Is the Nintendo 3DS Region Free or Locked?

Some Nintendo 3DS features only work in certain areas

Nintendo Hosts Exclusive Launch Event for Nintendo 3DS
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Similar to the newer Nintendo 3DS XL, the Nintendo 3DS is region locked. That means that the geographical region in which you buy your Nintendo 3DS is also the region in which you should buy your games.

There are three versions of the 3DS hardware, according to Nintendo: Japanese, American, and European/Australian. The Japanese and European versions of the Nintendo 3DS are likewise region locked.

Region Free vs. Region Locked

Understanding the difference between a region free device and one that's region locked, is best described with an example.

Say you bought a Nintendo 3DS in North America. Since the 3DS is locked into the region in which it was purchased, it will not work with games downloaded from Japanese or European markets.

The same is true for the opposite; a Japanese Nintendo 3DS works just fine for games in Japan but will not work correctly with games purchased from the US.

Here's how you can remember the difference between region locked and region free: if the Nintendo 3DS were region free, it would be free to use games from any region. Region locked means it is locked to only communicate with games from a specific region.

Why Is the Nintendo 3DS Region Locked?

Nintendo explained its reasons for region locking the 3DS in a statement it sent to video game website VG247 in January 2011:

"Additionally we want to ensure the best possible gaming experience for our users and there is the possibility that Nintendo 3DS software sold in one region will not function properly when running on Nintendo 3DS hardware sold in another. Guidance will appear on every packaging of Nintendo 3DS hardware and the accompanying software. If you are in doubt, Nintendo recommends that you only purchase Nintendo 3DS software in the region where purchased your Nintendo 3DS system."

There are ways to hack the Nintendo 3DS to "convert" it to a region free device, but these methods are often unstable and thwarted by software updates.

What About Other 3DS Devices?

Not all of Nintendo's 3DS devices are region locked. The 3DS's older brothers, the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite, are region free. This means a person who owns a North American DS or DS Lite can purchase and play a Japanese or European game without being locked out or experiencing major technical problems.

However, this excludes the Nintendo 3DS XL, Nintendo DSi, and Nintendo DSi XL, which are region locked. 

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