I decided to post this in General Gaming over the rare games forum because, while they're certainly uncommon and sought after, considering how popular the MSX was in japan, it's not exactly rare. But I still feel a great sense of pride in owning this baby. Work has been great lately and I found myself with a wad of money laying around and decided to finally pick up one of the gaming items I've been drooling over for years - an MSX2. Obtaining a comprehensive or complete MSX2 collection seems like an exercise in frustration, as over 1000 games were released, but I intended to at least have a collection of great, very worthy games. About $3000 later, I have an MSX2 and a number of games, all of which are among the best on the system.
Yesterday, the MSX and 4 of my games arrived, and more should arrive next week, so for now, I'm just going to post the pictures I got from the sellers instead. When it's all here together, I'll take a proper picture.
First up, my MSX2 itself. There are so many models of MSX out there - MSX1, MSX2, MSX2+, MSX Turbo-R, etc. Even among each individual model of MSX, there are dozens of manufacturers. I knew I wanted an MSX2 - there wasn't enough of a benefit in getting a 2+ or Turbo-R for me, and an MSX1 restricts me from a lot of the best games, so I picked out an MSX2 that looked most appealing to me. I decided upon a Sony HB-F1 II:
This MSX2 can be thought of as sort of an in-between MSX2 and MSX2+. It has 64kb of ram, which keeps it from being top-tier (and a lot of european games are, unfortunately, locked out, although the full japanese library is still available to me) and it lacks the FM chip, but it has the Ren-Sha Turbo fire feature that a number of MSX2+ models have. The FM chip in particular is a big draw back - loads of MSX2 games used it, but luckily a standard MSX2 can be brought up to FM spec with this baby right here:
A Panasonic FM-PAC cart. Almost all MSX models feature 2 cartridge slots, which lets you do a lot of cool things. It works sorta like the lock-on technology of Sonic & Knuckles, where one game will influence the other. In this case, I can stick the FM-Pac cart into slot B and get full FM sound on my MSX2 for game which require it. Most Konami games do not require it, however.
Speaking of Konami, their MSX output is legendary for its difficulty. The term "NES hard" doesn't hold a candle to MSX hard. Luckily, Konami released 2 cheat carts, the Game Master cart, and the Jyuubei Game Master 2 cart. The GM1 cart works with most early releases, and lets you skip levels or change the number of lives you have... neat stuff. The GM2 cart, however, is far more functional, since it also acts as a SRAM cart in a number of Konami games, letting you either save as you would in any NES game, or, in a few games, quick save like on a modern PC using emulation.
Those are the weird accessory carts I have. They're neat oddities, but the main reason people lust after the MSX is its killer library of games. At first, I picked up a bunch of cheap games that were loose:
King Kong 2
Maze of Galious:
However, every time I look over at my Saturn Collection, and see Guardian Heroes without a box, I cringe. I'll only get to collect this stuff once, so I decided I better make it count. That prompted me to both go for boxed + manual only, and also to start picking up the better, more sought after games. I began with Akumajo Dracula, also known as Vampire Killer, better known as the MSX version of Castlevania. This is a completely different game from the NES version, although they were developed in tandem and use the same assets. It plays more like a mix of Castlevania 2 and SotN:
Next, I went for another well known game which saw a popular NES conversion - Contra. Contra works with the Jyuubei GM2 cart to allow for quick-saves, and it features twice the levels of the NES version, making the game double as long. It also lacks continues and the spreader:
I adore SHMUPs, and my favorite of the 8-bit era is probably R-Type. I have it for the master system, and for the Amiga, but I'm always down for an additional copy. The MSX verison compares well to the SMS version, although only when played on an MSX2. It's a dual-format cart, and will run on an MSX1 with completely different graphics. There is no known dump of the MSX2 version available on the cart, making this a game you can only play on the real hardware:
Being that I love Shmups, I had to collect arguably the most profilic MSX series of all, gradius. I meant to pick up the JPN version, but accidentally got the European version, called Nemesis, instead. Luckily, it'll run on my MSX:
Next up, I got the sequel, Gradius 2. This is a completely different game from Gradius II, and is the start of an MSX-only series that is 100% different from the normal gradius series. It saw a massively updated remake on the Sharp X68k which I'm currently in search of (the game, not the computer):
Following Gradius 2, I picked up Gofu no Yabou: Episode II. This is more commonly referred to as Gradius 3, which is different from Gradius III, but it was never released under that name. It was, however, released in Europe as Nemesis 3. The title suggests that this game is supposed to be a sequel to Gradius II: Gofu no Yabou, making it basically Gradius II: Part 2. Either way, for simplicity sake, it's the 3rd MSX gradius. Unlike Gradius 2, this never saw a port to any other system, although emulated versions exist on the PSX and Saturn.
