Top 10 Japanese Games That Were Never Released in the West - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 25 August 2018 / 6,811 Views
Over the years there have been countless great and interesting games made in Japan that have unfortunately never made their way overseas, to either Europe or North America. The reasons behind the decision not to release them in the west can vary wildly, from lack of proper localization channels or funds, to things like perceived lack of interest towards the titles in the west.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what I consider to be the most notable examples of games that have never been released outside of Japan, at least not in any official capacity. Naturally there are a lot more than ten to choose from, so many acclaimed and interesting titles have had to be left off the list and, of course, there's always the possibility that some of the games listed below do eventually make their way overseas, but at the time of writing they're still exclusive to Japan.
10. Shining Force III (Scenarios 2 and 3)
Some of you might actually remember playing Shining Force III around 1998 on the Sega Saturn, but unbeknownst to most people at the time they were playing just the first of three parts that comprise the entirety of Shining Force III. In Japan, the game was released in three volumes between December 1997 and September 1998, but here in the west we only got the first of these.
Each of the three volumes featured a separate cast of playable characters and storylines that would overlap with each other at different points. For example, the character of Medion, who the player encounters several times in the first volume, is the central character in the second volume; while the third focuses on yet another character - Julian - who is first encountered in the debut volume.
The real ending to Shining Force III could only be obtained by playing all three volumes, and for many western players this was never even an option. It's unfortunate that we've never had the chance to play the full game, especially as many of the titles in the series have since been made available on the PC, so it would be great to see the entire Shining Force III made available in the west. I'm not holding out much hope for that, but you never know these days.
Considering just how famous Hideo Kojima has become over the last 20 years, it's amazing that one of his most famous earlier games has never been officially released outside Japan, but that's exactly what happened with Policenauts. A far cry from his other, better known works like Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders, Policenauts is a first person adventure game that uses a point-and-click interface. However, Policenauts definitely has Kojima's style all over it, especially when it comes to its basic premise and narrative.
The game focuses on Jonathan Ingram, an astronaut with police training (hence policenauts), who works on the security team on Beyond Coast, the first fully functional space colony. During a test of a new space walking suit he gets into an accident and drifts away into space and is presumed dead. However, he is found alive and well 24 years later, having survived thanks to the suit's cold-sleep module. Later, while working as a private investigator, Jonathan is contacted by his ex-wife to look into her husband's disappearance on Beyond Coast. When she is killed soon after in an attack, Jonathan decides to take on the case and fulfill her final wish.
It's actually quite amazing that this game has never been brought over from Japan, especially after Kojima attained celebrity status following the release of Metal Gear Solid. I'm sure there would be interest in a game like this, even today. Unfortunately, Policenauts is also owned by Konami, which pretty much means that seeing this one released in any official capacity is highly unlikely.
8. Dragon Quest X
Dragon Quest as a series has always been vastly more popular in Japan than in the rest of the world. While the first four games in the series were released in North America, the fifth and sixth installments skipped the rest of the world entirely, at least initially, owing to the earlier entries' poor sales in the west. The seventh game was once again brought to North America, but it wasn't until Dragon Quest VIII that the series made its debut in Europe.
With this in mind, it's perhaps not entirely unexpected that Dragon Quest X was seemingly reserved exclusively for Japanese audiences. The reason given for the lack of localisation is the amount of text the game features which would need to be translated, and the issues with operating an MMORPG on a global scale. However, as Square Enix's massive success with Final Fantasy XIV proves, the company clearly has the ability to do so if it really wanted to.
The lack of a western release is especially interesting because the game has now been released on not just PC but also on the Switch and PlayStation 4. I would think that the huge install base of those consoles and the high waves of momentum both systems are riding at the moment would make a western release of Dragon Quest X a worthwhile endeavor.
7. Bahamut Lagoon
Going back to the 90s here with one of Squaresoft's lesser known classics on Nintendo's 16-bit system – Bahamut Lagoon. At the time Square was quite possibly the most consistently good developer in the entire world, or at the very least it was near the top of that list. Pretty much every gamer knows of the company's most famous titles of that era, from Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI to Secret of Mana, but hidden amongst them all is another classic title that was released near the very end of the Super Famicom's lifecycle.
Initially there may have actually been plans in place to localize Bahamut Lagoon and release it in the west, which would have made sense considering Square's excellent track record on the SNES. However, it seems that Nintendo's shift in priorities away from its 16-bit machine and towards the N64 caused these plans to fall through, and to this day there hasn't been a single official release of Bahamut Lagoon on any system outside of Japan.
One very interesting detail about the game is that at one point during development it was titled Final Fantasy Tactics, which would later become the name of an entirely separate PS1 classic. This does make a lot of sense, however, as the development team for Bahamut Lagoon included people like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Kazushite Nojima, and Motomu Toriyama, who were or would become well known for their work on the Final Fantasy series.
6. Phantasy Star Online 2
Among my favourite Gamecube memories is playing Phantasy Star Online with a group of friends, spending countless hours killing monsters, fighting bosses, and looking for rare weapons across the various different locations found in the game. Because of that, I was very excited about the prospect of once again playing another game like that. Unfortunately, that has proven to be quite difficult to achieve.
Originally released in Japan in July 2012, Sega soon after made an announcement that a western release of Phantasy Star Online 2 would in fact happen in 2013 and a teaser for an English language version was shown at the 2012 Penny Arcade Expo, but then 2013 came and went with no western release. Late that year rumours began to circulate that the English version had been cancelled altogether due to Sega being worried about its potential profitability in the west.
