There was a time when Microsoft tried its hardest to make an impact in not just the Japanese video game market, but in the overall Asia region.
Despite having a pretty impressive selection of Japanese exclusives for the original Xbox, Microsoft’s first foray into the console wars couldn’t quite achieve the same success in NTSC-J regions as it did in other parts of the world. For Xbox 360, they upped the ante even more with an even bigger push to acquire more Japanese/Asian exclusive titles for the system, and even a push to uniquely tailor their service and games for the Japanese and Asian region separately. In the video game world, we are used to the Japan and West (i.e. rest of the world) distinction when it comes to release dates and localisations, but during 2005 – 2008 there was a release that sat between the Japanese release date and the worldwide release of certain Xbox 360 titles, and that was the Asian version.
We now live in a pretty comfortable world where a simultaneous worldwide launch is the norm, but there was a time where it could take anywhere from 9 – 18 months for a Japanese game to eventually be prepped for the rest of the world. With the Xbox 360, there was a nice little middle ground thanks to the Asia region, which essentially got the Japanese edition of the game but with all the text and menus fully translated into English (and Chinese of course). This was great news for gamers keen on getting their hands on a game before the much-delayed Western release, but given that the Xbox 360 was region-locked this proved to be a little tricky. Those who were particularly fond of Xbox 360’s Japanese line-up would make a smart investment by importing an Asian Xbox 360: a NTSC-J system which ran on 220V, proving to be particularly handy for import gamers living in PAL regions.
Owning an Asian Xbox 360 meant that gamers were able to get their hands on a fully-translated Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey several months before the official Western release. There were more benefits than simply having translated text, as most of these games would retain their original Japanese audio which purists preferred. A great example is Blue Dragon, a game notorious for its horrendous English voice acting, but the few of us who played the Asian import didn’t have to endure this dub.
The other benefit was that Asian releases retained the quality packaging of the Japanese originals, retaining the arguably superior Japanese cover-art along with the full-colour and novel-sized instruction manuals. This was especially welcome during a time when packaging of Western releases had started to thin out. Unlike most multi-disc game cases in our side of the world, where all the discs are crudely stacked on the same hub, the Asia region game cases were larger and gave each disc its own hub. Basically, owning a NTSC-J Asia version of an Xbox 360 title meant you owned the original Japanese version with English text and superior packaging.
It was only a small selection of Japanese titles which got this treatment, but thankfully the important ones were picked up and it was quite exciting during a time when Xbox 360 did have a desirable catalogue of Japanese exclusives. It was mainly RPGs which got this treatment, and during a time when it took forever for Japanese RPGs to get localised and distributed worldwide, these Asia releases were appreciated by genre fans. The likes of Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia, Magna Carta, and even Star Ocean 4 benefited from these transitional localisations for the Asia region.
Region locking meant that other genres benefited from this too, especially games like BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger which was notoriously delayed in PAL regions, so much so that by the time it was released the sequel was already being prepared for a PAL release. These days we are free from many of the issues with affected release date schedules back then, and so now it really doesn’t matter where you are in the world with your Xbox One as you’re likely to get the games you need, if not physically then certainly through digital means.
Convenience is great, but region-locking and regional delays created a pretty magical niche in Xbox gaming where it was almost a secret club of importers getting their little hands on titles before anyone else. Owning an Asian Xbox 360 had a lot of collector’s value too, where it wasn’t just the Asian library as gamers could play the entire Japanese catalogue right out of the gate. This included the many, many shmups released exclusively for the Xbox 360 in Japan, many of which were never released in other regions such as DoDonPachi and Ketsui. It’s not a large club compared to other retro communities, but collecting for the NTSC-J region as an Xbox 360 owner was just as satisfying as collecting Japanese titles for the SEGA Saturn and Dreamcast.
These days you can still get hold of these Asian titles on sites such as Play-Asia, although most of the stock has long disappeared. Surprisingly, these titles don’t have much of an asking price on eBay given their rarity, so if anyone wanted to complete their collection or step into this world for the first time, they wouldn’t have to fork out too much. Perhaps these low prices have to do with the fact that the Xbox 360, and the Xbox brand in general, was one of the best kept secrets in Japanese/Asian gaming. Those of us who were in the know got to enjoy special editions of Japanese RPGs and a selection of the most hardcore shmup titles any system has ever seen.
Did you ever delve into the NTSC-J Asia library? If so, what were your highlights? Let us know in the comments below, but some of the most essential collectibles (NTSC-J Asia) were certainly: Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Trusty Bell: Enternal Sonata, [eM] -eNCHANT arM-, and Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope.