Fujitsu FM-8

This machine is a big beast that has always been hard to ignore. It pops up quite often on Yahoo Auctions and it stands out. It’s got a really unique aesthetic, with its bumpy-textured brown body and yellowish-orangish and white keys. When I first saw it, I thought it was terribly yellowed, but it was at least mostly by design. I grew to like it over time, and I finally got one on a super bargain-priced auction.

I bought it in a fixed-price auction coupled with an NEC PC-8001. It was a bit strange, an auction that appeared in a far-fetched category around 2 o’clock in the morning. The seller’s description mentioned “not needing a lot of money for them,” and saying he just wanted to practice selling on Yahoo Auctions. I was all too glad to help him fulfill his wish.

They were untested, but they both fired right up. Always a relief! It’s a fun keyboard to press keys on, which I am distinguishing a bit from typing on. The tactile response and resistance are nice, and there’s the slightest of clicks to them. And there are four LEDs, which is pretty good for a Japanese 80s keyboard.

It’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, too.

It’s kind of slim-pickins for games. My friend had given me that archive of software, and it included FM-7 games, and some games for FM-7 were designed to work on FM-8 originally/as well. But determining which games are FM-8 compatible is a tedious task. I’ve found Black Jack and Lunar Lander so far.

Black Jack starts out with a long-winded drawing of each card, with a long pause between Queen and King to really ratchet up the tension, I guess. I won this hand skillfully and pocketed five 8-bit dollars, then quit while I was ahead. Before rebooting, I confirmed my suspicions that “How do you bet?” is not expecting an adverb.

And Lunar Lander, if that is your real name. I am bad captain, I agree fully. I neglected my duties so I could take photos for social media.

So I got it at a bargain, but if you think I let it go at that, you don’t know me very well. I’ve bought (and later resold) three or four more since then. One because it came with manuals and demo tape, one because it looked a little nicer than mine (but I didn’t like the keyboard as much, so I swapped them). And most interestingly, one came with bubble memory.

Bubble memory fits into the little tray under the top-right cover. The technology is completely different, but it’s sort of like a clunky 80s version of an SD card. It’s easy to switch out and take to another computer, provided that other computer has a bubble memory drive, which is highly unlikely!

The bubble memory appeared not to work at first, and troubleshooting was a nightmare. Seemingly someone had performed a mod with wires going into and coming out of practically everywhere. After a lot of red herrings, I came to the realization that my bubble memory did indeed work, but it required around 20 minutes to initialize.

I eventually decided to sell the system that the bubble memory came with, including the bubble memory itself. Now I have the standard FM-8 which was the nicest of the four or so that I’ve come across, and a nice set of manuals and matching demo tape.

One of the systems came with an unexpected treat – a full set of kanji ROMs. I took those out of the original system and put them into my own. Among the manuals is an appendix listing the in-ROM address of each kanji, so the symbols can be called from BASIC. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I am trying to make a program that displays all of the kanji beginning with a selected syllable (which is how they are organized).

Right now it’s just hard-coded to display everything beginning with ヒ(hi). I’ll have to put everything into an array and make an interface for selecting the syllable.

AquaLes

This is one of the first games I got for the X68000. It made a big impression on me for its large sprites and vibrant, colorful backgrounds. It plays super smoothly and a great feeling of control, all set to a cool soundtrack.

Here are a few shots of many of the very cool scenes from the intro.

Your character is a giant robot that traverses freely in an omni-scrolling 2D world. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal with which to dispose of your enemies. There is a lot of detail in the background and some complex but fun maneuvers, such as vertical attacks and grappling to swing across large gaps.

Levels 2 and 3 are totally different in design from level 1. You leave the industrial complex of level 1 to walk through a desert and then descend into an underwater maze. Level 3 takes place in a cavern.

Sharp X1 Turbo Z Keyboard

I had a perfectly functional and definitely nice-looking Sharp X1 Turbo Z keyboard, but I managed to find one that looked just a bit better still. This one was super clean and the big advantage over my old one is that the logo had greatly faded over the years. The new one has a solid logo and red accents to match the main computer unit.

I hoped to get about 60-80% of my money back by selling the old one, but in reality I got about 40%. I guess this one’s condition qualified for the premium pricing level!

