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Top 10 Import-Only Oddities

Not every game makes its way to North America. In many cases, this is understandable; train simulators and anime dating games wouldn’t find the same audience over here as they do overseas. But what about the games that seem like a good fit? Some of them are installments in well-known series, while others come from respected development studios. The following list breaks down the top 10 games that could have made it big in North America if things had been different.

1. Mother 1 and 3

Let’s get this one out of the way first, since it seems to have sparked the most fan outrage and online petitions. We got Earthbound on SNES in 1994 – but that was actually the second game in the series known as Mother in Japan. Earthbound is a 16-bit classic, but Nintendo has demonstrated no desire to bring the other two games in this modern-day RPG series to North America. The company hasn’t clarified its reasoning for keeping Mother 1 and 3 off our shores, and it probably never will  (no matter how many angry letters people write).

2. Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII

This is a weird one, since Before Crisis is the mobile phone-exclusive entry in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project (which also included Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children). Before Crisis is an action/RPG starring the Turks, and acts as a prequel to the events of Final Fantasy VII. While many hardcore Final Fantasy fans would probably love to experience this story, it first released on Japanese phones in 2004 – long before mobile phone gaming took off Stateside. Square Enix is rumored to be considering a 3DS remake, but no announcements have been made, and previous plans to bring the game here in 2006 fell through.

3. Fatal Frame 4

Cameras and ghosts are a terrifying combination. The first three Fatal Frame titles released in North America, and the series won the hearts of horror fans with eerie atmosphere and disturbing scares. When the fourth installment released in Japan in 2008, gaming publication Famitsu awarded it a solid score (34/40). Unfortunately, interest in Fatal Frame 4 in other territories was apparently insufficient, since a scheduled European release was cancelled and no North American release was ever announced.

4. Michigan: Report from Hell

Developer Suda 51 and his studio Grasshopper Manufacture are responsible for cult hits like No More Heroes and Killer 7. The development house has a knack for stylish atmosphere and quirky characters, though the gameplay sometimes suffers for the sake of the presentation. This was apparently also the case with Michigan: Report from Hell on PS2, which puts players in charge of a TV cameraman recording mysterious phenomenon. The game didn’t get great reviews, but it did see a 2005 release in Europe following its 2004 Japanese debut. That means that there is an English version out there, but you need to import the game and acquire the proper equipment to play it.

5. A.S.H.: Archaic Sealed Heat

The DS already has plenty of role-playing games, so what makes this one so special? For starters, it is from Mistwalker – the studio founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. It was released in Japan in 2007, and even though anticipation for Mistwalker’s other titles (like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey) was high in North America, A.S.H. never made it across the Pacific. The saddest part for would-be fans is that it came so close; Nintendo went so far as to get A.S.H. ESRB-rated before canning the U.S. release.[PageBreak]
6. Soma Bringer

Like A.S.H., Soma Bringer’s pedigree commands as much attention as its gameplay. This RPG on DS is from Monolith Soft, the same studio behind the Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos series. Soma Bringer hit Japanese shelves in 2008, and its combination of dungeon-crawling and real-time combat put it on the wish lists of many genre devotees outside Japan. As the years go by with no announcement of an official release in other territories, it looks less likely that we’ll see Soma Bringer in North America.

7. Welcome Home, Chibi Robo

Perhaps Chibi Robo was never meant to be a star outside of Japan. Maybe it’s because the little robot’s main job was to do chores and clean up, but his star never rose to the level needed to generate mainstream interest. After a GameCube debut in 2006 and a DS sequel in 2007, Nintendo decided not to localize the third game – another DS installment. On one hand, it’s too bad that fans couldn’t get the whole series. On the other hand, they’re probably just missing out on some extra sweeping.

8. Ace Attorney Investigations 2

The Phoenix Wright games were successful on DS, but maybe Capcom thinks that interest has waned after the spin-offs Apollo Justice and Ace Attorney Investigations. Whatever the case, Capcom has publicly said there are currently “no plans” to release Miles Edgeworth’s latest outing beyond Japan.

9. Mario & Wario

Even though the character has always been popular, not every Mario adventure has been localized. Mario & Wario is a 1993 Super Famicom title using the system’s little-remembered (and less-used) mouse peripheral. The gameplay involved guiding a helpless Mario though hazardous levels. This puzzle-based premise likely served as inspiration years later when Nintendo released Mario vs. Donkey Kong games on GBA and DS, both of which were released in the US.

10. Shenmue City

Shenmue III probably isn’t happening, but this social game gives Japanese gamers a chance to reconnect to the world of Shenmue through cell phones or PC. While it doesn’t have the conclusion to Ryo’s revenge story, it features him as a supporting character. Since Shenmue City launched last year, its creators have talked about plans to bring the game to North America, but nothing has materialized. As with anything related to Shenmue, we know better than to hope.

The Watch List
The following titles are still recent enough that we won’t write them off entirely. Hopefully, they can make the trip overseas and into our gaming consoles.

–Valkyria Chronicles 3
North America got Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 and Valkyria Chronicles 2 on PSP. Though the third entry released in Japan in January 2011, Sega doesn’t seem to have any plans of releasing it overseas…yet.

–Last Story/Xenoblade/Pandora’s Tower
These three titles have been the focus of much speculation, including a fan movement to ensure their North American release. Still no official word from Nintendo, but we may still get lucky.

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