I recently became interested in a series of RPGs developed by the now-defunct Quintent in the early 90’s–Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. I have a Illusion of Gaia cartridge, which is why I became interested in this series. Soul Blazer was released in the US. Terranigma was never released on the SNES, only the Super Famicom, and has never been formally translated.
I am currently emulating Soul Blazer because it passes my Can I Steal This test, which is: Is it available on a current-gen system in my native language? I can emulate it easily on a range of devices but found the play control slightly wonky. I ordered a new controller, which I was sorely in need of anyway, but in the meantime wondered how it would play on original hardware.
I briefly investigated the burgeoning world of cartridge repros some years ago. Cartridge repos present an interesting scenario in which one wishes to play a game on original hardware but is not overly concerned with authenticity. It used to reliably cost about $40 USD to have a game loaded to a cartridge, but these days you can get repros for less, usually $20 to $35 USD.
One potential problem with some repros is grounding issues (like connecting 3.3v flash chips to 5V bus) which can shorten the life of the hardware. (See Dangers of 3.3V Flash in Retro Consoles[archive.is] with the caveat the writer is at least a partial idiot, e.g., “common rebuttals”).
A cursory Ebay search of Soul Blazer carts provides an interesting range of prices, from a $20 marked repros to $350+ for a CIB authentic game. If I want a copy of Soul Blazer that doesn’t theoretically burn up my SNES I need to buy an authentic cart, so I need to be able to tell the difference. I could apply Brandon Perton’s Tips for Spotting Counterfeit SNES Games.
Can we reasonably diagnose at home? Let’s find out! Check a cart scan from SNES Central…
- Authentic full listing, including PCB definitely legit.
- Authentic listing looks legit.
- Authentic listing appears legit.
- Repro listing is an obvious repro. Top font/logo completely wrong, label very different from original.
- Repro label is less obvious, the top logo more closely matches but side-by-side there are obvious font/logo placement differences.
- Unmarked repro is not marked repro or authentic, and may not include a photo of the actual cart being sold, but is clearly is a repro based on the listing price.
Somewhat ironically, the worse shape the cart is in the more likely it is to be real, so having a beat-up cart isn’t necessarily a bad thing! A bedraggled Blockbuster Video Copy recently sold for $95. It’s the pristine carts with gleaming labels that are most suspect. Anyway, I went through quite a few listings and I didn’t find any authentic listings that I could outright debunk as repros, though I did see a few listings I personally would have asked for additional pictures of before bidding.
I recently went to a few shops that sell vintage games and only found Soul Blazer at one. A boutique gaming shop had 3 copies of Soul Blazer for $100 each (cart only). I hadn’t researched repros much at that time, but based on my memory of the top label all 3 are probably authentic. That being said… How does one determine the “market value” of a game like this? Completed Ebay listings? $100 does appear to be a higher-end average for the cart alone.
If you want to play a lot of old games on original hardware, making your own repros or investing in a flash cart is another avenue. It’s doable with elbow grease (or in the case of the flash carts, an up-front investment) but what’s the real benefit to using the actual original hardware? There are adapters that allow you to use SNES controllers through USB and emulators provide QOL features like save states and button re-mapping. People sometimes complain about input lag, but is that really a discernible thing to the average player? This week I’m going to fire up some of my old hardware and a) see if it works and b) see if it really feels different from playing on an emulator.
In the meantime, I am curious as to whether anyone has attempted to pass off SNES repros as authentic carts in a systematic way. The issue, I think, is many rare SNES games require the box, manual, and inserts to have truly high value and those components are more difficult to reproduce than the cart itself. Some of the rarest SNES games are competition versions that could not reasonably be duplicated. Aero Fighters and Hagane both caught my eye as contenders for fraud because the loose cartridges fetch a premium ($500), but while you can attempt to fake a lot of things you definitely can’t fake the PCB so all someone has to do is open it up and you’re busted. You’re not going to fool anyone willing to fork over real cash, in other words.
I did see a repro Hagane listed as authentic for $400 USD, the eBay auction closed without a buyer and I strongly suspect the seller, who sold other things besides video games, legitimately had no idea it was a repro, and listed it as authentic without doing research and presumably delisted it when they were notified of the error. One catch on Hagane specifically is seeing whether the “made in” text in the bottom left corner of the label is cut off or if there’s proper margin.