Let’s talk about the United Kingdom. England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland represent a peculiar domain in the Jetsetter pantheon. There are countless storied British game developers: Psygnosis, the late, great creators of WipeOut and Colony Wars; Argonaut, the keen minds behind the FX Chip for Super Nintendo and Star Fox; Media Molecule, Lionhead, and so many others have made the United Kingdom a jewel in the international video game world.
As for import gaming, the UK is an odd duck. Back in the day, American gamers got by the better deal, especially when it came to consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. Almost all the top games developed in the UK saw international release, but many of the Japanese classics we enjoyed in the US never made it across the pond. For example, it took more than 15 years for Chrono Trigger to officially come out in the UK. Many of the games that did make the trip appeared in a bastardized form, painfully slowed down to adjust for the PAL format. There were occasional exceptions. Games like Mega Man: The Wily Wars, the Sega Genesis remake of Mega Man 1 through 3, and the crown jewel of Mega Man collectibles, found a retail release in the UK and Europe but not the US. Quintet’s great Super Nintendo RPG Terranigma skipped America too. These were rarities. More gamers UK gamers imported titles from the US and Japan than vice versa.
In the past decade though, the UK has become a treasure trove for English-speaking importers, and especially for modern Nintendo fans. Nintendo of America turned up its nose at niche audiences, refusing to release a number of great games for the Nintendo DS and Wii, even when complete localizations of these games were available. The UK received a far more diverse selection of games in the meantime.
Defunct adventure game developer CING offered a US releases of Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory, and both received solid reviews. Their respective sequels though, Last Window and Another Code R, respectively, both made it to the UK in fine form while skipping America. The same went for Freshly Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, the truly bizarre Zelda spinoff for Nintendo DS. Disaster: Day of Crisis, a unique Wii action game mixing Resident Evil-style action with Disaster Report-style natural disaster survival was another Nintendo game that got a UK release while Nintendo of America acted like it never existed at all.
The same would have been true of the Wii role-playing game trio Xenoblade, Pandora’s Tower, and The Last Story. If not for the work of Operation Rainfall, a localization lobbyist group, Xenoblade would never have gotten its limited release in the US. The latter two games were eventually released domestically by XSEED, but both were doubtful.
Nintendo of America’s insistence on keeping the Nintendo brand associated with only a narrow selection of family friendly titles during these years was lamentable, but luckily it was easy for importers to get their hands on these UK localized delights. Since the Nintendo DS was a region free device, anyone who wanted to play Last Window only needed to hit up a website like Play-Asia.com and they’d have the game in weeks. While the Wii was region locked, it was very simple to mod the system with a “soft-mod,” installing software like the Homebrew Channel via simple game exploits and a new SD card. Once the Homebrew Channel was installed, you could play Another Code R and Disaster all you wanted.
These days though, it’s trickier to enjoy such import fruits on Nintendo consoles in North America. Unlike all previous Nintendo handhelds, from the Game Boy all the way through to Nintendo DS XL, the Nintendo 3DS is region locked. What’s more, Nintendo and it’s publishing partners like Square-Enix have released a significant number of games in Japan that haven’t made it to the US and likely never will. Games like Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime 3 are locked behind both hardware and language barriers for import gamers, and even the UK seems to be missing out on games like this. The golden age of great Nintendo imports from the UK may coming to an end.
UK Nintendo gamers appear to still be getting the better deal though, at least for the moment. Take Bravely Default, the Square-Enix made, Nintendo published role-playing game from the team behind Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light. Bravely Default was also looking like a game that wasn’t going to find its way to US shores, until Nintendo recently announced it for a 2014 release earlier this year. Bravely Default hits the UK in December, and not only that, they get this killer Deluxe Collector’s edition that comes with a beautiful hardcover art book, a statue of the game’s main character Agnes, the game’s soundtrack, and some AR cards for the few people that remember that 3DS feature.
Thanks for nothing, Nintendo of America!