One of the more interesting pieces of Nintendo hardware lies in the Famicom Disk System. When doing research, or simply looking at information about Nintendo’s Family Computer, it’s not unlikely that one will see the Famicom pictured or partnered with the red and black piece of hardware often abbreviated as the FDS.
American Nintendo fans are often intrigued by the FDS for two main reasons: it’s incredible appeal to consumers, and the fact that it was never released in America. The Famicom Disk System is really cool concept. The system would plug into the Famicom and fit nicely under the primary system. Players could purchase games on Famicom Disks (which were often cheaper than games on Famicom Cartridges) or purchase rewritable Famicom Disks. Rewritable disks could hold up to one game, but could be erased and written with a new game at Famicom Disk kiosk for a discounted price.
The Famicom Disk System is a very interesting and appealing consumer product, but it never ended up making it across the sea into America. American players never saw the release of a “NES Disk System” or “Nintendo Entertainment System Disk System” despite the American counterpart to the Famicom being seemingly well-equipped with an external port on it’s bottom. Why didn’t the FDS ever make it to the United States? The Famicom Disk System would not have succeeded in America because of the lack of reliability in Famicom Disks and the general ease of pirating Famicom Disk System Games.
While first few months after the initial release of the Famicom Disk System were promising (featuring hit exclusive titles like The Legend of Zelda: The Hyrule Fantasy, and Metroid), long term plans seemed shaky. Famicom cartridges were well worth their extra expense for reliability purposes. While Famicom Disks were incredibly convenient, they were also very fragile, and most Japanese gamers were prone to “disk error” messages from time to time. This is rather odd, as most Japanese gamers and collectors are commonly known to take much better care of their games than their American counterparts. If you need an example of this, buy any CIB game from a Japanese seller on Ebay or Amazon, and the condition is often far more worth the price than a similar product purchased from an American seller. Needless to say, American Consumers aren’t nearly as careful with their electronics as Japanese consumers are. If even the Japanese were having disk errors, one can’t even imagine the amount of Disks that Americans would destroy. This would result in backlash toward Nintendo for creating fragile and unreliable games, which proved reason enough to not release the FDS in America.
Despite its clout in the situation, fragility isn’t the only reason the Famicom Disk System didn’t make it to America. With the release of the Famicom Disk System in Japan, in sailed the pirates. If you look at a Famicom Disk, it very closely resembles a floppy disk. At the time, similar disks were being used in Atari and Amiga computers. Despite large sums of money put in by Nintendo to attempt to reduce piracy for the FDS, pirates continually found ways to obtain Famicom Disk System games illegally. Be they using “Disk Hackers,” multiple Famicom Disk systems, or simply their own computers, hacking into and illegally copying and reproducing Famicom Disk System games proved much easier than doing so with Famicom cartridges. In America, pirating games has been prominent just as long as games have existed. In a traditionally dog-eat-dog like America, pirates would have gobbled sales for any attempt at a Famicom Disk System release in the United States. With such rampant and evil pirates in America, it seemed like a good idea to let the FDS run it’s course in Japan and then call it a day with the expansion.
Piracy and lack of reliability were the two main causes that the Famicom Disk System never made it to America. While it’s easy to say that it’s a shame that we didn’t get such a product here in America, it was probably for the better. Would we really have enjoyed such timeless classics like Kid Icarus, and Castlevania if we were constantly encountering disk errors despite our hardest efforts to keep our games out of harm’s way? Today, the Famicom Disk System is a neat piece of Nintendo Memorabilia that American Collectors aren’t necessarily nostalgic for, but still have quite the time collecting for.