Region Locking on the XBox 360

Why did I decide I needed a Japanese XBox 360? I cite the plethora of shooters (or “shmups”, though I really do hate that word) that never made it out of Japan. One of the first things I wondered though, was just how the region locking worked exactly. Let’s face it, there are a lot of ways to play games on the 360: Physical discs, XBox Live Arcade, and Games on Demand being the most popular. I scoured many forum posts that attempted to explain the ins and outs of how points worked across regions, and what games could be played on which region of system. None of them had all of the answers, and often the information was incomplete or just plain wrong. My goal is to ensure that no one else seeking these answers has to go through the same process to find out what they can or can’t play on what and where.

Let’s start with the most straightforward way of playing games: physical discs. When it comes to these, region locking is not done on the hardware level. The publisher/developer are given the option to region lock their software if they would like, which results in some Japanese titles (most notably a handful of Cave shooters) actually being region-free. Sadly though, these are the exceptions. The vast majority of Japanese XBox 360 games are region locked to Japan, which means they require a Japanese XBox 360 to play. On the other hand, most Western released games tend to be completely region-free. This is why some make the argument that if you want to play both Japanese and US games, a Japanese XBox 360 is the way to go (assuming that you want to own only one piece of 360 hardware). How can you tell which version of which disc-based game is region free? The best way is to consult Play Asia’s handy list, which can be found here.

Games on Demand can only be viewed in the region of your XBox Live account. For example, you can only browse the Japanese Games on Demand with a Japanese XBox Live account, etc. This rule is only absolute for browsing, however. Certain Games on Demand are actually region locked by IP, meaning that there would be no way to download them other than using a VPN service to spoof an IP address from another region. I don’t recommend doing this, as it is technically a ban-able act on XBox Live. This restriction is determined on a game by game basis though, so be sure to consult this list before deciding that you want to download from Games on Demand. Caution should really be exercised, as Games on Demand will take your money and then tell you that you aren’t in the correct region to download the game that you just paid for! It should also be noted that even if you download a region-free game from Games on Demand, it seems as though it may only be playable on the actual console that you downloaded it to. I downloaded the Hungarian version of Assassins Creed: Brotherhood (known to be region-free title on Games on Demand) on my US system, and it will not play on my Japanese system.

Now for what is surprisingly the most complex situation with the most options: XBox Live Arcade. Like Games on Demand, you can only browse/purchase XBox Live Arcade games from the region that corresponds to that of your XBox Live account (though there is no IP-based region locking for downloading any of these titles). This part of things is straightforward enough, but what if you want to play a game that you’ve downloaded in either Japanese or English? Do you have to buy one version of the game from the Japanese store and one from the US store? The answer, for the most part, seems to be no. I was able to play nearly every Japanese made XBox Live Arcade game I downloaded from the US marketplace in both English or Japanese, depending on which system I was using and what my language settings were. I even had quite a surprise experimenting with a Western title as well. Note that there is no definitive list to indicate which games have support for which language, it seems to greatly vary by publisher and title. Below you’ll find a sample of different XBLA games that I tried in various configurations:

  Mega Man 9 (US) Trouble Witches Neo (JP) Ms. Splosion Man (US) Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (US) Guardian Heroes (US) NiGHTS into Dreams (US) KOF Sky Stage (US)
US System, Japanese Language English English, but sees game as a demo English English English English English
Japanese System, English Language Japanese English English English English English English
Japanese System, Japanese Language Japanese Japanese Japanese English Japanese Japanese Japanese

As you can see, even games from the same publisher have no consistency in what languages they support. Capcom’s Mega Man 9 switched to Japanese in a Japanese system without needing to change language settings, whereas Dungeons & Dragons wouldn’t switch languages no matter what. My biggest surprise is what happened with Ms. Splosion Man. Though it did have a Japanese release, I didn’t expect it to contain any sort of Japanese localized version of the game at all. And while the voices remained in English (how could you localize those lines anyway?), I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the English text replaced by Japanese. A not so pleasant surprise though, was the one game that I purchased on the Japanese marketplace with a Japanese account: Trouble Witches Neo. My US system would not even recognize it as anything more than a demo, even though the Japanese system has no issues with it on any language setting. Is this behavior specific to this title or the Japanese marketplace? Or is it because I’m attempting to play a game that I purchased with one account on a different account, both of different regions? I can’t say for certain, but at some point in the future I will test this with another Japanese marketplace purchase.

The moral of the story when it comes to XBox Live Arcade releases is that there is no guarantee that a release will play in Japanese on a Japanese 360 with the proper language settings, but most Japanese games certainly seem to. Also buy on the US marketplace (if the release is available there and you have the right account) just to be safe.

Points are also region locked, so you can’t just buy US points and use them on the Japanese marketplace. Most online ways of obtaining Japanese points are not particularly worthwhile, as most of these retailers tend to mark up the price way higher than they have any reason to. There is one interesting work around however: It seems as though in smaller increments, such as 800, points from other international regions work on the Japanese marketplace as well. I’ve purchased German points in increments of 800 from ebay (delivered digitally) and successfully used them on the Japanese marketplace. Unfortunately, just inputting your US credit card into a Japanese account will not work (much like performing this type of transaction on PSN). I will again mention though, that unless the content you wish to download is exclusive to Japan, there is rarely ever a reason why you need to make a purchase on the Japanese marketplace.

On a final note, game DLC seems to be completely region free on the XBox 360 as well. I purchased DLC for Asura’s Wrath from the US marketplace and my Japanese copy of the game recognizes it. The Playstation 3 may have many advantages over the XBox 360 as far as region free gaming is concerned, but this is not one of them (DLC is region locked on the PS3).

This article will be updated and added to as I discover more of the ins and outs of region locking on the various aspects of the XBox 360.