If you’ve ever impatiently waited for a video game release in America, you may be aware that a large portion of the games we play here originate in Japan. Oftentimes, Japan gets these games first and American audiences have to wait months or years to get our hands on them. Even worse, some of the best games made for consoles never make it to America at all.
Sometimes, U.S. releases are announced, then called off. Other times, a game is so culturally-specific to Japan, an American release seems impossible.
Yet, there is hope for some games on the horizon. Keep reading to discover the 10 best console games that never made it to America — and which two are finally seeing a U.S. release. Fingers crossed.
1. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is the first in what became a long and popular series globally. The series that spawned the Persona line of games is popular both domestically and abroad. This makes it all the more surprising that its origin never made it to an American audience. Despite being re-released on the PlayStation Portable in 2005 and talks of an American localization coming out in 2006, Atlus has confirmed there are no current plans to do so.
2. Fatal Frame 4
Fatal Frame is the series that taught a generation of gamers to be afraid of their cameras. When the fourth game of the franchise was announced for a Wii release, it seemed like a natural fit. The Wii’s motion capability really adds a new level of horror to the game — and that’s exactly why it never made it to America. Nintendo heavily marketed the Wii as a family-friendly console. So, Nintendo didn’t feel comfortable releasing anything on it that fit into the horror genre.
3. Trials of Mana
1993’s Secret of Mana (aka Seiken Densetsu 2) is one of the most iconic games of the pixel era. Often called the greatest graphics-based RPG in the world, it sold over two million copies globally. So, fans were disappointed to say the least when its follow-up game Trials of Mana never made it outside of Japan. It was originally published in Japan in 1995 as Seiken Densetsu 3, and released there for Nintendo Switch in 2017. However, there is good news on the horizon. Trials of Mana will finally get a U.S. release, reportedly in early 2020.
4. Jump Ultimate Stars
Imagine Super Smash Brothers with over 300 characters, featuring favorites from manga like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and many more. That’s Jump Ultimate Stars, released for the Nintendo DS in 2006. The seemingly endless number of fighters gives you an equally large library of moves to learn, making the replayability and long term enjoyment of this game very high. The reasons for the lack of an American release aren’t entirely clear. Though, many speculate that it has to do with complicated overseas licensing.
It’s hard to imagine that we live in a world where the creator of Metal Gear Solid would release a game that wouldn’t be ported to America immediately. But, that is the case with the first game Hideo Kojima put under his belt. Known for its beautiful cinematography, this point-and-click adventure released in 1994 remains a Japanese exclusive.
6. Mother 3
It’s impossible to have this list and not include Mother 3, the long-awaited sequel to EarthBound (aka Mother 2). EarthBound did see an American release and quickly gained a cult following in the mid ’90s. So, when Mother 3, the final chapter in the saga, was announced for a 2006 release, fans were devastated this critical and commercial success wasn’t heading to America. To this day there are no plans to release the turn-based RPG outside of Japan.
7. Tokimeki Memorial
Tokimeki Memorial is a popular series in the otome genre, boasting over a dozen games spanning the last two decades. While the specifics vary game to game, the gist is you play as a character working their way through high school. You determine what sports activities you participate in and how hard you study (or slack). All of these things determine the relationships you develop throughout your high school career. The goal is to gain the affection of a girl (or in the case of Tokimeki Memorial: Girls Side, a boy) and win her heart by the time you graduate. Konami publishes the series in Japan only, perhaps because the Japanese high school setting is so culturally specific.
8. Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade
If you’re an RPG fan, you’ve no doubt heard of the Fire Emblem series. Its recent releases on the 3DS have included Three Houses, Warriors and Awakening back in 2012, though the series has been a Japanese staple since 1990. Fans crave access to these earlier games, and Binding Blade perhaps most of all. Released for the Game Boy Advance in 2002, it was originally slated for an American release. No one’s quite sure why the deal fell through, though plenty of fans remain disappointed.
9. Dragon Quest X
It took some time for Dragon Quest to make it big in America. Its fan base still isn’t as large here as it is in Japan, where it was originally released in 1986. In recent years, we’ve seen several Dragon Quest games receive the American treatment, thanks to increases in sales and game scores. One that we aren’t ever likely to see, though, is Dragon Quest X. As an online multiplayer, it therefore requires localized support. This means more effort is likely to go into an American release than the developers feel is worth it.
10. Phantasy Star Online 2
Many gamers today have fond memories of loading up Phantasy Star Online in their Dreamcast systems, logging hours upon hours into the world of Ragol with their friends. It was one of the first collaborative internet-based games on the market, laying the groundwork for MMORPGs like World of Warcraft decades later. Unfortunately, the Dreamcast didn’t have the same popularity in America as it did in Japan. Support for Phantasy Star Online faltered domestically. When Sega released the sequel in Japan in 2012, there were no plans for a U.S. release in sight. However, Sega recently announced Phantasy Star Online 2 will get a U.S. release in Spring 2020.