Famicom imports guide: the best Japan-only NES games

Nintendo’s 8-bit system is a great option for importers, with many cheap options and a ton of Japanese exclusives! It’s really easy to dip into, and we’re here to help you get started. Read on for our Famicom imports guide!

Updated 5/8/2019!

Before we continue, here’s what you need to know about Famicom importing:

The system’s region-free (with adapters). The lockout between Japanese and North American consoles is physical: the configuration of the circuit board’s connectors is shuffled, but they’re the same connectors sending compatible signals. A cheap, common adapter will let you play Famicom games on your NES. You can also play Famicom games on many clone systems!

There are lots of translation patches. We’ll link to the ones in this list that have them, but there’s a robust translation scene for the system, and if you have a RetroN 5, you can even run patches with real cartridges of the game. It works great. We like it a lot. Still, we’re making sure the list has some great games that don’t need patches, too.

Many of the best Famicom games are super-cheap. Because of the sheer number of systems sold, any game that got any traction saw huge print runs. There are rare games, as always, but you don’t necessarily need to head down that road to find fun.

Now, to the games!

Joy Mech Fight

Fan translation available
Available on Nintendo Switch Online (Japan)
The 8-bit generation wasn’t exactly known for its 2D fighters, and for good reason: it didn’t have the horsepower or the buttons to make one work. Or did it, though? Joy Mech Fight was released incredibly late in the Famicom’s life and was largely a tech demo, but it’s a cool way to make a fighter work: with big robots comprised of many smaller sprites and a simpler move set that focuses on fewer, more exaggerated attacks.

Wai Wai World 2

Fan translation available
This mash-up puts lots of Konami’s franchises into one game, and with gameplay and characters from each mixed around for maximum craziness. A sequel with more polish and smoother play, it brings in Simon Belmont, Goemon, Bill Rizer and… yeah, just a bunch of Konami’s properties. It has the weirdness of Parodius and the fanservice appeal of Smash Bros., and — most importantly — exactly the sort of peculiar title you’d want to show off to friends.

Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen

A puzzle game designed to improve Russia-Japan relations? Yeah, Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen is a weird one. Here’s the thing, though: it’s really fun, too. You connect pipes from one side to the other by interlocking different turning and straight pieces and keep the water(?) flowing across eastern Asia. Check out this video for a better look!

Valkyrie no Bouken

Fan translation available
Namco’s answer to The Legend of Zelda, Valkyrie adds in some Dragon Quest-style progression and exploration while dialing back a bit of the puzzle-solving elements. Valkyrie has become somewhat of a mascot for Namco and shows up in games like Project X Zone and multiple Tales titles, so it’s helpful to be familiar with her origins!

Honoo no Toukyuuji: Dodge Danpei

Fan translation available
The rare Tecmo Cup Soccer Game was just the tip of a large iceberg in Japan: a whole world of tactical sports simulations that feel more like JRPGs than traditional sports titles. They’re forerunners of games like Inazuma Eleven, and the most interesting of them all is Dodge Danpei, which somehow makes turn-based dodgeball with menus full of numbered cards work.

Lagrange Point

Fan translation available
Known for its advanced sound chip, Lagrange Point is also a strong RPG in its own right, a sci-fi epic in a sea of fantasy-themed releases that recalls Sega’s Phantasy Star more than any of its Famicom peers. Still, though, this one’s mostly worth playing to get your console to make sounds it’s never made before.

Kunio-kun no Nekketsu Soccer League

Fan translation available
Available on Kunio-Kun: The World Classics Collection (Import)
Have you played Nintendo World Cup? The sports title was a showcase for the Satellite and Four Score multitaps for the system, but its Japan-only sequel just ramps up the craziness. With different fields, more over-the-top special moves and other ways to push the Famicom to its limits (and, um, past them at times), Nekketsu Soccer League is a curiosity worth exploring.

Okkotoshi Puzzle Tonjyan

Sokoban! Mahjong! Cute pigs! Tonjyan has a lot of distinctive aspects, but the combination works well. Your job is to push tiles into holes while avoiding dumping a few types of them in the process. So yeah, it’s a block-pushing game, but one that plays differently enough for it to be worth a look.

Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula-kun

Fan translation available
It’s chibi Castlevania! Fans of the Belmonts’ adventures should check out this predecessor to the Game Boy’s Kid Dracula, bringing a bit more platforming into the mix with its super-deformed aesthetic. Many blame some potentially offensive enemies for this one not making it to the West, but we’d bet Konami just didn’t think cute was marketable enough to make sprite adjustments and manufacture cartridges.

8Bit Music Power
8Bit Music Power Final
Kira Kira Star Night
8Bit Rhythm Land

Who said all Famicom imports needed to be old? This recent line of games from Japanese publisher Columbus Circle is full of fun, hardware-stretching releases with a focus on chiptune music. While the Music Power carts are largely fancy albums that let you mess with the sound channels and test the Famicom hardware, the other two are genuine games. Star Night is a scrolling shooter, while Rhythm Land is a collection of four timing-based minigame challenges. The modern production means they don’t feel built like the classics, but the soundtracks make them worth a look anyway.

For more helpful advice for budding importers, check out our Guides section.

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