On Import Modding a Super NES

Not long after CGR Undertow posted a video about import modding the North American Super NES to play Japanese Super Famicom games, I decided to try it myself and see if I could indeed play Super Famicom games on my system.  The entire process was very simple and resulted in my SNES being able to play not only my North American SNES games, just as it always has, but also Super Famicom games flawlessly.


A Super Famicom game, Assault Suits Valken, on the left, and its North American version, Cybernator, to its right.

As you can see in this photo, there isn’t much of a difference between the overall dimensions of an SNES game cartridge and a Super Famicom one.  In fact, the only barrier hindering a Super Famicom cart from being inserted into the Super NES is a pair of plastic bars that fit snugly into the back of an inserted SNES game cartridge.  Notice the spaces on the back of the SNES cart, which the bars fit into, compared with the Super Famicom cart.  With some effort, and a razor blade, I was able to cut away the bars, and that’s all there is to it; now Super Famicom games fit in the system and can be played as though it was inserted in a Super Famicom console.

The obvious benefit of this modification is the ability to play Japanese games that were never released in North America, and in some cases, importing a Super Famicom game might be cheaper than finding a North American copy of the game.  I believe off-brand SNES systems can play both North American SNES and Super Famicom carts, but modifying my SNES was free and probably delivers the truest fidelity that can be had outside of a genuine Super Famicom console.

My reasons for making the modification, beyond curiosity, are strange, I’ll admit.  While I started out with the intent to import space ship shoot ‘em ups that were not released in North America, those turned out to be more expensive than I expected.  But had I found any of those games, I would have needed no knowledge of Japanese in order to play them.  Instead, I was able to import for relatively cheap the original versions of two of my favorite SNES games, Illusion of Gaia and Cybernator, with the goal of having the original text and format, respectively.

The SNES cart on the right has large ridges on its back for the barriers in the SNES to fit into.

The English translation of Illusion of Gaia is incredibly awkward; it is often unclear who is speaking or if that person is speaking or thinking the text on screen, and I believe some mistakes were made as well.  As for Cybernator, or Assault Suits Valken in the original Japanese release, the translation is decent, but they ended up taking out a lot of banter between characters during levels, and they also removed portraits of characters that are displayed next to their text.  A lot of charm and character was removed in doing so, and the whole giant robot anime style that is so well presented in the game suffers for it.  I may get around to plugging each game’s text into a translating program and trying to interpret what is being said, but for Assault Suits Valken, it’s more of an action game, so the player isn’t really allowed much leeway for reading the text.

It is also interesting to note that there is a fair amount of English text in the Japanese releases.  I can’t speak for all games, of course, but the options screen for Assault Suits Valken is entirely in English, except for what you can change the main character’s name to.  And in Illusion of Gaia, the map screen has English text for destinations.  I’ll be curious to see what other games I can import through ebay for relatively cheap, as well as how much English is in these titles.


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