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The Famicom Disk System

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One of the things that made getting a Famicom attractive instead of an NES was its magical, mythical add-on, the Famicom Disk System. Like its successors, the PC Engine CD, the Mega CD, and the Nintendo 64DD, the FDS was originally an attachment that added additional storage and other benefits to proprietary games. Also similar to those other platforms, the FDS was eventually integrated into a single piece of hardware, the Sharp Twin Famicom, which came in four varieties.

Until a few weeks ago, I had never seen a Famicom Disk game "in the wild," so to speak. I suspect there are many others that can say the same, so I thought I'd take this post to share what they are all about. As good a place to start as any is the size, shown here next to a Nintendo DS case:

They are much smaller than I expected. Now let's take a look at how they would have come from retail:

Inside the outer clear plastic box (top middle), there is a case with a cardboard insert (top right) which holds the disk and its paper sleeve (bottom middle), as well as the manual (top left). This particular game still had both what look to be an instruction or warning sheet (bottom left) and the original receipt (bottom right)!

Timber had a pile of untested FDS games that he sent along with some cartridges I bought from him, so that GohanX and I could test them:

We had a complete blast. GohanX actually got to see me play the original Legend of Zelda, er, Zelda no Densetsu: The Hyrule Fantasy. My pain was evident. The sequel is such a vastly superior game. Thankfully it was in the mix too.

Next I'll take you through how FDS games work. Upon turning on the system, it asks for a disk:

Once you insert one, it quickly (depending on the size of the load) reads it and shows a typical screen full of legal nonsense:

Once that passes, you'll get a title screen. Raise your hand if the choice of game surprises you. Put it down if you're lying. Of course, it is <fami-chan>Akumajō Dracula II: Noroi no Fuuin</fami-chan>! I'm not sure where the interference in the pictures comes from, as it's not visible on the screen. It may be the slowness of my iPhone's shutter along with the refresh rate of the CRT.

The Prologue is in English, which may or may not be related to the fact that Japanese has two-bit characters, which take up more space. The only difference between this and the NES version is that the font is red instead of white:

Here is one of the major benefits of the FDS: saving. To hell with passwords!

Once you choose a save file, most games ask you to immediately flip the disk to Side B. Some are in English; others, not so much:

After the disk is flipped, you're in the action. This screen should look very familiar, as there are no visual changes from the NES version. However, the sound is noticeably better in the FDS version. We compared it to the Virtual Console version of the NES game and could here what we believe are extra instruments coming through the additional Famicom sound channels.

This concludes our tour of the Famicom Disk System. After getting to experience it first hand, I am very pleased that I chose to go with a Twin Famicom instead of an AV Famicom. It's such a cool piece of hardware and gaming history.
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  1. Chux's Avatar
    You have arrived on BUSINESS. Shit.

    Legends of Localization, check this site out, talks about the sound mappers and the english in JP games.

    The Famicom Disk System included extra sound hardware that let game creators make more interesting sound effects and music than they could with the ordinary Famicom and NES. Since we’re comparing the FDS version of Zelda with the NES version here, it’s natural that a number of audio differences exist between the two.

    Another thing that’s immediately obvious is that the English font is different in both versions of the game. The FDS version is a thin 8×8 font, while the NES version is the standard, thick 8×8 font used by lots of games back then.

    Japanese players actually got the thick font years later when the cartridge version of the game was released in 1994. I guess that counts as a rare case of a double reverse localization change
    There are also often technical advantages of using English instead of Japanese – you only need memory for 26 letters if you use English, but well over a hundred if you decide to use Japanese katakana and hiragana.

    A side result of this is that many games released in 1980s Japan used English text. So where we English-speakers fondly view retro games as having poorly-written English, Japanese retro games have an “oh, all the text is in English” vibe instead.
  2. Pineapple's Avatar
    Sounds like a really neat little system, thanks for posting about it! So far, what has been your favorite game for it? Least favorite? And why!
  3. Finch's Avatar


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