There are two obvious problems when trying to compile a list of top import titles for the PSP. The first is the fact that there just aren't that many top games not already available here – the PSP really only came into its own in Japan after the release of Monster Hunter Portable 2 and it's taken a while for that belated success to filter back to publishers.
The second problem is that Sony really doesn't like you importing its games. It's unusual to find Nintendo being more tolerant of such things, but you'll be very lucky if you can find anywhere but eBay that's willing to help you import anything published by Sony – even if it's available in the US.
But overcome such obstacles and there's still a host of great games out there that are unlikely ever to see a UK shop shelf (even more if you can read Japanese – but we've left out all the exclusive role-players with the assumption that most people probably can't).1. DJ Max Portable 2
As with the DS, the best game they don't want you to buy on the PSP is music related. This isn't Japanese in origin, though, but Korean (starting life as web game but finding its true home on Sony's handheld). The basics are the same as Beatmania and its ilk as you tap along to a tune using anything from four to eight buttons at a time. The accompanying animations are superb and there's a generous 61 different tunes in this sequel. More importantly the entry-level difficulty is a lot lower than before, plus there's plenty of online and multiplayer options and it's all in English.2. Jeanne d'Arc
We're not doing this on purpose but the second best import game on our DS and PSP lists are both by Japanese developer Level-5. This is an entirely different beast to Professor Layton though, being a strategy role-playing game featuring no less than Joan of Arc. In typical Japanese style it mixes genuine historical figures with magical powers and creatures, but thankfully all is done in the service of some of the deepest strategy roleplaying gameplay yet – and on a console that's already blessed with a number of similar titles. What makes this stand out though is the fast pace and impressive graphics, which should be enough to attract even strategy haters.3. Pump It Up: Zero Portable
Developer: Studio 9
South Korea has its own very unique ideas about video games, with professional PC gamers being treated like sports stars and a new Tolkien-esque massively multiplayer online game coming out seemingly every week. Apparently they also like their music games on the PSP, because this is the second one in our line-up. Although it looks like just another Dancing Stage clone the original arcade game actually works quite differently, with a completely new kind of dance mat that requires even more exertion than normal to play. Naturally, the portable version is tiring only for your fingers but the presentation is superb and there's a whopping 111 different songs.4. Gundam Battle Universe
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
The Gundam anime is often described as the Japanese equivalent of Star Wars, both in terms of cross-generational appeal and the fact that almost all the video games based on it are rubbish. This though is one of the rare exceptions, which is strange because the previous three Gundam Battle games weren't. The game is essentially a giant robot simulator, using either a third- or first-person viewpoint and with an initially bewildering array of options and counter-intuitive controls. Once you get the hang of it, though, the action becomes surprisingly fast-paced, with a great sense of scale and plenty of customisation options.5. Phantasy Star Portable
Developer: Alpha System
After creating the seminal Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast back in 2000, Sega has completely squandered the lead it took in terms of online console gaming. In fact it's only after Monster Hunter brazenly copied the format that Sega was at last inspired to make a decent sequel. The basics remain the same as before, as you and three friends beat up on a planet's worth of monsters in order to loot and buy new clothes and weapons. Although a western release probably will come at some point it hasn't been announced yet and the game is more west-friendly than Monster Hunter.6. Salamander Portable/Parodius Portable/Twinbee Portable
The Wii's Virtual Console is an Aladdin's Cave for retro fans but there are some games that seem destined never to appear on it – because publishers are still earning too much selling them as normal retail games. That includes most of Square Enix's role-playing output and this: three collections of Konami's classic 2D shooters. Gradius Collection did make it to the west but these didn't; a compendium featuring horizontal-scrolling sister series Salamander, wacky anime-style parody game Parodius and the cutesy vertical-scrolling TwinBee. All classic games and all currently unavailable elsewhere – and as an extra bonus they've all recently been re-released as budget games.7. Taiko no Tatsujin Portable 2
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Having to hit a virtual drum with two styli on the DS seems odd enough but this version of Taiko: Drum Master gives up all pretence of playing a real musical instrument. Surprisingly, though, it's still a lot of fun, with the gameplay working just like Donkey Konga, Guitar Hero and the rest, as you pummel the face buttons according to different icons whisking across the screen. This sequel has 62 different songs, with a mix of J-pop, classical music and the odd western tune. There's also a new co-operative and competitive multiplayer and an extended Story mode – the latter being the only thing you'll be missing out on if you don't understand Japanese.8. Bleach: Heat the Soul 5
Bleach, in case you were assuming this was some sort of cleaning product tie-in, is a popular manga and anime involving the usual spikey haired samurai and demonic monsters that always seem to turn up in this sort of thing. Whether you care about that or not it's also inspired a number of surprisingly decent video games. Although this isn't quite as good as the first two DS Bleach titles it is still a great 3D beat-'em-up, with graphics and gameplay second only to Tekken: Dark Resurrection. The tag team gameplay is particularly good and, crucially, even if you don't know or care who any of the characters are it's still plenty of fun.9. Dai Senryaku VII Exceed
Developer: Systemsoft Alpha
Publisher: Systemsoft Alpha
Much like the ostensibly similar Advance Wars games the Dai Senryaku series (its name roughly translates as 'Big Tactics') has been going on for donkeys' years, ever since the days of the NES. It's a turn-based strategy game that visually looks only slightly more interesting than Microsoft Excel. The studious looks, however, hide a hugely complex and addictive wargame whose only real problem is that you will need to refer to some online guides to help you understand the Japanese menu options. It is also perhaps a bit overly serious and realistic compared to its Nintendo equivalent, but that's just the sort of console the PSP is, readers.10. Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G
Unlikely as it may seem, the best-selling video game in Japan last year wasn't on any Nintendo format but the PSP. Monster Hunter Portable, and in particular this most recent iteration, has almost single-handedly rejuvenated the fortunes of the PSP in Japan and made it the best-selling console of the year so far. The first two games in the portable series have actually been released in the west, as Monster Hunter Freedom and Monster Hunter Freedom 2, but it made such little impact that Capcom seems unlikely to bother with the others here. For those not familiar with the series, it may be worth looking out for a cheap copy of the above, though, as importing the latest sequel means dealing with a lot of Japanese text to play it online.
Check out our other PSP top game charts.