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 town 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.

FM Towns Memory Upgrade

I’d been watching with mild annoyance as this guy dropped his price 100 yen per day for a couple of months to keep his items at the top of the search list in Mercari (or whatever reason he had). It was kind of annoying because the machine itself is pretty banged up, and with a starting price of 20000 yen, it seemed like it would take forever to finally sell so I wouldn’t have to look at the listing anymore.

Then a couple of days ago, when it hit around 15000 yen, he started dropping it by 500 yen per day. Cool! It’ll be sold soon, I thought.

And today it sold! To me. I wasn’t planning on buying it, but I felt compelled to look a little more closely today. I noticed that it was fully-populated with RAM and despite being a first-gen Towns, it has a 486 CPU. I sent him an offer of 11000 and he accepted. Not a super bargain, I suppose, but finding RAM that is ready to go with an FM Towns has been pretty elusive, and I haven’t even been able to find much in terms of 1 or 2MB sticks that I could get converted to work with Towns, so I thought perhaps this could be my opportunity. I didn’t know the size of the RAM sticks, but even if they were all 1MB, that would still be 2.5x more than my current 2MB. It arrived today.

A little scuffed, but not nearly as bad as I’d imagined based on the images from the Mercari listing.

The mystery RAM was three SIMMs totaling 5MB, so when I put it into my main Towns system, I came to the grand sum of 7MB, 3.5x more than my original configuration. Despite the non-matched pairs (there is 2MB on-board RAM, and slot 0 is 1MB, slot 1 and 2 have 2MB each), everything worked nicely together.

At first I thought the extra memory was making it boot faster from the hard drive, but that’s either not true or only maybe one or two seconds of improvement.

But there are definitely some benefits. The most obvious is that I can now do things that I wasn’t able to do before.

Starting with the OS, using 2.1 L51, I was unable to use quite a few applications that were built into the OS with my default 2MB. Most noteworthy, I can now use the Paint/Lite and text editor applications (no, I wasn’t able to launch the text editor with 2MB!). A handful of other applications that I couldn’t open before now open correctly, too, but fail along the way because I either lack equipment (telopper) or need some other media (Oasys). But anyway, whereas 2.1 definitely seemed beyond my system’s abilities before, now it seems comfortable.

And the biggest win, I can now play a couple of games that I couldn’t before: Super Street Fighter II and SimCity 2000. But just because you *can* do something doesn’t mean you *should*. SSF2 works pretty well, despite using only my 386. SC2K, on the other hand, is sooo laggy, and in addition to that, it throws up video glitches frequently (but the glitches are always the same) and I would venture to say the music isn’t playing correctly, although I don’t know for sure what it’s *supposed* to sound like. But I could play it enough to make a small beginning of a city.

There are also a couple more subtle wins that I noticed. The game that I play most, Amaranth 3, doesn’t seem to care, but King’s Quest V uses the extra memory to save more screen data. While the stock 2MB can only store about 4 or 5 screens of data before it has to go back to loading from CD, with 7MB I could walk freely through the whole initial area (about 12 screens) without accessing the CD, and potentially more.

And my Towns OS experience has become much more multi-taking (at least it feels that way, in the way Windows 3.1 also felt multi-tasking). I can load several applications at the same time and slip in and out between the apps and the OS, whereas with 2MB it would close down the launcher interface to start the selected app and when I closed that app it would restart the launcher.

Towns OS HDD Installation

Something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I didn’t realize I already possessed everything I needed to do so. I have installed Towns OS 2.1 (for FM Towns) on an external SCSI hard disk drive.

First, and I’ll preface this by saying I didn’t have to and have not yet tried creating partitions, but I’ll at least point you in the right direction until I do it myself. From the settings menu (設定) in image 1, choose partitions (区画設定).

Image 2 is the parition manager. You can perform the following actions: delete the partition (click the number) rename a partition or create a new partition (click the name field), choose the file system (click the current file system), choose the boot partition (click the checkbox), and resize the partition (click the current size). Press execute (実行) when you are finished. Press cancel (取消) to back out.

Of course, you edit your partitions at your own peril, data loss will occur if you delete or resize a partition. In fact, it might wipe the data off your smart phone and desktop computer just to spite you.

Now for the meaty stuff. My hard drive already had partitions, so what I needed to do was get the OS to see them. This was really like back when I was just learning how to use a PC. I didn’t read the manual and I didn’t use Google, I just looked around from directory to directory until I found things that looked potentially helpful. Found a setup utility and its drive assignment menu, then a tool on the CD that installed the OS onto the drive.

First order of business was dropping to a command prompt and running “setup.exe” from the “exe” directory (you can also do this from the Towns Menu, I later discovered, but perhaps I’ll add that info later). It should take you to the screen in image 3 . The first option in the list is where drive letter assignment is performed. Press enter to see the current configuration. If it is your first time adding a hard drive and you have two floppy drives, it should look like image 4.

Using the up/down arrow keys, go down to the first available drive, which is probably going to be D if this is your first hard drive. Press enter to activate the action menu, and use the left/right arrow keys to choose the second option – hard disk drive as in image 5. Press enter and it will ask you for a device number 0-4. This may depend on your SCSI settings but I used 0. Press enter and your new drive should be registered in the D row. Repeat this process for every partition you want to access. Mine had three so in image 7, there are now three partitions registered as drives D, E, and F. When you have finished, use the up/down arrow keys to navigate to the bottom option, which is “finish”, as in image 8 and press enter.

You are now back at the main menu screen. The settings have been prepared but are not yet saved. Use the up/down arrow keys to navigate to the bottom, which is “finish”, as in image 9 and press enter. It will ask you if you want to write the configuration, choose the first option as in image 10, press enter and you will be returned to the command prompt. To get back to the Towns OS menu, first return to the root directory and type “tmenu”, as in the final image.

If I recall correctly, you have to reboot for the drives to show up. Going under the assumption that there’s nothing on your hard drive, you’ll need to boot from CD again. If you boot to Towns OS 2.1 L51, click on “tools” (the top-right wrench-like icon in image 1), which will open a window that has a “HD install” icon as seen in image 2. Double-click to start.

All of the menus displayed in images 3-8 contain two action buttons: 実行(execute) or 取消 (cancel) (actually, image 3 button two is 終了 (end), but it’s essentially the same in this situation). Feel free to cancel anytime you might want to go back if you’re not confident you’ve made the correct decision.

Depending on your available free memory, it may offer you the choice of installing Towns OS 2.1 or Windows 3.1 as in image 3. You need setup disks to install Windows 3.1, so if you can track those down, it sure might be interesting to see if you can dual-boot the system or other unique configuration ideas, but for now let’s just pursue Towns OS 2.1 installation.

Image 4 asks you if you want to perform a new installation (top option) or an upgrade (bottom option). If you don’t need to worry about the data on the partition, we might as well give your Towns a fresh start, so I go with the new installation when possible. Choose and press execute.

At image 5 we choose the location (partition) you wish to install on. That should probably be drive D, which we already set up via the setup.exe utility above. Click on the bottom option and then ensure D is selected, then press execute.

We can customize our installation with the menu on image 6. The defaults are probably fine, but I chose to install everything because I like to explore what options it comes with, and it’s not as if I’ll be storing tons of data on this system, so I might as well fill up that hard drive with what I can. Press execute.

Image 7 confirms the details of our installation and informs us that our drive will be formatted, press execute. Image 8 tells us that formatting the drive means losing all data on the drive. Wait, what?! Oh, we already knew that. Press execute.

Now it’s all up to FM Towns for a while, and if yours is a 386-16MHz like mine, it is indeed rather a while, perhaps 15 minutes. We’re in no hurry. Sit down and watch the progress bar move.

