Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Japan: 5 days and counting...

I got this story from Modojo. I'll be bringing back many more import games from Japan... I really suggest handheld imports to others. Even if you cannot read them, you can enjoy them still.

Read on.
Ever purchased an imported game? If its something you've never done, you could be missing out on a whole world of extra fun! So how do you go about engaging in this wonderful activity? Well, getting games imported is easier than ever before, thanks to there being so many websites dedicated to selling the latest Japanese releases direct to our very doors. Gone are the days of a game being marked up double or more just because of a sticker saying import stuck to the case. So now the price is right, and more people are importing than ever before.

Still, there's an enormous amount of people who've never seen any reason to import. Why should you even be bothered? The fact is that Japan sees a huge amount of exciting and original portable games that either never see the light of day over here, take an absolute age to get over here, or are changed beyond all recognition into an entirely different game. The presentation of the packaging is often a level above ours, with superior artwork and sometimes little bonus treats, like sticker sets. It's the feeling of holding something you know very few people around you have held. Like the landscape shape of the Japanese Gameboy Advance boxes - they're only boxes, but they feel a little more special somehow.

The games that don't make it to our shores usually don't make it for various reasons. Often the games need a lot of translation work, and publishers feel the title is too niche to cover the cost of localization, marketing, and distribution. Some games are considered to be just too plain crazy to have any appeal over here - often they're the ones that are the most fun! There are also many licensed anime titles that don't even get considered for release due to the fact the TV shows they're based on aren't available here, as was mentioned in our review of Bleach : Souten ni Kakeru Unmei. While Bleach might make its way over here eventually, it's too late for the developer Treasure's other portable fighting game, Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting! A polished GBA boxing game from 2002 based upon the anime and manga comic of the same name. Never released in the west, despite there being a serious lack of boxing games, it remains a quality title that is now remarkably difficult to get hold of.

There have been, in the past, been plenty of obstacles to importing, like having to have your console modified to play the games, paying high prices and of course the language barrier that comes with the games being in Japanese. Price is no longer really a concern and for portables neither is that of regional locking, with all of the current generation of portables being able to play games from anywhere in the world. That leaves us with just the language barrier to contend with, and of course the almighty task of selecting something to play.

Some genres are easier to understand in a foreign language than others, like fighting, driving, shooting and puzzle games. Then there's your RPG's and strategy games, where people can get stuck easily because of the sheer amount of text. Many games having complicated in-game tutorials, for instance. It isn't always impossible though. These games have a dedicated die-hard fanbase, who often make up intricately detailed FAQs and walkthroughs, which can be very useful if you're intent on playing these text heavy games. If you want to play the simpler action games, you'll find that if you've been playing games for long enough, you should be able to pick up and play most Japanese games to some extent without having to read any kind of instructions.

Recently we've taken a look at a few imported titles, like the Bit Generations games, Bleach: Souten ni Kakeru Unmei, Every Extend Extra, Rhythm Tengoku, and Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins, known as Goku Makaimura in Japan. These games are a decent example of games that are easy enough to pick up and play without a degree in Japanese.

Every Extend Extra for example is almost entirely in English aside from the small tutorial at the start of the game. If you can't figure out how to play it, there's plenty of info around on how the game works due to the popular freeware PC version of the game.

With Rhythm Tengoku, virtually all the text in the menus and in-game are in Japanese but the way the game works is straightforward enough for anyone without any Japanese knowledge at all to play it. The only real areas of confusion may lie in what the options available in the menus are, but you really don't have to delve into them that often. Just make sure you don't delete all your progress!

The entire Bit Generations series is designed to be as simple as possible, with minimal text of any kind in the games and game concepts that are easy to grasp almost immediately. They're also really cheap, coming in at around half the price of a traditional GBA title. They may be minimalistic games but they're still enjoyable.

Goku Makaimura initially resembles its forebears but without a little knowledge of the game you'll find it even harder than it already is. Without being able to read the manual you'll miss some vital parts about how the game works, such as how to utilize items you come across. The in-game menus are simple enough to work out if you have a quick glance at an FAQ. Just remember to keep chucking them daggers as fast as you can, yeah?

If you're already into or thinking about getting into import games, a fun thing to have a go at is attempting to learn the Japanese Katakana writing system. Katakana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katakana) is one of the Japanese writing systems and is usually used for 'Loan words', meaning words that aren't of traditional Japanese origin. You'll be very surprised by how much text in games is actually kinda in English, just not written in English. It can be difficult to start but the katakana symbols can be easily spotted in text because compared to the other writing they tend to be simpler and more angular.

Japanese as a language works with a set mixture of syllables, so these loan words read rather strangely but do make sense. For example, in Goku Makaimura, a screen that you are going to see a lot of the time says 'continue', in katakana this is spelled as KONTINYU. Other things that come in handy to be able to spot are things like 'save' (SEEBU, pronounced kinda like SAY BU! ), Load (ROODO, like 'row dough') and options ( OPUSHON ). Its surprising to see so many quite easily recognizable words - it just takes a while to be able to recognize them.

If you don't fancy going quite as far as that, there are still a few simple things that you can learn that will help you. Knowing the difference between YES (HAI) and NO (IIE) is one of the most useful things you can learn, as you'll often find in-between levels the good old game save prompt, which is the Kana for save with some japanese writing after it and then usually a nice question mark. Hai is usually on the left and is made up of two characters, Iie is usually on the right and is made up of three characters. Iie is usually the one automatically highlighted so whenever you want to save your game, select the smaller word!

You don't need any knowledge of Japanese to actually get hold of the games, though. There is a wide range of import games companies, some with more specialist services than others. Popular websites include the likes of Lik-Sang, YesAsia, Play-Asia and NCSX. The latter two companies are pretty useful for obtaining those harder to find older titles.

Is it worthwhile just to wait for a Western release? In the case of some games, like Goku Makaimura where the release date isn't that far away, the advantage gained is mainly that you've had it a couple of months earlier than you would've, and sometimes at a cheaper price to boot. With more unique games like Bit generations and Rhythm Tengoku though, you are enjoying something you otherwise wouldn't have access.

We're going to continue looking at the import scene, highlighting the games we believe are worth your game time. In the next Japan in my Hand we examine the major games currently available on import for your GBA, DS, & PSP that you really shouldn't be missing out on.