Dirty, dirty bootlegs

While discussing game soundtracks on Twitter with the ever-wonderful Sam the other day we were lamenting the cost of game music…until she posted a few links to some cheap eBay deals. Needless to say these were fakes, just like almost every other sub £20 soundtrack on the site. The problem of bootleg game soundtracks is so prolific that you’ll find them for sale in comic and game stores, the sellers sincerely believing them to be genuine – and why wouldn’t they? These bootlegs are so good that they’ll come with full colour disc art, all the usual inserts and topped off with an obi sealed inside a plastic wrapper, looking every inch like any other CD. The differences only ever come to light once you visit websites such as the exhaustive VGMdb or browse the wonderful reviews posted on Soundtrack Central… and even though these are both well run popular websites, how many people really spend an afternoon checking the catalogue numbers on their albums? I certainly didn’t! I’ve personally spent somewhere around £200 in total on bootleg soundtracks in the past; I simply had no reason to think that these fakes even existed never mind that they’d be stocked by my (now long closed) local import shop.

In any case, this post isn’t about the rights or wrongs of buying or selling bootlegs (although I’m guessing by the title anyone can work out where I stand), what I really want to do is give a brief guide on how to spot them so people can make an informed decision before they spend their money.

How to avoid the bootlegs:

  • Ever Anime, SonMay Records, Miya Records, K-O Records and Smile Face Records published albums are always fakes. This is not an exhaustive list, just the names of some of the more notorious offenders.
  • The chances of an “Asian region” release being a genuine Asian album are virtually nil unless you’re buying the soundtrack to a Chinese game.
  • eBay is both a wonderful international trading zone and a hive of scum and villainy – be careful. “If it looks too good to be true it probably is” are words to live (and buy) by. Avoid any seller that only shows generic album art scans or for some mysterious reason has a factory sealed version of a rare and long out of print album… and only wants $20 for it. Any genuine seller will be happy to take photos for you showing the publisher logo and catalogue number; do take the time to ask because this is one area where you’ll struggle to get eBay to give a stuff if you end up with a bootleg (as shown by the numerous sellers on there who deal exclusively and knowingly in fakes).
  • On the subject of logos and numbers – if they don’t exactly match one of the genuine releases listed on VGMdb it’s going to be a fake.

Buying official soundtracks:

  •  CD Japan, Otaku, Otokichi Premium, Play-Asia, VGMWorld and Yesasia only deal in the real thing. Amazon Japan will also ship CDs overseas, although the postage charges are nothing short of ridiculous.
  • There are some eBay sellers that show the others how it’s done - Champ des Pins, Otaku and Wonder EGG Island are a few of the big ones.
  • Some soundtracks had legitimate western releases: Kingdom Hearts, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Metal Gear Solid and more. These are generally out of print and hard to find, but they are out there. As with any other release, check VGMdb for scans and information on the real thing if you’re not sure.
  • Last but not least – try digital downloads! iTunes, Amazon Digital and Bandcamp all host official VGM soundtracks. The English language selections on Amazon and iTunes still pale in comparison to their Japanese counterparts but you’ll still find more than you’d think you could; Square-Enix have a strong presence on iTunes and you can even buy more niche soundtracks such as the superb Culdcept Saga OST or Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets of Rage 3 album without any trouble.

I really do hope this is of some use, if anything’s unclear or you have further questions leave a comment!