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The Best Japanese Video Games That Were Never Released In America

Updated September 23, 2021 458 votes 99 voters 6.5k views12 items

List RulesVote up the games you wish were brought to North America.

Between the advent of digital distribution and the implementation of region-free consoles, it feels like 2018 humans should be able to play any game they want no matter where they are in the world. It makes financial sense for titles to reach as large an audience as possible, and it's never been easier to participate in a niche fan base. 

Despite this, there are still plenty of Japanese video games that were never localized and haven’t made their way to the United States. Even though Japanese video games still routinely rock the global charts, cultural differences – coupled with  the continuing popularity of arcades in Japan – cause some titles to never release in other regions.

There are even some great Nintendo games that executives have deemed ill-suited for countries like the US. If English is your first and only language, it's time to start studying up, as Americans have missed out on some of the best Japanese games of all time. 

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  • Photo: Nintendo

    Jump Ultimate Stars is a fighting game that released exclusively in Japan for the Nintendo DS in 2006. It combines fighters from all of Shonen Jump's biggest franchises, including Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and Death Note.

    The game features more than 300 characters (roughly six times as many as 2014's J-Stars Victory VS), and received widespread critical acclaim. However, it's unlikely a Western release will ever happen, possibly because many of the featured franchises are also Japan-exclusive. Financially speaking, having hundreds of characters only matters if the general public can recognize them all. 

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  • Photo: Nintendo

    It's unlikely any other video game franchise has frustrated US gamers as much as Mother. The first entry in the series released in Japan in 1989, but a worldwide release didn’t arrive until it was brought to the Virtual Console on Wii U in 2015.

    Its sequel, the highly acclaimed Earthbound, was incredibly successful across the globe, but 2006's Mother 3 continued the original game's Japan-exclusive legacy. 

    Nintendo has never revealed plans to localize the title for other markets, leaving it in the hands of fans to translate the game into English. As was the case with its predecessors, it's a surreal role-playing game with odd characters, strange quests, and unconventional gameplay.

    Even if they've never heard of the series, fans of Super Smash Bros. may recognize the main protagonists Lucas and Ness. 

    #214 of 271 The Most Compelling Video Game Storylines Ever#112 of 179 The Best Nintendo Games, Ranked#373 of 429 The Best Video Game Soundtracks of All Time

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    ‘Phantasy Star Online 2’ Is Sega’s Biggest RPG Franchise

    Photo: Sega

    Phantasy Star Online 2 is a major entry in Sega’s most popular RPG franchise. Unfortunately it has been confined to Japan since its release in 2012 even though it still has a devoted Japanese player base in 2018. 

    When the game first launched, Sega announced they were considering offering it to Western markets, but as time went on, hope for an international port dwindled. In 2017, the English language version of the game's website was shut down with no fanfare. 

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    The Massive World Of ‘Seiken Densetsu 3’ Cost Too Much To Translate

    Secret of Mana is widely considered one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. The story is beloved across the globe, so when Nintendo announced its 1995 sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, was a Japanese exclusive, fans were understandably upset.

    The story involves multiple groups struggling for control of the world's Mana supply, as the substance is both an extremely powerful fuel and a rapidly depleting natural resource. 

    While franchise devotees were certainly excited to see the story continue, the decision to not translate the game was ultimately based in financial figures. By '90s standards, the world is massive, and Square decided it was not worth the investment to convert all the dialogue into English. 

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