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The Death of Importing Games

Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of the author and not PlayStation LifeStyle as a whole.

Inti Creates’ Gal*Gun: Double Peace is already out in Europe and releases next week in North America. While the on-rails shooter isn’t very good, I can’t help but feel like it signifies the end of an era. 15 years ago, nobody would’ve ever expected that a game about shooting Japanese schoolgirls with sex pheromones would release on North American store shelves. Now it’s not even surprising.

This is largely due to publishers that specialized in bringing over obscure titles such as Atlus, XSEED Games and Aksys Games. They successfully managed to show that these games that were hastily labeled “niche titles” actually have a sizable market of gamers ready to buy them. Sure, Gal*Gun and Senran Kagura are never going to top the sales chart like Call of Duty, but they do well enough that a publisher can successfully operate while releasing them.

A Changing Market

importing games

In the first time in gaming history, almost every worthwhile game is being brought over and localized. That’s an amazing achievement. Just in 2016 alone, we’ve seen RPGs like 7th Dragon III Code: VFD come stateside, and even more visual novels are finding their way overseas. This is obviously fantastic news as games are finding a wider audience than ever before. I can’t stress enough how great a time it is to be a gamer, but I also can’t help but feel a bit sad and sentimental about import games having less of a role in gaming.

You don’t have to look very far back in gaming history to get to a point where some of a platform’s best video games weren’t seeing a worldwide release. The Nintendo DS had an amazing library filled with great games like Ghost Trick, but the system’s best game, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, never released outside of Japan. But since I wanted to play it, I imported a copy and played it on my DS (which thankfully was region free).

Even though I only know how to say “stupid” and “detective” in Japanese (thanks to Detective Conan), some of my favorite gaming memories are from playing Japanese games. I spent hours struggling through menus I didn’t understand and eventually figured it out. Looking back upon it, it was almost a game in of itself! Still, this is something I find happening less and less often since there just aren’t that many great games to import anymore.

Japan Exclusive

importing games

Sure, there are still a few great games that don’t get a worldwide release, but it’s a far cry from the Japanese exclusives of yesteryear. There are more games than ever coming out, and yet I’ve only imported three games for my PlayStation 4 and Vita. The only real must have import game on current systems is Puyo Puyo Tetris, a puzzle game mashup of two of the genre’s most famous titles, and the only reason it didn’t come stateside is due to all of the weird licensing baggage that comes with the Tetris license.

The fact of the matter is, if you’re willing to be patient, most good games (or even just notably weird ones) will make their way overseas. God Eater 2 was a PlayStation Vita game that I almost imported, but thankfully I didn’t. I waited it out, and now it’ll be released in an enhanced fashion on PS4 next month. With the advent of digital distribution and a larger market for these games, publishers are bringing out any game that will sell to the worldwide marketplace.

For the most part, the only games staying in Japan now are low budget titles, games based off anime or manga (like the Nisekoi visual novel I bought against my better judgement), and weird licensing nightmares like the aforementioned Puyo Puyo Tetris. Now, there will be exceptions that prove the rule such as Yakuza Ishin and Tales of Innocence R, but even those would likely come over if it wasn’t for their respective series’ busy release schedules. There are less worthwhile games staying overseas, and that’s a good thing. Credit needs to be given to publishers for delivering the goods.

Not a Funeral, a Celebration

While I’ll always have a fondness for importing games, I’m glad I rarely have to anymore. My wallet is happy that I don’t have to pay an outrageous price to play the weird rhythm games that I love, and it’s just so much more convenient. Even in today’s digital marketplace where almost every Japanese PS4 game, besides Puyo Puyo Tetris, is available through the PlayStation Store, it’s easier and cheaper to just wait for a game to get localized than to buy digital yen.

The need to import games is dead, and I couldn’t be happier.

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