The prospect of import gaming can be a daunting proposition- after all, importing a console from Japan in particular can be an expensive endeavour. The best tool to be equipped with when looking to get into any type of import gaming is information. The more you know about what you are getting yourself into before hand, the more time you will have to enjoy your new system.
That being said, my favorite import system by a mile is Nintendo’s 8-bit wonder, the Family Computer. More commonly referred to as the Famicom, it is the Japanese forerunner to the Nintendo Entertainment System.
There are many models and variations to the Famicom itself, and what you end up deciding to buy can be based on a number of factors, such as budget, level of commitment and pure personal preference.
Like many Famicom collectors I started with the original red and cream Famicom. I was in love instantly, and once I got a taste for the quirky little machine I began collecting other variations and peripherals that interested me. Below is a brief run down of the original model of Nintendo’s Japanese 8-bit wonder.
The original variation was released in 1983 in Japan by Nintendo. The first Famicom model is very small, about 2/3’s the size of the grey “toaster” version of the NES. The Famicom features two hard-wired controllers, with the second controller lacking the start and select buttons in place of a built-in microphone and volume slider. The console is top loading and is adorned with an eject lever, reset button and a non-LED power switch. There is also a DB-15 expansion port on the front for plugging in peripherals and third party joysticks.
The earliest releases of this model can be distinguished by the A and B buttons on the control pad, as they are made of soft-rubber and are square in shape, as opposed to the hard circular plastic buttons on all subsequent releases. These ‘square-button’ Famicoms are quite difficult to find, and are highly sought by hardcore Famicom collectors.
The classic Famicom model is a good starting off point if you are looking to dabble in the the console, however it has several draw backs.
The most notable drawback being that its only native connectivity option is via RF. You can find original Famicom’s modded with AV outputs, but expect to pay a premium. The RF in Japan works on a different frequency then the RF in North America. As such the Famicom channel 1 and 2 selection options typically work somewhere in the range of channel 92-98. Some experimentation and frustration always comes along with the Famicom and connecting via RF, but options are available. It is also important to note the that the Japanese RF hook-up will not work on non-Japanese TVs at all, but the RF hook-up for the NES, SNES, or even the model 1 Genesis or MasterSystem will work in its place perfectly fine.
Another significant draw back of the original Famicom is the hard-wired controllers. The cords are very short, less then 3 feet in length and aside from opening up the console and splicing in more cord from the motherboard, or buying third party controllers, there is really no way to get around this short coming. This isn’t a huge problem however, as long as you realize that you will practically be sitting on top of the Famciom while you play.
AC adapters are another area on confusion amongst potential Famicom owners. The best thing to use is the original Japanese adapter as it can be used in a North American wall socket without a problem, despite the slight voltage difference. The adapters tend to get a little warm while playing, but I have been using the same Japanese adapter on my Famicom for over 5 years without any problems; just make sure you unplug it after use. If you want to be extremely cautious, you can run the Japanese adapter through a step down converter to match the voltage. There a number of aftermarket adapters available, mostly from China, that you can find on sites like eBay, and they are an excellent alternative. Just remember to never, EVER use a NES adapter with your Famicom. The NES adapter does not convert the current from AC to DC and it will fry your Famicoms motherboard.
Final verdict? The original Famicom is the cheapest official hardware option you have, and is a great starting point for those curious about import gaming. However, if you don’t want the hassle of the messing with the RF connectivity, and are willing to invest some more money, then there are better options.
Next time we will take a look at the only officially licensed third party Nintendo console in existence, the Sharp Twin Famicom.