Real Talk By: The Wizard
This is going to be something I wish I had back in 1998 when I started collecting Turbo Grafx 16 games. This is going to be a guide on how to buy the best and most reliable Turbo Grafx 16/PC Engine setup, to play most of the library on actual hardware, that isn’t as prone to breaking. I will also go into a brief description of SOME of the various consoles released and the difference between all the Hu-Card, CD Rom2, Super CD Rom2, Arcade CD Rom2, Super Grafx Hu-Card, and Game Express CD-ROM games. By the end there should only be a few options if you plan on collecting Turbo Grafx/PC Engine games. Depending on whether you want to go the Japanese route, or the American route. Keep in mind that although the Turbo Grafx was not a huge hit in America, the PCE was extremely popular in Japan, and has a huge library.
Basically the Turbo Grafx 16 (America) and the PC Engine (Japan) are 2 of the same consoles but with different names for here in America and Japan. From now on we will just refer to both as PCE for short. When you first want to start collecting PCE the first thing you need to ask yourself is if you want to play solely USA or Japanese hu cards? The CD Roms do not matter at this time as they are All with exception of Arcade CD Rom, and Games Express CD roms region free. So don’t worry about playing Castlevania Dracula X because it will work on either region console. However the Hu-Cards are NOT region free. If you have no intentions of ever playing any Japanese Hu-Cards your choice is simple. You’re going to need a Turbo Grafx 16 console, and if you want to play CD games you will need a CD attachment, and a Super CD Rom 3.0 card (very expensive). Or you can just jump right in and get a Turbo Duo with the CD Rom attachment and 3.0 card built-in. For American Hu-Card only support you can also get a Turbo Express handheld. You may already be confused at this point. So let’s get into the various consoles.
Versions Of Hardware:
Turbo Grafx 16 console: This is a loose system you can only play Hu-Card (cartridges ) on. Keep in mind there are no audio video jacks which means you are going to have crap video quality. There is also no save support other than long passwords. In order to get the save support and AV inputs you’re going to need a Turbo Booster + which is expensive, or buy the CD Rom docking bay which is the only option to play CD Roms. And you still need the 3.0 card to play the good CD’s. This is all a bad option if you ever want to play CD’s. It’s very expensive (probably well over $350.00) and the CD Attachments break, and Super CD Rom 3.0 cards are very hard to find and usually over $100.00.
Turbo Express: The American handheld. These break as well. Prone to having dead pixels on-screen. I do not recommend these.
Turbo Duo: This is the Turbo Grafx 16 version 2. It has the Hu-Card, Super CD Rom 3.0 player, AV jacks, and internal save built right in. It will play all american hu cards, all American CD’s, and all Japanese CD’s that require up to the 3.0 CD rom Hu-Card, as it’s built-in. And even though the hu’s cards themselves have region locks, the internal ones do not. This will not play CD Roms that require Arcade Cards or Games Express cards as those cards are not built-in, and would be region locked if purchased. On paper this sounds like a good option. This however is one of the poorest options. Unfortunately the Turbo Duo’s break a lot. Take this from me, I have owned about 10 of these and have friends who have ALL had consoles that broke. The CD players eventually die (and they will die). You must hit select and press run to close all games but they will still die, it’s just a matter of time. The problem has been traced down to a resistor on the motherboard, so unless you have soldering skills, or can track down one of the 2 people online who fix these then you’re pretty much screwed. It will start with the CD sound cutting out, and eventually going out completely. Just avoid all the American setups. There are plenty of trustworthy Japanese sellers. And honestly there is not a single game that is not released in japan where you actually have to know English to play except for Order of the Griffon. Not worth owning a broken American console to play this one game.
Here are SOME of the Japanese options. There are far too many I’m not going to get into like the Shuttle, and LT. Most are too expensive, still break and are mainly for hardcore collectors.
PC engine (original white one): The same as the American Turbo Grafx but a better look. Can hook a CD rom player to it just like the American version these are prone to breaking.
Core grafx and Core Grafx II: These are identical other than color and both have AV jacks. This will only play Japanese Hu-Cards. So if Hu-Cards only is what you are looking for this may be the best and cheapest option. You can hook a CD player to it, but they do break.
PC Engine Duo: Same as the American Turbo Duo. Avoid!
PC Engine Duo-R and Duo-RX: These are the second model of the Duo consoles only sold in Japan. As far as I know they are identical with exception to cosmetics and the RX comes with a 6 button controller. These were made with high quality parts and do not break as much. In fact I have never had one break. These will play everything a Duo console will. This is really the only real option to play Hu-Cards and CD roms. And you will have access to arcade card and games express games.
Super Grafx: This is a model that plays only Japanese Hu cards and Super Grafx Hu-Cards. This is the only option with a CD Rom unit that will give you access to the entire library of Japanese games (nearly 700 games). Keep in mind though that the CD units break, and you also need a RAU-30 adaptor to hook up the CD Rom player if you can even locate the rare CD Rom player. And it is really expensive. This setup will probably cost you over $600.00 and the Super Grafx had a total of 7 games released. This is just not worth it in my opinion. Ghouls n’ Ghosts is pretty fun, but I think that’s on virtual console now, and the remainder of the games are not that great.
