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Import-Friendly Japanese Games

How many times do we see a game that piques our interest and then curse that it's not being released in North America? When all hope is completely dashed, importing is your only opportunity to experience the game. The decision brings a slew of challenges, especially that pesky language barrier. After all, you want to make sure you can understand the game's rules. Import choices are always a tough call, but don't worry, we have you covered. Here's a list of 10 games that are import-friendly. These games are playable on any version of the consoles below, so don't fret about region-locking. They all feature Japanese voices and text, but the mechanics are easy enough to grasp that this shouldn't impact your experience.

Disclaimer: This isn't a comprehensive list of the best games from Japan, just some of the quality titles that are friendly to English-speakers.

Osu! Tatake! Ouendan (DS)


If Osu! Tatake! Ouendan looks familiar, that’s because a similar game was released in North America as Elite Beat Agents. Unlike the westernized, Avril Lavigne-infused port, Ouendan features a slew of J-pop and J-rock artists like Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Orange Range, and L’Arc-en-Ciel. Also, instead of Elite Beat’s secret agents, Osu! Tatake! Ouendan follows a group of male cheerleaders who are helping people across Japan through music. Fail at tapping to the beat or drawing patterns in this iNiS-developed rhythm game, and your compatriots suffer. Do well and they succeed at completing the task at hand. If you find yourself loving your Ouendan, a sequel was also released with another nineteen songs to play.

Jump Super Stars / Jump Ultimate Stars (DS)


Licensing always seems to come into play with crossover titles, usually accounting for why we rarely see them in English. Such is the case for Jump Super Stars and its sequel, Jump Ultimate Stars. Starring characters from a variety of manga, including Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, and Yu-Gi-Oh, these games are a take on the Super Smash Bros formula. If playing a fighter with your favorite anime characters wasn’t enough, you put together a “koma” deck of support characters to see even more of them. Unfortunately, licensing issues prevented us from seeing this popular game on this side of the Pacific, but the lack of complicated fighting systems and Japanese dialogue make this an easy import choice. 

Tales of VS. (PSP)


Tales of VS. appeals to RPG fanatics in the same way that Jump Super Stars hooks anime fans: by throwing together a slew of characters in a battle arena and letting them duke it out. However, this fighter’s major focus is unlocking your favorite Tales characters by taking down a very lengthy story mode. Luckily, even this mode should be easy to navigate for those with little or no Japanese knowledge, though a little bit of experimentation might be required. The combat itself is very easy to jump into, as characters control just like their RPG counterparts. Why Namco Bandai skipped on localizing Tales of VS. is still a mystery, but odds are the PSP’s declining market and the game featuring characters from unreleased Tales games had something to with it. 

Ys: Celceta no Jukai (Vita)


Ys: Celceta no Jukai is probably the only title on this list that has a chance of being released in a language other than Japanese, as XSEED Games has thankfully localized the last few Ys titles. Celceta takes over the spot of Ys IV in the overall storyline, though two previous games have had that moniker. This can be considered to be the official Ys IV, as it’s the first developed by Falcom, with Ys IV: Mask of the Sun having been created by Tonkin House, and Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys crafted by Hudson Soft. Ys players can always expect the same thing from Falcom: controlling red-haired protagonist Adol Christin through a gauntlet of fast-moving combat and challenging bosses. Vita owners jonesing for the next best RPG will certainly find something to love with Ys.

Hatsune Miku Project DIVA f (Vita/PS3)


If you’re unfamiliar with Hatsune Miku, she’s currently one of the biggest bombshells in Japanese music. The caveat? She’s entirely digital. Hatsune Miku is the blue-haired face of the music synthesizer of the same name, based on Yamaha’s Vocaloid software. With songs produced by a variety of composers, Project DIVA f is a dream game for fans of both music games and Japanese culture. This iteration is the latest to be released, with a version coming for PlayStation 3 next year, though just about any of the PS3 or PSP entries are ripe for import. As long as you can understand the face buttons on a controller, you can pick up and play Hatsune Miku. 

[Next Up: Bullet hell, Hachi-Rokus, and Japan's favorite pastime ....]

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