Handheld Underground

Zook to the Future

posted by taizou @ 2024-05-01 00:00:00 Dumps

Back in 2007, the dumping group Sky League announced a certain game to be released on May 1st of that year.

But that release never happened. And the game has remained elusive. Until now! 17 years later to the day, we can finally bring you:

路克英雄傳3 / Lu Ke Ying Xiong Chuan 3 / Zook Hero 3
aka SUPER洛克人 / Super Luo Ke Ren / Super Rockman

Dumped by dhx and yy小龙虾, many thanks to you both!

This is a game with many names, but the one that might have grabbed your attention is "Zook Hero 3". That would make it the third entry in Vast Fame's Zook series! Vast Fame themselves had released Zook Hero Z and Zook Hero 2 for GBC, and then Zook Man ZX4 for GBA, and that was it. But that seems to leave a gap in the numbering, doesn't it? So is this a long-lost game from Vast Fame?

Well... not exactly. The team that stepped up to fill the gap was not Vast Fame themselves, but Sintax. So this is a Zook game, but it's not exactly a true Zook game. As far as I can tell, Sintax probably had permission to make it; they had a relationship with Vast Fame, being part of the same group of companies linked to Gamtec, and there is precedent of their collaboration in the form of Sintax's GBA titles, which made use of Vast Fame's sound driver and music. Also, if there was any doubt that it is supposed to be a Zook game, and not just another Mega Man clone, the box for the Taiwanese release of the game actually says "Zook Hero" in English.

This game was released in 2004, when Sintax was past their prime, but hadn't quite descended into the lows they'd reach in the subsequent years. Accordingly, it does make a serviceable effort to mimic Mega Man (but not Mega Man X) gameplay, and makes the fairly neat addition of a Metroid-style morph ball move. But it inevitably doesn't come anywhere close to reaching the high standards of Vast Fame's original Zook games. The music is taken directly from the official Game Boy Mega Man 2, so it at least comes from an appropriate source, but that is considered one of the poorer soundtracks in the series and again it doesn't really match up to Yishen Liao's work on the original Zook games.

Of course, Sintax would never pass up an opportunity to recycle a game, and this one would be reworked into the already-dumped Metal Slug game Yuenan Zhanyi X, but that version is actually cut-down and simplified from the original, lacking a stage select, save system and subscreen. Another reskin based on Crazy Arcade retained these elements. however. Sintax would then go onto produce a more tenuously-linked fifth game, Luo Ke Ying Xiong EXE5 aka Luo Ke Ren X5, which was simply a reskin of their previous Castlevania title.

But, regardless of quality, this is still a semi-official entry in one of the most famous unlicensed Game Boy series, and undeniably a significant work as a result, with a ROM dump being sought-after ever since it was first teased by Sky League. So I'm incredibly grateful to both dhx and yy小龙虾 for making it possible to bring this game back to the world, and finally fill a longstanding gap in the Game Boy canon.

Note that in this case, we don't have a raw dump, only a pre-cracked version. In order to play it on hhugboy you'll need to set unlicensed compatibility mode to "disabled", as it's not able to auto-detect that it's not protected. Other emulators and flash carts should support it with no problems.


Lu Ke Ying Xiong Chuan 3 (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip


We also have some scans from yy小龙虾, this is the mainland Chinese "Super Rockman" release. The title screen and game content is identical in all versions.


The jame's bond. Games Bond

posted by taizou @ 2022-09-19 18:44:51 Dumps

It's that time again! Sintax time! It's always Sintax time around here.

Big thanks to Robyn who dumped and scanned all of these!

Jue Dui Wu Li (絕對武力)

This one is commonly referred to in English as "James Bond" or "007", which makes sense when you look at the intro, tuxedo-wearing spy front and centre on the cover art, "007" graphic on the status bar and game over screen, and so on. But the name Sintax gave it, 絕對武力, literally "absolute force", seems to have nothing to do with James Bond whatsoever, it isn't a Chinese title for any of the Bond films, nor any kind of reference I could figure out. Instead it's the Chinese name for... Counter-Strike. OK sure! Counter-Strike was huge back then and I suppose they wanted to flip their Bond game into a CS one last-minute, similarly to how they disguised a Metroid game as an Ultraman one, only this time they didn't manage to pull together a more appropriate cover. James Bond, a Terminator and two anime girls?! I thought this was Counter-Strike, not Fort-*is killed instantly*

For real though I think the two foreground characters were drawn by an in-house Sintax artist, or at least a freelancer they regularly commissioned, since similarly styled art appears on some of their other releases and doesn't seem to be obviously yanked from somewhere. And I like it, honestly! Is the public ready for an anime Bond? The Queen is dead, anything could happen!

