So how do you play Japanese titles? The Japanese games break down into four basic categories:
(1) Action & Fighting games ("Twitch" games): Translate easily. American gamers who purchase these games are anxiously awaiting them and willing to pay extra to beat out waiting months for the official U.S. release.
(2) Character-based games: Appeal to anime fans. Usually based on Japanese cartoon series.
(3) RPG & Strategy games: Very complex strategy or Role-Playing Games take forever to convert, and are so text-dependent that they are impossible to play considering the language barrier.
(4) Esoteric Games: These games are rarely translated because they reflect a deeply Asian psychology in their design. Weird simulations of horse breeding, romance, or child-rearing are too conceptually alien for U.S. audiences!
I played a few different Japanese PSX games, some of which were easy to figure out, others next to impossible. "Mobile Suit Gundam" and "Jumping Flash 2" were first-person action games which were highly playable. Ultimately, they presented no great language barriers, but I felt I was missing some of the nuances. "Beyond The Beyond" was an RPG executed in a highly Japanese design styletotally inscrutable. My favorite game was "Dragonball Z - Ultimate Fight 22!," a Mortal Kombatesque fighting game based on a popular Japanese anime series. The manual actually HELPED because it had pictograms of the controller sequences for special moves - even if I had no idea what they did. A weird variation on the magical fighting theme, it was the most popular of the bunch because two people could play together!