Saturday, 2 January 2016

Retro Japan Computer Special - NEC PC9801 (Aka. PC-98) + Games

Launched in October 1982, NEC's PC-9801 was a true 16-bit computer with dedicated text VRAM for displaying kanji. A special font ROM was also created to store the thousands of kanji commonly used in Japanese writing. It could render Japanese text faster than any other personal computer on the market, making it perfect for business use. It became an overwhelmingly popular business machine.

In the beginning its games library mainly consisted of PC-8801 ports. However, due to several major upgrades over the years, including a jump to 32-bit, the PC-9801 game library would grow to thousands of commercial titles, along with a vast number of doujin (home brew) games too.

It had a lower spec than the Fujitsu FM Towns and Sharp X68000 personal computers which arrived later on the scene, but due to it's huge following and steady flow of games it remained the favored platform for PC game developers in Japan until the IBM PC clones became more popular in the 90's


CPU: 8086, 80286, 80386, 80486, Celeron, and NEC V30
Memory: 256K ROM, 1-8M RAM, 192K VRAM
Resolution: 640 x 480, 320 x 200
Sound: 8bit on board + speech synthesizer

Here are thirty great games, in alphabetical order, that you can play on the NEC PC-98. If you wish to find out more details about these games I have provided the original Japanese kanji for most of them which you can copy and paste in any search engine to get even more results. You can also play these games on a PC using the PC-98 emulator found here

46 Okunen Monogatari: The Shinka Ron (Almanics 1990)
46億年物語 THE進化論-

An unusual RPG that puts the player in control of an evolving creature. The playable character is a fish at the beginning of the game; after completing the "fish stage", it becomes a reptile, and so on, until the highest stages of evolution are reached.

Alshark (Right Stuff 1991)

A sci-fi RPG where the player controls a party of up to five characters, exploring several solar systems, each with their own planets and space stations. Their space ship, Atlia, can be equipped with various weapons, engines and frames. There are random space battles against enemy ships which will earn scrap that can be converted into money. The battles can be automatic or manually controlled by the player in an arcade shooter style.

Blood Seed (Great Co. Ltd, 1991)

First-person dungeon crawler where a space ship and it's crew are attacked by mysterious aliens. You play the part of an alien. You move around the ship encountering crew, robots and machines all trying to stop the alien. In the turn-based battles that ensue you can use claw and electrical attacks to defeat your enemies, gain experience points and level up.

Briganty The Roots of Darkness (Giga 1995)

An action RPG that is played from a side-scrolling perspective, with the exception of the dialogues, where the people the protagonist converses with are shown from first-person view. Gady can jump and punch enemies, and also learn various combos. Killing enemies bring him experience points, which make him stronger and allow new combos to be learned.

Burning Dragon Plus (WiZ 1994)

A vertically scrolling shooter with continuous stages. Your jet can take a few hits before it's destroyed at which point you are returned to the previous check point. You fight  against tanks, turrets and other jets. Bosses appear at certain points. Power ups appear if you destroy scenery and grant you different weaponry depending on which letter is shown when your jet picks it up.

Chitty Chitty Train (Bit2 1993)

A real-time puzzle where you must send your main train through the exit gate collecting passengers from stations on the way if necessary. You have to switch junctions to prevent trains colliding. Different maps can be selected at the start of the game. It's similar to an old ZX Spectrum game from the 1983 called The Train Game.

Cruise Chaser Blassty (SquareSoft 1986)

A sci-fi RPG where you can join either the Commune or the Inverse and then climb into a robot and wander around a 3D dungeon fighting other robots in turn-based combat. If you win you gain credits and experience which allows you to upgrade and customise your robot.

Dragon Quest (Chunsoft / Enix 1986)

An early RPG created by Yuji Horii, who took inspiration from previous role-playing games such as Wizardry, Ultima, and his own 1983 title The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Horii wanted to create an RPG which would appeal to a wide audience of people who were unfamiliar with the genre of video games in general. He tried to place a greater emphasis on storytelling and emotional involvement, as well as simplify the interface and expose the mostly Western computer genre to the Japanese.

Edge (TGL 1993)

A side-scrolling beat'em up where you play as a guy or a girl who together must uncover a conspiracy involving powerful organisations that govern the city. You only have one life but you can continue the game from the previous check point.

