3DS, the UK, Region Locks and Hefty Markups - Weekly Recommendations 24/01 – 30/01


Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.

Last week Nintendo gave us the final details for the 3DS launch. It will hit shelves in Japan on February 26th, March 25th in Europe and two days later in North America. Nintendo were also forthcoming with price details, ending months of speculation. The 3DS will go to retail at ¥25,000 (JPN) and $250 in the States.

Unfortunately, as has become standard, Europe will be paying well above the average. In the UK retailers will be setting their own prices for the 3DS, according to how much Nintendo charge them per unit. Amazon are taking pre-orders at £219.99, the cheapest I have seen anywhere, far above the Japanese and American equivalents – as of 23/01/11 £219.99 equates to ¥29,073 and $352.

To make matters worse, unlike the DS and most other portables including the PSP, Nintendo have announced that the 3DS will be region locked, removing for most gamers the option of shelling out for an import model.

Clearly the UK, and the rest of Europe, is getting a rough deal. This is nothing new, as time and time again the PAL region has waited longer than Japan and the US to receive games and consoles, if they arrive at all, and they usually come with a hefty mark-up.

The UK has also missed out entirely on a number of high profile games over the years, deemed to have been of limited appeal to the market. Many of these omissions have been rectified with re-issues and updated collections (Final Fantasy VI, FF Tactics etc) and the advent of PSN, Xbox Live/Arcade and Wii Ware has allowed access to a vast library of games, far greater than ever before.

However, there are still a number of titles that have yet to reach British shores. So in the spirit of feeling sorry for myself and my fellow Brit gamers, here are three of the finest absentees.

1. Policenauts – NEC PC-9821 (1994)

Originally released on the NEC PC, and ported to the 3DO, PlayStation and Saturn in subsequent years, Hideo Kojima’s cinematic adventure game has yet to see the light of day outside of Japan. Policenauts was to receive a North American release on the Sega Saturn – the intended cover art can be found online – but was scrapped during localization, apparently due to the difficulty of synchronizing its outstanding animated cut-scenes with the English dialogue. It received an unofficial translated patch in 2009, the work of a dedicated team of volunteers, which is available online.

Similar to Kojima’s previous game, Snatcher, Policenauts is a point and click adventure that wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve. It revolves around detective Jonathan Ingram and his investigation into the murder of his ex-wife on a space colony. Brimming with puzzles and memorable characters, the Saturn version also supported light gun play for the shooting sections.

Unfortunately, my experience with Policenauts has been painfully brief. Being a text heavy adventure, I have spent far too long bogged down in kanji, with the next chapter of the adventure always just out of reach. If you want to brave it, I would suggest importing the Sega Saturn version, which comes packaged in a sleek black jacket, with an art book and stickers. A fitting outer for the equally stylish game that resides within

2. Xenogears – PlayStation (1998)

Despite securing a North American release, in PAL territories Xenogears remains Square’s missing masterpiece. A science fiction RPG, it stands out as the most ambitious of Square’s PlayStation titles, an expensive and prolonged development and a winding narrative that touches upon a number of difficult theological concepts and is heavily influenced by and references a number of philosophers.

The heavy handed plot doesn’t dull the experience of guiding protagonist and tortured soul Fei Fong Wong on his epic and mind-bending journey. It boasts multiple battle systems, including the ability to man a “Gear”, a Gundam-like being, and its impressive animated cut scenes further enable it to stand out from the crowd.

Square aimed for the heavens with Xenogears, and with the exception of some pacing issues, they succeeded in creating one of the more unique and memorable RPGs of its generation. It’s just a shame that we have never had the opportunity to enjoy it, outside of expensive imports.

3. Message Navi – Sega Saturn (1997)

I have picked this obscure dating service game as representative of all the weird and wonderful titles that made the Japanese Saturn such an interesting console with a deep and varied library, unmatched by what was on offer in the West. Outside of the internationally available classics (Nights, Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop 2 etc.) there are hundreds of unusual games that enabled the Saturn to succeed in Japan where it failed elsewhere, such as The Convini, Segata Sanshiro Shinken Yugi and Densha De Go.

Message Navi is a dating service in the guise of a video game. It features over 1000 profiles of individuals looking for a good time, including pictures, contact details and where they like to hang out, in 1997. I wonder how many of them are still waiting after all these years for that one, special, SS gamer. Featuring mid nineties hair cuts, middle aged men dressed as maids and a section for pets looking for companionship, it has it all.

Perhaps a more sensible pick for this final recommendation would have been Chrono Cross or something more contemporary like God Eater, but I chose to go with something a bit different. Clearly, Message Navi never had a chance of being released outside of Japan – one might question if it should have been released anywhere – but it is  a great example of the kind of left-of-centre titles that defined the Saturn in Japan, yet remained elusive to its Western audience.


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