The Nintendo Switch didn’t exactly launch with a ton of features, but there’s one aspect of its software design that I’m already very grateful for. Unlike every other Nintendo console shipped since the company started designing actual operating systems, the Switch is completely region-free — you can play games from any country without issue, often in any language.
Nintendo’s previous restrictions meant that I’ve had to play every Legend of Zelda game released in the past decade or so in Japanese. (The DS titles were actually a pretty fun way to practice the language, since you could tap on Chinese characters to get the readings.) But this time I was able to buy a Switch here in Japan, set up a Japanese account, use the system and the eShop with that account in English, buy a Japanese physical copy of the staggeringly good Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (complete with its gorgeous Studio Ghibli-style classic logo), and play it in English. No Japanese Nintendo console since the DSi has even let you change the system language.
Granted, this is a niche concern if you live in your country of birth. And one upside of globalization is that it’s usually no longer tenable for Japanese game companies to wait too long to release their games around the world — just look at the simultaneous global launch of Final Fantasy XV. There’s much less need to import titles than there was 10 or 20 years ago.
But Nintendo has also made it very easy to access digital downloads from different regions, too, and that’s something everyone should consider looking into. All you need to do is create a new account on the Switch, associate it with a given region, and find an appropriate payment method; your credit card may not work, but it’s easy enough to purchase eShop credit or game download codes online.
Why would you want to do this? Well, the Switch’s lineup is pretty sparse right now, but it does have some hidden highlights worth seeking out — and sometimes they’re only found in certain regions. Fast RMX, for instance, is a great racing game, but I had to get it from the US store because it isn’t yet out in Japan. American Switch owners, on the other hand, could have been playing Blaster Master Zero last week had they navigated the Japanese store. (It’s officially out today in the US.) Sometimes you might just simply find a better price elsewhere.
The PlayStation 3 and 4 are similarly region-free, and the Xbox 360 and One have also mostly supported this kind of thing. But the Switch makes it easier than on any other system. Whenever you play a game or launch the eShop, it asks you which account you’d like to use; you don’t have to log out and in to access different regional functionality. It’s a neat touch that will encourage me to check out different stores regularly without feeling like I’m jumping through hoops.
Jumping through hoops is exactly what it feels like to use most technology products when you live a multilingual, multi-regional existence. It’s encouraging that Nintendo, of all companies, has recognized this and, with the Switch’s operating system, provided a link between worlds.