The Long Journey West: 8 Japanese Games that Took Their Time Making it to America

Final Fantasy Type-0 isn't the only game to linger for years in a state of uncertainty. Now with video!

Article by Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Kat Bailey, and Samantha Leichtamer, .

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This week brings us one of the least likely things to ever happen: Final Fantasy Type-0, formerly a PSP game—and one released in 2011—will be seeing new life on next-gen consoles with an HD remaster, finally closing the book on a years-long saga for frustrated RPG fans.

Type-0 isn't the only game to linger so long in a state of uncertainty, though. Plenty of other examples exist throughout our industry's relatively short timeline, and, for some of them, Final Fantasy Type-0's four-year gap might as well be the blink of an eye. Let's celebrate these minor triumphs of localization by taking a look back at the games that barely made the long journey from Japan.

Super Mario Bros. 2

[JPN: 1986 USA: 1993] "Did you know Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic?" For many of us, this little quote stood as the first piece of video game trivia we ever heard—and evidence that Nintendo wasn't always honest with its audience. To be fair, though, the version of Super Mario Bros. 2 we received remains a fantastic entry in the series, even if it is a little strange. Japan's Super Mario 2 took a much different form than ours, though; instead of being a journey through Sub-Con's trippy, Arabian Nights-inspired world, it launched with the label "Super Mario for Super Players." While it added a few new features—like a slippery, high-jumping Luigi and poison mushrooms masquerading as power-ups—this sequel picks up exactly where the last game left off. Essentially, it's the first Super Mario Bros., except way, way harder; even the first few stages don't pull their punches.

So, why did Nintendo choose to give us a different Super Mario Bros. 2? The sheer difficulty is a seemingly obvious culprit, but remember, this sequel released in an era when games could be so poorly made, they were essentially unfinishable to all but the most dedicated eight-year-olds. More likely, Nintendo still had the recent console crash fresh in their minds, and feared a Super Mario Sequel that looked and played just like its predecessor would give consumers video game malaise all over again. So, the company kept the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 hidden until they had no choice to acknowledge it with 1993's Super Mario Bros. All-Stars compilation. Of course, the English-language release rebranded SMB2 as The Lost Levels, but savvy Nintendo fans knew the real importance of this so-called "bonus content." Much rejoicing was heard, following by the sound of countless controllers being shattered across America. — Bob Mackey

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

[JPN: 1993 USA: 2007] For a very long time, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was a kind of holy grail—a nearly unmatched piece of nerd cred for American gamers. To play Rondo of Blood—widely regarded as one of the best Castlevanias ever made—before its long-awaited US release, you had to import not just the game but the hardware as well; in this case, the rather obscure PC Engine CD. Add it all up, and this piece of gamer arcana could cost you upwards of $500.

Hoping to capitalize on Rondo of Blood's popularity, Konami released an update port for the PlayStation Portable in 2007, throwing in Symphony of the Night for good measure. This version wasn't perfect, replacing Rondo of Blood's attractive sprites with rather ugly 3D models, but still, it was better than nothing. And, as an added bonus, Konami included the original Rondo of Blood along with an unaltered version of Symphony of the Night. Unfortunately, for those who had spent a rather large chunk of cash on Rondo of Blood (like our fearless leader), the original version quickly plummeted in value. But they could at least take solace in having experienced the best of Castlevania years before anyone else. — Kat Bailey

Metal Gear

[JPN: 1987 USA: 2006] Strangely enough, 1998's Metal Gear Solid stood as the first real Metal Gear game to be released in America. Sure, the NES adaptation of Hideo Kojima's 1987 MSX2 classic certainly exists, but there are some key differences; it doesn't even have the titular Metal Gear! That's kinda like putting out a game called Wizards and Warriors, only to make it about sorting various shapes of molded concrete. For a series so reliant on its own history, the lack of a proper Metal Gear release made several significant references of the Solid series completely fly over the heads of poor, ignorant Americans like you and me. (And the ones that made it to the NES version weren't translated very well.)

