IMPORT GAMING FAQ
The main benefit of importing is that you often get to play new hardware and software many months before they are normally available in the UK. For example:
PS2 released: Jap - March 2000; US - October 2000; UK - November 2000
GC released: Jap - September 2001; US - November 2001; UK - May 2002
Xbox released: US - November 2001; Jap - February 2002; UK - March 2002
Metal Gear Solid 2 released: Jap/US - November 2001; UK - March 2002
Mario Sunshine released: Jap - June 2002; US - August 2002; UK - October 2002
Gun Valkyrie released: Jap/US - March 2002; UK - May 2002
Import games will run at full speed and be full screen. The conversion process to allow them to play in the UK often results in slower game speed and a letter box screen dimension.
There are many games - particularly sports and RPG's - which never get released in the UK.
Shallow though it is, there is also the kudos value of playing games before your friends and peers.
Is importing legal?
In the UK it is totally legal to BUY imported hardware and software. You cannot be prosecuted for doing so.
However, it is still a grey area as to whether shops and websites can legally sell it. Manufacturers such as Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, and software publishers such as Sega and Electronic Arts, argue that they have the right to market and release consoles and games, how and when they see fit. They protect this right by the inclusion of regional lock-outs, both in their games and in their consoles. This is why normally you cannot play a Jap or US game on a UK console.
As a result, manufacturers and publishers do not condone or support the use and sale of imports, and have in the past threatened legal action against shops and websites that have sold imports.
Can I play Jap and US games on my UK console?
Normally, you cannot play imported games on a UK console. There are however, ways around this.
You could have your console modified. This usually involves opening up a machine and soldering a chipset, which bypasses the machine's internal regional lock-out. Technically, this is a difficult thing to do, and of course immediately invalidates your warranty.
Alternatively, if you have a GameCube, you could use the Datel Freeloader which is due to be released soon. Freeloader is a disk which allows you to play any GameCube game on any GameCube console, without modifying your hardware. You put in the Freeloader disk, and wait for the onscreen prompts, which tell you to swap disks. You open your console lid in the usual way, remove the Freeloader disk, and replace it with the game disk. You should note you will require a 60Hz NTSC compatible television (see 'What do I need to play an import console?'). The Freeloader is due to cost about £20.
Unfortunately, there are currently no swap disks for the PS2 and Xbox, although there are ones for the PS1 and Dreamcast. Another alternative is to buy an import machine.
What do I need, to play an import console?
If you decide to buy an import console, you will need the following:
An NTSC compatible television.
This is because Japanese and US televisions - and therefore their consoles and games - use the NTSC system, as opposed to the UK's PAL. Most televisions bought in the last two to three years are NTSC compatible. The best way to check, of course, if by referring to your television's manual. It may also say on your TV's on-screen menu in either the colour or EXT/AV options. If you are still not sure, you could check on the manufacturer's website. You should also note that just because your TV supports 60Hz, does not necessarily mean that it is NTSC compatible.
NTSC picture quality is inferior to PAL. The colour separation and definition is not as good, though you would really only notice if you had the two set-ups running side by side.
If your TV is not NTSC compatible, you could buy an NTSC/PAL system converter, which will allow any PAL television to support an NTSC signal. These retail for around £70 and are available from most importers.
A step down transformer
This is because Japan and the US use a different voltage than the UK. Plugging an import console directly into the UK power supply, may result in it fusing and being irreparably damaged.
The step down is quite small, similar in size to a coke can, but surprisingly heavy. You plug in the mains lead from your import console into the step down, and the lead from the step down into your plug's socket. Most importers include the step down when you buy an import console.
Where can I buy import hardware and software?
Currently you cannot buy import hardware or software in any of the major high street stores. Shops such as Game, have a cosy relationship with manufacturers and publishers, and would not want to jeopardise this by selling imports. They also will not accept imports for trade in.
Luckily, there are many independent game stores and UK based websites from which you can buy them. Websites include:
Prices and service may vary. It's best to e-mail them first regarding stock availability. Usually, you can expect to receive any hardware or software about one week after its release in its native territory.
Is it more expensive?
Yes. Buying imports is more expensive than waiting for them to be normally available in the UK.
When new hardware is released in Japan and the US, expect to pay over twice its normal retail price. However, the cost will fall steadily, especially nearer its UK release. You can currently expect to pay the following for a US import console:
PS2 + one game - around £170
GC + one game - around £180
Xbox + two games - around £200
Generally, new games will cost between £10-15 more than the UK retail price. Again, this will fall steadily, nearer its UK release date. Prices may vary and it's best to shop around.
If I have imported hardware, do I have to use imported accessories, such as memory cards and joypads?
This depends upon the console and the accessory.
Usually, joypads are multi-region and can be used upon any similar console.
Most memory cards are multi-region, though your console may format it to accept only one territory's game saves. You usually cannot mix and match Jap, US or UK games on the same memory card. You may have to get a separate card for each territory. One exception I do know, is that on the GameCube, US and UK saves can be put on the same card.
What are the risks of buying imports?
The main risk to buying imports is that you would be vulnerable to manufacturers and publishers introducing further regional lock-outs. This would affect you in two areas.
Firstly, if you use a swap disk to play imported games on a PAL console. Future software releases could incorporate additional code which may prevent a swap disk from working. Thankfully, adaptors and swap disks have been used for a number of years with few problems, and it's actually quite rare for future software to not work with them.
Secondly, if you have imported hardware and wish to use add-ons such as modems. There is no technical reason why you should not be able to use an import console online in the UK, but the manufacturers and publishers could put in additional regional lock-outs, to prevent you from doing so.
Currently, the situation looks favourable. Import Jap and US GameCubes can play imported copies of Sega's Phantasy Star Online version 1 and 2 online, without any problems. Also, an import US Xbox will accept the UK beta test of the Xbox Live Online.
This situation could of course change, depending upon the whim of the manufacturers and publishers. That's one of the risks you take when importing. To ensure compatibility, you should always consult your importer before buying.
What about the Game Boy Advance?
The Game Boy, Game Color and Game Boy Advance, are unique in the fact that they are multi-region. You can play Jap, US and UK games on any Game Boy, no matter where it is bought.
Quite why Nintendo decided to do this is a bit of a mystery, especially considering its frequent threat of litigation against many importers.
However, a number of discrepancies have been documented. A US GameCube playing Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, will not recognise a UK GBA Sonic Advance link-up. Also, when playing in link-up with other GBA's, games from one territory may not work with games from another. Again, you should consult your importer before buying.
This may sound obvious, but you should always assume that software imported from Japan, will have Japanese text, both in the instruction manual and in-game.
This generally causes few problems in genres such as drivers or beat-em-up's, though would make text heavy titles such as RPG's almost unplayable.
Also, if you buy imported hardware with DVD playback, it will be compatible with that territory's DVD region. The US is region 1; Japan and the UK are region 2. Normally, you cannot play Jap and UK DVD's on a US machine and vice-versa.