Sure, life is great here in the states: There's plenty of room, it's relatively peaceful, and people work harder to sell us products than anyone else in the world. Why? We have money. Okay, so maybe you and I don't have a lot of money, but the culture in general is loaded. Not only are we loaded, but we're picky. We want things the way we want them, and they should have been that way yesterday, dammit. We're a nation of needy people (except those hippies driving around with the "Need Less" bumper stickers).
So what's the point? Well, doesn't it seem kind of silly that we are constantly waiting for games and hardware that are already available somewhere else? I mean, we're the frontiersmen (people) of the world. We're trailblazers. We're on the edge. We're AMERICANS!
Being the impatient Yanks we are, there are plenty of places to get import goods. Just a few years ago, it was difficult to find imports unless you lived in a major metropolitan area. Now that the web has removed geographic shopping restrictions, the world of cutting-edge gaming is at your fingertips. Of course, international corporations know that the US is the land of milk and copyrights, so they've got a vested interest in keeping us purchasing domestic releases.
Getting imports to work is a little trickier than popping in your standard store-bought game. Many of the import fans in the US are really import hobbyists. It's easy to buy a game at Wal-Mart every six months to appease the kids, but with import titles you invest much more, both in time and money. It can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you're a fan of the many smaller genres whose titles never make it over here. But importing can also be a nightmare if you're not careful, so take heed and proceed with caution. And at your own risk.
Before you hook up with any import titles you're going to have to do something to get around the country specification built into domestic console units. For the PlayStation you'll need to buy either a MOD chip or a game enhancer. MOD chips are really on their way out the door, and the hassle to have somebody install it is just not worth it. For a few bucks more you can get a game enhancer, which plugs into the parallel port just like a Game Shark, but beware when buying your enhancer. Some enhancers, like the Game Shark, only do codes and memory management. To play imports, you need to make sure your enhancer is advertised as allowing you to play games from whatever country you plan on importing from (usually Japan, right?). There are many different types of enhancers out there, and the quality and ease of use vary greatly. But most import vendors also sell enhancers that will allow you to play a game from wherever (just in case you can't wait for Invasion of the Saucermen from Sony Europe). For the N64 you'll need a cartridge adapter. Plug it into the top and you're off. The DC is a little more difficult to write about at this point. Currently, only the Asian version of the machine is out, but there is talk that a device similar to the PSX game enhancer will allow you to play import DC titles on your North American machine. And don't forget that if you've bought an import DC, you'll need the same device to play American releases.
Once you've prepped your console for import play, you need to pick out games. This is the challenge with import titles. Most of us don't know Japanese, and that does cause some difficulties when trying to play Japanese titles. It's hard to learn Japanese, too, so don't think that you can muddle through it with an English-Japanese dictionary. Nope, you'll either need a real good friend who speaks and reads Japanese, or you'll have to be careful about what you buy. There's nothing like getting a brand new game that you can't play. So read reviews of available imports. Read them here on GF!, and also in magazines and on other websites. There are a lot of games coming out all the time in Japan. No one site covers all of them. Also, it does no good if the magazine or website has someone who's fluent in Japanese reviewing the game, unless they take into consideration how playable it would be without their expert knowledge.
But even if you read all the reviews, there are just some games that are reading-intensive that we must play. Maybe they won't be released in the US for another year, or maybe it's in a genre, like the dating sims, that just doesn't get released over here. Regardless, sometimes there are games that you have to play, but can't without a translation. Never fear, there are a buttload of sources for game translations. Some of them are really high quality. Some of them are just so-so. It's usually a good idea to check for translation availability before making your purchase. You can find translations on websites and newsgroups. If you don't find what you're looking for, don't be afraid to jump into a discussion group and ask for a translation. Maybe there's somebody out there playing the game, understanding the writing, and willing to jot down some helpful notes for you.
Ordering imports can be tricky. As with everything else over the web, you're never 100% sure of what you're getting into when you wander onto somebody's site. So stick with reputable vendors, and obey the basic rules of mail order: Always use a credit card so there is a record of the transaction, and make use of tracking services and insurance if possible.
By now you should be ready to make your first order. Get on some of the sites noted in the sidebar and start shopping around. It's a whole new world of gaming possibility out there, once you've opened up the whole world.