Flame Zapper Kotsujin (CO2-PRO 1996)

A sci-fi vertical scrolling shooter where you must get through five huge levels full of enemies and each ending in a big boss fight. Your ship has primary and secondary weapons and various bomb attacks distinguished by red, yellow and purple power ups which each give a different style of weapon.

Galt-Rio Maximum Position (GGG Soft 1995)

A side scrolling shoot'em up with a robot. Much like Nemesis, Gradius, Salamander, etc. when a wave of aliens or a larger enemy is destroyed a power up orb is dropped. Collecting the orbs moves the pointer along the weaponry at the bottom of the screen and then it's a case of selecting the one you want. Like most shoot'em ups for the 9801 uses the numpad arrow keys for movement, X for fire and Z for weapon select.

Genesis - Beyond The Revelation    (SquareSoft 1985)

A sci-fi RPG where you create your character from four classes and allocate points to several stats. On entering the game world you are free to explore and travel to locations in any order. Menu commands are used to perform actions. Enemies can be seen on the world map and encounters are shown in a small isometric battle scene where you can use physical and psychic attacks.

Giten Megami Tensei: Tokyo Mokushiroku (aka. Revelation) (ASCII 1997)
偽典・女神転生 東京黙示

A first-person dungeon exploration game based on the manga of the same name. After a nuclear war several people are evacuated underground. You play the son of the man who created the devil buster special forces group who protects the people. It has a few unique features. Enemies are visible before battles begins and you can be attacked from different sides. You have to turn to face the enemy in real time, but the once you do the game play reverts to a traditional turn-based battle style where you select commands from a menu.

Illusion City: Gen'ei Toshi (Micro Cabin 1992)

An RPG that's slightly different from the norm. It has no overworld, and takes place entirely in a vast city divided into several districts. The player advances the story by exploring the city, talking to non-playable characters, gathering information, receiving missions, and eventually heading into large, complex hostile areas. There are no random battles in the game; all enemies are visibly moving on the field, and many of them can be avoided. The game's visual style aims for realistic presentation of locations and characters and has a more contemporary Western look than the usual Japanese anime art.

Jump Hero (Compile 1994)

A vertical scrolling platformer where you must jump to the top of each stage while avoiding hazards as quickly as possible. The player can choose to aim for the summit as Billy, who excels in jump and movement speed, or as Ivan, who can not be caught in traps and has the ability to fly. There are three different modes, normal, map select and training and also a ranking system that keeps track of the finishing time of every stage.

Last Breakers (CO2-PRO 1994)

A vertical scrolling shoot'em up developed by the Flame Zapper Kotsujin people. First select your character each of which has their own characteristics for armament, speed and power. Then fly your combat mecha, which can also turn into a jet fighter, into battle. There is a simultaneous two player mode so you can do this with a buddy too. Points are scored by collected the items dropped by destroyed enemies and, as usual, each level ends with a boss.

Mujinto Monogatari - Desert Island Story (KSS 1994)

A survival life simulation. A plane you are on crashes into the sea. You survive and reach a desert island where you find a cabin with a few basic supplies. You have stay alive and provide yourself with necesseties like Water, food and light sources. You can team up with other survivors and explore the island, gradually revealing new locations. Expeditions to other places take place automatically, and must be planned for in advance. Your stats will change depending on the what activities you are doing.

Night Slave (Melody 1996)

A side scrolling shoot'em up which draws inspiration from the Assault Suits series and the Gradius series. It also employs many action RPG elements like levelling up, using various weapons from power-orbs obtained from defeating enemies and providing a storyline using cut scenes. The game's armaments system also employs recoil physics, while the gameplay is varied, including environments such as rainy jungles, snowy wastes, and alien bases.

Policenauts (Konami 1994)

An interactive adventure game with a sci-fi storyline, written and directed by Hideo Kojima. It pays various homages to previously existing works. Like the main characters resemblance to Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon. The game centres on a detective who travels to a space colony to investigate the circumstances surrounding his ex-wife's murder and her new husband's sudden disappearance. It is highly rated as one of the best games of it's type.

