Sunday, September 25, 2016

Accessible Good Famicom Games

The Famicom had over 1,000 games released for it during its lifetime.  Hundreds of those games were never released outside of Japan, and there were only a few releases of Japanese games exclusively in Europe.  Of course, many, many of those games that never officially made it out of Japan are terrible, as were many games that did make it overseas.  In this post I am going to list many good Famicom cartridge games that were not released for the North American NES console.  Not all the games identified below are classics, but all have their virtues.  Famicom Disk System games have already been mostly covered elsewhere :

The first list is of games that are English-friendly.  These games do not use a lot of Japanese text and what text there is is not essential to completing the game.  Most of these games have translation patches as well.  Many tend to be simpler games, namely shooters and platformers :

English Friendly Famicom-Exclusive (or Near-Exclusive) Games
Atlantis no Nazo
Attack Animal Gakuen
Babel no Tō
Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa
Cosmic Epsilon
Crisis Force
Devil World
Dig Dug
Doki! Doki! Yuuenchi: Crazy Land Daisakusen
Flying Hero
Gradius II
Holy Diver
Insector X
JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part II
Joy Mecha Fight
Moai Kun
Nangoku Shirei!!: Spy vs Spy
Parodius da!
Recca - Summer Carnival '92
Spartan X 2
Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti
Star Wars
Super Star Force Jikūreki no Himitsu
Super Xevious GAMP no Nazo
The Goonies
Uchuu Keibitai SDF
Wai Wai World 2: SOS!! Paseri Jou
Wizardry II: Legacy of Llylgamyn
Yōsei Monogatari Rod Land

Devil World, Parodius da! and Doki! Doki! Yuuenchi: Crazy Land Daisakusen (Trolls in Crazyland) and Yōsei Monogatari Rod Land (Rod Land) were released for the PAL NES system.   The Goonies was only released for the PlayChoice-10 arcade, it never made it to home cartridge.  Weirdly Thunderbirds was not despite its origins as a British TV show.  Star Wars is a very, very loose adaptation of the film and is a very different adaptation from the LucasArts/JVC game.

Atlantos no Nazo was almost going to be an entry in the Pitfall series, but it never got past the prototype stage.  Bio Miracle was a late Disk to Cartridge port, the music may be a little lacking but the gameplay is still there.  Spartan X2 is a sequel to Spartan X, a.k.a. Kung Fu.  JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part II is a dark sequel to The 3-D Adventures of the Lode Runner and takes advantage of the Famicom 3-D System glasses.

There are several fine shooters on this list, Crisis Force, Uchuu Keibitai SDF and of course the technically stunning Recca - Summer Carnival '92.  Good platformers include Holy Diver, Gimmick! and Moai Kun.  Joy Mecha Fight is weird but one of the few good one on one fighters for the system.

The second list include games that really require a translation to fully play and enjoy.  It is extremely fortunate that the Famicom catalog has had many fine hackers and translators for it over the years.

Japanese Games Worth Playing with a Translation
Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula-kun
Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki Dayo Zen'in Shuugou!
Esper Dream 2: Aratanaru Tatakai
Famicom Wars
Final Fantasy II
Final Fantasy III
Fire Emblem Gaiden
Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi
Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Douchuu
Getsu Fuuma Den
Ike Ike! Nekketsu Hockey Bu: Subette Koronde Dairantou
Just Breed
King of Kings
Konami Wai Wai World
Kunio Kun no Nekketsu Soccer League
Lagrange Point
Musashi no Bouken
Nekketsu Kakutou Densetsu
Nekketsu! Street Basket: Ganbare Dunk Heroes
Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken
Shufflepuck Cafe
Sweet Home
Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima IV
Takeshi no Chousenjou
Tenchi o Kurau II - Shokatsu Koumei Den
Wily & Light no RockBoard: That's Paradise
Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter
Ys III: Wanderers from Ys
Yume Penguin Monogatari

In this list there are a lot of RPGs.  The NES library was rather weak on RPGs, so supplementing them with the Famicom's is a good idea if you like 8-bit RPGs.  Some of the best are the VRC7-sound enhanced Lagrange Point, the charming Mother (the US prototype is Earthbound) and the intricate job system of Final Fantasy III.  

Tactical-based RPGs are also given a heavy emphasis here.  We got almost nothing, so with the Nintendo-developed Fire Emblem games, the Namco-163 sound enhanced King of Kings and the MMC5-graphics and sound enhanced Just Breed, you will have plenty of opportunities to explore this genre.  

There are a couple of games I really would not recommend if they stood alone.  Ys II is a far superior port of its game compared to Ys.  Final Fantasy II's improvement system is broken.  Similarly, other games are more recommended for their historical interest.  Takeshi no Chousenjou is not an objectively good game but it is pretty insane.  Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken shows the beginning of what would become Enix.  

