We join Pang Man on his tour of the Japanese video gaming scene.
This time the Pang Man is on his merry way to the Japan Arcades to see what cool arcade greatness awaits........is the scene still alive and kicking?
"Given the near death of the UK arcade scene, I thought it would be interesting to check out the Japanese Arcade scene and see if it was in a similarly perilous state.
My fear was that the Arcades here would be either hard to find or empty of customers and a shadow of their former selves.
So whilst in Tokyo, I headed out and about and I’m pleased to say that my findings were that the arcade scene still seems to be fairly healthy.
The two main chains of arcades appeared to be Taito Game Station and Sega. I encountered multiple branches of these arcades across Tokyo and they were pretty much everywhere.
Even during working hours, the arcades seemed to be fairly busy with customers.
Here are my impressions on the Tokyo arcade scene based on my brief time there:
1. UFOs Catchers are enormously popular.
Every arcade I visited tended to have one or two entire floors dedicated to UFOs. And they weren’t just hidden away in the basement but would be prominently displayed on the ground floor as you entered!
UFO Catchers are essentially the crane games where you try and control a lever or crane to pick up a prize. Of course, these machines exist in the UK, but in terms of volumes, to a much lesser extent when compared to Japan.
Prizes here varied enormously and you really were spoilt for choice. There was everything from your typical soft toys and confectionery all the way up to UFO exclusive collectible anime figurines. Most machines cost 100 yen for a game (around 70p).
I personally don’t understand the popularity of these crane machines; I have tried them before and have never had much success with them. Perhaps there is an optimal strategy that is worth the payoff? Or is it the fact that they are cheap to play, and people treat it like buying a lottery ticket? (I.e. worth losing a bit of money for the small chance to win a big prize). I really am at a loss to comprehend how there is a demand for this market.
2. Rhythm/reaction games are all the rage.
Whilst the most popular arcades in the UK tend to be of the fighting/driving/shooting variety, in Japan tastes differ considerably.
It appeared that the most in-demand games in Tokyo were those of the rhythm/reaction genre. I was surprised to see how active gamers here were. Whether tapping, dancing, drumming or pressing buttons, it certainly looked like you would need good coordination to be successful. Some popular examples are listed below:
- Mai Mai by Sega
Players on this arcade looked like they were frantically tapping a washing machine. The aim was to touch the 8 buttons on the outside of the circle (or swipe across the middle) in time with the music. It looked pretty fun though and I regret not having a quick go.
- Museca from Konami
This Arcade looked pretty intimidating, with a foot pedal and five spinners, which could be pressed, held, or rotated.
- The Final Fantasy All-Star Carnival by Square Enix
This arcade is a successor to The Rhythm Final Fantasy games on the Nintendo DS. One of the new features is the addition of a local and online co-op mode.
3. Classic franchises still have their fans:
Despite the release of new cutting edge titles, it was nice to see that classic characters from my childhood were continuing to entertain fans. For example:
- Pokemon Tournament
This arcade seemed to be a fairly popular and fun beat-em-up. Maybe I need to check out the Wii U version soon.
- Tekken 7
I played a couple of rounds of Tekken 7 and wasn’t very successful (I much prefer console controllers to the arcade controls) but I am a huge fan of the franchise and will definitely get the PS4 version when it is released.
- Dragonball Zenkai Battle
Dragonball as a franchise has a timeless appeal, although the games are not quite as good as the Streetfighter and Tekken franchises. I am a big fan of the anime though and luckily a new TV series called Dragon Ball Super was recently commissioned.
- Final Fantasy Dissidia
This game is a continuation of the series on the PSP and certainly looked action packed. I believe a PS4 version is in the works and may contain characters from FFXV.
4. VR games aren’t as prominent as I expected
Given the media coverage and recent releases of the PSVR, Oculus Rift, and HTC VIVE, I expected the Japanese arcades to be brimming with Virtual Reality type experiences. I was surprised that this was not the case at all and in fact I only found 1 arcade with a VR game.
The implications of this are interesting, does this mean that gamers here just aren’t buying into the whole Virtual Reality experience or is it simply the fact that VR is something to enjoy at home? Or is it a cost versus profit thing for arcades? I truly wonder.
In the name of research, I did play the one VR game I found. It was a zombie style shooter, where you put on a VR visor and held a gun. It was fun but not the all-encompassing experience I was expecting. Graphics were good but not amazing and although you could walk freely around, the game had a lot of virtual walls which limited you in a way.
5. Sega has still got it
As a huge SEGA fan and a former owner of the Saturn and Dreamcast, I was sad when its console hardware business died. Don’t get me wrong I like Microsoft and Sony, but I have never felt the same affinity for them as I feel for Nintendo and Sega.
Fortunately SEGA appear to be still doing well on the software front; in fact, two of the most popular arcades in Japan were made by them:
- Wonderland Library
This is a 4 on 4 MOBA/strategy game, where the aim is to destroy your opponents castle using an army you control. Players use a stylus pen and touch screen to dictate the insane looking action.
- KanColle (i.e. