Video games are often released in different versions in different territories. The obvious way to do this is to program a different version of the game for each territory. But there's also a shortcut: release the exact same game in different locations, and program it so that the game does different things depending on what system it's played on.
This can produce odd results to anyone who has an imported game system; playing a domestic game on an imported system may cause it to behave like an imported game. For instance, if your system is Japanese, playing a domestic game may cause it to produce Japanese text.
This can also be used for Region Coding, where the "different thing" done on the wrong system is "not run".
A related phenomenon is that in some European releases with multilanguage support, the system's language settings will affect which language the game is played in; even in cases where language is not selectable per se, the media would have all languages. So if a, say, French or Spanish gamer bought a game from the UK, the game would play in their language even if there's no mention in the instruction manual or the packaging that the disc contains any language other than English. This is less prevalent in later games as the disc space becomes more of an issue.
In some cases (not, unfortunately, the PS3), it's possible to modify a game system with a switch (or even in some cases a converter) that lets the user select whether the system is domestic or imported. The user can then buy one game locally and make it play as either a domestic or import version by flicking the switch. This first became widely known during the Sega Genesis era. A decent Emulator will let the user pick what country the emulated system pretends to be.
Systems which do this include:
- Gradius becomes Nemesis.
- Gradius 2 becomes Nemesis 2.
- Gofer no Yabou Episode II becomes Nemesis 3: The Eve of Destruction.
- Akumajō Dracula becomes Vampire Killer.
- Aztec Adventure becomes Nazca '88.
- Power Strike becomes Aleste.
- Super Wonder Boy: Monster World, the Japanese version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, plays in English on a western SMS— with a slightly different translation from the Western release, no less. Even the title is slightly different (instead of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, it becomes Super Wonder Boy: Monster Land).
- Playing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap on a Japanese console will change the game's title to Monster World II and will enable FM sounds if an FM Sound Unit is installed. The text will still be in English though.
- GG Aleste II becomes Power Strike II.
- Donald no Magical World becomes Ronald in the Magical World on a non-Japanese system. This game was never released outside of Japan, which is especially perplexing as it was based on an American restaurant.
- The GG version of the first Puyo Puyo becomes Puzlow Kids. Instead of releasing it internationally under that title, Sega opted to release it as Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine instead.
- The two StreetsOfRage video games become Bare Knuckle games on Japanese systems.
- A lot of games have very minor changes in behavior from setting the country between Japan/US. Some only add/remove the "TM" on the "SEGA (TM)" screen before the actual game, or just change the title.
- Fatal Labyrinth becomes Labyrinth of Death with kanji in the title, and plays in Japanese. This happens even in the Japan-only Compilation Re-release for the Sega CD.
- Streets of Rage changes to its Japanese name Bare Knuckle, among other changes. The sequel also becomes Bare Knuckle 2, but only if you change the country setting in the middle of the game.
- Averted with Streets of Rage 3, since each version is coded to work only on its specific region.
- Truxton becomes Tatsujin.
- Mystic Defender may be one of the most extreme cases. This is really a Peacock King adaptation. Running it in Japanese mode changes the name of the main character to Kujaku, gives him a robe, makes fetus-like enemies flesh colored instead of green, gives the levels names, changes the effect of some of the magic, and uses a picture with the opening text, never seen if the game is played normally.
- The Japanese release of Mickey Mania won't run on non-Japanese systems, and just displays an error message. However, if you use a mod switch or emulator options to change your system to a Japanese one while on this screen, it'll notice what you did and let you continue.
- Even some Fan Translations take advantage of this. Fan translations for King Colossus and Battle Mania 2 are in Japanese or English depending on what kind of machine you are running them on.
- Dashin' Desperadoes, when played on a Japanese Mega Drive, changes the game's title to Rumble Kids. The curious thing about this is that Rumble Kids was never actually released in Japan.
Neo Geo and Neo-Geo CD Just about everything for these systems uses the same ROM or disk in Japan and America. Neo-Geo games were notorious for censorship (particularly of red blood, as in Samurai Shodown) that could be avoided by switching your system to the Japanese version.
Atari Jaguar Yes, even Atari's last gasp system did this. The game Sensible Soccer had fake player names when played on an American system and real ones on a European system, because of licensing restrictions.
PlayStation 3 The PlayStation 3 brought this feature to the modern era (the PS1 and PS2 couldn't run imported games at all without a mod chip, so there was never a chance for it to happen there). There's no known way to make a switch, but games will play differently on a Japanese and an American machine. Since the Genesis era, Japanese censorship has gotten stricter while American censorship has gotten looser, so now the American version may be the less censored one.
- Uncharted notoriously is censored in Japan to not show blood. Early adopters of the PS3 sometimes bought Japanese systems; if they bought the American version of the game it would run as the censored Japanese version. Some reports claim that a patch changed this.
- Resistance had this problem too, but it could be worked around by using a US save file.
- Playing the Japanese version of Super Street Fighter IV on a western console causes the game to swap M. Bison's, Balrog's and Vega's name to match the western releases of the game, and also switch the initial language to English with Japanese being the unlockable language instead of vice-versa. No doubt that if a western version of the game is played on a Japanese console, the reverse will happen. One would think Capcom only wrote one version of the game with all localizations inserted into the final productnote and let the game decide what to do based on the console's region on first run.
- Some Japanese games switch the buttons for Accept and Cancel if they're played in a western console, even though the voices don't reflect this if the voices are doing a tutorial (i.e., calling accept "Maru" and cancel "Batsu", which is roughly circle and cross respectively).
- Switching to the Japanese language option on Super Smash Bros. Melee is a neat trip into localization. It even reveals the origin of the Motion Sensor Bomb item if you can read the text on its trophy entry (which in English is only given as "TOP SECRET").
Nintendo DS This system is region-free, but can do something similar by checking the menu language. Of course, no switch needs to be installed in order to change the menu language and see the other country's version. (Unfortunately, this doesn't extend to the DSi, which doesn't let you change the menu language.)
- Due to Capcom's unusual release schedule of the second and third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games, many imported them from Japan. If the Nintendo DS was set to English, the import games would display their titles in English on the main menu. If the DS was Japanese, so were the titles.
- But the language of the (imported) game itself was still selectable at the start.
- The Sonic Rush Series has English text if the language is English, but the voice acting varies from the Japan and the rest of the versions.
- All versions of Metal Slug 7 are identical and contain Japanese, English and all European languages, yet somehow it took them 4 months to release the first non-Japanese version.
- Playing Konami's Collectors Series: Arcade Hits on a console set to Japanese will change the menus and text to Japanese. It will also change the version of Gradius included in the compilation from the "USA" version (which is actually the Nemesis variant with the logo on the title screen changed back to the Gradius one) to the Japanese original (which has some difficulty differences compared to Nemesis). The Contra logo also changes to the Japanese one. Strangely, all the other games which had different names between regions (such as Rush'n Attack and Rainbow Bell) remain unchanged.
PC Some PC games make a point of installing or running different versions of the same game based on your computer's locale setting.
- Spore changed its language according to your computer's locale settings, as do many other EA games. This could be reversed by copying the desired language files over the language the game chose.
- The open-source game The Battle For Wesnoth does this too, but it can be overridden by starting it as wesnoth —dummy-locales (which makes all languages available).
- Some applications weren't coded with the different locale settings in mind. Using them with the "wrong" locale can give results that range from text not fitting on the screen to crashing at launch. Or in particularly bad cases, corrupting data.
- Tools such as Applocale help, a bit.
- Cities XL had an unfortunate tendency to auto-detect your PC's language settings and then select the wrong language. Fortunately there's a workaround.
- Two Point Hospital is officially localized for nine languages and actually detects the locale of your PC and choose the language accordingly. However, even if you use the English locale, there are actually subtle differences between the North American English locale and UK/International English locale- one of the differences being in the North American English locale, the announcer would sometimes announce that a blue car is being taken for crushing, while in the UK/International English locale, the announcer would sometimes announce that the blue car is taken for cubing instead.
- The Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 DVDs were released in Japan identical to the American ones, but are programmed not to show any trailers on a Japanese player.
- The Japanese DVD release of the first volume of Pixar Shorts is identical to the one released in the US and Canada. If the player language set to Japanese, it offers English, Japanese, French, and Spanish audio and English, Japanese, and Spanish subtitles with Japanese menus. If the player language is not Japanese, then the disc has English, French, and Spanish audio and subtitles with English menus.