Much like Ultra-Metroid it's a reskin of the not-so-old not-so-reliable Yue Nan Zhan Yi 3, quickly becoming one of late-era Sintax's faves down at the recycling plant. Curiously, the character sprite gives off more Terminator vibes than Bond, which is maybe why they put one on the cover? As if they were originally making a Terminator game, then decided to turn it into a Bond game, then at the absolute last minute decided to rename it as a Counter-Strike game. And Sintax did, at least, file copyrights for 007 and Terminator games, but I don't know if they ever actually released anything under those names for the GBC, or if those filings were just artifacts of this game's confused heritage.

GBX: Jue Dui Wu Li (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Raw: Jue Dui Wu Li (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Cracked: Jue Dui Wu Li (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (外星探險の星球大戰)

Hey it's a Star War! Do they still make those things?

Here we have yet another shake of the Yue Nan Zhan Yi 3 tree, but someone at Sintax finally got tired of hearing that GBC Lemmings music and decided to rip something else - so we now get to fight through the galaxy to the sounds of... Gradius! Yeah! It's a late Sintax game with a good and appropriate soundtrack!? Miraculous! And again, the cover art seems to be original, from the same artist as the previous game. I really love their smug anime Yoda.

Despite the source game being gun-based, they gave the protagonist here a lightsaber, which shoots out projectiles when they swing it, but I think the result looks pretty cool. 3-way spread-shot lightsabers! Disney are you listening? disclaimer: they might have already done it, I stopped paying attention to Star Wars about 20 years ago

GBX: Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Raw: Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Cracked: Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

forple also uploaded scans of the box, manual and cart here along with their own dump, so be sure to check those out too!

Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (異形VS鐵血戰士)

Alien vs Predator, except in this game they're both playable characters, along with a human (who seems to be based on Linn Kurosawa from Capcom's arcade game), and the enemies are all aliens regardless of who you pick. So it's more like alien + predator + human vs other aliens. This is probably the original incarnation of Mo Shou Shi Ji: Zhan Shen, the World of Warcraft game, since that one still has "AVP" in its header. Honestly it's not very good! The first couple of levels are boringly straightforward and the rest are boringly mazelike, each character only has one attack and no powerups, and of course the music is from GBC Lemmings.

GBX: Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Raw: Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Cracked: Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Robyn also dumped Chao Ren Te Gong Dui from one of the half-size GBA-like carts, but it matches my dump from last time, so I just added her cart pic to that post.


Super zeroes

posted by taizou @ 2022-07-18 22:20:41 Dumps

The last few posts here have taken us on a rare and exciting trip into Vast Fame town, but, well, nothing lasts forever. Except, of course, for Sintax's game library. So we're back here again, once more taking a dive, Scrooge McDuck like, into that seemingly bottomless pit of brightly-coloured cartridges. Sorry to do this to you in pride month hangover month but my sporadic posting habits on here have long since drifted free of any anchoring in real-world festivities. (Remember when I actually timed releases for Christmas hahahaha yeah)

Today's selection comes from the later era of Sintax's Game Boy Color development, around 2004-2005, firmly in their "decline" period, so don't expect peak quality or anything. There isn't really a theme beyond that, but I did realise after putting this post together that 3 of them have titles referring to some kind of "super man" (超人) in Chinese, so you could pretend that was intentional.

Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (瘋狂阿給Ⅲ-超級炸彈人)

Big thanks to Lady Bluestreak for buying this one! This is one of the more distinctive of Sintax's later efforts, being an honest-to-god Bomberman clone and not just a bad generic platformer or rehash of something from previous years. The main title alludes to "Crazy Arcade", a longstanding online game, and the ingame sprite does seem to resemble its characters, but they also hedged their bets a bit with the label depicting a regular-style Bomberman and a subtitle translating to "Super Bomberman".

