Introduction

Hi.

I run PC-98 Bot. My only real authority over this subject is that I've put a stupid amount of time into playing PC-98 on an emulator. That being said, in my countless hours of doing this I've picked up on some stuff I wish was more apparent when I was first getting started. I'm hoping this guide can help make the dive a little bit easier when it comes to swimming through the strange library of the PC-98.

This guide will try to keep things simple for beginners by limiting its scope. It'll only cover topics users will run into when running Neko Project 21/W with software found in the Neo Kobe Collection. If you're looking for something more or something not included in that scope, check out the end of the guide for some resources that might have you find what you're looking for.

If you're looking for advice on physical hardware you might want to look somewhere else. I've seen the PC-98 Subreddit Buying Guide frequently referenced as a good start, but it's admitted by the author to be a little outdated. I recommend asking for help in the PC-98 Series Central Discord. The PC-98 Discord community is very friendly and helpful, and they'll probably lend you a hand if you ask nicely.

Download Emulator

Windows/Linux

The emulator I recommend using is Neko Project 21/W. Neko Project 21/W is currently in active development but it’s considered to have the best record in terms of accuracy compared to its alternatives. The homepage is in Japanese, so you can click this link to go directly to the download page. Just click the first link under the header “ダウンロード” for the most recent version. Unzip the file contents and open the bin folder. The executables in this folder are your emulators.

OSX

If you're an OSX user I recommend Neko Project 2. While it’s not the strongest emulator in terms of accuracy and it's no longer receiving updates, it’s still a quality emulator that won't diminish your experience too much. For information on configuring Neko Project 2 I recommend checking out 46 OkuMen’s Emulation Guide.

RetroArch

RetroArch setups are a little beyond the scope of this tutorial, but NP2kai (Neko Project 2 Kai) is generally considered the best emulator for the job. The homepage for NP2kai has a setup guide that should help you in getting it figured out. It's in Japanese but Google Translate does a good job making the page understandable.

Where To Download Games

The Neo Kobe Collection is the most comprehensive collection of PC-98 software on the internet. While it would be nearly impossible to compile a complete library PC-98 software, this is probably the closest someone could come.

It’s sorted by publisher, so I recommend checking MobyGames for publisher details if you’re looking for a specific title.

Configure Emulator

This section is written for users using with Project 21/W. If you're using Neko Project 2 some of this information will apply, but not all of it. None of this is required, but I do at least recommend following this guide’s tips for adjusting the CPU and Sound Sampling Rate immediately below. Other than that you can pick and choose which of these options are best for you, or apply these if you run into specific issues.

Increase CPU & Sound Sampling Rate

  1. Follow this path in your emulator toolbar: Emulate => Configure
  2. Increase your CPU multiplier to 42. Under the CPU section you should see a dropdown for CPU multiplier with the number ‘20’ preselected. Feel free to increase it to 42. If you're experiencing slowdown later you can turn it down to 32, but you'll probably be fine.
  3. Under the Sound section increase the Sampling Rate from 44100Hz to 88200Hz. There are rare situations where you might want a lower Sampling Rate, but generally speaking the higher the better.
Following my instructions your settings should look like this:

Get Rid of Scanlines

Due to limited processing power at the time of release some games are rendered in a low vertical resolution. The hardware then makes the game fit the standard screen resolution by skipping every-other line while rendering. This can result in unappealing scanlines that darken the image. The "scanline" issue is common especially with action oriented games. Lucky we live in the future, and power isn't generally a problem when running 16-bit games. Neko Project has an amazing built-in setting that fills in these "skiplines" for games that use them.

  1. Follow this path in your emulator toolbar: Screen => Screen Option
  2. Select 'Use skipline revisions' and slide the scale all the way to 255 under the Video tab.

Problem solved.

Enabling Savestates

A common feature with emulators is the ability to savestate. While on first glance this option is seemingly absent from Neko Project 21/W, it's actually just hidden away. This is to avoid users accidentally corrupting their game's files when savestating. Personally I've never had an issue with it, and since the PC-98 library is nicely archived in the Neo Kobe Collection there's really little risk to it.

  1. Open 'np21w.ini' found in this same directory as your emulator exe file. If you don't see it, you may need to boot and close you're emulator at least once to generate it.
  2. Add the 'STATSAVE=true' in a new line under the '[NekoProject21]' section and save.

Next time you open your emulator you should notice a 'Stat' tab that allows you to save up to 10 states.

Adjust GDC Clock

Some games require your GDC Clock to be set to 2.5MHz instead of the default 5MHz. If a game requires this setting it'll sometimes glitch by duplicating the screen into segments or even refuse to boot. Luckily it’s an easy fix.

  1. Hold the 'End' key on your keyboard and reset your emulator while keeping the key held. Your emulator will now boot to machine options.
  2. Select 'ディップスイッチ2' using the arrow keys (as seen in the screenshot above) and hit enter.
  3. Highlight your GDC setting and use the right arrow key to switch it from its default 5MHz to 2.5MHz.
  4. Exit machine options and restart your emulator by hitting the bottom two options on both of the machine option screens.

