Prepare for sadness
When you live in a country that seems to get every game by default, it's easy to take things for granted. Sure, we've had a history of congresspeople attempting to demonize video games, but our self-regulating ratings board is surprisingly lenient compared to countries like Australia or Germany (opens in new tab), who decide what games consumers can and can't purchase. Plus, if a game ever leaves Japan, there's a damn good chance it's going to come stateside before other territories.
Except for when it doesn't. There are quite a few games that got fully translated into English, though for whatever reason, didn't make it outside of Europe - or hell, even Japan. North America is massive in comparison to other English-speaking territories, and maybe trucking games cross-country just to sit on store shelves doesn't make a lot of sense. Whatever the reason, make sure you brace yourself for disappointment (or prepare to shell out the cash for region-specific hardware), because these are some of the more interesting games North Americans are missing out on.
Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland
Here it is, folks: one of the few Zelda games that will never make it to North America. OK, well, technically it's starring everyone's "favorite" 40-year-old human fairy, Tingle. Even though you're not playing as Link, it still feels like a Legend of Zelda game in many ways. There's an overworld to explore, dungeons full of puzzles to solve, and tons of rupees to snag.
In fact, rupees are an important part, because they're not just a currency you can use to purchase items and haggle with Hyrule's inhabitants - they're Tingles health bar too. Run out of cash and it's lights out for our green-tighted hero. This game probably could have had an honest shot here, if not for the fact that pretty much everyone thinks that Tingle is one of the creepiest characters Nintendo's ever made.
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West
Remember Hotel Dusk: Room 215? That Nintendo DS game that looked like it came right out of an A-Ha video (opens in new tab)? Well, its now-defunct developer Cing actually made a sequel a few years later that was fully translated and released in Europe.
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West continues the story of Kyle Hyde, the police officer-turned-delivery man as he unravels yet another mystery. According to reviews, Last Window is supposed to be just as good as its predecessor, filled with memorable characters and a unique graphical style, but the text-heavy adventure is perhaps a bit too niche for North American audiences. Much like...
Another Code R: A Journey Into Lost Memories
Oh look, another Cing joint! This time, it's a sequel to the the DS adventure game Trace Memory (or, as it's known in Europe, Another Code: Two Memories). Trace Memory plays out like an interactive storybook, with some brisk puzzle-solving to keep things interesting. You play as a young Ashley Mizuki Robbins, as she explores the mysterious Blood Edward Island, looking for clues as to the whereabouts of her missing parents.
Unfortunately, some pacing issues and a lack of replayability led to middling reviews, which ultimately doomed its sequel, Another Code R, from ever seeing the light of day in North America - which is a shame, because it's largely an improvement over the original in many ways. It didn't help that the sequel was a Wii game, and by the time it finally launched, the Wii's software sales all but dried up for anything that wasn't a Mario game.
Disaster: Day of Crisis
Here's another Nintendo-published Wii game that would have likely tanked in North America. If you're wondering why this game sounds familiar, you probably recognize it from Nintendo's E3 2006 presentation. Nintendo revealed the trailer for Monolith Soft's bonkers action title, then never spoke a single word about it. That's right: the same studio responsible for sprawling JRPGs about robots and swords and robot swords also worked on a QTE-laden survival game in which massive earthquakes and tsunamis wreck a coastal city in North America.
Nintendo quietly released Disaster: Day of Crisis abroad in October, 2008, but poor sales and middling review scores ensured that we'd never see the once-promised game grace our shores. It's weird that a game as gung-ho-America as Disaster: Day of Crisis would never get released here, but it's nothing compared to...
Metal Wolf Chaos
Metal Wolf Chaos is magical (opens in new tab). Before crushing our souls with games like Bloodborne, From Software loved making mech games, like Chromehounds and Armored Core. But none of them compare to the sheer jingoistic audacity of Metal Wolf Chaos. Vice President Richard Hawk usurps the Oval Office from current president Michael Wilson (relative of Woodrow Wilson, naturally). How does he attempt to regain control of the White House? By piloting a giant mech, that's how. Eventually the two battle in space - because of course they do.
While its menus are in Japanese, the entire game is dubbed with gloriously terrible English voice acting, and it's pretty easy to figure out how to press A to America without having to study a second language. It is a crime we never got a localized version - it could have been video gaming's Team America: World Police, and there's no way translating everything would have taken longer than a Coca-Cola and apple pie-fueled fortnight.
Phantasy Star Online 2
Oh dear, this one is going to break more than a few hearts. Phantasy Star Online was an action-packed MMORPG for the Dreamcast released in 2000, a time when hooking your console up to the internet was a strange concept. Despite a relatively complicated set-up process compared to most modern-day online console titles, it garnered a decent cult following over its lifespan.
So of course fans were excited to hear that a full sequel would make its way to PC and Vita and have continued to wait patiently for the game to ever make it to the West. Currently, Phantasy Star Online 2 is only out in Japan and the Pacific Southwest, but if you're willing to jump through some hoops, you can actually install an English patch (opens in new tab) that will translate nearly everything for you. The fact that Sega hasn't done anything to block its use might as well be confirmation that we'll never get it.
The SNES is arguably one of the best JRPG machines on the planet, and North America actually got a fairly surprising amount of them, all things considered. But there's one in particular that stands out as one of the finest we'll probably never get to play: Terranigma.
Terranigma is the third entry of a loosely connected trilogy, developed by Quintet, the studio who brought us classics like ActRaiser, Soul Blazer, and Illusion of Gaia. In many ways, Terranigma is Quintet's magnum opus, a combination of complex religious themes and action-RPG concepts introduced in prior titles. So why didn't we get it? Turns out Enix wasn't doing so hot in the US, and had closed its North American subsidiary shortly before its localization was completed. That didn't stop Nintendo from taking it and publishing it on its own - but only in Europe and Australia.
If this article seems particularly Nintendo heavy, it's not because I'm bashing them. They just happen to make a habit of putting in a ton of work to make games readable by a Western audience then not releasing them in their largest English-speaking territory - or simply not releasing them at all. Case in point: Mother for the NES.
In Japan, what we refer to as EarthBound is known as Mother 2, the sequel to the original Mother game released in 1989 on the NES. Plans were set in motion to make Mother available to a Western audience, and the game was fully translated into English, until Nintendo of America decided (for whatever reason) that releasing it would be commercially unviable. Lucky for us, someone found a prototype and dumped the ROM files online, where it has since been dubbed EarthBound Zero by those who have come across it by less scrupulous means.
Mother 3, a game which many believe to be the finest (and most heart-wrenching) in the series, has been fully translated by a handful of fans (opens in new tab). Of course, Nintendo still has no plans to officially bring this title to the West, despite constantly taunting us with the inclusion of Mother 3 hero Lucas in Super Smash Bros. Sigh.