Thankfully, the 2006 release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence filled this gap in the Hideo Kojima's beloved series by bringing Americans Metal Gear and its sequel for the first time ever. Yes, these weren't emulations of the original MSX2 versions—instead, they're reworkings of previous mobile ports. But still, they're pretty faithful—definitely more than Metal Gear's NES port. And while some of Subsistence's more out-there extras, like the wonderful Snake vs. Monkey mode, haven't resurfaced in future Metal Gear compilations, 2011's Metal Gear Solid HD Collection contains the first two games of the series as they appeared in Subsistence. If you've never played the beginning of the saga, these two games definitely make for a great time; just be ready to have them kick your butt. — Bob Mackey

Final Fantasy II

[JPN: 1988 USA: 2003] Final Fantasy II almost made it to the U.S. back in the day — not only did Square promote it at trade shows, they even had a working (if not particularly coherent) localization for it. But due to the initial delay in getting the first Final Fantasy into English (nearly three years), FFII was unreasonably dated by the time its U.S. release rolled around… so Square just changed Final Fantasy IV's name to "Final Fantasy II" and the series jumped directly to 16-bit power for its first follow-up, so far as Americans knew.

A decade later, of course, Sony lined up the international release dates and numeration for the series with Final Fantasy VII, and Square began filling in the gaps of localization. That meant retitling FFIV with its proper Roman numeral and bringing over Final Fantasy II via a PlayStation remake (packaged with the first game as Final Fantasy Origins).

For once, the delay wasn't such a bad thing. The original FFII for Famicom/NES was a dicey affair with an innovative but not particularly balanced (or fun) character development system. The remake smoothed things over somewhat… and it also read a lot better in English than that earlier attempt had. While still a controversial entry in the series, at least its delayed launch recontextualized it as a weird historical curiosity rather than the game that turned young Americans off from RPGs forever. — Jeremy Parish

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Comments 26

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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Have to say, it was a massive treat getting the first two Metal Gear games with Subsistence. I had no idea they were there until I bought the game. Great to play, though I never came even close to finishing them.
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  • Avatar for SOUP32 #2 SOUP32 3 years ago
    Here's hoping the fan translation scene keeps picking up the slack.
    I really enjoyed finally playing through Policenauts last year, and I have Valkyria Chronicles 3 set up to go.
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  • Avatar for Thumbscar #3 Thumbscar 3 years ago
    Sweet article. I remember playing Hand of the Heavenly Bride in 2009, I recall feeling like it was the best JRPG I'd played in the 5 or 6 years prior to it. A good game is a good game. In case you haven't, marry Debora Briscoletti, she's a riot!
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  • Avatar for yuberus #4 yuberus 3 years ago
    I for one look forward to 2025, when Mother 3 may finally grace American shores with an official translation.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #5 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    I have Star Odyssey, and it's definitely more a historical curiosity than anything.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #6 Kadrom 3 years ago
    The stretches for Star Ocean 1 to make it from JP SNES to NA PSP and Tales of Phantasia to make it from JP SNES to NA GBA were pretty long too, even if they had fan translations much earlier than that.

    Seiken Densetsu 3 still not getting any official localization love.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #7 MetManMas 3 years ago
    Japan's Super Mario Bros. 2 is basically like if The Legend of Zelda's second quest had been sold as a separate product...and the overworld design was completely new...and the background and item tiles were all weird...and maybe enemies sometimes dropped off-color poison fairies...

    It's a shame we never got a Final Fantasy III-make more faithful to the original game. Square-Enix seems content to just keep porting the DS remake to everything, which is an alright game but is pretty compromised since it's one of the earlier DS games. Oh well, maybe somewhere down the line somebody will mod the PC version to bring back NES enemy counts and later job brokenness.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #8 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    Only one I haven't played is Star Odyssey. All the ones that I have played on this list were very quality games. And so far Final Fantasy Type 0 is as well. Special mention goes to DQ V and VI, though. Those are two all time great games that any true rpg fan should have played. Especially their DS iterations.
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  • Avatar for Thad #9 Thad 3 years ago
    Typo correction:

    and took on publishing duties for Dragon Quest IV, as well as remakes for parts IV and V.

    You said "IV" twice; I think you probably meant "IX" that first time. (And are you sure Nintendo was responsible for the remakes of 4 and 5? I only see their logo on 6 -- and it's the only one you can register with Club Nintendo --; 4 and 5 have the SE logo in the corner.)

    Anyhow, good list, good choices, good comments on them. But what's a comments section without proposing other entries?