Everything should work now as intended.If you think you messed up the settings in your machine options a simple fix is to go back to machine options and hit the 'home' key on your keyboard. This will restore everything to their default values.

How To Play Games

How To Load Software

Floppy Disk Images (common extensions are HDM, FDD and FDI) can be loaded into either FDD1 or FDD2, but unless you already have something inside FDD1 and need to use multiple disks you shouldn't need to use FDD2.

Harddisks (common extensions are HDI and NHD) and CD images are loaded into the Harddisk. You have 4 slots for different images, but typically you'll just be using one at a time. Harddisk drives need to be configured to use either harddisks or CD’s. By default Neko Project 21/W has IDE #0, #1 and #3 set for Harddisk Images and IDE #2 for CD’s. Changing these settings can be done in IDE Options.

The Neo Kobe Collection contains both Floppy Disk Images and Harddisk images for most of the games it contains. When given the option, I recommend always using Harddisk Images. Some floppies require installation, and the ones that don’t often require disk swaps mid-game. All this work is done for you if you’re using HDIs.

Now that you know the difference between software formats and drive types, loading software should be pretty easy:

  1. Select the correct tab depending on the format of your software.
  2. Select the game in your file explorer.
  3. Reset your emulator. Your game should typically autoboot.

How To Start Game If It Doesn’t Autoboot

It’s rare, but occasionally after loading your software it doesn’t autoboot and presents you with a blank DOS screen. This just means we have to boot the software ourselves.

  1. Type "DIR /p" and hit enter. A list of the files on your disc should begin to be listed.
  2. If your list of files just includes folders, type “cd FOLDERNAME” to navigate to a different folder, then type “DIR /p” again to see what’s in that directory.
  3. Look through the pages until you find a file that looks like the executable for your software. It's typically an abbreviation of the name of the game with a .BAT extension.
  4. Type the filename into DOS and hit enter. You might have to do this with a few different files until you hit the right one. Once you find the right file your game should boot up.

How To Control The Internal Mouse

  1. F12.

How to play CD Based Games

  1. Under the Harddisk tab click IDE Option. Set the Master Primary to HDD and Master Secondary drive to CD-ROM. This is the default, but if you've been playing other games it might've wound up as something else by now.
  2. Extract both the HDI and CD images from the game's folder in the Neo Kobe Collection. Both images are needed to boot your game. If you don't have an HDI for your CD game go to the next section to see what to do next.
  3. Hit the Harddisk tab again, open your HDI in IDE #0 and your CD image in IDE #2.
  4. Check the title of your emulator and make sure your CD image is listed after CD1. If it's not you might need to reselect the game until it holds.
  5. Reset your emulator and your game should boot.

Using YAHDI to boot CD Software

If you don't have an HDI that's been bundled with your CD image don't worry, we'll just have to use another HDI that has your CD-drive correctly setup. A popular image used for this solution is YAHDI. There's a lot of cool tools within this HDI, so read over the forum post if you're interested. While normally it takes a lot of preparation to get everything working right I've preconfigured and compiled a harddisk image for Neko Project 21/W which you can download here.

  1. Download and unzip YAHDI
  2. Set YAHDI.nhd as IDE #0 and your CD image as IDE #2.
  3. Check the title of your emulator and make sure your CD image is listed after CD1. If it's not you might need to reselect the game until it holds.
  4. Reset your emulator
  5. If you get the screen above hit the W key and let the disk image adjust to your emulator configuration. You might have to just do this every so often.
  6. Select ‘MS-DOS Shell’ on the YAHDI home screen
  7. You should see an A, B, C and Q drive. Your Q-Drive is your CD Drive. Select the Q-Drive and hit tab.
  8. Select either the boot file or install file for your game. Some games require an install, but others you can run right off the CD. For this game I found the .BAT file that launches the game under the GAME folder.Try opening different BAT files until one works. If none work, there should be an INSTALL file somewhere else on the disc. I’ve included another section in this tutorial about installing games. Feel free to install your game right onto the YAHDI disk image.

Game Recommendations

It can be overwhelming when deciding what games to start out with. Here’s 40 games I enjoyed that I think you might enjoy too. They're sorted by publisher since that's how they're sorted in the Neo Kobe Collection.

Clicking on the title of a game will take you to a search result of all the screenshots PC-98 Bot has posted from that game, so you can see if it suits your vibe. If a game really clicks with you I recommend checking out that game's publishers other games too. If nothing on this list looks cool to you, it might turn out I have really bad taste in PC-98 games. If that’s the case you shouldn’t get mad at me, you should feel sad for me.

please enable javascript to view game list

English Translations

Asenheim Project

Asenheim has translated and ported over a bunch of PC-98 visual novels to browser. If all this emulation stuff overwhelms you and you just wanted to jump into some English PC-98 VN's right away, I recommend just going there. Heads up though -- most, if not all, of these VN's are NSFW.

