Important Importables: How to determine if you’re ready to start importing games

Sections: Columns, Features, How-To, Japanese Imports

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Important Importables is all about highlighting games from Japan that are really awesome and deserve more attention. Odds are, it’ll help you get excited about games you’ve never played before. It may even make you want to buy and play them yourself. I’m sure it made games like Idolmaster 2 seem more appealing. But importing a video game is a big step for gamers. It’s not a “adopting a new pet” kind of step, but a “spending about $70 on a single game” step. It could be daunting move for some people.

Which is why today I’m going to help you see if you’re ready! I’m going to go over the things you should be asking yourself before you decide to import games from Japan. (Or Europe.) Hopefully, after you go through my list, you’ll have a better idea of grabbing an exotic game is an option for you.

Are you ready to import?

  1. Know your systems: Importing games can get really expensive. You have to be sure you have the right hardware before you even get started, otherwise you’ll be wasting money. If you’re interested in 3DO, Dreamcast, DS, GBA, Game Boy, Game Gear, Jaguar, Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket, PS3, PSP or Vita games, you’ll be absolutely fine and can start importing immediately. The Dreamcast does need a special boot disc to run import games, which is easy to find online or even burn, and the other systems are all region-free to begin with. All other consoles and handhelds are region-locked. If you want to play, for example, Japanese 3DS games, you’ll also have to buy a Japanese 3DS. Or, if you want to play Japanese NES, SNES or Genesis games, you’ll have to buy Hyperkin’s RetroN 3.
  2. Know yourself: How proficient are you in other languages? Most people who are going to be importing are doing so to get games from Japan that were never released in other regions. The Japanese game libraries are almost always larger than ones for North America and Europe, with Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360 being the only exceptions. You should at least be able to recognize some hirigana and katakana and some words, like “start,” “save,” and “load.” You don’t have to have any knowledge of Japanese to import, but it will make the transition easier.
  3. Know your games:Which games are you interested in importing? If they’re games with little to no language barriers, you should be able to jump in with no trouble. Platformers, fighting games, racing games, puzzle games and music games are all usually easy enough to play even if you can’t read the on-screen text. Visual novels, adventure games, strategy games, simulations and RPGs are much more difficult. That isn’t to say you couldn’t or shouldn’t import a more text-heavy game if you don’t know the language, but in that case you should really do your research online to find out if there are translations or guides available to help you through.
  4. Know your stores and prices: Import video games are really expensive. Let me give you a recent example. Persona 4: The Golden was released for the Vita in Japan back in June 2012 and costs about $79 to import. If you wait until November, it will be released in North America as Persona 4 Golden for $39.99. The same goes for Tokyo Jungle. You could get a Japanese copy on a disc for around $60. Or, you could hop onto the North American PlayStation Store and download it to your PS3 for $14.99. The price drops to $11.99 at the moment if you’re a PlayStation Plus member. This kind of markup appears on all import games. It’s best to do a lot of shopping and research before making any purchases. It’s generally best to wait until a game has been released for a year, to see if a localization is announced. You don’t want to wait more than two years though, because then it could become rare and hard to find, driving the price up. You also don’t want to buy from the first shop you see. It’s best to compare different online stores to find the best price. I generally buy from Play-Asia and AmiAmi. AmiAmi is usually cheaper, but Play-Asia has more shipping options and a bigger clearance section.

So, there you go. These tips should help you get in the right mindset. By now, you should know if you can or should start importing games. Just know that it’s an import game is often a big investment and you should be really sure about your purchases. Is it a game you’ve always wanted to play, know you’ll really enjoy and are willing to take a chance on buying? If you are unsure about any of those three questions, then you should give yourself some more time, or perhaps add it to an email notification list at Play-Asia so you can take a chance on it after the price drops.

COMING NEXT TIME: Important Importables will review the Vita import game Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Last week Important Importables reviewed Dokuro for the Vita.

Follow Jenni on Twitter for more import game updates and general fangirl enthusiasm!

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  • dan

    no number 4??

  • chris

    here are a few things to also remember.
    if the games are in Japan be aware that shipping is Expensive and Time consuming. expect 20 to 30 for shipping, and even then waiting over a month for the shipment to arrive.

    Some sites will charge you in Yen and then your bank might charge you a fee to transfer the money to another country and in to another currency.