Popful Mail: Magical Fantasy Adventure (Falcom 1992)

A 2D platform game with some RPG elements. The controls allow the player to jump, attack, open doors or treasure chests, and speak to NPC's. At the start of the game, the only playable character is Mail. Later, as the game progresses, Tatt and Gaw become available, and the player may switch between the three at any time. Each character has different attacks and armours, as well as differences in walking speed and jump and can acquire up to five different weapons and various items. These can be obtained from other characters, treasure chests, shops, or bosses.

Raid Wind (Oneoneman 1994)

An early scrolling 2D shooter from the people that went on to create Alltynex, Kamui, RefleX and Alltynex Second. A tough game because once your ship is destroyed all your power ups are lost and it becomes almost impossible to regain them.

Rude Breaker (Compile, 1996)

A very fast 2D scrolling shooter with detailed animated sprites. Long levels filled with plenty of enemies, simple controls, huge bosses and a forgiving weapons system make this one of the best shooters for the PC98. It's only shortcoming is that it is quite easy but that makes it perfect for beginners.

Rusty (C-Lab, 1993)

A 2D side scrolling action platformer, which owes more than a little to the Castlevania series of games. You play the title character, Rusty, in her efforts to rescue a variety of girls who have been kidnapped or transformed in to monsters by the evil vampiress Bloody Mary in her efforts to restore count Monte Carlo. It has excellent level design through it's ten non-linear stages which give a huge sense of exploration with hardly any backtracking involved and rewards for visting areas off the main route. Card suites are what differentiate the four different keys for unlocking doors in each level and there are huge crazy style bosses at the end of each level.

Slayers (AIC Spirits, 1994)

A first-person dungeon crawler in the tradition of Wizardry. Its simple story, loosely based on the light novel series, follows the adventures of Lina Inverse and Gourry Gabriev, aided by up to two companions of their choosing (including Naga the Serpent, Zelgadis, Amelia, and Naga's and Amelia's father Phil) in several dungeons surrounding a city of Wilnan. The player directly controls only Lina and the characters do not level up.

Steam-Heart's (GIGA, 1994)

A 2D vertical scrolling sci-fi shoot'em up which takes place on an alien planet dominated by seven catgirl princesses. They have been driven to the edge of madness by a virus which could cause conflict on a global scale if they are not cured. You control a space ship trying to destroy waves of enemies and eventually the end of level boss. It has a primary weapon that can be upgraded by collecting power-ups, and a secondary weapon that can be added by collecting the weapon itself. The game also has 2 player co-op gameplay and cut scene interludes to drive the story.

Suzaku (Telenet / Wolf Team 1992)

An RPG where most of the gameplay takes place in 3D first-person maze-like dungeons. Enemies appear randomly and have to be dispatched in simple turn-based combat, by using physical attacks or magic.

Totsugeki Mix (C-lab 1994)

A cute action platform game. Choosing one of the three girls, each with their own unique weapon, the player must travel through ten different stages fighting Galuf's unreasonably cute army. There are several different special magic powers that can be collected, including a fairy familiar, magic shield, and time slow, and a boss waits at the end of each stage.

Touhou Kaikidan 05: Mystic Square (Zun Soft 1998)

The fifth and final touhou project bullet hell shooter for the PC-9801. Mystic Square is many people's favourite of the series available for the PC-98.

Usagi Na Panic (Nihon Softech 1995)

A cute and colorful action platformer which is divided into ten stages. The heroin uses a sword and has a range of various moves. Ramy can jump, is able to block enemy attacks with a shield, and can execute dash attacks. She can also throw projectiles which you can use to strike enemies from a far. Bombs can be set in order to trap the enemies too.

YU-NO: Kono Yo no Hate de Koi o Utau Shoujo (ELF, 1996)

A visual novel adventure story of time-travel, romance, and what makes a family. it was an important milestone for the visual novel and adventure game genres in Japan. It was written and produced by the late Hiroyuki Kanno, with music composed by the late Ryu Umemoto.

The next Retro Japan Computer Special will be all about the Sharp X68000 and its arcade quality games.

Please don't forget to visit my other blog, My CAVE 33, which is having a Retro Japan Computer Special of its for the next month, revisiting Japanese computer games and hardware advertising from the early eighties.

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