A Beginner's Guide to Importing Games

Ollie's article about PS3's latest Gundam title got me thinking I should pick it up. I figured some of you may be thinking the same thing. That said, I've put together the following short guide to help you get started on importing and playing games.

Without further ado, let's get into it.


Can Your Console Play Imports?

The first thing to make sure of is that you have the appropriate hardware to run an import game on your console of choice. To make sure you're ready, check your console on the table below:

*Xbox 360, PS3 and PS4 games are region-locked on a game-by-game basis. Check with your retailer before buying.

**Original DS titles are region free and can be played on any region 3DS.

ConsoleRegion Locked?Adapter/Modchip
Xbox OneNoN/A
Playstation 4No*N/A
Wii UYesNo
PS VitaNoN/A
3DSYes**No
WiiYesYes (softmod)
Playstation 3No*N/A
Xbox 360No*N/A
PSPNoN/A
Nintendo DSNoN/A
GamecubeYesYes
Gameboy AdvanceNoN/A
Playstation 2YesYes
DreamcastYesYes
XboxYesYes (softmod)
Nintendo 64YesYes
PlaystationYesYes
SEGA SaturnYesYes
Virtual BoyNoN/A
Super NESYesYes
SEGA GenesisYesYes
Game GearNoN/A
Game BoyNoN/A
SEGA Master SystemYesNo
NESYesYes

Where Do You Buy Imports?

Import gaming is a big business, and there are a lot of great vendors out there to choose from. As with any industry, there are some places that are great, and some you'll just want to plain avoid. Below are a couple well-regarded shops.

National Console Support

A Beginner's Guide to Importing Games

Ask most import gamers where they do business and you'll likely be referred to NCS. NCS is based in New York, has been in business since around 1995 and has a well-earned good reputation. Customer service is typically friendly and quick to respond, prices are on the cheaper side of the spectrum and orders ship quickly. You can't really go wrong here.

Play-Asia

A Beginner's Guide to Importing Games

Running a close second for me—and strictly due to the fact that they're overseas and I'm paranoid, mind you—is Play-Asia. I've ordered just about as many items from the folks at Play-Asia as I have from NCS and I've never been displeased. Play-Asia is based in Hong Kong, and their shipping is impressively fast. My typical shipments arrive through customs via some form of black magic in 2-3 days. The only drawback, is being overseas, shipping will often end up being a bit more expensive. In my experience, Play-Asia's products are a bit cheaper than NCS to compensate for increased shipping costs.

Honorable Mention: Japan Video Games

A Beginner's Guide to Importing Games

Japan Video Games gets an honorable mention from me for having been around since the only way to import games was by thumbing through the backs of gaming magazines to find mini catalogs. The downside here is Japan Video Games tends to have slightly higher prices than both other options listed, and their website is also something of a mess. If you're looking for something rare, and don't mind spending a bit of extra money, Japan Video Games will take care of you. I'd recommend calling them though.


The Language Barrier

The language barrier is perhaps the biggest factor deterring gamers from joining the import scene. Japanese isn't exactly the easiest the language to learn, but do you really need to learn it? Unfortunately, there isn't a black or white answer in this scenario; it really depends on what type of game you're looking to play.

If you have an interest in learning the language, then jump in feet first. If you're not quite interested in Japanese, consider the genre you're looking to import. Japanese language beginners and those uninterested in learning the language should probably stay away from games that are narrative-heavy, like Metal Gear, Zelda or most RPGs.

If you're importing shooters like Ikaruga or a fighter like Melty Blood, you'll probably be safe. If you want to translate the simple menus, for the few games these days whose menus aren't in English, a simple hiragana or katakana chart in combination with a decent Japanese to English dictionary (or Google translate) will help out (remember katakana is mainly used as a means of sounding out foreign words phonetically).

At this point you should have everything you need to get started importing games. Have a question? Want to know how to get a specific game running? Got a great import store recommendation? Let me know in the comments.


Title image used with permission from japanesetease.net , take a good look inside Super Potato, Japan's amazing used game chain in the awesome blog post the image came from, here.