Turning Japanese (And Possibly American)

My very first experience with a Dreamcast came in early 1999 when a friend who was earning suspiciously large amounts of money for doing a menial warehouse job decided he wanted a new games console. Tired of playing Buck Bumble and Rush 2 on N64 in his cramped bedroom, we took a trip to an import store in nearby Manchester's Chinatown district where my friend handed over several hundred pounds for a Japanese Dreamcast and a few games. The games were Virtua Fighter 3tb, Dynamite Deka 2 and Shutokou Battle - a game we had no idea was a racing title because there were no screens on the back of the case and no English text at all (time must have muddied my memory - all three apparently have screens). Since then, I have played (and obviously own) all three of those games in their PAL guises: Virtua Fighter 3tb, Dynamite Cop and Tokyo Highway Challenge...but you no doubt already guessed the English title of the first game mentioned there.

It was really cool getting to play on my friend's DC back before the PAL release, and even cooler because everything was covered in Japanese text and we really had no idea what we were doing in most of the menu screens. It was literally a case of 'push A until the game starts.' One other cool thing was the Project Berkeley video that came on one of the GDs, but I forget which one it was - possibly Virtua Fighter 3...but I digress. As a side note, it turned out that my friend had been fiddling the till at the warehouse/timber yard he worked at and that's how he'd been able to afford the Dreamcast in the first place. He was eventually rumbled and the police were involved...but that's a different story.

So, what's the point of this post you may be wondering? Well, since then I haven't really touched any NTSC Dreamcast stuff at all. Around 99% of my whole gaming collection is PAL, and I've never really thought to get involved in import gaming because it just seemed like such a sprawling and impenetrable sub-division of gaming: games you can't understand, problems with different plug adapters, will it work on my TV...all things that popped into my head when considering import gaming. A recent conversation with (amongst other people) The Gagaman got me thinking about import gaming again though, and there are some really cool looking games that we never got here in the UK. Things like Seaman and Roomania #203, and to a lesser extent Alien Front and...er...Tokyo Bus Guide. The thing is, I always felt like import gaming was a closed door to somebody like me who isn't particularly rich and doesn't earn a lot (and doesn't steal cash from work). It only became apparent that this simply isn't the case when I mentioned on Twitter that I'd quite like - but can't afford - an NTSC Dreamcast and was met with a cacophony of "use a boot disk you moron!"

And then the penny dropped. I say penny - I probably mean anvil. Right on my stupid head. All this time I'd been denying myself Japanese and US games (well, apart from the few self-booting burnt games I have) through pure ignorance. So off I went in search of a) some NTSC games and b) a boot disk.
The games I got off eBay for less than a pound each: Capcom Vs SNK Millenium Fight 2000, Pen Pen TriIcelon and Shutokou Battle 2. The prices were key when it came to acquiring these titles, but I also have them all PAL-flavoured and so I figured it'd be easy to navigate the menus should they turn up and be swathed in Kanji. There'll also all decent games (before you start - Pen Pen is fun!), so I knew I wouldn't be getting any nasty surprises.

Next - I needed boot disks, and these are the three different types I have amassed:

I managed to burn this myself ages ago and forgot I even had it until I found a load of old Dreamcast boxes in my mum's attic a few months back. It's burnt onto a rather cheap CD-R and the foil is coming off so it is quite temperamental - sometimes it loads up...other times it won't. You can tell how ancient it is by the version number that pops up on the 'insert game' splash screen: version 1.1. I think it's now on some infinitely higher revision, but I don't know how well that version works as no matter what I try, I cannot get either my mac or my girlfriend's Windows laptop to burn a copy that will boot in my console. This version works great though (when it decides to load) - it's very basic and features a bizarre floating reindeer that turns chrome when you replace the Utopia disk with an NTSC game. Which is nice.
DC-IE Import Enabler
This disk was posted to me by a cool guy on Twitter (@ArchaicKoala) who responded to my appeal for help with burning a more up to date Utopia disk. Rather than send instructions, the guy just burnt several copies of DC-IE and posted them to me. And for that, I am truly grateful. DC-IE isn't a booter that I was previously aware of, and was totally expecting a more up to date version of Utopia to be on the CDs. The interface is very 'no frills,' consisting of two static splash screens and instructions to replace the disc with a DC game and press start. Works flawlessly.
Ultimate Cheats Collection
I bought this off eBay, again for a few pounds, as I had heard about a fabled cheats disc that had been given away with a magazine that inadvertently allowed for imported games to be played on a PAL Dreamcast. After a bit of research, it appears that this may have actually happened twice - once with a DC-UK cover disc and once with a disc given away with Paragon publishing's Dreamcast Magazine. This disc is the latter. It's actually meant to be a promo version of the Xploder DC cheats software, where you can select game-ruining cheats (why would you want 'all abilities' from the start in Soul Reaver, for example?!) but you can also completely skip the cheats and just put an NTSC game in and have it bypass the region lock-out. Works just as well as the others, with the added bonus of being able to start a match in Sega Worldwide Soccer with a 15 goal advantage.
So those are the three discs I have been using to play some awesome Japanese Capcom Vs SNK on my trusty old PAL Dreamcast. I'm sure there are lots of other variants on these discs and if you have any others, let us know in the comments. One thing I've noticed about Japanese games from the meagre three I currently own is just how much nicer the manuals and box art is, and I'm pretty excited to finally get the chance to play some of the more interesting Jap and US games that never made it to these shores. Be sure to report back to read my impressions as I get more. Lastly, here are a few screens from Shutokou Battle 2 for no real reason other than I took them:


Robert Jones said...

Great stuff Tom. There's some excellent NTSC exclusives out there. Plus, most NTSC stuff is far cheaper than PAL to pick up.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks man! Yeah - I noticed that lots of NTSC versions of expensive and 'rare' PAL titles cost virtually nothing as NTSC versions. I also really appreciate the effort that has clearly gone into the Japanese manuals...it puts our black & white generic ones to shame!