Translation Patches

Amazing teams like 46 OkuMen are doing great work building English patches for use on actual hardware and emulation. Only a small number of titles have been translated so far, but the list translated games is growing constantly. ROMhacking.net is the general hub for finding translation patches.

Universal Game Translator

Universal Game Translator is a tool that uses Google’s Cloud Vision API to automatically translate and overlay text on your game as you play it. Setting everything up is a little complicated (you need a Google Vision API key) and the software is slightly unpolished, but if you've got the time and the passion the results are worth it.

Last Resort: Google Translate

Usually I just use the Google Translate App’s camera translation feature to translate games on the fly. This isn't a bad option for games where menus are consistent and dialog is minimal. Just aim your camera at the screen and try to figure out what Google Translate is trying to tell you.This setup is far from ideal, but if you’re really jonesing to play a specific untranslated title, don’t know Japanese, and don’t want to install even more unnecessary software to your computer this is your best bet.

Manage Game Assets

How To View CG

PC-98 games are well known for their gorgeous pixel art, so it makes sense that you might want to skip the gameplay and just look at the art. Unfortunately this is harder than it sounds. PC-98 games use proprietary image extensions exclusive to certain developers, and sometimes even exclusive to specific games. Because of how niche these file types are, modern support for working with them is relatively non-existent. You do have a few options though, and hopefully one of them works!

MLD

MLD is a useful program used for managing image files within DOS. Once you find out what image extension you’re working with, check this translated version of the MLD manual to see if MLD is compatible with your file. Just ctrl+f and search the document for the extension you’re looking for.

  1. Download DiskExplorer. This is used to import files from our computer into hard drive images used within our PC-98 emulator
  2. Download MLD. Open your zip and extract MLD.exe.
  3. Open your DiscExplorer zip, then open editdisc.exe. Select the HDI that has your game installed on it. editdisc will ask what type of image your HDI is, but the default is almost always correct.
  4. Import MLD.exe into the DOS folder of your HDI by dragging and dropping it. If you get an error saying there’s not enough space on your HDI you can download the YAHDI dump from this guide. I've included MLD.exe in the DOS folder of that. Just remember if you’re using YAHDI the location of your game will be on a different drive, so you’ll have to specify which drive when you type the image locations later on.
  5. Find your game’s image file location. Since your game is already open in editdisc, just click around until you find files that your intuition you tells are images. This can sometimes be a guessing game. I often look for files with names that mention CG, CHAR, or BG.
  6. Open your HDI in your emulator and go to your command menu. If your game autoboots, you just need to exit the game. If you’re using YAHDI just hit the esc key on the home menu.
  7. Type the following prompt: MLD -k -c <IMAGE LOCATION>*.<IMG EXTENSION>. Obviously replace <IMAGE LOCATION> and <IMG EXTENSION> with the information you found in step 5.
    If I was hoping to open the images in 'Farland Story - Tooi Kuni no Monogatari' I would type “MLD -k -c FS/*.GEM”, since the game’s images are in the FS folder and have the extension GEM.
    To explain this string: MLD launches the program, -k enables the option to tab through the images with space, and -c clears the screen after each image. For more information on MLD options read the MLD manual.
  8. If MLD supports your file type your images should begin to open one at a time. Hit space to tab through them.

Susie

Susie is an old Japanese image viewer for Windows useful for its plugin support. A lot of the times you’re able to find plugins for even the weird file types used in PC-98 games.

  1. Download DiskExplorer. This is used to export the game files from the HDI so we can begin to interact with them outside of our emulator.
  2. Open your HDI with editdisc.exe and save the game's files them to your computer. Just clicking and dragging the folder is enough.
  3. Identify your image filetype. Just click around your game’s folder until you find files that your intuition tells you are images. This can sometimes be a guessing game. I often look for files with names that mention CG, CHAR, or BG.
  4. Download Susie
  5. Find an SPI for your filetype. SPI’s (Susie Plug-Ins) can be difficult to find, and you need a different plugin for each file type. This zip folder includes dozens of SPI's specific to various game publishers. If your filetype isn’t covered in the zip folder it’s worth checking Vector, a site with tons of old Japanese software. Just search the filetype extension you're looking for accompanied with the keyword "SPI". Something might turn up.
  6. If you’ve found an SPI for your filetype install it by dragging and dropping it into the same folder as your Susie executable.
  7. Open Susie, click the top button. Navigate to where your images are stored on your computer. If your SPI is working, your images will show up in your file browser. Open your image and hopefully it works!

If neither of these options work, that’s normal. I recommend trying the spriters resource forums or the PC-98 Discord channel to see if anyone else has been able to find a solution for your filetype, however know there’s a large chance it hasn’t quite been cracked yet.

Resources List

This guide is by no means meant to be comprehensive. If you have questions not covered in the guide I recommend checking out these resources: