The tawdry lie that was my youth

Well, I’m back in the States. I know this for a fact because the first thing that happened upon my arrival was the traditional United Airlines Omelet of Shame, the slightly nauseating robo-egg football stuffed with plastic vegetables that you eat anyway because it’s been six hours since your last meal. (This is the airline’s way of taunting you.) That was soon followed by a cab ride wherein I became stuck in traffic with a cabbie who loved him some Rush Limbaugh. You’d think he might realize that Limbaugh isn’t really the best friend of immigrants of apparent Middle Eastern descent, but I guess not.

I fought against jetlag by forcing myself to stay awake until my normal bedtime all day despite only sleeping an hour on the plane — not entirely successfully, since I ended up waking up at about noon anyway. I fought the good fight regardless, primarily by (1) going to work, (2) watching Dr. No and (3) making use of one of my shiny new toy.

Ah, OK, it’s not really shiny, per se, what with its matte black finish. And I guess it’s not really new, either. But I’ve wanted a Famicom Disk System for years, and watching Vs. Excitebike at PAX cemented my determination to finally jump in. I’ve sold off nearly my entire game collection over the past six months (and managed to pretty much pay off all my debts in the process), so I figured I could afford a small indulgence while I was abroad. Thus: a Twin Famicom. Perhaps not as cost-effective as a Famicom and separate disk system, but oh so much more awesome.

Unfortunately, there has been a terrible downside to ownership. And no, it has nothing to do with the belt, which works just fine, thanks.

No. Rather, my childhood has been revealed to be a terrible, empty lie.

See, now that I own a Famicom Disk System (or at least the means to play its games), I decided that the right thing to do would be to build a library of titles that are somehow superior in their Famicom incarnations over the NES releases. Likewise cartridge-based games that are simply better in their Japanese versions. That includes Metroid and Zelda II (which made use of the FDS’s extra sound channel for different music) and Castlevania III (which made use of three additional sound channels for vastly better music). I was prepared, intellectually, for the difference the additional music would make. I was not, however, braced for the hollow sensation it would leave me with.

See, it’s not just the music that’s different. Yeah, Metroid on Famicom Disc System has better tunes to be sure — usually a harmonizing counter-melody to the current theme — but other things are subtly different as well. The music that plays when you collect an item seems more triumphant; the sound of doors opening is less like a whoosh and more like a mechanical ratcheting sound. (Though interestingly, Super Metroid chose to mimic the sound from the U.S. version.) And there’s no question that Castlevania III has vastly superior audio in its Akumajou Densetsu incarnation, but I wasn’t braced for how much better. I also wasn’t prepared for the other improvements the VRC6 chip allowed beyond mere background melodies; sound effects have reverb, for one, and the game is even more graphically impressive than its already top-notch NES counterpart. More color in the background, more animation for moving elements like gears (which move with nearly PlayStation-level fluidity in Grant’s tower), different enemies. I just about wet myself when I went to face down some fleamen and got an army of freakishly fanged leaping gargoyles instead.

And like I said, the net effect of this has not been wow what an awesome new way to experience favorite games!, but rather to rip the veil of deceit from the filthy lie that was my childhood. Suddenly all the games I loved have been revealed as flimsy shams — counterfeit junk that pales next to what kids on the other side of the ocean were enjoying. It’s like learning that Santa was actually real for other kids, but that in my home it was just my dad who ate the cookies and milk we left out every Christmas Eve.

Who knew video games could be so demoralizing?

19 thoughts on “The tawdry lie that was my youth

  1. I maintain that Zelda II is actually superior on the NES. The graphics were touched up in various ways from the FDS version, and despite the lack of a channel, the music actually sounds better.

    On the other hand, I count myself fortunate to have played far more Akumajou Densetsu than Castlevania III in my time.

  2. What are the prices like for a Twin Famicom and the essential games? And which stores in Akihabara or elsewhere did you find the best for said items? I want to know how much of my own collection I need to sell off.

