Somewhere in the late 90’s, Final Fantasy V was translated to English and a ROM patch was released to the Internet, allowing English speakers a chance to play the game for the first time. In the wake of this, other unreleased Japanese RPGs were translated and patched. One which caught my attention was Sailormoon: Another Story. The show was at the peak of its popularity on Toonami, and I was heavily getting into anime and Japanese culture through (VHS!) fansubs of it. I downloaded ZSNES, the ROM, and the patch, and played through it enthusiastically.

Recently, I bought a few Super Famicom carts along with a simple cart adapter to let them fit in my SNES. Of course, one I particularly sought out was Another Story. I hadn’t initially intended to play through it, as I’ve already beaten the translated version a few times, and I didn’t think I wanted to sit through a whole RPG in Japanese. After turning it on for a few minutes though, I decided the level of Japanese would actually be manageable and decided to give it a go. With kanji and translation dictionaries at my side, I didn’t have much trouble. Good practice, actually. Also, as I played through it I was referencing a FAQ that summed up most of the dialogue in the walkthrough, based on the translated ROM. There were a lot of wild translation errors that I can see now. For example, during Venus’s segment in chapter 2, the Japanese dialogue uses the term “jibun jishin” which means one’s self. Jishin can also mean earthquake, so the translated ROM apparently starts talking about earthquakes within Venus’s self or something like that.

As for the game itself, it’s a classic Super Famicom style RPG. You wander around exploring your environment and talking to people. In some areas, you’ll be pulled into random turn-based battles where your party squares off against some monsters pulled from the anime’s Monster of the Day ranks. The story is set after the 3rd manga story arc, or the Sailormoon S anime, and is an amalgamation of the two continuities with original material thrown in. All 10 inner and outer Sailor Senshi are playable (but not Tuxedo Kamen), and have access to all their special attacks from both the anime and manga. As with the show, Senshi are able to combine their attacks for new or more powerful effects. You also have access to a full party combo attack depending on the formation you’re in, and if you’re using the 5 Inner Senshi, you can use their powerful Sailor Planet Attack. One oddity of the battle system is that EP for using your special attacks caps at 12 for each character, but refills after every battle. This actually has the effect of encouraging you to bust out powerful attacks, which really speeds up leveling up. However, it does reduce random encounters to simply tapping the A button to repeat the same attacks you’ve been using to defeat the enemy party in 1-2 turns, once you’ve figured out how to do that in the current area. Another criticism of the combat is that the enemies, even most of the bosses, only pull from a very small pool of special attacks which get old quick. With all the unique and amusing monsters from the anime that make an appearance, it would have been nice if they all used their own signature powers.

The gameplay is very dialogue-heavy. You will typically go through long story sequences, followed by being cut loose on an area with random battles where you train up to fight a boss. Then, another story scene and repeat. The story centers around an evil being attempting to alter destiny, which leads to fan-pleasing showdowns against the series’ previous villains like Queen Beryl, the Black Moon Clan and the Death Busters. You also do some time traveling to visit the Silver Millennium and the Earth Kingdom of their previous lives, and the events leading up to their destruction. If you don’t like Sailormoon and aren’t into the story though, you will be very, very bored.

Character customization is minimal. You can equip each Senshi with up to 3 accessory items which affect their stats, though each Senshi has two accessories of her own gemstone hidden in the game which are vastly superior to any of the regular items, so there’s no reason not to use them. The extent of strategy with the characters is to just look at which stat is their highest after getting their gemstone accessories, then fill the third slot with a regular item that complements it. For example, you would put an attack enhancing Bracelet in Mars’ third slot, and put her toward the front of the formation to capitalize on her high damage attacks. Mercury, you would put either a Tiara (defense) or Anklet (speed) and put her in the back where she’ll be near impossible to kill and good for doing healing.

Difficulty of the game seems to be wildly debated depending on who you talk to. Some find it extremely easy, others extremely difficult. I tend to fall in the prior camp. I think some people get so wrapped up in the story, that when the game returns control, they forget they’re playing an RPG. As long as you remember to put some equipment on new characters as you come into control of them, explore the areas thoroughly so you don’t miss those valuable gemstone accessories, and make sure to not let characters fall behind in level, you’ll be fine. There is a point where you gain free roam of the world with an airship and have to go to the North Pole, only to find the enemy parties there are substantially tougher than previously. That can be a bit rough, especially since this is where you first gain the ability to choose your own party out of the full group and there are several characters in need of catching up. Use your head, don’t forget to make good use of your formations, and carry plenty of status healing items. This is also where you learn one really annoying thing about the game—Chibi-Moon is mostly useless, and nothing you do will make her anything but a wasted slot in your party whenever you’re forced to take her along. So, just like in the anime, pretty much. Chibi-Moon is actually unique in that she has three gemstone accessories, but all they wind up doing is giving her good defense and the highest speed in the game, easily hitting 999 on speed. Even then, she’s only really useful for doing a combo healing technique with Mercury.