If you like River City Ransom, Nintendo World Cup or Super Dodge Ball, I have listed most of the other Kunio Nekketsu games.  Technos just could not stop making them for every kind of sporting activity.  

My final list is of Japanese games that did get a release in North America, but have some feature which makes their Japanese version notable :

Japanese Name North American Name Major Differences
Akumajou Densetsu Castlevania III - Dracula’s Curse Enhanced VRC6 Music, More Balanced Difficulty
Akumajou Dracula Castlevania Easy Mode
Arabian Dream Scheherazade The Magic of Scheherazade Graphics Changes, Shorter Sword for Warrior
Argus no Senshi Rygar Several Different Music Tracks
Contra Contra Introduction and in-game Story Cutscenes, Animated Background Tiles
Donald Duck Snoopy's Silly Sports Spectacular! Major Graphics Changes
Double Dragon III - The Rosetta Stone Double Dragon III - The Sacred Stones More Balanced Difficulty
Final Mission S.C.A.T. - Special Cybernetic Attack Team More Difficult
Golgo 13 - Dai 1 Shou - Kamigami no Tasogare Golgo 13 - Top Secret Episode Uncensored
Gradius - Archimendes HEN Version Gradius Graphics Changes
Gun-Dec Vice: Project Doom Uncensored
Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru Yo Noid! Major Graphics Changes
Karnov Karnov Extra Endings, Story Cutscenes
Mad City The Adventures of Bayou Billy Much Fairer Difficulty
Magic John Totally Rad Graphics Changes
Magical Doropie The Krion Conquest Story Cutscenes
Mickey Mouse III: Yume Fuusen Kid Klown in Night Mayor World Major Graphical and Sound changes
Mighty Bomb Jack Mighty Bomb Jack More Difficult
Moero TwinBee - Cinnamon Hakase o Sukue! Stinger Three-player support
Ninja Ryukenden III: Yomi no Hakobune Ninja Gaiden III – The Ancient Ship of Doom Much Fairer Difficulty, Infinite Continues, Password
Obake no Q-tarō: WanWan Panic Chubby Cherub Major Graphics Changes
Parody World: Monster Party Monster Party Red Blood, Prototype that was never Released in Japan
Power Blazer Power Blade Significantly Less Polished Version
Rolling Thunder Rolling Thunder Enhanced Namco-163 Music
Saiyuuki World 2 - Tenjoukai no Majin Whomp 'Em Graphics Changes
Salamander Life Force 3rd Option Powerup, Different Endings, Translucent Cartridge
Strider Hiryuu Strider Buggy, Prototype that was never Released in Japan, Textual Differences, Graphics Differences
Super Mario Bros. 3 Super Mario Bros. 3 Somewhat More Difficult
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II - The Arcade Game Somewhat Less Difficult, No Pizza Hut Ads
Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain Shatterhand Graphics Changes, Level and Boss Changes, Intro
Top Secret Hitler no Fukkatsu Bionic Commando Uncensored, Somewhat More Difficult
Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World Panic Restaurant More Balanced Difficulty, Graphics Changes
Obviously, games with cutscenes will need a translation patch or improvement hack to fully enjoy.  All the above listed games seem to have such patches, so do some of the censored games.  


  1. Imprescindible post!
    I've wondered many times about this, how many Japanese games out there for old 8/16 bits consoles that i've never played and worth it?

  2. Thank you for this! I've been collecting Famicom games here and there but this post is very helpful.

  3. Here are more good games with English patches:

    ai senshi nicol
    airwolf famicom
    arumana no kiseki
    banana prince
    bayou billy mad city
    bio senshi dan
    cosmic epsilon
    cosmo police - galivan
    daiva - imperial of nirsartia
    doki doki yuuenchi
    don doko don 2
    dragon knife unl
    dragon scroll
    family tennis
    final mission japanese
    ganbare goemon - karakuri
    ganbare goemon 2
    getsufuu maden
    grand master
    heisei tensai bakabon
    hi no tori - houou hen
    insector x
    jajamaru gekimaden
    jajamaru no daibouken
    jj tobidase daisakusen part II
    kaiketsu yanchamaru 2
    kaiketsu yanchamaru 3
    kamen no ninja - hanamaru
    king kong 2
    majou densetsu 2
    mickey mouse 3
    mitsume ga tooru
    moai kun
    moon crystal
    motocross champion
    nazo no murasame jou
    ninja jajamaru squashed
    parallel world
    parodius da
    pocket zaurus
    power blazer
    puyo puyo
    radia senki - reimei hen
    robocco wars
    saiyuuki world 2
    samurai pizza cats
    sd hero soukessen
    seiken psychocalibur
    spartan x 2
    super star force
    taiyou no yuusha fighbird
    the hummer unl
    twinbee 3
    valis plus
    valkyrie no bouken
    venus senki
    youkai club

  4. Glad to see the Family Tennis translation is appreciated! I love that game.