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Touhou 1 - 5 (and PC-98 in general) on DOSBox-X

I completed Mystic Square in one run a few days ago, which reminded me that getting it to play correctly was once a pain, so I thought I may as well write about it.


Games about cute girls with frilly hats. In the mainline series they shoot at each other with magical powers.

It's a bullethell game, with just the right amount of edge to make me feel invested and exasperated when I finish the game, but no so much that it's impossible to finish it in one run. Major enemies and bosses are by far the most fun, often having several different attack patterns you need to very quickly learn to advance through the game. With (later games having) many playable characters, difficulty levels, and choice of initial extra lives, it's extremely replayable, and very easy to pick up and put down whenever.

The music also deserves a mention, because the composition is fantastic and I will load an emulator just to go on "Music Room".

It's great for a mid to late 90s arcade style game, the later of the PC-98 series fitting on 11 MB and the former 2 on half of that. I would argue the games became more engaging, balanced, and showed "more experience" from the developer as the series went on. The only thing I feel really lacking is a save feature, or a functional save-state alternative in my emulator (I've yet to try others besides DOSBox-X - so feel free to make me feel stupid).

Also, I play because it's free (as in "free beer"). I'm the cheapest person I know. Any game released for the PC-98 is abandonware, as the PC-98 was discontinued is 2003 and stopped shipping in 2004.



Copies are Hard to Come By

There are a few places in which you can get the files. I happen to be one of those places. [1]

The font.rom file is essential, so download that too.

Why DOSBox-X?

There are no strong reasons to be fair, I just like that DOSBox-X can emulate a variety of environments ("'Bloat, bloat,' they howl"), including MS-DOS and PC-98. If you only care about PC-98, xnp2 is a fine choice, and referenced on the TouHou Files page.


Obviously, get DOSBox-X. The compilation is run by a makefile - it's a rather large program, so expect it to take a while and run your CPU a little toasty. Alternatively, I hear of an RPM and a Snap existing, but I prefer to compile. The wiki discusses some of its more interesting features.

You'll find a file in your build directory (assuming you compiled - if not, you're on your own from here) called dosbox-x.reference.conf. You can safely copy the whole thing to dosbox-x.conf, and from there start editing. Or create an empty 'dosbox-x.conf' file, and include only what you need for clarity.

Some of my useful options, for PC-98 emulation:
[sdl] output = opengl [dosbox] machine = pc98 cascade interrupt ignore in service = true [render] aspect = true scaler = rgb2x forced

Yes, the headers in square brackets are necessary. Some are essential, like "machine = pc98", some are just personal aesthetics, like "scaler = rgb2x forced". Play around - you'll have a different monitor to me, and likely a different keyboard (mine is jp106). There are probably plenty of useful settings I don't know of, I've just done the bare minimum to have it functional and aesthetically pleasing. Many of these settings can be found in the GUI, but this sets them permanently and is more robust. I also believe these can be passed as parameters when executing "./src/dosbox-x", but I don't know why you'd want to do it that way and I've not tried it.

Set-up - font.rom

Additionally, remember the font.rom file from earlier? Drop that in the build directory. Things should look a lot better after that.

You should now have an emulated machine capable of playing PC98 games, and making them look good on your screen at that. Congrats.

Actually mounting the files to boot and play

There was also surprisingly little information on this part, so here goes.

You need to be in the bottom of the root directory when executing the program, where font.rom can also be found. I have a simple bash alias set up like so:

alias dosbox='cd /path/to/build/of/dosbox-x/ && /path/to/build/of/dosbox-x/src/dosbox-x'

When you're actually within the emulator:

Z:¥>mount c /path/to/game/files/ Z:¥>c: C:¥>imgmount 2 game.hdi -fs none C:¥>boot -l c

Your game, should, hopefully now be good to go. I've found minor issues with TouHou 3, TouHou 5 works great. You can play any PC-98 game you can get your hands on, in theory.

The 3 images in this article do not belong to me - they are screenshots of gameplay of 東方怪綺談 ~ Mystic Square, and the game belongs to Team Shanghai Alice/ZUN.

Sharing Screenshots

DOSBox-X includes the functionality to take a screenshot, which you can bind to a less awkward key. This takes a screenshot of the game without any of the aspect or scalers effects, which frankly look better than the screenshots I took with scrot. Oh well, wish I knew that before I made this post. Nonetheless, it at least gives you a good idea of how my configuration settings may make the screen look.

[1] 2021.04.12: This was originally a link to, but they seem to have since then gone down/stopped hosting the files.


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