The Rarest Game I Own: Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire – Mike Matei Blog

How good does a game have to be to be worth more than $1000?

Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire (roughly translated as Galaxy Policewoman Legend Sapphire) is my rarest, most expensive games as of this writing.

This game was only released in Japan, it’s for the PC-Engine CD Rom² System, and it requires a special Arcade Card which goes in the HU Card slot to increase the system’s RAM.

My system is the US released version, known as the Turbo Duo.

You have to jump through a lot of hoops just to be able to play this game on a real console, and each hoop wants more money from you than the last.

So is this good enough to be worth $1000?  Of course not, are you kidding me?  I don’t think any game is that good.  If Nintendo charged that much for The Legend of Zelda, I would have just ended up taking up a different hobby altogether.  The developers who made this had no way of knowing they were making a future ultra-rare collector’s item, so I don’t think it’s really fair to factor in the game’s current high price into my review of the game.  It’s fun to joke about though.

This is the kind of premium, deluxe character select screen $1000 can buy you.

I had to go through a long process to get this game working.  First, I had to do a lot of research and ask around to make sure I could get a legitimate copy of the game without getting ripped off for the price.  This game goes for so much that it’s definitely a huge score for a dishonest seller every time they trick someone into buying a reproduction copy.  With how much I ended up having to spend, I definitely wasn’t going to risk being scammed with a counterfeit, which luckily didn’t happen. Here are photos of my copy which have been verified by several sources to be an authentic copy of the game.

This site is a great primer for how to identify counterfeits, but bootleggers are getting better and better all the time.

If you’re curious to see the numbers on the inner ring on my disc, here they are.

 

Then I had to order an Arcade Pro expansion card…

…only to discover that I was supposed to get a Arcade Duo card instead! 

After the Duo card came over from Japan, it still didn’t work.

If you don’t have the right expansion card, the game doesn’t run and you get what I’m calling the Sexy Screen of Death.

Since I need to capture footage of games in order to make videos and stream, I have a modded Turbo Duo system that lets me record using modern equipment.  I discovered out that my modded Turbo Duo system didn’t have a region-free Hu-Card slot like I thought it did.  Turbo Grafx systems have region-free CD-ROM drives that can play any game, but the Hu-Card slot is region locked.  So, I got my Turbo Duo modded yet again, and finally got the game running.  My Turbo Duo is now a Frankenstein monstrosity of random upgrades and weird cables, but at least it plays everything great.

Most of the games made for the Arcade Card were fighting games, lots are impossible for me to play because I can’t read Japanese, and the rest seem to be horrible trash, so I basically went through the entire upgrade process just to play this one game.  Perhaps the sunk cost of my time and money was what kept me chasing down the issues until I finally got the game running, but I can say that in the end, I feel like it was worth it.  Turns out, it’s actually a really good game.

I’m glad that a game this expensive and rare is so awesome.  As far as the Obscure Gems series goes, this is the Obscuriest Gem yet.  I’m going to have a real hard time topping this one.  So… 行こう!

Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire (referring to it as Sapphire from now on) is an overhead 2d shooter.  You can pick from 4 different ships, and all of them are quite different from each other, including their movement speeds.  Each one has 3 possible shot patterns for a total of 12, which results in quite a bit of gameplay variety.

There’s lots of different attacks to choose from.

One of the coolest features of Sapphire is the wide spread of the difficulty settings.  Easy is enough to give absolute newcomers to the genre a fighting chance at completing the game, while letting veterans breeze through and get a feel for the game.  Normal is probably where most players will find a challenge and Hard is an insane experience.  With the 2 player mode and how mild the Easy mode is, this is a great game to introduce a friend to the shooter genre.  You won’t have difficulty finding someone to play with.

2-player mode is the definitive experience.

2 player mode is a tremendous amount of fun, and the chief reason I want to recommend this game.  There’s a lot of teamwork and communication required, and it’s a really fun accomplishment for both of you.  There’s lots of opportunities to defend and rescue your buddy, like firing a bomb to wipe out enemy bullets and using your gun pods to block shots.  You can also screw your partner over, but you can avoid it by being careful and courteous. This is definitely a game you’ll be throwing out high fives over after every big victory.

Both players share credits in this game, so if you get your partner killed by being a power-up hog, you’re going to suffer too.

You and your partner can space out your bomb usage to shut down difficult bosses.

There’s a lot of visual whimsy to Sapphire, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There’s dragons, robot crabs, evil paintings, and space squids.  Each level takes place in a different time period, from the distant past to the distant future, so every single level stands out from the rest.