Gradius spun-off two series of games, and Salamander is one of them. While the arcade version differed from the gradius series, lacking the series' iconic powerup system, the home ports to the MSX and NES (released as LifeForce) brought it back. This version is quite a bit different from most version of Salamander, though, with a lot of MSX-exclusive content.
The other series spun-off from Gradius is Parodious, which I believe may have more entries than Gradius now. Parodious is known for it's ultra-japan flavor, and wild backgrounds, but the MSX original is pretty tame. It basically is Gradius with Goemon, Pentaro, etc. This version is also MSX exclusive, the sequel, Parodious Da!, is more widely known and incorrectly assumed to be the first in the series. It's the one which saw an NES port:
Continuing my trend of Konami Shmups, I went high dollar and got one of the most sought after, and, to some, the best MSX2 game released - Space Manbow. The MSX had a problem with scrolling backgrounds, and as such the gradius series saw character-width scrolling which is very jarring and, while you can adjust to it, makes jumping into the games a bit difficult. The MSX2 actually has hardware support for vertical scrolling, but not horizontal. Space Manbow is one of the very, very few MSX games which features smooth scrolling horizontally. It also features outstanding graphics.
Capping off my MSX Shmup collection is the first Aleste game. This series needs no introduction to Shmup fans, and while it's pretty basic compared to later entries in the series, it's quite a solid title in it's own right. It takes full advantage of the afore-mentioned hardware-based vertical scrolling of the MSX2. A sequel was released on the MSX2 as well, which never saw a port to any other system, but it's sadly floppy-disk only, and thusly closed off to me (for now). This game, however, was ported to the SMS under the title Power Strike.
Konami was a prolific MSX developer, and while most of its games saw ports to other consoles, one game which wasn't massively ported was Treasures of Usas, a relatively unknown Konami game which is reportedly excellent. I have yet to play it, but it was heavily recommended to me by MSX fans. I got the european copy, which is in english, and can supposedly run on my MSX.
All this is great and all, but the real reason everybody knows about Konami's input on the MSX is because of one man: Hideo Kojima, better known as the guy behind Metal Gear Solid. Kojima's output on the MSX is the stuff of legends - if there is one developer who is most likely to be known amongst casual gamers when you ask about the MSX, he would be the one. I picked up the first game Kojima ever released, Penguin Adventure, a sequel to Antarctic Adventure. Unlike the prequel, Penguin Adventure is far more fleshed out, with power ups, the ability to attack, space and swimming levels, and RPG-like stats. It even has mutliple endings. The seller for this game didn't take a picture of the manual, but he claims it's fully boxed with manual.
Penguin Adventure was a lesser known Kojima title, however. Hideo Kojima, today, is mainly known for a handful of games, most noticably Metal Gear. While most know that MG2 never saw an english MSX release, it's not as widely known that the first game did see an english release in europe. Luckily, it'll run on my MSX as well. Needless to say, this was an instant purchase.
