The Japanese version of the Nintendo, The Family Computer (Famicom for short) is one of my favorite video game consoles of all time. I love the hideous color scheme, the hardwired controllers with their ridiculously short cords, the add ons. The thing I love most of all about the Famicom is just how different it is. I grew up with a Nintendo Entertainment System, as did most every child of my generation, and I became very familiar with that bulky gray box.
That’s why the Famicom is so fascinating to me; it’s something that I only ever say in magazines as a kid. When you are 10 years old, buying a comic book is about as far as your limited parental expense account can stretch, so importing a Famicom from Japan would have gone even beyond Christmas level gift-getting.
For the same reasons, Famicom games have always had a special place in my heart. Many of the games released in Japan as well as North America are exactly the same (save for the title screen) but even the Japanese version of Duck Tales still instills me with a sense of wonder.
Now, the main (and completely obvious) drawback to being a huge Famicom fan is the language barrier. I am Canadian, and I can’t even string together a coherent phrase in French, my own country’s official second language, let alone even begin to comprehend something as complex and precise as Kanji. That pretty much cuts out a bulk of text heavy Famicom titles such as Akira, the Final Fantasy games, or the Dragon Quest games. Thankfully, nearly every significant Japanese-scripted Famicom game has a fan translation, but I can’t out a ROM file into my Famicom, now can I?
There are a couple great Famicom games that you can indeed play without any knowledge of any Japanese language. One of them is a great puzzle game called Door Door that I am shocked never got a release outside of Japan, considering that the game is hailed as a classic in Japan and is a popular as other 8-bit Nintendo puzzlers such as Tetris and Dr. Mario. Not only is Door Door a cultural main-stay in Japan, it was also the first game to be released by publisher/developer Enix, who went on to find massive success with the Dragon Quest series (the first four and part 7 were retitled Dragon Warrior when they hit our shores) and later merged with Japanese gaming giant Square.
Another Famicom game that we never saw that is definitely worth a picking up is Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti. Like Door Door, the game is 100% in english. Wanpaku Graffiti is the super deformed platforming cousin to the ultra-violent Splatterhouse games we know and love. The game follows that same story as the original PC Engine Splatterhouse game, only with the game play changed from beat’em up to a more Mario Bros.-esque style. I reviewed it here a while ago, check that out here.
Duck Tales is one of my favorite games of all time, and even though there is virtually no difference between the North American release and the Japanese release except for the title screen, I still pop in the Famicom version every now and again just for fun.
There is definitely some gems waiting to be discovered. I got my Famicom with 20 games (most of which a really cool bootlegs) for $70 shipped, but you can pick up a Famicom for about $40 if you shop around, and I highly recommend you do so. Its like having a whole new world of video game playing and collecting opened up for you.