Since then, there hasn't been any more news about a possible western release at all, and in late 2017 the game's English website was taken down. I think that this is another unfortunate miss, similar to Dragon Quest X, as Phantasy Star Online 2 has also been released on the PS4 and Switch (in the case of the latter release it was just this year) and I believe it could have become at least a decent success on the two consoles.
5. Seiken Densetsu 3
Even though the SNES has a well deserved reputation as a great console for JRPGs, it had the potential to be even better. I've already talked about Bahamut Lagoon, but less than 6 months earlier Japanese gamers were treated to another excellent RPG by Square – Seiken Densetsu 3, or as it has sometimes been called in the west, Secret of Mana 2.
As was the case with many of the other games on this list, Seiken Densetsu 3 was initially supposed to come to the west as well, but those plans ultimately changed and we never got the chance to play it. However, the reasons behind the cancellation were quite different from most other titles that have faced a similar fate over the years.
As it turned out, Seiken Densetsu 3 was never released in the west because of a number of software bugs that would have made the localization process prohibitively time consuming and expensive, to the point that it simply made no sense for Square to do so. Still, it is a shame that we've never really had the chance to play the sequel to one of the most beloved SNES RPGs of all time in any official capacity.
4. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner
In the last ten years or so, the Shin Megami Tensei franchise has found itself in a unique position that very few, if any, other video game franchises can claim to hold. It is at once both a hugely popular and exceptionally niche series of games that enjoys a cult following among hardcore JRPG fans, but also at times sells millions of copies worldwide.
There's no question that the series has seen a massive surge in popularity over the last few console generations, but for the most part that change has been limited to the Persona sub-series. The main series and other spin-off titles have remained largely on the sidelines, and many of the earlier titles in the series have never made their way outside Japan.
While this entry specifically points out Devil Summoner, I could have just as easily brought up titles like Shin Megami Tensei II or the original Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei and its sequel, all of which are to this day Japan-only releases. Atlus has shown little interest in re-releasing its older titles outside Japan, preferring to focus on new entries in the series instead, and I can't really fault them for that.
3. The Legend of Heroes VII – Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki
Probably the most personal of the choices on this list, The Legend of Heroes VII, also known as the Crossbell Arc, is another curious case as it's essentially the middle chapter between two other stories that have both been released in the west in recent years (Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel), yet for some reason the game that connects the two hasn't received the same treatment.
Taking place three months after the events of Trails in the Sky the 3rd and eventually leading into the events that take place in the Trails of Cold Steel games, the two titles that comprise The Legend of Heroes VII (Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki) were originally released on the PSP in 2010 and 2011 in Japan. While both the preceding series of games and the one following it were brought to the west by Xseed Games, for some odd reason the localization has jumped over these two entries.
It's still certainly possible that The Legend of Heroes VII will at some point be released in the west as well. After all, it took almost seven years for the first Trails in the Sky game to make its way out of Japan, so it's not completely out of the question that these two will also eventually get the same treatment. Xseed Games is still a relatively small company, and these games require a massive amount of work to localize, so it's understandable that they simply can't work on several such titles at once.
2. Mother 3
Of all the games on this list, none have had the kind of passionate and long-lasting demand from fans that Mother 3 has had ever since it originally released on the Game Boy Advance in 2006. Fans have been clamoring for a western release for over a decade now, but for one reason or another Nintendo has steadfastly refused to bring the game overseas.
Mother 3 also had a very interesting development cycle, as the production for the title began all the way back in 1994 for the Super Famicom, before being moved over to the Nintendo 64 after the development team saw Super Mario 64. However, the team soon ran into issues with the N64's limitations, with its early specifications exceeding what the console was capable of doing in terms of both hardware and memory.
Eventually, in 2000, the project was cancelled altogether, before it once again resurfaced in 2003, this time on the Game Boy Advance. All in all, after a number of delays and production issues, it took 12 years for Mother 3 to be completed, and even then the western fanbase would find nothing but disappointment at the end when Nintendo decided not to release the title outside Japan. Maybe someday.
1. Valkyria Chronicles 3
Finally, the game I'm most disappointed at for never being released outside of Japan is Valkyria Chronicles 3. The first two games had been released in the west, and the first game especially had been very well received, becoming a surprise hit worldwide by selling well over 1 million copies on the PS3 alone. The second game wasn't able to match the original's sales, falling short in every single region it was released in, but especially so in the west.
Due to these declining sales Sega decided to not release the third game outside of Japan. However, in my opinion the falling popularity of the series was largely due to Sega's decision to move the franchise to the PSP after the original game. It had successfully cultivated a strong following for Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3, but refused to build on this and instead switched platforms, resulting in a significant decline in sales even in Japan where the PSP was still a very strong platform at the time.
Essentially, Sega's own decision to move the series to what was basically a dying platform in the west created the situation where the popularity of the series declined after the first game, which in turn led to the game not coming out in the west. Fortunately, the series has since rebounded and we're less than a month away from the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4. Perhaps the third game will finally make its way to the west if VC4 proves successful enough. One can always hope.
There we have it. Ten games that have never been officially released outside Japan. Naturally, for many of them there do exist fan-made translations, so if you really want to there are ways to play at least some of these games, even if you don't understand Japanese. Are there any games that you think I missed? If so, leave a comment below, and as always, thanks for reading.