Last may, I took a trip to Tokyo, Japan. It was awesome, I had tons of fun, and I realized that there's not a whole lot of information for gamers on what to do and see in Tokyo. Thus begins this series of posts. This one covers the shopping side of things, what games are easiest to use when you get home, which ones aren't.
Japanese games are all NTSC format, regardless of region. If you're American, that means your games will not have any issues. European users? You're going to have a much more difficult time. You'll need to find an NTSC to PAL converter box before any of these will work. The majority of this guide will cover importing for american audiences.
Before you start: Power Concerns
Japan uses 100v power, much like the United States. The only difference between the two countries is that power outlets stateside are grounded (3 plugs), while Japan only polarized (2 plugs). Japanese electronics will work in American outlets without incident.
#1: Famicom (NES)
The Famicom used a different connector than the NES did. You're going to need an adapter to play Famicom imports, or buy a Retro Duo while you're there. Retro Duos will cost you roughly ¥5400, or about $45. A Retro Duo will handle both Famicom and Super Famicom games.
#2: Super Famicom (SNES)
The Super Famicom is easier to work with than the Famicom, thankfully. If you have an American SNES, there's two small tabs in the cartridge slot that need to be removed before your import Super Famicom games will work. I just took a vice grips and ripped them off of mine. If you don't have an original model SNES, American retron systems will not work with import Super Famicom games. I have a retron 3, and unfortunately confirmed this. Pick up a Retro Duo at Super Potato or Retro Game Camp if you need one.
#3: Mega Drive (Genesis)
Mega Drive games are a mixed bag. As far as I can tell, some games have a region lock, others don't. A user by the name of Furnessly on the sega-16 forums made a fantastic, albeit incomplete list of import games that will work on American Genesis. You'll likely need a Game Genie for the cartridge, as the Japanese Mega Drive cartridges have a different shape.
There's a solid European community for modifying EU Mega Drives to accommodate Japanese Mega Drive games, too. Look around retro console forums for advice/modding services.
#4: MegaCD (Sega CD)
The MegaCD is region locked, and notoriously difficult to bypass. I recommend buying a japanese MegaCD and MegaDrive if you want to play import MegaCD games. That or use Kega Fusion.
N64 games are in a similar boat to Genesis, minus the region lock issues. You just need an adapter. Ebay and Amazon both offer them, or use a Game Shark or Action Replay. If you're really adventurous, pick up a bunch of old Madden games in bulk and attach the American back half of the cartridge to the Japanese front. Either way, it's relatively easy to make this work.
#6: Sega Saturn
Sega Saturn is easy to work with, and good thing! The Saturn had a much better run in Japan than it did in the states. Since emulation is a bear to deal with, grab an Action Replay and start playing your imports!
#7: Game Boy/Game Boy Color/Game Boy Advance
No region lock, no hardware differences. Go nuts!
The Sega Dreamcast does have a region lock, but it's easily bypassed. Go online and find a Utopia Swap Disc. There's many sites out there that have them, but tread lightly. There's a lot of scam sites that will install viruses on your computer if you're not careful.
PS1 games are region locked, but you can bypass this with a swap trick and Free Memory Card Boot (FMCB) on a PS2. I recommend using the slim model PS2s, but be careful! Sony patched the PS2 firmware on newer model PS2s so that you can't use FMCB. The easiest way to tell is if the PS2 has a rounded edge around the front of the console. You'll need to modify the console, which will void your warranty. Alternatively, there's a robust chipping scene for the PS1, which you'll have to dig online to find.
#10: Playstation 2
The PS2 does not share the swap trick boon that the PS1 had, unfortunately. You'll need to go online and buy a Swap Magic, or have a mod chip installed in your console. Chipping a PS2 is much more difficult than the PS1, so you'll most likely need to go to a pro for this one. That, or spend ¥9800 (~$78 at the time of writing) for a Japanese PS2. As an added bonus, it'll also play your Japanese PS1 games, too!
#11: Playstation Portable
The PSP is not region locked per se, but certain features might not work. For example, some american apps will not work on a Japanese PSP. UMD movies are also region locked.
The xbox is region locked, but modding the console is easy enough. There's a plethora of software and hardware mods out there, so getting your console up and going is no problem at all.
#13: Nintendo DS
The Nintendo DS is not region locked, and there's no hardware locks. Go nuts!
The Gamecube is region locked. If you still use your gamecube proper, you'll need a FreeLoader swap disc to get your games to play. Alternatively, if you have a modded Wii, your import gamecube games will work on that, as well.
The Wii is region locked, but this is easily bypassed. Personally, I used the letterbomb exploit to install the homebrew channel on my Wii. After installing that, I installed Priiloader, went into the settings, and turned off the region lock. Boom! Region free Wii.
#16: Playstation 3
Sony did it oh so right with this console. There is no region lock enabled on their games, save for one: Persona 4 Arena. If you're in Europe, you can play PS3 games without any trouble, as long as your console is connected via HDMI. But let's be honest, if you have a PS3, you're probably connecting it via HDMI anyway.
#17: Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 is region locked. Some games are region free, but I cannot get a solid list to save my life. Your best bet is to buy a Japanese 360 while you're there if you want to play import games easily.
The 3DS is region locked, so you're going to have to buy a Japanese console if you want to play them. Currently, Nintendo is doing a fantastic job of bringing their most popular games to the states, so this isn't really all that necessary unless you want to play it before everyone else.
#19: Wii U
The Wii U is region locked. At the time of this writing, there are no plans to change this. You'll have to buy a Japanese Wii U.
#20: Playstation Vita
The Vita is not region locked, and no region locked games are available at this point in time. Sony has mentioned that a developer can opt to region lock their game if they so choose.
#21: Xbox One
The Xbox One is not region locked. Go nuts!
#22: Playstation 4
The PS4 is not region locked. Go nuts!
An important thing to note about the PS3 and PS4 is that while you may be able to play the imported games, you won't be able to access the DLC with a non-japanese account. Sony's online stores are region segmented, meaning that you cannot access the Japanese PSN store with an American PSN account. You'll need to create a second account on the Japanese PSN site to gain access to the PSN store. In addition, you'll need a second profile on your console for this. Microsoft's DLC and Xbox Live stores feature similar region segmenting.
Hopefully this helps, be sure to check out my other Gamer's Guide to Tokyo articles coming in the next couple weeks!