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Page 2 - Features ANIMEfringe: April 2000 - Page 3 Page 4 - Subfeature

The World of Import Gaming
by Steve Diabo (Kaneda)

Almost ever since Japan clawed its way to the front of the video gaming pecking order in the mid-80's, there has been a rule -- a certain fact of life -- that the Japanese market sees more video games than the North American market. There can be many reasons for Japan's advantage. Just take a look at this list.

1983: The Sega Master System (Sega Mark III), or SMS
1985:
The Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom), or NES
1989:
The Sega Genesis (Sega Mega Drive)
1991:
The Nintendo Super NES (Super Famicom), or SNES
1994:
The Sony PlayStation, or PSX
1995:
The Sega Saturn
1996:
The Nintendo 64, or N64
1999:
The Sega Dreamcast
2000:
The Sony PlayStation 2, or PS2 (upcoming in North America)

All these video game systems originate from Japan, and Japan is were most Japanese system-licensed video games originate from. On top of that, Japan has a broader array of market groups. However, games like the Front Mission series, Final Fantasy II and III, Earthbound (Zero) and many other titles would have become very successful in North America, but were never officially released to the North American public. Also, Many Japan-exclusive games are based on an Anime counterpart. There are Ranma RPGs and Dragon Ball Z fighting games.

If you fancy yourself an RPG fan or know anything about Squaresoft, you must know about the fiasco regarding the Final Fantasy series, and how North America didn't get to see all of the Final Fantasy games. If you don't already know, you might be asking yourself why the Final Fantasy series "jumped" from Final Fantasy III (SNES) to Final Fantasy VII (PSX). The reason for that is because the Final Fantasy III we saw was actually number VI (6) in the series. Final Fantasy I was indeed Final Fantasy I, but Final Fantasy II was actually Final Fantasy VI (4). Squaresoft (or Square, as it was known at the time) never released the real Final Fantasy II or III in North America, and for the sake of continuity, in North America they renamed IV as II. Then they renamed VI as III. Quite a mess, huh? However, last year Squaresoft re-released Final Fantasy V and VI (5 and 6, originally SNES games) emulated onto a compilation PSX 2-CD set, naming it Final Fantasy Anthology. On top of featuring the two games virtually unaltered from their original counterparts, the set features all-new CG FMV intros and a bonus soundtrack CD, featuring many beautiful Final Fantasy tunes by the legendary Nobuo Oematsu.

Anyway, looking aside from Final Fantasy and onto other titles North America may REALLY never see on store shelves, what's a guy to do when he wants to play a game released exclusively in Japan? Import, baby!

Many mail-order stores offer a range of imported video games, for all systems and tastes. You can find anything from Kitty the Cool (the Hello Kitty PSX game released only in Japan) to Neon Genesis Evangelion: Kotetsu No Girlfriend (Girlfriend of Steel -- for PC and PSX). Speaking from a personal standpoint, I have actually seen the Kitty the Cool game in a Japanese computer shop in downtown Montreal, but I did not buy the game. Meow.

So, if you're really hell-bent on partaking in some import gaming goodness, feel free to call around, check the web, and keep your eyes peeled for your sought-after game in gaming magazines. Be careful, though, as an imported game will not play on most North American video game systems "right out of the box." If you expect a Japanese game to play on your North American system, you may have to modify your console.

Depending on what system you wish to modify, modification can be very easy or very difficult. All you need to do with a North American SNES is break off two little plastic tabs inside the cartridge slot with a pair of pliers. Even the N64 has two different kind of tabs that are only a little harder to remove. The PSX, however, needs a real special kind of modification. The PSX requires a certain kind of chip installed on the system's motherboard to accept a Japanese game CD. These "modchips" can be obtained for a few bucks from mail-order places and online stores, but be careful -- installing these requires the skill of someone who can work with a soldering iron, and installing a modchip voids your PSX's warranty AT THE VERY LEAST -- worst case scenario, you will end up destroying your PSX forever. As well, There are also newer games like Final Fantasy VIII that, regardless of where the game came from, can detect a modchip and refuse to play. So modchipping can be a very risky business.

