What the hell is a WonderSwan?
The WonderSwan is a 16-bit black & white portable system made by Bandai and only available in Japan. The WonderSwan Color is an improved and colorized version of the Wonderswan similar to how the GameBoy Color is to the Gameboy. I haven't completely seen what the WSC is capable of, but I'd say maybe in some ways it's a little better than an SNES is, in other ways maybe a little worse. One neat feature is that it can be played in a vertical mode for games that support it, notice the extra + pad on the left side. (There's also now a further improved system called the Swan Crystal. At one point it was believed that FF3 would be made to take advantage of it, but whether or not that was planned it didn't happen.)
Final Fantasy comes in a special edition package with a white WSC in addition to being sold seperately. This isn't just a simple port of FF1. Several improvements have been made.
So what's new?
There's a complete graphic overhaul. This game sports the best graphics I've ever seen on a portable system. (Note that I wrote this before the GBA came out.) There are extra scenes and a lot of other changes. Like later games you can walk around in shops, buy as many items as you want at a time, and weapons, armor, and items are all stored in a single pool. The spells have been given more dramatic effects on the same level as the SNES/Super Famicom games. Figa (FIR3) resembles FF6's Ultima. Click here for some screen shots.
I'm also glad to say that they kept a lot of things intact. I was a bit disappointed that the Dragon Warrior rerelease for the GBC was changed so much. Despite being enhanced and improved, the graphics were worse than the original in most cases. They also changed a lot of stuff around. (I can't completely complain about that thugh, some of the new stuff was a little better.) Worst of all, they toned the difficulty way down. Now with FF1, most of the dialog was left intact (compared to the Famicom version) and the difficulty is still there. (It's actually harder in some ways.) There's also an option to turn off several of the new features with a "Classic" mode.
FF2j and FF4 have received the same treatment. FF3j was on its way as well, but was cancelled. We now know that it's coming to the Nintendo DS.
Okay, now where can I get one?
If you'd like to get your hands on one of these badboys check out import shops and eBay. It'll cost a pretty penny and it's in Japanese, but if you've got the cash and don't mind the language problem it could be worth it.
That's a lot of damn money for just one game. What other things can I get to make it worth having a WonderSwan?
The obvious choices are FF2 and FF4 if you know Japanese, or can get by well enough without it. Square has also released remakes of Makai Toushi SaGa (Final Fantasy Legend), Romacing SaGa, and Front Mission. They've made a couple of original games for the system as well; Blue Wing Blitz and Wild Card.
The system is also home to many anime-based games, particularly Bandai properties like Gundam and Digimon. Pocket versions of other games and series you may be familiar with are available too, such as Pocket Fighter, Guilty Gear, Tetris, Crazy Climber, and Space Invaders. There's also a puzzle game called Gunpey, named after the late creator of the WonderSwan, Game Boy, Virtual Boy, Nintendo Game & Watch, and the freaking + pad(!!): Gunpei Yokoi.
Some other interesting (and wildly expensive) things include the WonderWitch, a device allowing you to program your own games, and the WonderBorg, a programmable robot.
Here's a visual Translation Guide for the basic stuff. It's not much, but it does the job (I hope). If there's anything else in the game you'd like translated email me and I'll see what I can do.
And here's a section about Keeping my Wonderswan Safe
Okay, so if the portability or the novelty of this crazy Japanese system doesn't appeal to you, we now have Final Fantasy Origins. It has just about everything the WSC version has and more, but it's in English and doesn't cost big $$$. Learn more on the Playstation page.
Even better (depending on opinion) are the Game Boy Advance and PSP versions.