Overall, I like this game despite its flaws. But, I really like Sailormoon, and can sink myself into its very fanservice oriented story. If you’re a Sailormoon fan, this is a game you shouldn’t pass up. For the rest of the world, I’d say pass. There just isn’t really enough RPG meat in there to sink your teeth into if the story doesn’t do anything for you. The translated ROM is easy to find, and if you’re up for a bit of a Japanese workout, I got my cart CIB for about $30 or $40 I think.

In the 80’s, the American video game market was initially booming, then tanked under the weight of too many consoles and a flood of poor quality bootleg games. In 1985, Nintendo would pull the American market back from the brink when they imported their popular Family Computer (Famicom) as the Nintendo Entertainment System. We’ve all heard that story a million times, but what about the Famicom itself? What was different and interesting about it, and what was maybe improved by the NES?

I had long been curious about the Famicom. Nintendo Power briefly mentioned it a couple times, giving glimpses of the nature of this mysterious machine in the age before the Internet. Fortunately, we do live in the age of the Internet now, and information on the Famicom is plentiful, and Famicoms themselves are not difficult to obtain. I bought one recently from Rising Stuff, a used/retro game dealer run by a couple of American ex-pats out of Japan. I highly recommend buying from a dealer like them rather than a random eBay user as they have some accountability if your equipment doesn’t work. Rising Stuff’s prices are very fair as well.

Beginning as a maker of playing cards, Nintendo eventually began to make electronic toys (many designed by Yokoi Gunpei), and eventually simple video games like its now-legendary Game & Watch series. Building on its successful arcade games and its line of TV games, Nintendo decided to throw its hat into the ring of modular, cartridge based game consoles. The Famicom was released July 15, 1983. The Famicom retailed for ¥14,800 and did not include a pack-in game. After some initial manufacturing issues were resolved, the Famicom quickly became a runaway success.

As you can see, the Famicom is externally very different from the NES. It sports a primarily red and white color scheme and a top-loading cartridge slot. The controllers are permanently wired and come out of the back of the console on very short cords, as the intention was that it would be pulled out from the TV and sitting next to you. The second controller did have a built-in microphone which would play sound out through the TV’s speakers, and was utilized in certain games. The only expansion port on the Famicom was a 15-pin connector under the little red cover on the front edge, which was used for external controllers. For output, the Famicom had only an RF-out. Adding AV jacks to the Famicom is doable, and a popular mod among owners with electronics skills.

Compared to the NES, the Famicom’s primary weaknesses are its short, permanently attached controller cords and its lack of AV outputs. It does have some advantages, however. The Famicom’s cartridge connector  sports pins for expansion of its audio capabilities, pins the NES lacked. Also, since it uses a more standard top-loading cartridge connector, and does not have a lockout chip for unlicensed games, the Famicom is not nearly as susceptible to cartridge reading issues. Just cleaning the cart’s contacts with something as simple as cotton swabs and off the shelf rubbing alcohol will take care of most game-related issues.

As for the games themselves, the Famicom had most of the games that were released for the NES, as well as a wide library of Japan-only titles. Some were deemed inappropriate for US audience, like Miyamoto Shigeru’s Demon World with its religious imagery. Others were tie-ins to anime not released in the US, or otherwise deemed not likely to sell in the US. Occasionally, a tie-in game would make it over despite its source material being unknown in the US. Golgo 13 saw US release, and a game based on the tokusatsu series Solbrain was reworked and released as Shatterhand. The process sometimes worked in reverse as well. The first Ninja Turtles game was released in Japan ahead of the Turtle’s Japanese debut, so it was retitled Gekikame Ninja Den.

I’ve accumulate a total of 18 Famicom carts in the time I’ve had the system, most for pretty cheap. I’ll just run down them really quickly.

Chou Jikuu Yousai Macross — A side-scrolling shoot-em-up based on the highly influential Macross mecha anime. The game is ambitious in that it tries to take advantage of the Valkyrie’s transformation abilities. However, like many early Famicom games it just repeats the same basic level with it getting harder each time. Not a terrible game, but probably only worth it for Macross fans.

Chou Wakusei Senki Metafight — Released on the NES as Blaster Master. Graphics are really good for the Famicom, and there’s some good gameplay variety as you could be either driving your vehicle, walking around on foot, or on foot in an overhead view. I need to look up a guide for the game though, because I’m not completely sure what I’m supposed to be doing.