  3. My friend Rob found a working Famicom Twin at a thrift store here in the San Diego area and scored it crazy cheap. I am jealous.

  4. I’ll concur with Mr. Nomali in that I find NES Zelda II to be superior to FDS Zelda II (though I have played much more of the NES version than of the FDS version). But yeah, Akumajo Densetsu is so noticably superior to the NES version it isn’t funny, and I’ve only played it through to Grant.

  5. I want to get a Famicom AV and a FDS someday myself. The main reasons were to play the Japanese versions of Zelda II and Super Mario Bros. 2 JPN, but I bought the Japanese Legend of Zelda Collection for GameCube, and SMB2 on Wii Virtual Console. I still want the Japanese systems after reading this and seeing the Twin Famicom pic.

    Zelda II is worth playing through just because its different enough. The NES version makes the FDS version look unfinished because of the rough look of the sprites and other graphics. The original battle/cave theme is cool, giving a sense of danger, over the NES’ sense of adventure (later used in The Minish Cap as a mini-boss theme!).

    I bought a Akumajo Densetsu cartridge because I thought it was like the SNES and as simple as plugging in a Game Genie to play it on my NES. Opps.

  6. If you shop around, you should be able to find every worthwhile FDS game for $20 or less (I scored Metroid and Zelda II complete for $12 apiece). The system cost me $95, although different variants run more. Akumajou Densetsu was the most expensive Famicom game I bought ($26) but it was offset by amazing deals like both Duck Tales complete for less than $20 and Faxanadu complete and mint for $2.50 — try doing that with the U.S. versions, I dare ya.

  7. Yeah, I was with Kohler when he found that. I was tempted by an overpriced game or two, but that one is a bit out of anyone’s reasonable price range.

  8. Wait a second, Castlevania 3 (Akumajo Densetsu) is not for the FDS, it’s for the Famicom. You couldn’t put a chip on a disc.

  9. Think of it this way:

    If it weren’t for your experiences with castrated, but still awesome, versions of these games in your youth, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate them nearly as much now, some 20 years later. I’m afraid I’m going to have to put this in the “win” column — and it’s at this point that I’d also like to note that I’m incredibly jealous. I shoulda bought one of thems when I had the chance.

  10. I just recently purchased my disc system and AV Famicom. I still need to grab some more software though. I got Metroid, Doki Doki Panic, and Final Fantasy 3. The device is a really cool piece of video game history, but I swear I hold my breath every time the disc light goes on… There has to be some solution to the drive band problem. Anyone know any machine shops that will make custom sized rubber bands?

  11. The way I keep myself from getting glum about the watering down of US versions is that I tell myself that right now Japanese customers are missing a golden age of American games. They never got GTA San Andreas, right?

  12. Rey: read more carefully. You missed this sentence — “Likewise cartridge-based games that are simply better in their Japanese versions.” That would be Akumajou Densetsu.

    Vega: All the GTA games have been published in Japan by Capcom, including San Andreas.

    Daremo: Check Pink Godzilla’s site for info on fixing up broken FDS belts.

  13. Even with the superior tunes and graphics, I still maintain the most important advantage of Japanese CV3 over American CV3 was the enemy damage structure.

    CV3 wasn’t the only VRC aided Konami game to lose stuff in translation. In addition to the cinemas, Japanese Contra, aka Gryzor, also had some choice animations, especially in the final stage, where the alien innards pulsated.

    Ah the NES days, so amazing and yet so compromised.

  14. Back in the mid-to-late 90s when emulation was new to me, I read about the terrible lie of Castlevania III. When .nsf files have started to appear, I went and listened and, comparing the music to my memory, nodded in agreement. “This sounds so great,” I thought. “It’s a tragedy I was denied this for so long.”

    Then, last week, eirikr made a post ( ). And I realized that what I had been hearing for the past ten years in that .nsf file WAS the Castlevania III music of my youth. The amplified percussion knocked me out of my chair and I laid on the ground, weeping for the time lost.

Comments are closed.