A tale of two cartridges
Last year, I bought a Final Fantasy VI cartridge for the Game Boy Advance from an eBay seller in China. If I had read a guide like this one, it should have been totally obvious that what I got was a fake. But at the time, the existence of counterfeit GBA games didn’t even occur to me, so I didn’t realize I had one until a few weeks ago.
Now that I’ve bought another copy of FF6 that’s genuine (I’m pretty sure), the two cartridges provide an interesting comparison. (The fake is on the left and the real is on the right in all pictures. Click to view full size.)
First, the front of the cartridges:
The three figures on the fake game’s label are characters from Final Fantasy IV, or so I hear. (That’s 4, not 6; whoever made the label pasted in characters from the wrong game!) This failed to arouse my suspicion because I’ve never played FF4.
The fake is missing the “Official Nintendo Seal” and the company logos. The ESRB rating is different.
The 10-letter code in the bottom right corner is different: AGB-BZ6E-USA is the correct code for the American version of FF6 Advance, but AGB-BKWE-USA is the code for a game called BookWorm.
You can’t really see it in this picture, but the real carthas a small two-digit number embossed on it. This is apparently the case for all real GBA games.
I have no idea why the bootlegger didn’t just try to copy the real label exactly.
Not too much to see here, except that the fake has the wrong model number: AGB-004 is the model number for a charger, while AGB-002 is the standard GBA cartridge. Somewhat surprisingly, the fake uses the correct tri-wing screw (commonly used in Nintendo stuff).
Here are the insides:
This is where things get really interesting. The chip on the right of the fake game’s PCB is a 1-Mbit SRAM (M5M51008DFP-70H), where the cart stores its save data, and the thing on the left is a button cell battery that keeps the SRAM alive. Once that battery dies, any saved games on that cart are going to disappear, and this is probably the biggest technical shortcoming of the counterfeit cartridge (which otherwise seems to work perfectly fine).
On the other hand, the real cart uses a 256-Kbit FRAM (Ferroelectric RAM) (MB85R256, the chip on the left). Unlike the SRAM, this chip doesn’t need to be constantly powered to retain data, which makes me a lot more hopeful that it’ll continue to work for a long time.
Pulling the battery up on the fake cart reveals what I think is a 64-Mbit flash memory chip (M6MGT657). The real cart contains a 64-Mbit mask ROM (MX23L6406-12C).
Finally, for the sake of completeness, here are the backs of the PCBs.