(It's also one of their later GBC releases that shipped in GBA-sized carts, mostly seen in the Taiwanese market, meaning it's only physically compatible with GBA & GBA SP despite actually being a GBC game)

The classic Bomberman gameplay is present here, but it comes off a little more exploration-focused since you have these big open scrolling levels and you need to find 3 keys in each to unlock the exit, which you also need to find. It's quite apparent also that, despite the change in gameplay and perspective, this game is at least somewhat based on the same codebase as Sintax's contemporary late platform games, featuring the same odd palette shift when you pause the game, the same GBC Lemmings music and even some leftover graphics from those games in the ROM.

Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Wang Zu Tian Tang (王族天堂)

I THINK this one is based on the MMORPG Lineage, which is called 天堂 in Chinese, but I don't know enough about Lineage to substantiate that. Game-wise it's a straight reskin of Sintax' old Star Wars game, which is... alright!

Wang Zu Tian Tang (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Wang Zu Tian Tang (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Wang Zu Tian Tang (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (超人特工隊 / 超人特攻队)

The Incredibles, unfortunately, have been cursed to appear in an iteration of Sintax's Bad Late Platformer Engine, which most commonly hosts Pokemon games like The Original Pokemon Platinum, but has also counted Sonik the Coolhog among its victims. You can pick from 3 characters which all play the same and all have a seemingly non-functional MP gauge, and then you have to search for the exit in a handful of mazelike platformer levels, before fighting a final boss which may or may not be from the movie (which I haven't seen). Naturally GBC Lemmings music plays throughout all of this.

Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Update 2022-09-19: Added pic of the alternate GBA-sized cart, thanks to Robyn, she also dumped that cart & we confirmed it matches my existing dump

Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (閒蛋超人 / 咸蛋超人)

Finally, this is a particularly weird one. It seems pretty obvious that they set out to make a Metroid game here, with an intro and character sprite depicting Samus, and a plot resembling Metroid Fusion's. But at some point they decided to switch gears, for some reason, turning it into "Ultraman" simply by replacing the title screen and nothing else. And if you were hoping they might've at least rehashed their Metroidvania-like Castlevania game for this attempt... well, no, it's just the Metal Slug clone Yue Nan Zhan Yi 3 with the sprites replaced and the level order changed around.

Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip


Prohibido jugar con Giles

posted by taizou @ 2022-05-05 21:08:44 Dumps

This day has been a long time coming. Almost 12 years ago I imported a batch of rare games from Taiwan in the hope that I could just stick them in my newly-purchased EMS GB Transferer, dump them, and produce a ROM image that would immediately work in emulators, just as you could with any conventional, licensed Game Boy game. But, in the end, the only thing I was able to do was extract a single game from a multicart, Shi Kong Xing Shou. Of course, that was nothing to be sniffed at - it's a very good game that had been undumped until that point - but that still left a failure rate of over 75%, which was naturally a little disappointing.

Soon enough I'd learn why those dumps didn't work - copy protection, in short - and in the decade-and-a-bit since then, I've learned a whole lot, and dumped and emulated many many games with protection and other odd mappers, including the full entire multicart that Shi Kong Xing Shou had come from. But two from that early batch still eluded me: a pair of fighting games, developed by the well-regarded Taiwanese developer Vast Fame, probably the most-wanted yet most-elusive unlicensed Game Boy games out there. Unlike every other Vast Fame GBC game, these hadn't seen more easily-dumped re-releases on multicarts or by other publishers, instead remaining locked away behind the company's own custom protected mapper.

Vast Fame's history with the Game Boy fighting genre goes back possibly as far as King of Fighters '97, the hack of Takara's Nettou King of Fighters '96 which reintroduces the missing characters from Nettou KOF '95, as well as adding a fancy new SGB border. I believe this hack predates Vast Fame as an entity, but it does seem to have some connection to them or their staff, and all their subsequent fighting games were based on it.

Next came Super Fighters S, aka Super Fighters '99, aka Fighter 2000. This took the KOF '97 hack as its foundation, but built a whole new game around it, including new music, new stages, a new intro, full GBC support, and new characters, with its roster coming from the real KOF '97. It was one of the first games developed by Vast Fame as we know it, released in either 1998 or 1999, and although the original version didn't explicitly credit them on the packaging nor in-game, it does feature the V.fame boot logo which would appear in their subsequent own-brand releases.