Kage no Densetsu — A brutally difficult side scrolling adventure where you try to save a princess from ninjas. It’s fairly successful at reproducing wire-fighting martial arts movie style action on the Famicom. Released in the US as Legend of Kage, I think pretty much unchanged.

Kidou Senshi Z Gundam: Hot Scramble — Another ambitious anime adaptation, as the first two parts of each stage are in first person and resemble a primitive version of the Super Famicom’s Mode 7. The third segment of each stage you infiltrate a base or ship in side-scrolling view where you can transform the Zeta Gundam into waverider to fly around. It’s a solid game, but like Macross merely repeats the same basic stage structure over and over.

Lode Runner — A port of Broderbund’s classic computer puzzle game where you attempt to collect gold and avoid robots with little more than your wits and reflexes to help you.

Mach Rider — One of the NES’s launch titles, I don’t believe anything is different here. It’s a fast, challenging bike racing/combat game.

Saint Seiya: Ougon Densetsu — An RPG based on Kurumada Masami’s fighting manga, and its insanely popular anime adaptation. The battle system is absurdly confusing, and it has nothing to do with being in Japanese. Even reading up on how it’s supposed to work doesn’t help, as the game gives no indication of how much energy you should use for an attack, and once you run out you’re screwed.

Seicross — You race a sort of hover bike through a landscape full of obstacles and hazardous terrain while trying to bump or shoot other riders out of your way and pick up people stranded on the course. Or something like that. I really have no idea what the plot is supposed to be, but it’s fairly fun.

Star Force — This game’s only failing is that it doesn’t do anything in particular to set itself apart from the masses of vertically scrolling shooters. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it, but nothing terribly compelling either.

Super Mario Bros. — We all know this one. In fact, I haven’t noticed a single difference from the American version. The Toadstools even speak the same English. If anyone knows of any differences, feel free to point them out. I know the Disk System version had a different Minus World though.

Super Mario Bros. 3 — As above, this game needs no introduction. The primary difference is that when hit you will go directly back to regular Mario as in the first game, not to Super Mario as in the US release. There’s also minor graphical changes like an iris effect when you enter a stage similar to Super Mario World, and power-ups sort of fall out of you when you get hit. Also, this time the characters do speak Japanese.

Takahashi-Meijin no Boukenjima — A classic side scrolling platformer released in the US as simply Adventure Island. What the US release doesn’t mention is that the titular character Takahashi-Meijin (lit. “Master Takahashi”) is a real life person, and was a sort of mascot for Hudson. If you watch the episode of GameCenter CX where Arino attempts to get a bonus in Star Force, Takahashi comes on as a guest to show off his legendary fast button mashing skills. Who needs a turbo controller anyway?

Thexder — One word describes this game: Brutal. I can barely get anywhere before I’m mobbed by enemies. What makes it bad is that getting hit knocks you from jet back to robot form, and it’s hard to get away because you wind up like stuck on the enemies somehow. It’s nothing to get hit once, get stuck, and have all your health drained in seconds. It’s no wonder Square was in such dire financial straits by the time they made their “Final” Fantasy.

Tower of Druaga — Starting life as an arcade game, and later ported to many consoles, this game somehow never made it to the US despite its popularity. You guide Sumerian hero Gilgamesh through each maze-like floor of Druaga’s tower, seeking to find the key to the next door while avoiding all sorts of monsters. The game is simple, yet addictive and extremely challenging. I have yet to get past floor 5. Damn wizards.

Transformers: Convoy no Nazo — Convoy is missing, and it’s up to you as Ultra Magnus to defeat the Destrons! This side scrolling platform shooter is notorious for its difficulty. Once I got used to its quirks though, I actually kinda grew to like it, and I have beaten it. Check it out if you like a serious challenge, just make sure to remember that you hold B+A and hit Start to continue!

These last games were randomly included with my Famicom:

Mahjong — I wish I could comment on this, but I have no idea how to play Mahjong, and don’t really like luck-based card games (though Mahjong uses tiles, not cards)

Moero! Pro Yakyuu — A baseball game which was also popular in the US under the title Bases Loaded. I’m not much of a baseball person, but as I understand it this was one of the Famicom/NES’s better baseball games.

Shinjinrui — Released in the US as The Adventures of Dino Riki, this is essentially a vertically scrolling shooter where you are a caveman on foot rather than the typical spaceship. This game would be great if not for two problems. One, you can’t shoot through power-ups, which is real irritating when enemies wind up right on top of you when you could have shot them from across the screen. Secondly, and this is the big one, you are required to jump over water at certain times, but the jumping controls are extremely awkward making this task very frustrating.

I also have what may be the Famicom’s most unique aspect, its add on floppy disk drive known as the Famicom Disk System. I’m waiting for a couple more games for it though, so that will be a post for another day.