What the hell is an MSX?
That's the question I asked a few years ago when I kept seeing links to MSX emulators. The MSX was a standardized computer (like the PC is today) made by several different manufacturers. It was popular in Japan and some other countries, but if it was ever released here in the US at all, it was just barely. It has some hardware in common with a few video game systems, such as the Colecovision and the Sega Master System. There were a couple of different versions, most notably the MSX1 and MSX2. The MSX1 has graphics somewhat on par with the Colecovision, and the MSX2 is closer to the SMS. The MSX2 is also backwards compatible.
I'm not sure what MSX stands for. Different places give different answers. I've read that it officially doesn't stand for anything. I've read that it stands for MicroSoft eXtended BASIC, the OS and built-in programming language the machines use. The most reasonable one I've read is Machines with Software eXchangeability.
The MSX is somewhat famous now for having a superior version of Metal Gear, and the unreleased-outside-Japan sequel, Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake. The system also had versions of games such as Contra, Castlevania, Pac-Man, Dragon Warrior 1+2, Frogger, Wonderboy, Zaxxon, Q*Bert, Bubble Bobble, and Pitfall.
Anyway, the reason you're reading this article (or at least the reason I wrote it), is that our little friend Final Fantasy also made its way to the MSX2. There seems to be almost no information about it out there though, probably because of the relative obscurity of the system. At the time I wrote this article I'd never even seen a picture of the box art. It took me so long to find anything about it after the first time I'd heard of it that I was starting to think it was a rumor.
FF1 for MSX is definitely real though, but one of the reasons you may not have heard of it is that it's not obvious how to actually get the game started, leading people (or at least me) to believe that the ROM was bad or fake. First of all, having the game disk isn't enough. You also need the user disk to save. Most importantly though, if you just start the game up without knowing what to do you get an error message. Not just any error message, a cryptic error message in Japanese that, depending on what kind of MSX you're running it on, may show up as gibberish. Even though I was able read the important part, I didn't put it together on my own. I eventually found the answer after searching Usenet archives. You have to hold the Control key (left Control Key in most emulators) while it's loading. It has to do with the game only wanting there to be one disk drive, which apparently frees up some RAM.
(I believe this says "Please hold the Control Key while you turn the power on.")
The MSX version of FF1 came out after the Famicom version, but before the NES release, so the graphics are still unedited. (In other words, the Clinic is a Church, the Eye is a Beholder, Medusa is topless, and the Master/Super Monk has wild, unkempt hair.) Although the graphics are not edited for content, they do have more colors to add depth and shading. The best way I can describe it is that it's like FF1 would look on the SMS. Also, the MSX isn't so good at smooth scrolling so when you walk around it's really jerky. The sound (in most cases) and music are better than the NES, but they switched a couple of songs for some reason.
Once you get the game running, you see the familiar story screen, then the startup screen. Choosing New Game (the second option here, just like on the NES) will start up the game just like you're used to. If you want to continue though, you'll get the first screen below here, which tells you to put the User Disk into the drive. Then after switching disks and pushing the space bar (or the A button if you're using a controller) you'll get the second screen below, which tells you to put the Game Disk into the drive. You also have to go thru this process to save.
Update: Pictures of the box, disk, etc! Thanks to MarceloX.
Front of the box,
Inside the box
Although not shown in the picture, apparently it also came with a label to place on a blank disk (your save disk).
Click here for some screen shots.