Nintendo and some other console manufacturers were quite strict with the region locks on their games. This was also a thing on Sony’s PS1 and PS2. While your console can run code from any region (since they all get the same hardware), manufacturers use clever security tricks to prevent this.
Can a Japanese N64 play American games? No, not unless you do a hardware mod that replaces the cartridge slot in your Japanese N64 with one from an American N64. The cartridge slot is the only difference between the consoles from these two regions, and by installing an American slot you can play American N64 games.
However, this mod only applies to NTSC regions. So NTSC- U/C (American) and NTSC-J (Japan). To make PAL (EU) games work on your Japanese or American N64, you’ll need to buy adapters and upscalers like the RetroTINK 2x (along with new video output cables).
Can A Japanese N64 Play American Games?
If you take a standard Japanese N64 and try inserting an American game cartridge, it won’t even go in. However, you can fix this in two different ways. First, you can simply swap out the backplate on the cartridge.
Take an American N64 cartridge and remove the back plate with a 3.8mm security screwdriver bit. Then, screw in a Japanese N64 cartridge back plate. However, you’ll have to do this for every game you want to play.
Fiddling around with cartridges that are 20 years old is quite risky and you might strip one of those old screw heads. Instead, it’s much better to modify the slot. Underneath the spring-loaded flaps of a Nintendo 64’s cartridge slot, there is a grey dust cover that prevents dust from getting on the internals.
The Japanese and American N64 cartridges have different locking tabs. And the only real difference between a Japanese and American N64 console is the locking tab receptor on the dust cover. Some people just cut out these tabs, while others remove the dust cover in its entirety.
Both of these are pretty terrible from an aesthetic perspective, plus I’m not a fan of butchering classic consoles like that. So, here’s something you can do instead- buy an aftermarket region unlocked dust cover. These are pretty easy to find on sites like Amazon.
EMC’s Shop makes a pretty good universal cartridge slot, plus you can select a custom color for your order. To install one of these universal slots, you’ll have to open up your Nintendo 64.
If you don’t want to open your N64, Hyperkin sells an adapter that fits on top of your Nintendo 64 cartridge slot. Then, you just insert whatever cartridge you want to play into this adapter. However, it should be noted that due to things like tolerances, the adapter won’t always guarantee a secure connection.
For those of you who own a 3D printer, you can do a fun little project by printing your own universal N64 cartridge slot. To start you off, here are the files you need to download. Check out this video guide for more detailed information on how to take apart your Nintendo 64 and install the 3D-printed slot.
Are Japanese Nintendo 64s Region Locked?
Japanese Nintendo 64 consoles come with a different locking tab on the cartridge slot. This prevents you from inserting American game cartridges into the slot. However, these are still NTSC games that use a similar encoding standard to the US NTSC.
Is The Nintendo 64 Region Free?
The Nintendo 64 is from an era when game developers used to place region locks on their releases. This was done for several reasons. A lot of these old game developers and publishers were simply too small and underfunded to market, localize, and publish a game in multiple territories at the same time.
Therefore, they would implement region locks to prevent importers from getting their hands on the game before the official release date. It is also a means of controlling brand image and perception. Unless the developer did an official localization of a game, Nintendo wouldn’t release it in a foreign region.
Because then, the experience would be awkward for someone who just bought the game without knowing that it’s a region-specific release. People asking questions about why there are copies of Japanese games that they can’t understand or play in America will reflect poorly on Nintendo as a company. Of course, this is not an issue for the dedicated modding/ import community because they do their own localization.
However, if Nintendo were to make American games freely available in Japan and vice-versa, the average gamer would just get confused. Nowadays, this isn’t as big of an issue thanks to advancements in localization. Plus, modern TVs use digital input rather than composite or S-video.
In the old days, analog input was dominant and we had regions that used different standards. While Japan and America used NTSC, the EU region used PAL. Region locks were necessary to prevent someone from buying a game cartridge that was incompatible with their television set.
Removing The Region Lock From a Nintendo 64
While you can swap out the cartridge slot to play American games on Japanese N64s and vice versa, there is no easy way to completely remove the region lock. If you want to play PAL games on your NTSC console, you’ll have to jump through several hoops.
First off, the issue arises entirely from different analog signal encoding standards. So if you were to convert your N64 to output digital signals via HDMI, it would fix the issues and allow you to play N64 games on a modern TV. Thankfully, there is a mod for that.
The bad news is that you need to have proper soldering knowledge and some idea of how electronics work to do this mod. Currently, the two biggest mods are UltraHDMI (from RetroRGB) and N64Digital (from PixelFX). You will have to buy the kits, which contain add-in boards that go on top of your N64’s motherboard.
If you just want to play PAL and NTSC backup ROMs, you can try a multi-cartridge such as the Everdrive-64 x7. It has built-in support for both PAL and NTSC ROMs. First, you need to get your hands on some ROMs, which you can either download from the internet or rip from your own cartridges.
There are specialized tools for ripping ROMs from N64 cartridges and dumping the data into a file on your computer. Once you have the ROMs, simply load them into an SD card which then goes into the Everdrive-64 cartridge. You can also hook up a RetroTINK upscaler to make your N64 play nice with modern televisions.
Understanding NTSC vs PAL
Unless you mod your N64 to output digital signals, it will not play nice when switching between NTSC and PAL. The PAL format uses a resolution of 720 x 576 (interlaced), at a framerate of 25. NTSC uses a resolution of 720 x 480, with a framerate of 30.
As a result, PAL games running on NTSC consoles will have some weird glitches. They might run slower than usual, and you might see weird lines on your TV. You can use an Evercart-64 to load up all your PAL and NTSC ROMs into one cartridge.
Difference Between US And Japanese N64 Game Cartridges
Since both are designed for NTSC regions, the only real difference is in their locking tabs. The Japanese cartridge has a wider tab compared to the American one, which means it will get blocked by the slot of an American N64. Similarly, you can’t insert American N64 cartridges into a Japanese N64 console.
I hope this article helps you figure out a way to play US N64 games on your Japanese N64. Maybe you only recently got into retro gaming with the N64, and the only console you found online was a Japanese version on eBay. Not to worry, a universal cartridge slot mod can fix all your issues.
If you’ve got PAL games and an NTSC console (or vice-versa), the situation is slightly more complicated. Check out the Evercart-64, it’s a cartridge mod that lets you load all your NTSC + PAL ROMs into one SD card.