Kojima's masterpiece on the MSX, however, would be its sequel, a game which didn't see an official english release until the release of MGS3S. Most consider picking up Metal Gear 2 on the MSX2 to be a double-edged sword. It's undoubtedly one of the best MSX games period, but why spend that much money on a game you can't understand if you don't speak japanese? Never the less, I took the plunge. MG2 was released in limited quantites, making it actually a semi-rare MSX2 release. Its status and prestige has driven up its price.
Now, that said, Metal Gear 2 saw a fan translation released by a french group in 1993. If you've played an english rom of the MSX2 version of Metal Gear 2, you are playing that release. Getting the game to run on real MSX2 hardware, however, is difficult, given the size of the game. Luckily, I contacted a man in spain who builds something called the MegaFlashRom, a specialized MSX2 cart which can accept roms. I ordered one from him pre-flashed with an english translated copy of Metal Gear 2 already on it, which will serve as a permanent Metal Gear 2 english cart for me. You need an MSX2 with a lot of ram and a floppy drive to reflash the game, so I'll likely never be able to reflash it. It doesn't matter, however, because I would have no intention of doing so. His product is quality, with a nice label and box:
Now, Kojima was also widely known for another game series at the time Metal Gear 2 was released. Snatcher was widely ported to just about every japanese system available, but it only saw an english release on the Sega CD. The existance of the expanded Sega CD release of Snatcher pretty much killed the value of owning any japanese copy out there save for curiosity sake. However, while the MSX2 did see a port of Snatcher that isn't really worth picking up, it also holds the honor of being the only platform to see the only other game in the snatcher series - SD Snatcher. Like policenauts, SD Snatcher never saw an english release, and unlike Policenauts or Metal Gear 2, it was never re-released on any other system. If you want to play SD Snatcher, you must play it on an MSX. Pirating SD Snatcher is also notoriously difficult - it requires a very specialized Sound Cart, which ONLY works with SD Snatcher. The regular snatcher sound cart will not work with SD snatcher. It was only released on floppy disk, meaning I am unable to play the original version. But, for the sake of collecting, I picked up SD Snatcher as well:
Now this post will not end on a sour note. A fan translation of SD Snatcher was released, much like the fan translation of Metal Gear 2. Because it's hard to pirate the game due to the sound cart and the high price the real copy of the game demands, most will never play SD Snatcher in english on real hardware. But again I turn to the man in spain. This guy has, per my request, built me a very special MSX2 cart. He calls it SD Snatcher Cart, and it contains a ported version of SD Snatcher - all 4 disks, to a cart format, with a custom loader he created. Simply pop the SD Snatcher sound cart into slot 1 of your MSX2, pop in this cart into slot 2 of the MSX, and power on the system, and you're greated with SD snatcher in full glory. Whenever the game asks for a disk, just press the 1, 2, 3, or 0 key to tell the cart to switch to the appropriate disk. And, of course, the cart contains the full english translation. The man who made me the cart built a special box for the cart, along with a custom label:
The only other objects worth noting is that I also picked up 2 boxed Sega Master System competition Pro gamepads. The MSX has a DB-9 controller port that looks like it'll accept any Atari or sega controller, but it won't. While they'll fit, only 1 button will work on the MSX. The MSX has pin 7 and pin 9 on the controller ports swapped, meaning the ground and the button 2 pins are in the wrong spot. I have already opened up these gamepads and modded them so they work with my MSX2, making them sort of my standard MSX controller. There do exist panasonic branded MSX-only controllers, but they're a bit harder to come by.
And thus ends my exciting foray into the world of MSX. I have long dreamed of owning one of these babies, and usually passed because the two games I sought the most - SD Snatcher and Metal Gear 2 - couldn't be obtained in english. Yet, here I am, with every game I wanted on the system (save for aleste 2) and both games in glorious non-moon speak. Sure it nets me a bit of geek-cred among my fellow nerd collectors, but the primary reason I got this baby was to fulfill my dream of owning one. I couldn't be happier.
I'm sure someone is gonna come and rain on my parade and tell me I over paid, and I probably did at times, but I'm not complaining. All in all, it's so well worth it to me.