That’s all I am going to get into now for the consoles as those are your only real options. Let’s go into detail about the different kinds of software, and then I will give you the best options at the end for a perfect setup.
Versions Of Software:
American HU-Cards (Turbo Chips): Will only play on USA consoles. These are mini cartridges that look like credit cards. The American ibrary is VERY weak to say he least. And I think every single American Hu-Card game is released in Japan. On a side note only cards toward the end of the system’s lifespan have art on the cards. They are very unappealing.
Japanese Hu-Cards: Same as American Turbo Chips but larger library and art on the cards. Also have better cases.
American Hu-Cards AKA Turbo Chips: The American version of cartridges. Look like credit cards and only play in American Turbo Grafx 16, Turbo Duo, and Turbo Express (handheld) consoles.
CD Rom2: These are the first revision of CD games. They require a Super system card 2.0 to play. These are early first release games on CD like Monster Lair.
Super CD Rom2: These require a system card 3.0 to run. If you have this card you do not need a 2.0 card as 2.0 is built right in. Also remember internally built-in 3.0 cards like in the Duo, and Duo-R/Duo-RX consoles will allow you to play any region CD on that console, and internal rom cards allow you to bypass the hu-card region lock you would need to plug a card in. The Super CD Rom games are the cream of the crop. If you deny yourself access to these games you are missing out on what the PCE has to offer. It would be like only playing Nintendo DS games on a Nintendo 3DS (if they ever made any good games on 3DS).
Arcade Card CD Rom2 (Duo and Pro):These are games that require extra RAM to play (The Arcade Card). Most are ports of arcade games like Fatal Fury. Most peope buy this because the insane shooter GINGA FUKEI DENSETSU SAPPHIRE is Arcade Card only . There is arcade card version Duo and Pro. If you own a console with the word duo in it get an Arcade Card Duo. If you don’t own a duo console get an Arcade card Pro, as it has extra memory to compensate for not having the built-in 3.0 card.
Games Express Format CD games: These are 3rd party games, don’t think these are licensed… that require their own card to play. These games and the Games Express card are incredibly hard to find. The most popular Games Express card would be Hi-Leg Fantasy, a parody of Final Fantasy. Good luck finding these anywhere other than Yahoo Japan.
Super Grafx Hu-Cards: Like I said earlier there were only 7 games released on this console. Ghost’s n’ Goblins AKA Daimakaimura, 1940′s shooter, and L-Dis, Granzort and a few other games. These games will not work in anything other than a Super Grafx console PERIOD! However a Super Grafx console will play all Japanese HU-Cards.
What To Buy:
Here are your options when collecting PCE games. There is enough info in this article to help you make an educated guess. I am going to list you my personal favorite setups. Please take note Turbo Grafx 16 controller sockets are different from PCE variations. Any American Turbo Duo controller, or any Japanese console controller will be interchangeable, but the original American Turbo Grafx 16 controller sockets are different. You normally can not go wrong with a Japanese Hori controller, these have the best D-Pads.
1. If you only want to play American Hu-Card games the only option is a Turbo Grafx 16 console with the Turbo Booster+ for saving games and access to audio video jacks. If you want to play CD games the only real option is the Turbo Duo, and It will break. You could also buy a Duo console to have access to American Hu-Cards and English and Japanese CD games, and buy a Core Grafx console for access to Japanese Hu-Cards. I only recommend this setup to people who already own a working American Duo.
2. If you are mainly interested in playing Japanese games your only real option is to get a PC Engine Duo-R or Duo-RX, and if you must play American Hu-Cards get the Turbo Grafx 16 Turbo Booster+ setup discussed above (this is by far the best setup!). Don’t forget to buy an extra Hori controller when going this route because you will most likely be buying direct from Japan, save on shipping and get it now. The Hori controllers are the best! Also if you decide in the future to play Super Grafx games you can simply buy a loose Super Grafx without hunting down all the necessary parts.
3. Other options you have for simple hu card access could be to buy a broken Duo. It’s usually only the sound on the CD’s that break, and the Hu-Cards will work fine. This could be a cheap option as opposed to hunting down a turbo booster+ as you would have save states and AV jacks. There are normally plenty of broken Duo’s on eBay. Some not listed as broken so be very careful!
4. Another really good option is to buy Turbo Grafx 16 with Turbo Booster+, and a Core Grafx. That way you can play english and Japanese games. Then there are a few good emulators like Ootake, and Magic Engine. With those you can buy retail CD’s and play them on the emulator. That way you can collect original software and have a solid working CD Console. This is honestly what I do now after so many years of broken hardware.
I hope this article was a help. I plan on writing more PCE stuff in the future as it is my favorite console of all time. If you have any questions please post in the bottom.