However, there is a new solution to the mess of modifying your PSX. For a surprisingly small cost, you can buy a "game enhancer" that, while allowing you to use cheat codes with your PSX games and allowing you to connect your PSX to your computer, can also permit the use of import game CDs. These Game Enhancers, which plug into the parallel I/O port of your PSX, are widely available online. One such company offering the Game Enhancer, among other things, is LINUX-PSX (http://www.linux-psx.com/), located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I had the pleasure of speaking to the manager of LINUX-PSX, Mr. Ioan Biris.

ANIMEfringe:  Mr. Biris, I'm very happy you agreed to do this interview with us today.
Ioan:  I'm happy to make my first interview, too.
ANIMEfringe:  First of all, tell us about your business. What kind of things are available through your business?
Ioan:  Well, we started with console-gaming accesories, but we are moving into digital cameras and mp3 players.
ANIMEfringe:  Cool. What kind of gaming accessories do you offer?
Ioan:  Our biggest seller is the PSX Game Enhancer, a device which, when plugged into the PSX's parallel port, allows you to play imported and copied games. We also offer memory cards for the Sega Dreamcast.
ANIMEfringe:  The most exciting device, and undoubtedly the most sought-after, is the PSX Game Enhancer. Exactly how big the the demand for them?
Ioan:  We are the biggest retailers for this device; we take at least 1000 orders a week.
ANIMEfringe:  Does it work with all PSX models?
Ioan:  Unfortunately, the latest PSX model, the 9001, does not have a parallel port, so there is no way to plug in the Enhancer. For this particular model, you must use an internal mod chip.
ANIMEfringe:  Aha. And does using the Game Enhancer void your PSX's warranty?
Ioan:  No, it does not.
ANIMEfringe:  Excellent. Aside from that, what other benefits does the external device have against internal mod-chips?
Ioan:  Soldering a mod chip is very difficult, and if one mistake is made you might fry your PSX. Also the Game Enhancer is a full blown Gameshark, meaning that you can add cheat codes (compatible with Gameshark, Action Replay and Explorer)
ANIMEfringe:  Sounds very intriguing! Now, off the topic of PSX, what do you know about the Sega Dreamcast's copy protection scheme? Is there any way to circumvent the protection as of yet?
Ioan:  No, not yet. There are already mod chips on the market (we will carry them in 5-7 days) that can only play imports. The Dreamcast game discs' GD-ROM format is not yet copyable (although we think it will in the near future).
ANIMEfringe:  Yeah, it's an inevitability. Okay, so let's say I want to become a PSX code-hacker and have a little extra fun with my PSX. How would I go about it, what are the tools necessary?
Ioan:  You will need a PC Comm Link, a card which connects your PC to a PSX. Then, using some software you can research cheat codes by yourself. Also, the Comm Link can upgrade your Game Enahncer with the latest BIOS upgrades and act as a DexDrive.
ANIMEfringe:  And this PC Comm Link card is available through your company, correct?
Ioan:  Yes it is, and we are the cheapest supplier on the market.
ANIMEfringe:  Cool! And now, for the final question -- Being a distributor of all these cool devices, do you play with them yourself?
Ioan:  heheh... A LOT. But I do prefer computer games.
ANIMEfringe:  ^_^ Great. To tell you the truth, I do too -- mind you, consoles are a lot of fun too... Anyway, thanks a lot for allowing us the interview.
Ioan:  It was fun.

So, anyway, just what is the big fuss about systems like the Dreamcast and PSX, and why are they trying so hard to prevent the North American market from playing imported games? Simply put, companies like Sony of America and Sega of America earn money by licensing games for use on North America. These American-based companies earn nothing from games that they didn't license, including Japan-licensed games. The battle between the American video game system companies and the people who want to play import games continually rages on, with new ways to prevent import gameplay -- and new ways to circumvent this "system feature".

Page 2 - Features ANIMEfringe: April 2000 - Page 3 Page 4 - Subfeature
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