Is the Sega Genesis Region Locked?

Many retro gamers want to play regional exclusive titles on their old hardware, but consoles may lock you out. This is called region-locking, and it is a sort of DRM (digital rights management) that manufacturers use to restrict libraries for a specific region. The Sega Genesis is region-locked, but very differently than most consoles.

What is Region Locking?

Region locking has long been an issue with consoles. These lockouts can differ in effects depending on the manufacturer, or the region you are trying to access, making gameplay annoying or even plain impossible. Nintendo started this trend with the NES, since Japan had the Famicom and all Nintendo systems featured a region authenticator chip. The only way to bypass this was to import a console, TV, or a hacking device.

How Does the Sega Genesis Region Lock Work?

Consoles still somewhat follow this trend, and the Sega Genesis was no exception. There are a couple of terms that are used to describe consoles from other regions. NTSC refers to North American consoles, since TVs were manufactured differently in the US, whereas PAL is used in Europe and Oceania. The Sega Genesis was also called the Mega Drive outside of the US, leading to yet more manufacturer differences. Japanese cartridges were a different shape compared to Genesis and European Mega Drive cartridges, making them impossible to insert without a special connector. Some consoles determine region-locking through a chip in the console, which authenticates the region. However, this is not the case with the Sega Genesis. Instead, the region-locking is completely determined by the cartridge itself, meaning some games are region free.

What Cartridges are Region Locked?

This is a question many of you may be asking. Region-locked cartridges were not standard for the entirety of the Genesis’ lifespan. Sega introduced cartridge-based regions in 1993, but the Genesis released in 1988, so there is a good five-year gap where cartridges weren’t locked. On the back of each cartridge there is a label that will read “© [YEAR] SEGA ENTERPRISES LTD.”. If the year is before 1993, chances are it will not be region-locked. Furthermore, some publishers never region-locked their cartridges, and details on those can be found on forums such as Sega-16.

How Can I Play Cartridges From Other Regions?

Although these cartridges tend to be a different shape, there are methods for getting them to work on PAL or NTSC consoles. Unfortunately, these methods can vary in reliability and personal expense.

There are two relatively simple methods for those who are not very technologically inclined, but they will cost you. The first of which is purchasing a cartridge slot extender. The extender works similarly to the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, where the cartridge is placed on top of the extender. This will only work on games that were released pre-1993, so it is not a permanent or all-encompassing fix.

The next simple method may be more expensive, but it will certainly be reliable. Buying an imported console will always work with imported cartridges from the same region, but finding one second-hand may be pricey, and it’s an entirely new machine you’d need to make space for.

These next few methods take a little bit of skill, but are pretty safe ways to play out-of-region games. The first, and probably the least technical, is a hacked cartridge (i.e., Game Genie or Action Replay). These will fool your cartridge into thinking it’s in the right region. These can be found second-hand or as reproductions. The only thing you need to know before-hand is the right cheat code to unlock the region-lock.

The next most technical, but also the cheapest method is to modify your console. This is accomplished in a couple of different ways. One is simply melting the unrounded edges of the cartridge slot into rounded ones, allowing Japanese cartridges to fit into consoles from other regions. You can also unscrew the slot doors, and then file down the slot to fit the Japanese cartridge appropriately. This method also only works for cartridges pre-1993, or if the publisher does not region-lock. Here is a closer look at how this works.

The final method is pretty technical, but will provide the most permanent fix to your console. This is known as switchmodding among enthusiasts, and takes some decent soldering skills. By rewiring a few of the console’s internal components, it’s possible to fool cartridges into thinking you are running at a different frequency (60Hz in Japan and NTSC, 50Hz in PAL regions) and a different language. However, this method only works with models one and two. Since it is a pretty detailed process, here are some guides on how to switchmod on the model one, and the model two.

Altering a model three Genesis is unnecessary since the port is large enough for Japanese games. For games with region-locking, only a hacked cartridge is necessary to play these games on the model three.

  • Updated September 3, 2020