwise unavailable (legally), that it's enough to make anyone weep.

But why waste time feeling sad about it when we could hatch a cunning plan instead? Although 'sailing the seven seas' is and has always been the most dubious and cost-effective way to access tough-to-source titles, the vast gulf in costs between Virtual Console and original cartridges means it's entirely possible to buy yourself a Japanese 3DS, plus the imported eShop credit necessary to purchase all of the games below, and — compared to the legal alternative — still by able to strenuously insist to your partner/friends/family that you've been financially responsible for doing so.

That sounds like a win to us! Let's take a look at 10 Japan-only winners worth importing a Japanese 3DS for. While you still can, that is. We've listed both their current eShop price and the price you can expect to pay for a secondhand physical copy...

Note: Obviously these games will all be in Japanese, which may present obstacles for non-Japanese speakers ranging from 'oh, it's just the title screen!' to 'hmmm, time to crack out the translator camera for this one'.

Balloon Fight GB

This Japanese Game Boy Color exclusive Balloon Kid upgrade has always been hard to get hold of at the best of times, as it was originally sold via special store kiosks and copied onto special rewriteable carts. Like Link's Awakening DX, the use of colour here is so brilliantly done it feels as though this great game was never made with anything else in mind.

eShop price: 628yen (approx £4) Original cart (used): We'd love to tell you, but we can't. It's just that rare.

Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (NES)

Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (NES)Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (NES)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 9th Jun 2008 (USA) / 29th Aug 2008 (UK/EU)

This game's only international appearance was on the Wii's Virtual Console service, so if you missed out then this is currently the cheapest and easiest official way to experience Konami's better-than-the-description-suggests action baby platformer.

eShop price: 524yen (approx £3) Original disc (used): £80+ (complete)

Famicom Detective Club Part II: The Girl Who Stands Behind

The Switch version may be beautifully updated, but retro fans in search of the original experience will be pleased to know Nintendo currently offers the Famicom Disc System versions of both Famicom Club mysteries, as well as this brilliantly redone SNES port of the second for sale on the 3DS eShop. The one it's closing down.

eShop price: 838yen (approx £5) Original cart (used): £60+ (cart only)

Famicom Mukashibanashi: Shin Onigashima

This beautiful pair of fantastical adventure games were made for the Famicom Disc System, and often overlooked due to hardware as much as the language barrier. This latest Virtual Console release bundles both parts of this wonderful story together in one convenient portable package, helping to keep them playable and accessible.

eShop price: 524yen (approx £3) Original disc (used): £20+ (complete — each)

Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (SNES)

Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (SNES)Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (SNES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date: 28th Aug 1999 (JPN)

Mysteriously this fantastic game didn't make it to the SNES Mini, and isn't available on NSO either. Even with the language barrier anyone familiar with the series is bound to love being able to play 16-bit strategy classic this while curled up in bed, sitting on public transport, or pretending to listen to whoever's nearby.

eShop price: 943yen (approx £6) Original cart (used): £100+ (standard edition, complete)

Ganbare Goemon 3

Much of Konami's beloved Goemon series has remained overseas, and that's true for this third SFC entry. A colourful multi-character action adventure as essential as any other in the series that's only improved by the ability to play it wherever and whenever you please.

eShop price: 838yen (approx £5) Original cart (used): £40+ (complete)

Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (GB)

Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (GB)Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (GB)
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 14th Sep 1992 (JPN)

Nintendo's rarely cameoed and never revisited puzzle-leaning Game Boy adventure is the sort of game everyone should play if they have the chance. Relentlessly charming and inventive, it draws you in with its Link-like styling and then goes on to surprise at every turn.

eShop price: 419yen (approx £3) Original cart (used): £50+ (complete)

Live A Live (SNES)

Live A Live (SNES)Live A Live (SNES)
Publisher: Squaresoft / Developer: Squaresoft
Release Date: 2nd Sep 1994 (JPN)

With the recently announced and very welcome remake of Square's RPG opting for a beautiful Octopath-like look, the original experience remains something left behind on the Super Famicom — or the Japanese 3DS, if you've got one. Packed with multiple interlinked stories to play through, this is one of the developer's more unusual and overlooked titles.

eShop price: 943yen (approx £6) Original cart (used): £60+ (complete)

Super Famicom Wars

Advance Wars' prequel is the place where charming 2D pixel art meets the sort of simple but absorbing strategy that's easy to play for a 'quick' go that somehow seems to last until you need to recharge your 3DS' battery. It's also another game that didn't get a standard cartridge release, making it easily-bought and its 3DS presence all the more welcome.

eShop price: 838yen (approx £5) Original cart (used): £120+ (cart only)

Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict (GG)

Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict (GG)Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict (GG)
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: 30th Jun 1995 (JPN)

A handheld game with console polish, the third part of Sega Game Gear's Shining Force Gaiden trilogy was a superb, if untranslated, finale. Visually stunning and as effortlessly enjoyable as any other game in the series, this is essential for all fans of grid-based combat (and plenty of people who think they wouldn't like it, too).

eShop price: 524yen (approx £3) Original cart (used): £100+ (complete)


So, is it worth importing a Japanese 3DS to access all the hard-to-find games above and many more in a totally legal manner? Well, looking at those totals above, it's safe to say the theoretical savings are enormous even if you decided to treat yourself to a factory sealed limited edition 3DS to go with those games.

Reality is, of course, never quite as simple (after all, the only reason this feature exists is because access to the digital store these games can be bought from is soon disappearing forever) but it does at least give us a chance to reflect on the ridiculous cost of physical retro games and how awkward Nintendo makes it to buy official alternatives.

It also highlights the frustrating friction found between the need to buy official re-releases to prove to publishers they're worth bringing back and the fact that it's understandably hard for anyone to seriously invest in a service that will one day — perhaps sooner than you think — simply cease to exist, with no end-of-life provisions made for legitimate personal backups. The Virtual Console, for all its fault and foibles, was a special thing across the three systems it appeared, and we're sorry to see it leave so soon.

Are you tempted to treat yourself to another 3DS? Is *counts on fingers... five too many? Or have Nintendo disappointed you for the last time? Let us know in the poll below, as well as your favourite retro titles from our small list above in the comments.

Would you consider importing a Japanese 3DS to access the trove of hard-to-find region-exclusive VC games on 3DS eShop?