Real Talk By: “The Wizard” Jeremy Forest
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 real hardware, that isn’t 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, the American route, or both. Keep in mind that although the TurboGrafx 16 was not a huge hit in America, the PCE was incredibly popular in Japan, and has a huge library of games.
Basically the Turbo Grafx 16 (America) and the PC Engine (Japan) are two of the same consoles but with different names. 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 “do I want to play solely USA or Japanese Hu-Cards, or both?” The CD Rom games do not matter at this point 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. So here’s how it works in layman’s terms.
Hu-Card = Region locked
CD games = Region free (but you must have the correct System Card to launch)
It does get a bit more complex if you own a console and are looking to pick up a CD attachment, but just assume for now if you purchase a console with the name “Duo” in it, that any CD game will work except the Game Express and Arcade Card games. We will get into that later, but first let’s find you a console!
Turbo Grafx 16 console (USA only): This is a loose system you can only play Hu-Cards on. Keep in mind there are no composite 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. Then 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. Super CD Rom 3.0 cards are very hard to find and usually over $100.00. It is also worth noting if you care about the condition of your games that the way the American TG16 is built, that it will scratch the bottom or your Hu-Cards, and leave black lines on the bottom of them.
Turbo Express: The American handheld. These break as well. Prone to having dead pixels on-screen. I do not recommend these, but can be nice if you get one that someone recapped.
Turbo Duo (USA & Japanese variations): This is the TurboGrafx 16 version 2. It has the Super System Card 3.0 built-in, so you can play any CD-Rom or Super CD Rom 2 games. It also has on board composite AV jacks, and internal save built right in. It will play all American Hu-Cards, and any region CD game if you own a USA Duo, or any region CD game, and only Japanese Hu-Cards if you have the Japanese Duo. This will not play CD Rom games that need Arcade Cards or Games Express cards. It doesn’t matter which region console you have, these cards are not built in. So keep in mind if you have a USA Turbo Duo you’re not playing those games unless you have a way to play Japanese games on your American console.
On paper the Duo 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. If you are worried about not being able to play American Hu-Cards at this point because I am suggesting a Japanese console, please read on. I will help you figure that out.
Here are some of the Japanese options. There are far too many I’m not going to get into like the Shuttle, LaserActive, and LT. Most are too expensive, still break, and are mainly for hardcore collectors.
PC engine (original white one): The same as the American TurboGrafx 16 but a better look. You can hook a CD rom player to it, but just like the American version these CD Rom units are prone to breaking. This system does however look really appealing if you have the CD attachment. The original PC Engine with the CD attachment is what is called a “Briefcase Unit” because it has a cool lid with a handle that looks like a briefcase. This is not a Duo console, so expect to hunt down various System Cards if you want to play CD games. It is also worth noting that sometimes the way the CD attachment hooks to the actual PC Engine console can be kind in finicky. You might have to wiggle the CD Rom unit until it gets a good connection. It’s kind of a weird setup because the real briefcase is more of an interface unit where the PC Engine and the CD player do not actually hook into each other. The briefcase is more of a hub that the two pieces of hardware sit in.
Core Grafx and Core Grafx II: These are same 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. I actually really like the Core Grafx for just Hu-Cards, but a good rule of thumb is if you want to play CD games, and you need to hunt down more than one piece of hardware then you are not getting and ideal setup.
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 that 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, but will still require respective Arcade Card or Games Express Cards for those types of CD games. 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 without the need for a region switch or overly-expensive converter.
Super Grafx: This is a model that plays only Japanese Hu-Cards and Super Grafx Hu-Cards. This is the only option that when a CD Rom unit is installed, 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 find the incredibly rare and expensive CD Rom player. 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. There were a few cool Super Grafx games, but I cannot justify or recommend spending double for a console to have access to 7 more games. You should really research the extra games and decide if you really can logically pay the premium price, and deal with the hassle of CD attachments and System Cards for a few extra available games to play. I will tell you now that Ghouls n Ghosts is the best Super Grafx game by far, but it has been released as a direct arcade port many times over. The Super Grafx version is arguably better than the arcade version, but I did not see much difference.
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 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: (Huey’s for short): Will only play on USA consoles. These are mini cartridges that look like credit cards. The American library is VERY weak to say the least. There are only a small handful of American exclusive Hu-Cards only released in America, and most of them are the biggest turds on the console. I’m looking at you Gun Boat and Darkwing Duck! If you remember the 80’s and 90’s, then you probably remember this was the time, with exception of PC gaming, that any game developed exclusively in America pretty much sucked. Times have changed for sure, but that rule holds fast for the TurboGrafx 16. In my opinion the only English exclusive Huey worth owning is Order of the Griffon, but still it is not an amazing game by any means. On a side note only cards toward the end of the system’s lifespan have art on the cards. The early American Huey’s look like total crap! It will just say something like “Legendary Axe” in big bold red print instead of the sweet art the Japanese Huey’s received.
Japanese Hu-Cards: Will only play on Japanese consoles. Also have much better cases, and no need to track down expensive card board boxes if that’s your thing, because they never came with them. These are region locked.
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. It does not matter what region console, region CD game, or region System Card you own, if you can boot the System Card, the CD will run!
Super CD Rom2: These require a system card 3.0 to run. Follow the same guidelines as the 2.o System Card. If you have this card you do not need a 2.0 card as 2.0 is built right 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 the best PCE has to offer. Some of the greatest games of all time are Super CD Rom 2 games. Getting a unit that can play these games is your first priority!
Arcade Card CD: Rom2 (Duo and Pro variations): These are games that require extra RAM to play (The Arcade Card). Most are ports of arcade games like Fatal Fury. Most people buy these for the excellent shooter Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire which is Arcade Card only. There are Arcade Card versions 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 console with the name Duo in it, get an Arcade card Pro.
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 game 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. 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, but I am going to list you my personal favorite setups.
1. If you want to play only USA Hu-Cards and CD Roms, buy a Japanese Turbo Duo. Yes the one up top I said was awful. You’re probably thinking “if I want to play only USA games why would I buy a Japanese console?” The reason for this is simple, the Japanese consoles are much cheaper, and readily available than the American Duo. There are also people online on places like the http://www.PCEngineFX.com forums that specialize in buying goods from Japan, fixing them up, and selling them on those forums. The thing is with the Duo Consoles is they have bad capacitors, but once all the capacitors are replaced they are great systems. They just need a little TLC. You can buy a Japanese Duo on those forums, with all new capacitors, a region mod, a new laser assembly, and even a video mod like S-Video, or RGB for a fraction of the cost of an American Duo. I am talking hundreds of dollars in savings. Do the math, don’t buy an American Duo! Use that saved money to buy Y’s Book I&II or Castlevania Dracula X.
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. Just like the Duo Suggestion above, there are well respected modders that will hook you up with a region mod or video upgrade. These are a little harder to find, but the cost of not having to replace the capacitors and laser assembly alone will make up for the cost. You might have to pick one of these up on eBay and ship it to someone to be modded, but you will own one of the best looking consoles ever! Remember, the Duo R/RX units have better internals. All that maintenance is not required yet, but may be in a decade or so.
3. If for some weird reason you are not interested in CD Rom games the absolute best choice is the PC Engine Core Grafx. Remember it has built in AV jacks, but does not have internal battery support, so you must use passwords to save some games. Again, these can easily be modded for a region switch, or video upgrade. If you are dead set on the American TurboGrafx 16 console the best thing to do is get it, and look for the TurboBoster + so you can have internal saving, and AV jacks. You’re going to spend way too much for this setup unless you get really lucky and find one in the wild. Just get a modded Core Grafx.
4. Another really good option for those low on funds, but who want to upgrade to a CD unit some day is to just get a Core Grafx, and to play retail CD games with an emulator like Ootake or Magic Engine. It’s not the same experience as real hardware, but it will hold you over until you can get a good Duo console. Then you can just sell your Core Grafx or TG16 on eBay to help lighten the blow of the Duo cost.
That’s pretty much it for the console suggestions. The moral of this story is buy a Japanese console, get it modded, and have a much better and flexible console for hundreds less! Seriously, sell your American system!
Now I know this is getting pretty long, but PCE is a pretty complex console. There is still one more thing I would like to talk about, and that is “things that are good to know”.
Regarding controllers: The American TurboGrafx 16 has a different controller socket than the American Duo console, and all the Japanese consoles. The USA Turbo Duo and every Japanese PC Engine console have the exact same DB9 controller socket. So all those controllers can be used on any console. The TurboGrafx 16 does not have many choices in the controller department because it has a different controller port, which is just another of the many reasons why it is better to get an American Duo, or any Japanese console. The 3rd party controllers are simply the best out there, and having a console with the better controller port is great. I highly recommend the Hori Fighting Commander 6 Button Controller. It is a great controller that has a Super Nintendo style D-Pad, and all the buttons feel like the A and B buttons on a Super Nintendo controller. Another good option that some people prefer is the Avenue Pad 6. I personally feel the Hori Fighting Commander is better, but one thing is certain, both are much better than the controller that came with the console. Also take note that every single controller has an incredibly short 3ft cord. It is mandatory in most situations to get an extension cable. You can easily find these on ebay.
About internal game saves: If your console has internal saves you need to know that the data will erase if you do not power your console on for an hour or so every few weeks. In order for the saves to retain this must be done so the battery can charge. I personally like a little device called the Ten No Koe Bank. The Ten No Koe Bank is sort of a memory card for storing data. It can hold I believe 3X the amount of data the console can, but it works kind of weird. You cannot save directly to the card. You cannot transfer a single games data to the card either. Its sole purpose is to transfer the entire memory bank on your console to the card, or 1 of the 3 memory banks on the card to your console. It’s more for switching entire “banks” of data. Highly useful, but kind of a pain. The card actually has a hidden CR2032 lithium battery hidden under the hump on the cover. There is no really good way to change the battery except to pry the cover off and electric tape a new battery in, taking great care not to break the metal tabs.
About the Turbo Everdrive: The Turbo Everdrive is an excellent 3rd party accessory created by a fella names Krikzz from Ukraine. This little beast can be loaded up with Hu-Card roms and played on your console in all their perfect glory. It is also a great tool for independent developers for testing games created on actual hardware. This thing actually looks like a Hu-Card, and has a near perfect compatibility rate provided you are using clean roms. This is not emulation! There is no slowdown, the console thinks you are playing a genuine game. At around $80.00 this thing is a steal for trying out games before committing to a purchase. You cannot go wrong with a Turbo Everdrive from http://shop.krikzz.com/
Regarding import converters: Some of you are probably wondering why I haven’t been talking about import converters. There is a reason for that. Import converters like the Kisado, and Diving Board are way too expensive! If you own one of these, odds are you can sell it and have your console recapped, get a video mod, a new laser assembly, and a region switch installed, and still have money left over. I have been out of the converter loop for many years, there may be pretty good ones now, but if you are spending more than $30.00 on one you might as well get a hard mod region switch. Anytime you are putting a converter between the game and the console, you have to deal with another connection. These things are annoying, expensive, and can be a pain to get to work. Just get the mod and be done with it!
That’s pretty much it. 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.