The first level seems to be an homage to Blade Runner, and there’s also a couple enemies that I think are parodies of other games.

If this guy isn’t a parody of Andross from Star Fox, then someone has got to be kidding.

I’m pretty sure these guys are a nod to the recurring boss from another super pricey Hudson Soft shooter, Soldier Blade.

I’m not a huge fan of this game’s power-up system, which I’ve seen in other shooters before.  Powerups bounce around the screen and they’ll cycle between red, blue, green, and start over at red again.  Different colors change how your shots behave.  If you get the same color that your ship is already equipped with, it’ll upgrade the power to the next level.

It sounds fine in practice, and it is, but I just don’t find it very fun.  You awkwardly wait for the power-up to change to the color you want and grab it.  Lots of times you’ll be forced to grab the wrong one and change to something you didn’t intend.  I’ve played so many shooters that have fun power-up mechanics and this old trope you see here and many other places just never really felt as exciting to me.  It’s not terrible, but there’s just so many better ways to handle power-ups in a shooter than this.  I would probably be less annoyed if I didn’t see this exact system in so many other games.

That honestly is my only serious criticism of the game though, and it really doesn’t ruin the experience.  The game is just too damn fun otherwise.

The soundtrack was done by T’s Music, the same company that did the Lords of Thunder soundtrack and it’s every bit as awesome.

I think Hudson Soft wasn’t looking to reinvent the shooter genre with Sapphire, and instead their goal was to give players a true arcade experience in the home.  I think they succeeded, because the graphics and presentation are on a level that feels like a Neo Geo game.  The added RAM from the Arcade Card expansion is really put to good use to put lots of large, heavily-animated objects onscreen, and this was pretty incredible by 1995 standards.  There’s a couple quirks here and there, but this is very much draws from the bread and butter of shooter convention and doesn’t strive to innovate too much.

These enemies aren’t actually 3d, just prerendered sprites.  The high amount of animation frames looks great though.

You don’t blow up when you hit walls, but you blow up if they squish you off the side of the screen.

The game is pretty short, which I’m okay with.  Short games require less investment, and it’s fun to sit down with a friend and have a complete game experience in about an hour.  This game is honestly good enough to revisit over and over.  Hard Mode requires a lot of practice to beat, so you’ll get the majority of your playtime out of that.

A tremendous amount of effort obviously went into this game, with the large amount of enemy types and numerous boss battles.  There’s very little recycled content throughout the game’s length, so I would call the game concise rather than call it short.  It’s a very tight, action-packed experience.

The enemy variety really goes well beyond what you see in most shooters.  There are enemies in this game’s 5 levels that only appear in one single wave, never to be seen in any other part of the game.  This fits well because you’ll play this game lots of times.  The replayability factor is quite high on this title.

I played through this game completely about 4 times before I even started this review and played it more times since then, just to give you an idea of how fun it is to revisit this game over and over.

I don’t speak Japanese, but the story is definitely about policewomen in spaceships traveling through time, that much I know.

This is definitely on my list of favorite shooters.  The rarity of it greatly adds to the appeal to me, as obscure, little-known games are my current obsession.  I’d still really like it if it were common, just probably not quite as much.

You can also play this game on the PSP via the compilation Ginga Ojousama Densetsu Collection, but that too is Japan only and it’s also pretty expensive as of the time of this writing.  Something about this game just makes it constantly elude a reasonable price point.  It’s a shame, because I feel like most shooter fans would have a blast playing it.

There’s a lot of rare, expensive games that are absolute crap.  This game is actually very awesome.  If you’re a collector and you want an exotic trophy for your collection that’s actually something you’ll want to play over and over and impress your friends with, Sapphire is definitely a great choice.  But… please don’t go into financial ruin over it, okay?

Also, if for some reason your dad owns this game, don’t scratch the disc.  You’d get a spanking so bad your body would be split in half.

5 thoughts on “The Rarest Game I Own: Ginga Fukei Densetsu Sapphire – Mike Matei Blog”

  1. I always enjoy a good rail shooter and I’m now very interested to try this. Thanks for bringing this one to light! Speaking of rail shooters, I need to get around to beating another great one called Blazing Lazers for TurboGrafx-16….

  2. The Sexy Screen of Death actually has her saying ‘Please insert the arcade card’ (and with her pose it’s probably with a breathy, sexy voice… Just imagine her asking you to just slide in your hardware upgrade so you can get playing.

  3. Cool blog, Mike. Do you dump ROMs of games this rare for others to enjoy? Or can you at least point us to a place where we could play an emulated copy of this game?

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