Those familiar with the long, sordid story of Final Fantasy know that the original Japanese Final Fantasy II never made it to stores in North America. Until now. Sort of.
Thanks to the wonders of eBay, you can buy a very good condition, pre-production sample cartridge of Final Fantasy II that was assembled for the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show. (The graphic at the top of this post is from a brochure that was handed out to retailers at the same show.)
The game is being sold by video game historian/journalist Frank Cifaldi, who describes it thusly:
As most of you are no doubt aware, the original version of Final Fantasy II was never released in the United States. This particular cartridge was put together by the fine folks at Square Soft USA (a very small company at the time) to display at the 1991 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The plan was to release the game later that year, but instead, Square scrapped its 8-bit NES plans to focus on the new 16-bit Super Nintendo.
A pre-production sample cartridge for any video game from this era is rare indeed, but for one to survive for a game that was never actually released is something of a miracle. Having that unreleased game be a part of one of the most important franchises in video game history is basically unheard of.
I have been the proud owner of this cartridge for over nine years now, and as far as I am aware, this is the only legitimate copy of the game that exists. Any other copies you have seen of Final Fantasy II for the NES have been bootlegs, this is the real deal.
It has been stored securely since it was originally purchased in 2003, and until I took the photos for this auction, it had not touched a console since that time.
Cifaldi pointed me to this article about it at his gaming site Lost Levels, which charts the course of the game and includes an interview with Kaoru Moriyama, the translator who made the CES version.
The English script is clunky and erroneous to the point that players may find the dialogue between characters quite comical. It can be very hard not to snicker when a character declares, "We are all in here because of that old man's Xtal Rod!!"
Moriyama is quick to point out her script is very preliminary. Additionally, the script was cut down in length "to fit the text area for compilation."
The result is a guilty pleasure. The game was neither ready nor intended for release at this stage of completion. The project was cancelled shortly after this point, and thus the translation was never refined.
The game was completed to the point that it can be played from start to finish. It is just that the dialogue remains in a constant state of mangled English throughout.
Cifaldi has said that he's not necessarily looking for someone to hit the $50,000 "buy it now" price for which he's listed the game—he's open to offers via eBay's offer system. He can also be reached through eBay to answer questions about the game.
So by all means, if you're a hardcore Final Fantasy fan, put your car up on Craigslist, take out a second mortgage, and get in touch.