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the PC-98 Subreddit Buying Guide frequently referenced as a good start, but it's admitted by the author to be a little outdated.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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next time you open your emulator you should notice a 'Stat' tab that allows you to save up to 10 states.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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: