MSX for beginners
This page was last modified 09:54, 10 May 2012 by Noisepurge. Based on work by SkyeWelse and Manuel and others.

Welcome to the MSX for beginners guide. The aim of this guide is to provide information to people who are new to MSX, and are interested in the system. The focus of this document is mostly on (retro) gamers, but each section has links to items with related information for a more in depth look.

Contents

General info

MSX project started in the 1980s by Microsoft Japan. MSX tried to become a sort of open platform such as the VHS format. A hybrid computer/console that had several manufacturers building them and all hardware and software was compatible with MSX products from different manufacturers. Before the NES and Nintendo took over, the MSX was the biggest platform for Japanese studios.

I want an MSX console for games, what to get?!

Before deciding on your first MSX purchase, you may want to first consider a few questions:

  • What games are you most interested in playing on real MSX hardware?
  • Is this new MSX something you may want to develop your own software on at a later time?
  • Do you live in a European PAL region (50 Hz television) or do you live in a region that uses NTSC format (60 Hz)?

First of all, whether it be for gaming purposes only or development, it's best to at least get an MSX2 (or higher), as buying an MSX1 limits you to MSX1 games. The MSX standard is downwards compatible, so playing MSX1 games on an MSX2 is no problem.

The order of MSX platforms released go like this: MSX ---> MSX2 ---> MSX2+ ---> MSX turbo R

As for games, check to see if these games you are interested in playing are for MSX / MSX2 / MSX2+ / MSXturbo R. If you're unsure, you can either check the cover of the game's original packaging or sometimes it is displayed on the label on the cartridge. Another great resource for looking up specific information about games is Generation-MSX.

Getting an MSX2 or an MSX2+ will allow you to play pretty much all MSX games, including most games created by the European MSX scene today, but some games (especially from Europe) will require additional RAM, so that is something to keep in mind when making a purchase, but it's not something that cannot be upgraded at a later time either through installing additional RAM or using a RAM Expansion Cartridge. If you decide to go with an MSX2 or MSX2+, the only thing that you may have trouble with playing are turbo R games, or games specifically designed to work in an enhanced way using the turbo R's extra processing power.

Ultimately, you'll want to go with the MSX computer that best suits your needs. If you are just interested in playing games, getting an MSX2 or MSX2+ should be more than sufficient, especially since there are only currently a handful of turbo R games released and only a few games that support the enhanced processing mode of a turbo R. But if you plan to be a developer, recent polls have indicated that the scene in large numbers is looking to start developing more and more for the turbo R, so you might be missing out if wish to stay current with the MSX development scene in general.

Getting a working MSX can be a little tricky and a basic working MSX2 unit costs around 200$ on eBay(+shipping) And most of them don't come with any connectors or power adapters. Also you want to get a unit with at least 128kB of RAM, even more is better. Getting a music cartridge mentioned here in Accessories is also a big plus for sound. And get one that also has a Floppy Disk Drive (FDD) for maximum game compatibility (all units have at least one standard cartridge slot) . Your best bet at this moment is hit eBay or MSX.org trade-forum, and search with a manufacturer name and MSX2.


Advanced buying tips

There is however another option, if you are in the market for Japanese MSX computers. There is an auction site in Japan known as Yahoo Japan Auctions. Here you can find a great deal of both inexpensive to expensively rare MSX merchandise being sold on their marketplace. Normally, you would need both an address in Japan to ship auction winnings to, as well as a Japanese bank account, however due to the popularity of this auction marketplace, there are many different middle-man services available that will often allow you to bid yourself on auctions as though you had a Yahoo Japan account, will handle all of the processing from the seller to their warehouse in Japan, and usually be able to store items in bulk until you are ready to ship it to your residence. Depending on the service, the fees and commissions may work differently, so it's best to explore each service first to see if you find their business model to be agreeable. Just to name a few, there is Mail Order Japan, Rinkya, and Celga. Sometimes you may be able to get some rare and hard to find items for cheaper prices than eBay, but it can be a bit of a gamble too if you are not sure if the item is working prior to purchasing it and may not necessarily be protected either in case you receive a non-working item. One member here at the MSX Resource Center, was able to get the last model of MSX released, the Panasonic FS-A1GT turbo R, which normally might go between 500$ - 800$ on eBay for around 20,000 yen or less, or 275$ auction ending price before fees and local shipping in Japan, after which was around 300$ before shipping to his country of residence. Another great MSX2+ system, the Sony HitBit F1XV, recently ended at an auction price of 4,900 yen or 62$ before fees and local shipping costs, and only because it was missing 1 small keyboard cap. So there are deals to be found for sure if one is willing to take the risk of a no-guarantee-working, sale. This same member cannot speak for all experiences of others who have used Yahoo Japan Auctions, but this member has already ordered three separate gaming computers and consoles using this method after seeing an auction photograph of the device working, and has had no problems to date.

If you live in a European PAL Territory, a recommended base model is the Philips NMS 8245 as it has all necessary features for proper gaming. Note that this is a European model, so it will not run Metal Gear Japanese version (it will run all other MSX software). It also means it has PAL output (50 Hz) and shows English texts for some MSX games that support dual language.

If you live in a NTSC Territory (60 Hz), you will want to get a Japanese MSX unless you have a method of playing a European model on a televison set or monitor that can support a PAL signal (50 Hz). <Insert Recommended NTSC base model here>

Main model differences

  • MSX: base model
  • MSX2: more power allaround, best games require a base, 128kB MSX2 model to run, buy this!
  • MSX2+: slightly more video power, around 14 games require or support 2+. Sometimes only scroll feature is used if MSX2+ is detected. Normal MSX2+ models are Japanese only and have only 64kB RAM, which limit their capabilities again.
  • MSX turboR: slightly more power, around 5 games require turboR. Cannot run games on cassette tape.


Yes! I got an MSX, what games should i get?

Allright! Games on cartridges go from around $5 to $500. There exists a thousand games so there is a lot to choose from. Read the MSX.org forums here for all top tips on the best games.

Game media

Games come as cartridges, floppy disks or cassette tapes. Very few titles (about 10) released as a smaller BeeCard cartridge and also a handful on some other media like laserdisc and VHD disc. The cartridge slot is built in on all MSX units. Floppy disk drives are not built in on all MSX units and can be bought separately (but it's a lot easier to buy a unit with built in floppy disk drive).

Aim for the MSX2 versions of games if they made one. The MSX(1) versions will be less colorful/simpler. Games have no region codes* so go wild with japanese releases. (But do keep in mind the 50Hz/60Hz settings if you use an older monitor to play) Cartridge games are normally a safe choice, but with floppy disk games time and use takes it's toll so they might not work, buy games that are marked "Tested, works".

  • The Japanese version of Metal Gear being the only exception, it only works on Japanese machines.

Some popular games and an estimated price on eBay

Also check out this video Games to consider getting for the MSX and this site for more recommendations.


Accessories

The FM-PAC is a similar sound chip as in the Japanese Master System. Many games use it, and the cartridge is not expensive. The FM-PAC uses the MSX-MUSIC standard. This MSX-MUSIC standard is either built-in (most MSX2+ and all turbo R models) or you have an FM-PAC or one of its spinoffs to add it to your MSX.

MSX-AUDIO and Moonsound music cartridges are a nice extra, but only for games and music disks made by the MSX scene. For commercially released games you'd never need them.

Very few (scene) games require a GFX9000 graphics card.

Controllers

Getting a working MSX branded controller is a bit hard. There are some Toshiba and Casio joysticks but they are very rare, at least functional/new ones. But you should be able to find a joystick called "The Arcade" more easily as it's of universal design, works with Amiga too etc. Make sure you buy a 2-button model (they should work independently).

There are also several MSX joypads. They were not popular in Europe, so most should be bought from Japan. A good example is the Panasonic FS-JS222.

The MSX uses the standard 9-pin port so most Amiga/C64/Sega controllers do connect but the pins are in a different order, so don't go there unless you are handy with a soldering iron! A good modding guide to gamepads can be found here.

You can use the arrow/numpad/joystick/dpad that is integrated on most machines though.

Allright, all set, but what is this demoscene i keep hearing about?

Apart from being a great gaming platform, a large demoscene created a multitude of demos that pushed the boundaries of MSX' capabilities. The term is the same but these demos are not game-demos, these are amazing non-interactive audio-visual presentations. This is one of the reasons the MSX is still very popular today. Some must-see demos are:


That's pretty much it! We hope you found some answers here in this quick guide to get you started in the world of MSX gaming! Feel free to register and come ask questions in the forums.