Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of my favourite anime and the first that ever really forced me to work for understanding. Back in high school, it was the anime I always recommended to others, and I have watched it countless times in the years since. Needless to say, I was (and perhaps am still) a little obsessed.
Over the years, my passion for the franchise has cooled little by little; but back in the year 2000, after seeing The End of Evangelion for the first time, it was at an all-time high. It was at this time I learned that there was an N64 Evangelion game. I had to have it and nothing was going to stop me.
I first discovered Evangelion 64 through a few odd screenshots on the internet (as back in the days before highspeed internet, actually seeing gameplay footage was an unrealistic dream). These screen shots showed that the game looked frame for frame exactly like the anime, only in polygons; it looked like a dream incarnate. It was with no little excitement that I began trying to get my hands on the game.
At first I asked my Japanese roommate (and other Japanese friends) to pick me up a copy when they went back to Japan for winter vacation. Sadly, it never quite worked out. While I did end up with Evangelion: Girlfriend of Steel (a PC visual novel), they were never able to find a copy of Evangelion 64.
Deciding there was no other way, I finally just gave up and imported from Singapore via eBay for $US120. At the time, this was far from a reliable way to get the game -- or any other product for that matter. My pair of friends tried to import Evangelion 64 from a guy in Brazil who ended up simply taking the money and sending nothing. But while it did take several weeks for my copy of the game to come, it did eventually arrive.
Of course, getting the game was simply the first hurdle to overcome.
Back in the day, Nintendo's idea of region locking was to have slightly different cartridge shapes between Japan and other countries. To get around this, many people would take an X-Acto knife to their import cartridge or cut off the two small tabs on the inside of their N64's cartridge slot. Luckily for me, there was an even simpler solution which I employed: a game shark. As third party devices don't need to follow Nintendo's standards, imported 64 games could easily be plugged into the top without any alteration.
Of course, this is hardly a story with a happy ending as the game was pretty darn terrible (though 15-year-old me would have vehemently disagreed). The majority of levels feature the slowest fighting game ever made with others levels doing everything from odd rhythm gameplay to rudimentary flight simulation.
The hardest part of Evangelion 64 is that several levels, including the final boss on easy (a Kaouru-controlled Eva 02) require you to alternate between two buttons as fast as you can. When it comes to single button tapping I, like many gamers, am a pro. But alternating is beyond me. I have yet to beat the game alone. Every time I have beaten it, I have had to grab a musician to help me -- so far I've used a drummer, a guitar player, and a harpist for their alternating tapping skills.
The highlight of the game, however, is when you beat it on normal, you get to play an extra level based on The End of Evangelion -- with Asuka wreaking destruction on Seele forces and fighting the Eva series. On hard, you get one more extra level as a final match between Shinji and the Eva series.
So while Evangelion 64 did not turn out to be what I had been hoping for (a fully playable anime), I remember at the time really loving it. Looking back, I see that was because of all the effort I had to put in to import and play the game rather than of any merit of its own. And the experience gave me the knowledge I needed to import other games -- until the day I just decided to cut out the middle-man altogether and move to Japan.
Now with stores like Play Asia and download services like the PlayStation Network, importing has become a simple matter. But even as little as 12 years ago, it was a risky and difficult endeavour, to say the least.