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Emulating PC-98 Era Touhou

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 write about it.

Mystic Square - Good Ending

What's All This Then?

Cute girls with frilly hats fly around and blast each other to bits with spiritual powers. Need I explain more?

Okay, but really. The mainline series is comprised of danmaku (bullet hell) games, which have principally simple gameplay rules but create a very intense and challenging experience, requiring fast reactions and the ability to learn and recall patterns. Bosses have multiple attack patterns, and with configurable difficulty levels it's highly replayable. The music also deserves a mention, because the composition is fantastic and I will load an emulator just to go on 'Music Room'.

Mystic Square - Music Room

Subsequent games continue to expand on and add more, but these games are still worth seeing, at least in my opinion. As they are made for the obsolete PC-98 platform, they're effectively abandonware, and shouldn't be trouble to acquire.

Well, Where Is It?

There are several sources for the files. You can find them yourself, but additionally, I'm hosting my own copies here.

On Emulating

I use DOSBox-X. I don't have especially strong reasons to do so, for me it's convenient to be able to use both PC-98 and DOS ("Bloat, bloat," they howl). If you don't care about DOS, xnp2 is also a fine choice for emulating PC-98. Read on if you'd like to hear more about DOSBox, as it's the emulator I can talk about which I experience with.

Set-up

The wiki discusses some of its more interesting features. Assuming you are on Linux, DOSBox-X will search the directory '~/.config/dosbox-x/' for a file like 'dosbox-x.conf'. Here's a suggested config file:

[sdl]
output                                  = opengl
[dosbox]
machine                                 = pc98
cascade interrupt ignore in service     = true
[render]
aspect                                  = true
scaler                                  = rgb2x forced

Some are essential for PC-98, like 'machine = pc98', some are just personal aesthetics, like 'scaler = rgb2x forced'. Play around and find what suits you, there are plenty of useful settings I don't know of. You can find more settings in 'dosbox-x.reference.conf' in the source code, and they can also be set in the GUI. The 'FONT.ROM' file may not be necessary, I've used it in previous versions to set the font by putting it in the working directory - again, see my source.

Booting the Games

The commands you'll use within the emulator will look similar to what I've shown below:

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

Some games have minor hiccups, but all are entirely playable. Hopefully, it should now be functioning for you too.

Mystic Square - Foreboding Dialogue

Sharing Screenshots

DOSBox-X includes the functionality to take a screenshot without any of the aspect or scalers effects, which look better than the screenshots I took. Would be good if I knew that before I made this post. At least my images give an indication of how my configuration settings may make your screen look.

NB: 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.