From there, Vast Fame would go on to pump out a new fighting game for GBC every year until 2002 - and, relevantly here, the rest of those games adopted the same copy protection they'd use for the majority of their subsequent self-published games in Taiwan. So of course I've had my sights on reverse engineering and emulating this practically ever since I first thought "hey what if I made my own emulator" back in 2013 - but I never got anywhere until an extremely unlikely hacked-together software & hardware combination bore fruit earlier this year.

And so: finally, after all these years, hhugboy 1.4.0 supports most of Vast Fame's Taiwanese releases from around 2000 onwards, including those stubborn two fighting games and a whole lot more! But for today's releases we'll be sticking with the fighters. Let's rumble?!

Nü Wang Ge Dou 2000 (女王格鬥2000)

With the new millennium came Vast Fame's true debut on the gaming scene in Taiwan, firmly stepping away from their former semi-anonymity with the introduction of their double-diamond logo and custom cart shell. Nü Wang Ge Dou 2000 (loosely translatable as Queen Fighters 2000) would be their first fully own-brand fighting game, and they really came out strong with this one. As you might have surmised by now, it was their take on an all-female fighting game, no doubt taking inspiration from SNK Gals Fighters for the Neo Geo Pocket Color (the internal header name literally is "Gals Fighters") but Vast Fame at that time had quite a few women in key development roles, so they may well have pushed for it internally too.

Now, Super Fighters S was cool and all, but ultimately it was just the foundation of the Nettou KOF series taken to its logical conclusion, an imaginary "real" Nettou KOF '97 for GBC. And yeah it was well-done, with a bunch of quality audiovisual work put into it, but the nature of the thing meant it could only exist in KOF's shadow. This, on the other hand, was peak Vast Fame breaking out from the confines of imitation, with a brand new original 16-character roster, big expressive NGPC-style sprites and a whole new soundtrack from composer Yishen Liao. And the result is really leagues ahead of Super Fighters S in terms of the amount of distinctive Vast Fame style and personality and charm that shines through as a result.

Unfortunately, the larger sprites do come at a cost: the extra time taken to copy them to VRAM takes an extra frame, making animations noticeably choppier. It's still not as bad as, say, the Game Boy version of Street Fighter 2, but it's a very clear illustration of the tradeoffs that developers had to make in order to pull off a fighting game on the system; either you can have snappy responsive gameplay or nice big sprites but not both.

As I mentioned in the intro, for whatever reason this game doesn't seem to have seen widespread secondary releases in other regions, aside from being distributed by Kong Feng in apparently untouched form in mainland China. So this version is, probably, the only one that exists. And now you can play it! (Note as with all these releases it'll only work in hhugboy for the time being, until such time as other emulators implement support for it)

Nv Wang Ge Dou 2000 (Unl) [C] [GBX].zip
Nv Wang Ge Dou 2000 (Unl) [C] [Raw].zip

Chao Ji Ge Dou 2001 Alpha (超級格鬥2001α)

This one is a straight-up followup to Super Fighters S, with its name translating to Super Fighters 2001 Alpha. As such, it reverts back to being Basically A KOF Game, but presumably the standards of VF's own-label releases didn't allow them to quite commit to an outright copy-job, so all characters are recoloured in the artwork and their names changed to random shit like "Oswald" and "Jason".

This time we have 24 characters, with a roster loosely based on KOF '99, except with not-Rugal appearing as final boss, and Dina and Cio making a welcome return from Queen Fighters. Again it has bigger-than-Nettou sprites with the attendant performance issues, although the NGPC aesthetic is dropped here in favour of something partway between the chibi Nettou style and full-on human proportions. Perhaps inevitably, the non-original characters and more-realistic sprites result in a game that doesn't quite have the same charm as Queen Fighters, but it's all still very well-presented, there is a cool new Yishen Liao soundtrack and a cool intro and a cool title screen and all. Another unique addition for this one is a training mode where you can practice your moves against an inert CPU character.

Once again, this game doesn't seem to have had any kind of altered secondary release, just an untouched Kong Feng one & that's all. I really wonder why that happened - if Vast Fame was more precious about these games for some reason, or if other publishers just weren't interested... but surely this one had at least had the whole "just rename it to KOF and sell it as a KOF" potential? I dunno. It was a weird business.

Chao Ji Ge Dou 2001 Alpha (Unl) [C] [GBX].zip
Chao Ji Ge Dou 2001 Alpha (Unl) [C] [Raw].zip

Ge Dou Jian Shen (格鬥劍神) - Soul Falchion

And finally! This batch of releases comes to an end with the very last fighting game from Vast Fame. If you aren't familiar with Soul Falchion, it's a weapons-based fighting game heavily influenced by Last Blade and Samurai Shodown, specifically the Neo Geo Pocket Color entries in those series, with most (or all?) of its 20 characters being based on those games. However, the sprites are actually downsized to fit the smaller Nettou KOF-style proportions, undoing the performance downgrade of the previous two games and making the whole thing feel more responsive again.

So, gameplay-wise this might actually be an improvement on the previous two, but unfortunately it's otherwise quite obvious that it came after Vast Fame's creative peak - there isn't any original character art to be found, for example, the intro is just a slideshow of character portraits edited from the NGPC games without any animation. Overall it's still a solid game and there are even still some good new music tracks here, it just doesn't quite live up to the standards of their earlier work.

Another pretty clear sign of something being up, though, is the fact that Vast Fame's name is totally absent - there's no credit to them anywhere in-game nor on the packaging, and even the "V.fame" boot logo which was present ever since the otherwise-anonymous Super Fighters S has been replaced with "SOUL". This would be the case for all of their subsequent games even as they moved onto GBA, with their only known credited release in 2002 being Xin Feng Shen Bang. So this period marks Vast Fame slipping back into the background after their couple of years in the sun.

Now, other versions of Soul Falchion have been dumped for a long time, because unlike the prior two games, it received a large number of secondary releases, often with reduced or no copy protection. It also appeared on Vast Fame's multicarts, again with no protection, which I dumped and extracted a while ago. Why this one and not the others? Who knows! However, none of those versions exactly match this standalone Taiwanese cartridge. The common dump, sourced from a mainland China release, has a different title screen and buggy fade effects in the intro. The multicart version meanwhile seems to be an earlier revision, with the soundtrack from Super Fighters 2001 Alpha in place of the partially-unique one found in standalone releases, and all the characters having different palettes. So I think we can probably consider this new dump to be the "definitive" version.

Ge Dou Jian Shen - Soul Falchion (Unl) [C] [GBX].zip
Ge Dou Jian Shen - Soul Falchion (Unl) [C] [Raw].zip


Oppan Gangfeng style

posted by taizou @ 2022-02-20 02:09:39 Dumps

Vast Fame published games fairly directly in its native Taiwan, and so those releases can be seen as most closely reflecting what they wanted to put out into the world, with a string of (mostly) original titles issued for GBC under their own name, as well as a few more-infringing games released anonymously. However, although Taiwan certainly had a well-developed local game scene, the biggest market for Chinese-language releases was, of course, mainland China, and Vast Fame had to rely on local publishers and distributors to get their games out there.

While some of these distributors are not named, we know that by 2001 or earlier they had hooked up with Kong Feng Industries Limited (also known as Gangfeng, but the Kong Feng romanisation seems to be used most commonly by the company, so I'm going with that). This is a company probably best known for producing the "GB Boy" Game Boy clone systems, which they still make to this day, although they have long since exited the game-publishing business.

A magazine ad from 电子游戏软件 2001 issue 8 reveals that Kong Feng released Vast Fame's Shui Hu Shen Shou and Digimon Pocket in that year. Subsequent ads from 2002 issue 1 and 2002 issue 2 list further Vast Fame titles, alongside some Chinese translations of licensed games. Most of these releases used "Game GB Color" or simply "GB Color" branding.

Later releases came with "GB全彩中文" branding, later additionally identifying themselves with the Siddham script character 𑖦 (I bet your device can't display that). Although I don't believe these were openly credited to Kong Feng, they used the same PCBs, the same "SEA" back sticker, and the patent on their later shell design was registered to the same address that Kong Feng occupied at the time, so... you can draw your own conclusions there. However, under this line they seemed to move away from distributing Vast Fame games under their original titles, instead often rebranding them to latch onto big-name franchises, even when this was fairly incongrous with the game itself. (Eventually, they stopped publishing Vast Fame titles altogether and put out a string of low-quality RPGs developed by "Tian Cai Xiao Zi" using a hacked up version of VF's San Guo Zhi engine).

