Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bless the Switch for making it so easy to play Japanese video games

Illustration for article titled Bless the Switch for making it so easy to play Japanese video games
Screenshot: Super Robot Wars T (YouTube)

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One of the things I was really excited about when the Nintendo Switch started to take off was its potential to be the new go-to platform for cool Japanese games that never come to Xbox (my preferred gaming console). I never had a 3DS or one of the PlayStation family of portables, so for years I would hear about some cool anime robot game on those systems, and have to accept the fact that I’d probably never get to play them (both because I didn’t have the platforms they were generally on, and because they often wouldn’t be released in the U.S. at all). But no more! Thanks to the Switch’s popularity, and its use of region-free game cartridges (that taste really weird if you put them in your mouth for some reason), I can play whatever games I want—and now, several years after buying my Switch, I’ve finally gotten around to taking advantage of that freedom.

A few months ago, I was able to get a reasonable price on a Switch copy of Super Robot Wars T, part of a ridiculously long-running series of Japanese strategy games with full English text for international fans. (You know a series has been going on for a while when it goes from numbered entries to lettered entries.) It is the absolute literal definition of the kind of game I always wanted to play, but couldn’t until now, because it would be virtually impossible for any publisher to release it officially over here.

The basic setup of the Super Robot Wars series is that it plays sort of like a Fire Emblem, with you moving small units around on a big grid and impacting their stats based on who they’re positioned by. Then when you attack an enemy unit, it plays a dramatic animation of cool action happening. The big hook, though, is that all of the units (and some plot elements) are lifted from actual mecha anime, so you can get Gundams fighting alongside EVAs and VOTOMS and a Mazinger Z. (T doesn’t have any Evangelion content, but it does have the Swordfish II from Cowboy Bebop.) The rights to a lot of those are owned by different companies here in the U.S., and the very limited sales appeal means it would never be worth it for a publisher to negotiate the rights to a half-dozen Gundam shows and Cowboy Bebop and stuff that nobody has ever heard of in this country just to sell a few thousand copies to American nerds.

That’s a shame, too, because those American nerds are missing out on a truly delightful supply of goofy fan service. I only really know half of the robots in the game, but the stuff I do recognize is handled so creatively that it more than makes up for the more obscure characters. For example, it plays “Tank!” whenever a Cowboy Bebop character takes their turn, and rather than just say that all of these disparate anime heroes have been thrown together from their own respective universes, Super Robot Wars makes an effort to establish that all of these shows and movies take place in the same universe—as in, the events of Cowboy Bebop take place shortly after the events of Mobile Fighter G Gundam, which is a very silly concept if you know either show.

The game has some issues that get in the way of enjoying it too much—beyond the thrill of seeing the hosts of Big Shot talk about the big bounty on the head of Captain Harlock—specifically, the huge amount of systems at play for upgrading your characters. (It’s the sort of excessively complicated thing that’s pretty common in Japanese games, with no intention of appealing to a global audience.) Still, as the site’s resident fan of large robots punching each other, I’m really happy I got to check it out, and I love how easy it was to do now that you don’t have to physically modify your game console in order to play games from other countries. I don’t know how many other Japanese games I’ll buy for my Switch, but I’ll keep doing it if they keep putting Gundams on the damn thing. I’m not made of stone.