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GungHo on its new PSOne import initiative


Welcome to Living in the Past, a weekly column about what's new in old games. Now get off our lawn.

Last week, GungHo Online Entertainment America joined the ranks of PSOne Imports publishers with a bumper crop of six Japanese games, all available on the PlayStation Store for $5.99 each. Since it's so rare – an initiative only taken to heart by MonkeyPaw Games in the past, and one that requires extensive licensing work for a potentially niche product – I asked Gungho president and CEO Jun Iwasaki about the company's plans.

"We are hoping to bring over as many PSOne Classics as possible," Iwasaki, who previously ran XSEED, told me, "but oftentimes these releases require license deals." He explained that the somewhat unusual collection of games, ranging from shooter collection Zanac X Zanac to dekotora board game Art Camion Sugorokuden, wasn't curated according to some unifying theme. "We were able to secure the licenses for these particular PSOne Classics, so we went ahead and released them first.

"So far, Zanac x Zanac seems to be getting the most attention out of the six titles," Iwasaki added.

Illustrating the difficulty of tracking down licenses for retro games, Iwasaki said it's taken "several months" to secure agreements for these games, despite Gungho already being considered the publisher through previous acquisitions.

Regardless of the difficulty, Iwasaki is interested in bringing out even more PSOne games, both from its own library and from others. "We are also interested in developing new relationships with other publishers to bring over more PSone Classics, so please let us know if you have titles that you are interested in. We will see what we can do to bring them over to the Western gamers."

It's good to remember that licensing imports is such an involved task. In 2012, it's easy to take for granted that you can pay a few dollars to download an unreleased, niche Japanese game you've never heard of, direct to your console (or handheld!) But in 2006, it was impossible to imagine. Ask anyone who spent upwards of $70 to import some weird music game for PS2; or anyone who used to drool over the Chips & Bits ads in the back of EGM.

Japanese games used to be all but unattainable, and even a casual interest in playing them was prohibitively expensive to most would-be gamers. But now, I can have long-lost Castlevania classics, puzzle games about making change in Japanese currency, and now upgraded versions of shooters once seen on NES, instantly, for less than $10.

The selections aren't incredible yet, but the arrival of GungHo on the service brings immediate growth to the PSOne Imports service, and more potential for future growth. And even in its current state, it's one of the most unexpected and exciting features to come from this console generation.

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