Pac-Land and Controller

I have been after this controller for quite a while. It’s a dedicated Pac-Land controller designed to mimic the arcade controls on your X68000. It uses three buttons, defaulting to: left, jump, and right. These are configurable in the in-game menu. This controller was included with the game originally, but is not required to play. However, you may find some parts difficult if you are using a regular joystick, and perhaps nearly impossible with a gamepad.

First, let’s look at the controller itself. It looks in good shape for being around 30 years old. It is a sturdy metal case, not so heavy but definitely with a bit of weight to it. It operates as expected.

I’ve always loved the Pac-Man characters, with their vibrant colors and distinct appearance. And I love the image of the original Pac-Man maze. But if I’m being brutally honest, the game is very simple and these days I can’t play it more than about once in a sitting, and with a fair amount of time between sittings.

Pac-Land and Pac-mania are great evolutions of the original; Pac-mania staying true to what made the original so loved, but adding a lot of new features, while Pac-Land takes a few key elements from the original, but heads in a bold new direction. Both became treasured games in my youth, although I only played them in the arcades. Here are some scenes from this game.

This is very faithful to the original, as X68000 games tend to be. Below is the first critical spot where the custom game controller comes in handy. When you jump off the platform to cross the lake, you crash pretty fast and land in the water, losing a life. To prevent falling, you have to alternatingly press left and right to “flutter” to the ground. I’ve managed to do it on a joystick, but it was after several failures, and it was a very deliberate task, turning the joystick ninety degrees and using my right hand to go up and down as quickly as possible, and even then I don’t always succeed. A D-pad would probably be substantially more difficult still. But these buttons make it a breeze. The jump itself can be a little difficult to nail, though.

Once you pass the lake, you continue a little bit more before you’re rewarded with special jumping boots and you can start to make your way back home. After your family greets you at home, you begin a level similar to the first, but it becomes later in the day and quite a bit more difficult. I haven’t gotten much further than this.

Game over, and this might be my highest score thus far in Pac-Land, but I’m sure it’s not that high compared to people who are actually good at the game. Gotta get in a bit more practice!

Amaranth III

I’ve always been a fan of computer RPGs. When I started getting into Japanese vintage computers, I would make a point of getting an RPG or two for every major system. Problem is, RPGs consume a lot of time, if they’re any good. So I end up just adding to a queue of RPGs that I have tested once to ensure they work, then never get around to finishing (or sometimes even starting)

One major exception sticks out, and that’s Amaranth III for FM Towns. Owing to its vibrant graphics and its varied soundtrack, it was a quick hook. The combat system is somewhat innovative and there are many still frames of beautiful artwork. I’m moving slowly because there are many new words in the game that I usually take the time to look up, but I’ve made substantial progress.

You start out assuming the roles of two deities -Rian and Deen – laying low in the inn of a small town. Deen seems to thrive on attention from the local mortals, so she has set up a dream-reading booth in the city, where she proves to be quite popular.

They catch news of a nearby fair where nemuri-byo, a state of sleep from which one doesn’t wake, is claiming victim after victim. Deen thinks she has the power to stop it by entering the dream and freeing the dreamer. They buy tickets at the train station to go to the fair, but she had raised the ire of a powerful enemy that comes in by hijacked train to attack her.

Deen and Rian defeat the enemy’s foot soldiers and escape with their lives but have to find a way to sneak out of the down now because the more powerful enemies have commandeered the train station. They decide to sneak out as stowaways on a trade ship.

On the ship, they are eventually discovered to the annoyance of the ship’s captain, but they prove themselves useful by helping the crew to defeat a band of attacking pirates. The pirate ship captain presents himself as the first boss, but it’s not quite in the realm of the main story line, sort of a tutorial boss, I feel.

After defeating the captain, you discover two hostages, a woman and a girl. We learn that the girl has nemuri-byo, but the woman is her protector and forbids Deen from trying to enter the girl’s dream to help. So as soon as the woman goes to sleep, that’s exactly what Deen does. Deen and Rian enter the dream as in-dream characters and their first real adventure begins!

One fun thing about this game so far is the animation of the spell effects. Healing spells are pretty simple, but check out the fire and ice spell animations.