Now, while these cartridges were copy-protected, it turns out most of them didn't use the same protection found on Vast Fame's Taiwanese releases, but rather another variant on the well-understood type used by BBD and Hitek. So, after figuring that out I was able to emulate it pretty easily. It's supported in hhugboy 1.3.1+, named "Vast Fame secondary releases" in the "unlicensed compatibility mode" menu. In all cases I'm providing GBX and raw dumps, no deprotection hacks because they use the protection features in a non-trivial way.

(Incidentally the carts all have 32KB SRAM onboard and addressable, so I've specified that much in the GBX files, even though the games only seem to use 8)

Shu Ma Bao Long - Kou Dai Ban (數碼暴龍-口袋版)

Thanks to RocknRami for lending me this cart a long long time ago! The pic above is taken from her blog, because... if I ever took a picture when I borrowed it I sure as hell can't find it.

This is one of the earlier "Game GB Color" releases as seen in those magazine ads, released in 2001. The title translates to "Digimon Pocket Edition", although in English it's widely just known as "Digimon Pocket". Previously I dumped the same game via a Vast Fame multicart, but this version differs in a number of ways, which I'll get into later.

So this is an RPG based on Digimon, as you probably guessed. I believe this was Vast Fame's first RPG, with its Taiwanese release probably landing around 1999-2000. This was when Digimon was really hitting its stride as a multimedia phenomenon, with the Digimon Adventure anime starting its run worldwide and video games hitting various non-Nintendo platforms, of course leaving a Game Boy-sized open goal for unlicensed developers. I didn't play much of it when I dumped the multicart version previously, but since I was curious about the differences and have been getting into some bits of Digimon lately I decided to give it a bit more attention this time around and see what's what.

You start the game with a full team of 6 baby Digimon. Although they have levels, they don't gain experience by fighting; instead you earn crests through battle, which allow you to evolve one Digimon to any other Digimon of the next evolutionary stage, with each one having a fixed set of stats and moves. There are 134 total Digimon across all stages, with sprites which seem to be based on the designs used in "Digital Monster Ver. WonderSwan", which was released in March 1999, around the same time Digimon Adventure premiered in Japan. Characters from that anime appear as "gym leaders" (for want of a better term), but the setting and story doesn't seem to be based on it otherwise.

Progression is pretty simple. You travel from town to town fighting random inhabitants, gaining an evolution crest every 4 battles. Townspeople seem to cycle through a shared set of teams, and the later ones can totally wipe you out early in the game, but you can reset the cycle by leaving town. After evolving a couple of Digimon you'll be ready to take on the "gym leader" who will grant you access to the next town plus another crest for your trouble.

And that's really all there is to it; a number of other elements seem to be notably missing or unfinished. Even though there's no experience system, Digimon have a "0000/0000" meter in the stat screen, which seems to do nothing. There is a "monsters" count on the save screen, but it always remains at 000, and in any case there are no "wild" encounters nor any other way to obtain additional Digimon aside from evolving your starting six. There are also no items aside from the evolutionary crests. It's all pretty barebones and rough around the edges. It certainly shows that it was Vast Fame's first RPG, and I wouldn't be surprised if development had been rushed to catch the Digimon wave as early as possible, but at least it presumably provided some foundation for their later high-quality original works.

As for the differences to the multicart version: this release has a whole different (better) soundtrack, a few bugs are fixed, and its player character sprite is changed from Taichi to a generic cap-wearing kid. However, in both versions, Taichi appears on the title screen and Cap Kid appears as the player character's portrait. Apparently the Taiwanese single-cart release is identical to this one, in spite of its manual showing a Taichi sprite like the multicart version; this probably indicates the multicart version is an earlier build, similar to some of the other games on those carts. I'm still open to the possibility of an earlier Taiwanese print having a different revision, though; it has been sighted in the same "New GB Color" cart shells used for Vast Fame's very early releases (as well as certain hacks) and I don't think the contents of that particular version have been documented. There's also at least one English version, maybe two, but those have eluded me for a long-ass while.

