It is said that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence– and for some video game fans, the games look more awesome on the other side of the ocean, at least when it comes to video games that were released in Japan. While many cult classics in Japan have eventually been released stateside, there are still a handful of video games that have not seen the light of day in the US, no matter how many fans have been clamoring for them. So, read on to see the top 5 games that never made it out of Japan, and weep (or start learning Japanese and import them yourself).
5. Fullmetal Alchemist: Dream Carnival
System: Playstation 2
Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) became one of the most popular anime series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block a few years ago. Video game and FMA fans did get a Playstation 2 video game released stateside… but it was a so-so side scrolling beat-em-up game. The battling lacked the flash and fast-paced action seen in the anime series, where combat was intense, with lots of transmuting of weapons on the fly.
In Japan, fans got the FMA fighting game Dream Carnival, which combined the breakneck fighting of the anime with the environmental Power Stone. Instead of 2-D side-scrolling, you could pick your favorite FMA character and fight in three dimensions. Battles could be done were 2-on-2, you could transmute attacks from the environment around you or just pick up and use objects laying around, and the super special attacks were richly animated and detailed. Fans petitioned for Dream Carnival to be released, but no avail. The DS FMA game Dual Sympathies was released stateside… but it, too, was a 2-D side scrolling beat-em-up, leaving fighting game fans wanting a game faithful to the action of the anime series unfulfilled.
4. Jump Ultimate Stars
System: Nintendo DS
Jump Ultimate Stars is like a hand-held version of Nintendo’s Smash Bros fighting game series. Battles are fast-paced, chaotic, and have a decidedly multi-player focus. The game makes use of the DS touchscreen by displaying comic-book panels that you can press at different times to pull off devastating combos, flashy special moves, or upgrade your powers. This sounds interesting, but what pushes this game into amazing territory is that it has three hundred different characters.
That’s right. Three hundred different characters. Even better, every single character is taken from manga published in the Shonen Jump series. Characters from Dragonball Z, Naruto, Death Note, Yu-Gi-Oh, One Peice, Yu Yu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin (and more) can throw down and face off against each other. For the anime or manga fan, this game is pure fanservice. Sadly, US fans wanting to settle once and for all who would win in a fight between Vegeta and Monkey D. Luffy will miss out, as the sheer amount of characters and series mean that the rights are held by too many different companies. Not even the strongest Kamehame-ha blast can stand up to international licensing issues, it seems.
3. Super Robot Wars Series
Banpresto’s Super Robot Wars series started on the Nintendo Game Boy and Famicom, and has been going strong for close to two decades. Dozens of titles in the series have been released on every gaming platform imaginable, from the Nintendo 64 to the Wonderswan Color, and every game console in-between. This fighting game is also fan-service heavy, but this time you get to see giant robot and mecha anime characters clash. From Neon Genesis Evangelion to Mazinger Z to Gundam to Voltron, if you can think of a giant robot anime, they have probably appeared in this series at one point or another.
Of course, several decades of games with several decades’ worth of robot anime designs and characters mean that most of these games in the series will never see the light of day in the US. Once again, licensing issues and figuring out how to divide up royalties have kept these games out of the hands of US fans.
2. Ouendan 2
System: Nintendo DS
The Ouedan series is a rhythm game with a over the top premise– you are part of a “cheer squad” that dances to Japanese pop tunes in order to encourage people to overcome challenges like trying to attract customers to a small cafe, or a boy attempting to win over the heart of a girl he has a crush on. The story is presented in a comic book style which changes depending on how well you do during the course of a stage. To fit with the game’s musical theme, it has a fairly intuitive mechanic– tapping the stylus on the touchscreen, following trails with the stylus, or spinning pinwheel-like spinners. With challenging game play, a fun premise, and the allure of Japanese pop, the first Ouendan game was imported by a lot of DS owners. The importing was so numerous that Nintendo sat up and took notice, working to release a localized version of Ouendan called Elite Beat Agents that had improved game play, localized stories, and English songs. It was a critical success, garnering numerous awards. Reggie Fils-Aime, the CEO of Nintendo of America, has called Elite Beat Agents his favorite DS game.
So why did Japan get a sequel, while North America was left high and dry? According to Nintendo, the reason was simply a lack of sales. Fils-Aime expected Elite Beat Agents to sell at least 300,000 copies. Even with several game of the year awards and high critical praise, Elite Beat Agents only sold 179,000 units. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel since 2006, but it looks like the only way you will get to play it is by importing it.
1. Mother 3
System: Game Boy Advance
The history of the Mother RPG series has been long and tumultuous. The first Mother game was released for the Famicom. Nintendo of America had fully translated the game into English, only to decline to release it at the last minute. The sequel, Mother 2, was released on Nintendo’s Super Famicom (the Super Nintendo system in the US). The US did get a fully translated release of Mother 2, retitled Earthbound on the Super Nintendo. Mother 3 was first developed for the Super Famicom in 1994. Development was then scrapped, and then relaunched as a game to showcase the Japan-only Nintendo 64 disk drive peripheral. When the disk drive add-on was discontinued, Mother 3 development was shifted to the Nintendo 64. Problems with the game development led to Mother 3 being canceled, only to be revived years later as a game for the Game Boy Advance.
While demand in Japan for Mother 3 was high, there were also a number of Earthbound fans that desperately wanted to play this Earthbound sequel for themselves. One of the petitions created asking for a release of Mother 3 gathered over 30,000 signers. Nintendo of America was sent several petitions and fan letters, but no plans for a translation were not in the works. Eartbound fansite Starman.net realized Nintendo was not going to localize Mother 3 and took matters into their own hands. They recruited professional translator Clyde Mandelin, who has worked on translating Dragonball Z and Crayon Shin-Chan among other series, to work with a team of programmers to make a patch for Mother 3 that would convert the game to English. After 2 years of hard work, the Mother 3 English translation patch was released. The translation patch was downloaded from the fan website over 100,000 times in the first week of its release. According to Jeff Reid, the head of Starman.net, the fan translation project was even well received by Nintendo of America and SquareEnix employees.