“Woah, hang on a minutes there, I have a question!” you say. Why did the color scheme change between 33% and 90%? And why did 1.5 days pass? I thought you said it was about 15 minutes! Actually, I retook all of these photos on the day I wrote this blog entry. I forgot to take an early-progress installation photo so you get the original version of that. My battery doesn’t work so the clock resets sometimes.

Now for post-installation setup. In images 1 and 2, it asks many details about your configuration over two pages. Basically, you can ignore these. It is mostly about peripherals, expansion cards, fonts, and text entry. If you want, you can set your monitor on the second page. It’s not that there aren’t *any* other useful settings, but that’s not the purpose of this post. All of this is configurable later, so there’s no need to worry about leaving something behind. Click execute. Image 3 tells you that the settings will take effect after restarting, confirm. Image 4 tells you that the installation was successful, confirm.

You’re done! Remove your CD and restart from your fresh-out-of-’92-or-so Towns OS installation.

Replacement FM Towns 2F

I’ve been spending more time on alternatives to Yahoo Auctions these days. Right now, there is a small window of opportunity for buyers using the PayPay Flea Market application. Because this is a new channel for selling off your old stuff, they are running a free-shipping promotion to improve brand recognition and increase the number of items for sale.

It’s not easy-pickings, but the combination of allure for sellers and the relatively unpopulated state of PayPay Flea Market means that you can sometimes find some interesting stuff for low prices. Persistence is the key, I search multiple times per day to try to be among the first to find the real treasures.

For example, I found this FM Towns. It is a 2F, so I already have this exact machine, but the one I found was in amazing shape. It came with the original box, the first time I’ve ever seen one.

And the machine itself is as if it had never been touched. Look at this thing!

It was untested, but it has been working perfectly, making it a total bargain. I can’t imagine what it would fetch with a standard auction format, but I was able to talk the seller down from 15000 yen to 12000 yen (with free shipping) and bought it on the spot.

Unfortunately, as unique as it is, it is not practical for my to keep the box. I’d like to, but I know it would just end up in the closet, never being looked at. So I have put my old FM Towns 2F into this box and have it ready to be listed on Yahoo Auctions tomorrow. The new machine itself I will keep!

King’s Quest V

This is one of the more modern titles that I will be likely to include on my site. It was made in 1990, comes on a CD, and is even (poorly) voice-acted. There is also a non-voiced version, but this is for the FM Towns so of course they’re going to go as multimedia as possible. I played this on DOS back in the mid-90s when I got my first PC-compatible. But the FM Towns version is different in that it is fully voiced in Japanese.

You play King Graham of Daventry, who loses his castle to an evil wizard. You wander around the land, trying to reverse the spell to return your castle and your family. You are joined by Cedric the Owl, a character that I really wanted to like because I thought it was cute, but is annoying throughout the game. Very little in this game is done by directly pursuing a goal, but instead finding items, using those items in the correct way, and unlocking different interactions that help to progress your game.

Foul fowl aside, the game is really as I remember it. It is such eye-candy. The 2-D artwork and music work together to make a beautiful and rich fantasy environment. It is the first game that I can recall that showed me how the PC was going to be superior in terms of graphics to the Commodore 64 (although of course I would eventually come to prefer the C64 again later in life, anyway). But just look at these shots from the introduction:

There was a period in time where computers had incredible introductions but just couldn’t deliver the same level of graphics in the actual gameplay, but this game does not fall in that category; it is beautiful throughout. Here is a bit from the early scenes of the game, as he makes his way into town:

There are a variety of ways Graham can get himself into trouble, even by doing innocuous-seeming things like walking into an inn. Nothing to do but load your last save game and try something different.

The landscapes created for each page are so varied and detailed that just wandering around the land itself is satisfying:

I never actually finished this game in DOS, I got stuck somewhere probably near the end. I seem to remember my score was nearly 300/300, but I fell short. I hope to finish it this time!