Surprisingly, the ROM dump 1:1 matched a ROM that had been sitting under everyone's noses for years, inexplicably misnamed "Zelda Shi Kong Zhi Zhang (Encrypted) (Unl) [C]" in GoodGBX. So if you have that ROM, you can select the "Vast Fame secondary releases" mode in hhugboy and it will run just fine. But nevertheless I'm giving it a proper release with its proper name here.

Shu Ma Bao Long - Kou Dai Ban (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Shu Ma Bao Long - Kou Dai Ban (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip

(This cart has a DSHGGB-81 PCB and boots with a "DIGI." boot logo.)

Mo Jie Chuan Shuo (魔戒傳說)

Now we're getting into the GB全彩中文 releases, this presumably being one of the earlier ones, from 2002. Hey is this one of those Lords of the Rings I've heard so much about

Well... not really? It's actually E Mo Dao / E Mo Cheng 2, the Getsufuumaden/Castlevania hybrid, with the only apparent change being the title screen, plus the graphics for one of the intro scenes being corrupt (verified on real hardware). However in spite of that bug, the redone title screen is decent enough that I think the rework was done by Vast Fame themselves rather than being a post-hoc hack by someone else.

Vast Fame would revisit this theme later with a more comprehensive overhaul, currently dumped via a Li Cheng release, which adds a new properly LOTR-based opening cutscene, removes the map screen and makes the game totally linear instead.

Mo Jie Chuan Shuo (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Mo Jie Chuan Shuo (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip

(This cart has a DSHGGB-81 PCB and boots with a "TD-SOFT" boot logo, a strange one since that logo has also been seen in non-Vast Fame games.)

Mu Chang Wu Yu GB 6 (牧場物語GB6)

Another GB全彩中文 release. Unfortunately my copy has a low-quality reproduction label for some reason, but the original came with a gold seal that was applied to some of the mid-era carts under this line (they seemed to drop it when adopting a custom shell design for the Tian Cai Xiao Zi games).

Now we're REALLY in weird-rebrand territory. This game starts up with a series of nicely-drawn static graphics of Harvest Moon characters, and a new title screen to get you ready to enter a world of farming fun. Again, all of this appears to have been done by Vast Fame themselves; I don't know if it was their idea or done at Kong Feng's request, though.

But... Vast Fame never really made a Harvest Moon game, nor anything that would really fit the "agricultural RPG" theme at all. So what's the underlying game here? Why, sci-fi monster-collecting RPG, Shi Kong Xing Shou, of course! Yeah, why not! Maybe they were trying to do Innocent Life before Innocent Life. (does anyone even remember Innocent Life anymore? it just got left to die on the PSP while Rune Factory got 50 sequels and even outlasted its developer smh)

Mu Chang Wu Yu GB 6 (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Mu Chang Wu Yu GB 6 (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip

(This cart also has a DSHGGB-81 PCB and boots with a "DIGI." boot logo)

Digimon Sapphire

And finally! This is NOT a mainland release, but rather one of the rare few international English versions of Vast Fame games. It happens to use the same mapper as the above carts, despite having a totally different PCB and having been published by the "New Game Color Advance" company.

And this is not a rebrand either - it's basically an original Digimon strategy RPG, albeit based heavily on Vast Fame's previous original game Sheng Shou Wu Yu. It also received a rare Taiwanese release plus a mainland one under the GB全彩中文 line, which probably explains it using the same mapper here.

As usual for Vast Fame English games, the text is extremely badly translated, but just about comprehensible if you pay attention. Also the music is surprisingly messy here, with some tracks having channels out of sync, and music playing in weird locations like the Sheng Shou Wu Yu title theme playing in battle. Clearly it didn't have the same care and attention put into it that Sheng Shou itself did. But at least that solid foundation means it's got more going on than Digimon Pocket did.

You've probably noticed the cart calls this one "Digimon Saphire", but since the title screen has the correct spelling I'm going to be generous and not preserve their mistake in a ROM filename forever. You're welcome, label designer from 20 years ago.

Digimon Sapphire (Unl) (Eng) [C] [GBX].zip (GBX footer updated 22/02/2022 - new file CRC32 11B4BDE1)
Digimon Sapphire (Unl) (Eng) [C] [Raw].zip

(This cart has a BC-R1616T3P PCB and does not boot with a custom logo, despite having a "DIGI." logo at the usual spot in ROM)