The World of Import Gaming
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.
Sega Master System (Sega Mark III), or SMS
1985: The Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom),
1989: The Sega Genesis (Sega Mega Drive)
1991: The Nintendo Super NES (Super Famicom),
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.
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.
Mr. Biris, I'm very happy you agreed to do this interview
with us today.
I'm happy to make my first interview, too.
First of all, tell us about your business. What kind of
things are available through your business?
Well, we started with console-gaming accesories, but we are
moving into digital cameras and mp3 players.
Cool. What kind of gaming accessories do you offer?
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.
The most exciting device, and undoubtedly the most sought-after,
is the PSX Game Enhancer. Exactly how big the the demand for
We are the biggest retailers for this device; we take at
least 1000 orders a week.
Does it work with all PSX models?
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.
Aha. And does using the Game Enhancer void your PSX's
No, it does not.
Excellent. Aside from that, what other benefits does the
external device have against internal mod-chips?
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)
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?
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).
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?
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.
And this PC Comm Link card is available through your
Yes it is, and we are the cheapest supplier on the market.
Cool! And now, for the final question -- Being a
distributor of all these cool devices, do you play with them
heheh... A LOT. But I do prefer computer games.
^_^ 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.
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".