While we now live in a world where most games are released worldwide, there was a time when many great games never left Japan. Although that era is largely over, it lasted for decades. Naturally, that means there’s a long catalog of great releases that still haven’t left Japan. Surprisingly, many of these games wouldn’t even have required much translation, since they’re already playable, even though they’re still in Japanese.
There are many great games not released outside of Japan that you can play with a patch or download a script for. While it’s super cool, this list explicitly focuses on games you can play without using outside sources. And don’t worry, it’s not just about retro stuff, there are also some incredibly recent games here.
There are games that have absolutely stunned importers for years with their quality, but the fact is that most of these titles have now been released in the West in one form or another. This includes Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, considered by many to be the best Castlevania game, but also the excellent Sin and Punishment, one of the best games on N64.
Hell, even Mega Man had Rock Man And Bass, a great game that went years without being released. However, although they have been imported favorites for a while, they are all available in the West now.
ten Initial Stage D Extreme (PS3)
While Initial D Extreme Stage has all-Japanese menus and includes a story mode that will be impossible to understand without knowledge of Japanese, there is something you don’t need Japanese for: playing the game itself.
Yes, you’re not going to get the whole experience, but honestly the part you’re here for is almost certainly the excellent drift-based racing. If you love arcade racing games, this Japan-exclusive title is a fantastic buy. And well, if you also want to understand the story, you can watch the anime on the side: it’s a good one!
9 Some virtual magic (PS4, Vita)
The younger generation may not remember the Virtual-On series, but there was a time when it was one of the best arcade experiences. The series is super fast-paced arena combat. To this day, the original titles are still responsive and engaging titles. However, while most believe the series is dormant, there has been a new installment in the series: A Certain Magical Virtual-On.
Although they’ve updated the overall package, including more narrative elements, the core gameplay still feels remarkably familiar. So while you can’t get much out of the storytelling, the gameplay is still poor and it’s still the heart of the experience, making it an easy import title to recommend.
8 Sengoku Basara X (PS2)
It’s one of the holy grails of the Playstation 2 fighting game scene. Sengoku Basara X is an absolutely gorgeous 2D fighting game featuring characters from the Sengoku Basara game franchise (for those unfamiliar , think Dynasty Warriors, but the characters are Japanese legends).
Basara X is not only a spectator, it also has a beacon mechanism. It’s not as offbeat as something like Marvel Versus Capcom 2, as Basara X offers a bit more traditional take on its playstyle, but you can still put together some pretty broken stuff using your assist. It’s a great game and that makes it an outstanding import.
7 Itadaki Street: Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy 30th Anniversary (PS4, Vita)
Of all the titles on this list, this is the one that presents the most obstacles in the way of the non-Japanese player. However, none of these even come close to being insurmountable. The is a lot of Japanese are present here, but the majority of the game is just about rolling dice, buying property and investing in property. That’s it. So, just by trial and error, you’ll be able to solve the basic checks in about five minutes.
On the other hand, there is the issue of chance cards. Although the description for these cards is in Japanese, most of them do things without much input from you, and they just happen when you land on the lucky spot. So while you can’t read the description, when you see your property values increase by twenty percent, you’ll instantly understand EXACTLY what just happened.
So while it might be a bit of a pain if you don’t know Japanese, it’s absolutely a game you can play. And you know what, it’s a ton of fun! It basically takes Monopoly and makes it good. It also lets you use a bunch of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest characters as player pieces. We played this title with dozens of people who don’t speak a word of Japanese and they were all able to understand it very quickly. Sure, you can buy the English version for the Wii (it’s called Fortune Street in the West), but if you want a modern iteration, importing the PS4 version is your best bet!
6 Sanrio World Smash Ball (SNES)
Yes, it’s a game that takes place in the Hello Kitty universe, but we must stop looking at us with disgust: Sanrio World Smash Ball slaps! It has a lot of the same appeal as something like Windjammers, but with a Brick Breaker twist. It’s a fantastic competitive multiplayer game that is immediately accessible and will keep you on your toes.
Yes, the IP address is clunky, but the game is simply full of charm. Don’t let your fear of lovable characters rob you of this amazing multiplayer experience!
5 Kamen Rider: Memory Of Heroez (PS4 and Switch)
There is something very nostalgic about Kamen Rider: Memory of Heroez. It looks like a game you would have played on the PlayStation 2. It’s a 3D action title, where you clear arenas full of enemies. Think Devil May Cry, but not as advanced. It also looks like something about a generation behind. But it all adds to its charm in a way.
These types of experiences no longer exist. Plus, Memory of Heroes is unabashedly cheesy and filled with silly, over-the-top attacks. He is exactly what you would want from a Kamen Rider game. There’s definitely an audience for this one. There are people who are going to have a hell of a time with this title. The best of all, the Asian version has full English support!
4 Return of the Elevator Action (Sega Saturn)
Elevator Action Returns starts from a very simple principle and offers an excellent arcade experience. If you’ve ever thought “boy, I’d love to see what Hotel Mario and Contra would look like merged together”, then you need look no further than Elevator Action Returns.
While technically there was a PS2 port of this game in one of the Taito collections, it was a hobbled version. If you want the real experience, there’s still only one place to get it, and that’s by importing the Sega Saturn version of Elevator Action Returns.
3 Tetris Gaiden (SNES)
It’s Tetris, but it also has fighting game elements. To start, you select a character to play as and all characters have their own special moves. You access these special moves by building your super bar. Sound familiar?
This is one of the best Tetris spinoffs ever made. It’s a ton of fun to play with friends, and it still offers all the classic goodies you’ll find in your more traditional Tetris game. It’s an amazing experience!
2 Super Robot Wars V (PS4, Switch)
Super Robot Wars V is a game released in multiple regions. Although it has a Japanese version, it also has the more generic Asian version which has more language options. Surprisingly, although it was never released in the West, the Asian version actually has an English setting.
So if you’re looking for a mech-based tactical RPG that features some of your favorite mechs from a number of the most popular anime, then this is the game for you. It’s not the only Super Robot Wars title to get this treatment, either. So if you like this one, you have more games in the franchise just waiting to be imported!
1 Dark Cave (Gameboy)
Do you know what we all love? A good Gameboy roguelike! You know how… Uh… The one called… Hmmm… They don’t exist! Like birds, they are not real! Except, of course, Cave Noire. This delicious title has never been released in the West and it is a SLIM shame.
Black Cave offers an extremely simple yet very effective turn-based dungeon exploration. The game plays like Crypt of the Necrodancer, but without the rhythmic element. The Japanese required here is essentially non-existent. Yes, your commands are written in Japanese, but you can learn them using trial and error VERY quickly. Cave Noire isn’t just an interesting relic, it’s a sleek and very well-designed little Roguelike. If you have a GameBoy, try this one!
Next: Classic Game Boy Color Games That Are Still Stuck In Japan
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