    Mega Man and Bass: a game made for the SFC, AFTER Mega Man 8's release on the PlayStation, and using the PlayStation graphics at SNES resolution. Not released for the SNES in the US; eventually we got a GBA port. Which was kind of a nightmare to play. It turns out that when you make a platformer for SNES with PS1 sprites, and then further crop it down for GBA, the result is neither fair nor fun.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #10 bobservo 3 years ago
    @Thad Thanks for the catch; when you have to write so many roman numerals in a row, these things happen.
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  • Avatar for lanmao #11 lanmao 3 years ago
    Rondo of Blood is probably my favorite Castlevania game. I was SO happy when they released it on the psp over here!
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  • Avatar for jonholden73 #12 jonholden73 3 years ago
    Deleted March 2015 by jonholden73
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  • Avatar for bobservo #13 bobservo 3 years ago
  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #14 Monkey-Tamer 3 years ago
    I never made it far enough in the original Metal Gear for NES to notice the lack of an actual metal gear. I didn't own a copy until 2005, and have kept it virtually untouched in my collection since then. Thanks to the magic of the internet I can play games that didn't get translated, like Valkyria Chronicles 3. My Japanese was nowhere good enough to keep up with the plot on my imported copy.
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  • Avatar for koalpastor30 #15 koalpastor30 3 years ago
    Here's wishing for Mother 3 or Seiken Densetsu 3
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  • Avatar for AlltheNeSWorldCups #16 AlltheNeSWorldCups 3 years ago
    @SOUP32 Hey so i have the best import copy from japan but i was sorta confused on how exactly you get and apply the patch.Tried to see if i could manage a little in Japanese completely failed had no idea what to do died instantly couldnt tell if X or O was accept or back so yeah any enlightenment you could extend would be greatly appreciated
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  • Avatar for SOUP32 #17 SOUP32 3 years ago
    @AlltheNeSWorldCups I did the exact same thing. You have to transfer the rom to your computer using some kind of wifi trick, apply the patch, then put it on a flash cart and put it back into the DS.
    The detailed walkthroughs are on forums, but that's the gist of it.
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  • Avatar for Bander #18 Bander 3 years ago
    It always struck me as odd that Sega thought Monster World IV wouldn't be popular, yet in the present day, there seems to be a new 2D low-res Metroidvania every few days and people are lapping them up.

    Oddly, there was a delay for this series that went in reverse also. Japan didn't get Monster World II (also known as Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap) in its original Master System form, even though Sega did release it elsewhere including in the US. Japanese gamers had to either wait for the Game Gear port three years later, or get Dragon's Curse on PC-Engine two years later, which was slightly odd-looking (the extra colours on the re-drawn sprites didn't work with the animation as well as they did on Master System).
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  • Avatar for mganai #19 mganai 3 years ago
    @MetManMas The one thing that bothered me about 3D!FFIII was the 3 max enemy parties. If only they'd bothered to tweak that for the ports.
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  • Avatar for Wariolicious #20 Wariolicious 3 years ago
    @Kat Bailey: While the PC Engine hucards itself were region-locked, CD games were not. So while one had to cough op some dough to import the game itself, no further investment was necessary as it was playable on any TG-16 Duo unit!
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  • Avatar for andrewmayes78 #21 andrewmayes78 3 years ago
    Metal Gear becomes a lot less intimidating once you realize that guards can only see in a single-pixel-wide line directly in front of their face. So even though they can see across the whole screen, they won't see you unless you stand directly in front of them.

    Metal Gear 2's guards, though, are absolutely vicious. They can see across a full screen, have peripheral vision, AND can actually swivel their heads to the side. They may actually be sharper than the guards in Metal Gear Solid.
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  • Avatar for detten17 #22 detten17 2 years ago
    i'm still waiting for Valkyria Chronicle 3, it would be an amazing PS Vita game, that and Grand Knight's Kingdom.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #23 DrCorndog 2 years ago
    Odd personal fact: Rondo of Blood is thus far the only Castlevania I've played. (It's great, by the way.)
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #24 jeremy.parish 2 years ago
    @DrCorndog I envy you, because you have SO MANY great Castlevania games stretching ahead of you for the first time. Enjoy your life, my friend.
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