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Old 09-23-2012, 11:20 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Price Check: What Do Rare U.S. Releases Cost in Japan?

Everyone knows that if you want to collect classics 8- and 16-bit console games, you go shopping for them in Japan. Since Japan was responsible for the bulk of the worthwhile games of those eras, and because Japanese gamers tend to be fastidious and (unlike us slovenly Americans) usually treated those games with respect, you can find any old game you like, almost always complete in box, excellently preserved, in perfect working order. Meanwhile, you're lucky to be able to buy a used copy of a month-old release at GameStop that isn't dangling from a mutilated replacement box and appears to be encrusted with dirt, or... oh, god, are those human feces!?

Because of the unique collector's culture in Japan, these old games not only manage to be plentiful and well-kept, they're also frequently very affordable. Rare and expensive releases in the U.S. often command bargain-basement prices in Japan. Even with the dire exchange rate, you could build a heck of a collection of Famicom, Mega Drive, PC Engine, Super Famicom, et al. games for a lot less than you could their U.S. equivalents. This is especially true of RPGs! Better start boning up on your nihongo.

Driven by curiousity, I decided to compare the prices of a handful of fairly well-known big-ticket U.S. releases and what their going price is in various shops in Tokyo's Akihabara district (using the only reliable source of classic U.S. games, eBay, as my basis for comparison). The disparity wasn't quite as striking in some cases as I expected; the floundering U.S. economy has driven down the value of a number of games. Still, this is almost enough to make me wish I had taken some Japanese classes in college....

Mother 2/EarthBound (Super NES)

Mother 2: ¥2604 ($33.32)

EarthBound: $545

Let's start with low-hanging fruit: EarthBound. In Japan, where it's known as Mother 2, Nintendo's quirky 16-bit RPG has a modest following and saw release in fairly large numbers. It also saw a fine-tuned reissue on Game Boy Advance, making it even more accessible. The U.S. version, of course, came out in limited quantities with a massive, easily damaged box, and has transformed into a cult classic. Hence the 1600% price difference between the two versions!

Breath of Fire II (Super NES)

Japan: ¥1239 ($15.85)

U.S.: $41

Breath of Fire II seems to have shed some of its value; maybe America's changing tastes in RPGs has finally started to drive down prices in the infamously expensive Super NES second-string RPG market. In any case, the Japanese version is still much cheaper, occupying a price point along the lines of what you'd expect from a mid-grade SNES racing game or something.

Shining Force II (Genesis)

Japan: ¥1029 ($13.17)

U.S.: $52

The second Shining Force game appeared on the Sega Mega Drive, which never really took off in Japan and still commands a modest market. The U.S. version is considerably pricier... though for maximum impact, I really should have checked out Shining Force III.

Dragon Force (Saturn)

Japan: ¥924 ($11.82)

U.S.: $60

Speaking of Sega games with the word "force" in their names, Dragon Force isn't anywhere near as pricey on the American secondary market as it used to be. It still isn't cheap, though! Working Designs tended to publish in limited quantities. On the other hand, the Japanese version came out in decent numbers and also saw a rerelease on PlayStation 2, so anyone who wants to play it can do so pretty painlessly.

Estopolis II/Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (Super NES)

Estopolis II: ¥1659 ($21.23)

Lufia II: $100

One of the rarer and more highly sought-after Super NES RPGs, Lufia II is simply a victim of a limited U.S. production run. Both territories saw the iffy DS remake, which appears to have lowered the price in both regions by retroactively making people hate the original.

Chrono Trigger (Super NES)

Japan: ¥980 ($12.54)

U.S.: $200

Despite being reissued on DS, PlayStation, PSN, and iOS, Chrono Trigger continues to demand a super-premium price among American collectors. I have no idea why! The DS port is basically perfect (just ignore the dumb new stuff). Meanwhile, Japan just kind of shrugs. Square must have overproduced the heck out of this game, which now sells for less than 10% of its original ¥11000 price.

Gensou Suikoden II/Suikoden II (PlayStation)

Gensou Suikoden II: ¥1500 ($19.20)

Suikoden II: $130

Talk about taking a tumble -- the U.S. version of Suikoden II has shed about half its value in the past couple of years. That still doesn't mean it's reasonably priced, though! A low production run and a brilliant reputation keep this one in high demand. Meanwhile, Japan enjoyed a larger run, a PlayStation reissue, a fantastic PSP remake, and a PSN release. If you want to play Suikoden II in Japan, it's no trouble. In America, though, prepare to give up a couple week's worth of lunch.

Rockman Dash 2/Mega Man Legends 2 (PlayStation)

Rockman Dash 2: ¥2280 ($29.17)

Mega Man Legends 2: $70

Another low production run, another game widely reissued in Japan and published on the Japanese PSN. It's like a theme or something.

Tron Ni Kobun/The Misadventures of Tron Bonne (PlayStation)

Tron Ni Kobun: ¥3280 ($41.97)

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne: $130

Even in Japan, Tron Bonne manages to retain a respectable value -- her game sells for nearly as much as it did new back in the day. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's the only one of the Mega Man Legend trilogy not to be available on PSN. The U.S. price on this one has dropped pretty sharply over the past year, quite likely due to the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3; the revival of the franchise caused interest in the PlayStation games to spike, but since there's no future for those games there's no longer any particular need to catch up with the story line. Keep an eye on this one, Americans! It's a fun, creative game, and if it drops before $100 you should totally grab a copy.

Akumajou Dracula/Castlevania (NES)

Akumajou Dracula: ¥13650 ($174.66)

Castlevania: $40

But hey, the rarity thing works in both directions. Sometimes fairly common games in the U.S. command a steep price in Japan. For instance, Castlevania: Although it's grown pricier in the States in recent years, the game still sells for a fairly reasonable price given its classic status. In Japan, however, it costs more than four times as much -- at least in this version, anyway. See, Castlevania was originally a Disk System game, and this cartridge version only came out years later and in small quantities. Its late release, scarcity, and reprinted nature make for a valuable collectible; after all, you can buy Castlevania in a number of forms, but for those who want a complete Famicom collection, you can't settle for the Virtual Console version.

Maximum Carnage (Genesis)

Japan: ¥98000 ($1254)

U.S.: $30

And then there's Maximum Carnage. Honestly, I have no idea what's going on with this one. Every year, I see it on display for more than $1000. No one ever seems to want it. But apparently it's super valuable! I'm assuming the fact that it came out late in the life of a system that didn't have much of a footprint in Japan courtesy of a company with hardly any presence in Japan means only a tiny handful of these made it to shelves. Either that or Japan just really loved Marvel's crossover sagas in the '90s. Since there was never a Clone Saga video game, though, I guess we'll never know.
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