- Of course, people figured out that you can use this to add another layer of Region Coding protection. Which came back to bite them hard when it was discovered that some legitimate DVD players sold in the US had firmware bugs that caused the extra protection layer to flag a false positive, locking out said legit DVD player from the DVD, while the protection can be worked around on modified or region-free players by first playing a DVD of the same region that does not have the extra layer of protection, then swapping out the DVD for the protected DVD. Cue Face Palm.
Blu-ray Blu-rays can use the menu language for similar effects within the same region. Note that Japan, the USA and Canada are in the same region. The changes need not have anything to do with menus.
- Setting the menu language to Japanese on Batman Begins and Batman: Gotham Knight magically adds a Japanese track, removes most other languages, and forces subtitles in some places. If the menu language is English, the Japanese track is completely invisible and can't be seen or selected in any way.
- The 2020 Alejandro Jodorowsky box set was released in North America and Europe with identical region-free discs (and packaging) across both sides of the Atlantic. The player's region being A (North America) or B (Europe) determines the respective absence or presence of all branding relating to the set's British licensor Arrow Video on the on-disc presentation.
PlayStation 2 It should be noted that there is an explanation to the examples outlined below: As the PS2 was sold before the arrival of the Blu-Ray scheme, most of Asia is covered under NTSC-J and the consoles sold in the region are Japanese despite the fact that most people in the region do not speak or understand Japanese in the first place note . Late in the PS2 era, Sony realized that one of the reasons piracy was rampant in the region is that many people want games in English, and thus began to officially include English subtitles and text in their Japanese-region games- going as far as to re-release some NTSC/UC games for NTSC-J consoles with no modifications.
- If you're using a Japanese PS2, and have the system language set to Japanese, the Japanese version of Rez will run in Japanese. But set the system language to English, and you're in for a surprise: the game's text will be in English!
- Likewise, with the Japanese version of the Sonic the Hedgehog Compilation Re-release Sonic Gems Collection, if the system language is set to Japanese, the logo and menus will be in Japanese and Sonic CD will play the Naofumi Hataya soundtrack. Change the system language to English, and the logo/menu text changes with it... and Sonic CD plays the Spencer Nielsen soundtrack.
- Switches existed for this system, but this always affected region lockout—a game could never run in two regions, so couldn't have different behavior depending on region. However, the Japanese game Soukyugurentai had a glitchy, partial, language change which took effect if you set the country to US and used a Game Genie to prevent this from causing the region lockout that it normally does.
- If you play De La Jet Set Radio, a special version only released in Japan (and even then only through the Sega Direct service), on a Dreamcast with its System language set to English, all the in-game text becomes English. The same is true for Spanish, Italian and German, though all in-game voices remain in whatever language they where originally, and the characters go by their Japanese names.
- In Pokémon X and Y, the Pokémon Vivillon has different coloring, depending on where your 3DS-System is registered.
- Like the Nintendo DS, the Switch is region-free, and the console's language and region settings can be freely changed in the system itself. Even foreign eShops can be accessed by creating Nintendo Accounts outside of the user's home country. Some games will change their text and voice languages to match the system settings, but others can change them in-game.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a notable example, as it contains text and voice acting for eight languages (English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Russian) and changes its in-game text and voices according to the console's language. An update in May 2017 allows for the voice acting language to be changed independently of the text.
- Other games, such as Disgaea 5 Complete, contain full English text and voices in its initial release, despite not being released outside Japan for several months after the Japanese launch. Since the system is region-free, players are free to import the Japanese version and enjoy the entire game in English ahead of the official English launch.
- Rally Bike and almost every Toaplan game released after it. This even carries over to the 8ing/Raizing games that run on Toaplan's arcade hardware.
- In lieu of a language selection setting, the LeapPad and LeapFrog Epic tablets instead lets parents choose the region they and their kids reside on, which besides changing the grade levels to account for the school systems used in the supported regions, changes certain content such as voice acting in games to a different dialect of English. Not to mention that it restricts certain apps and items from being available on their in-house app store, much to the dismay of some users. To their credit though, having just one ROM for the Epic (and later variants thereof) is cheaper than flashing units with different RO Ms to account for the regions they supported like what cellphone manufacturers do.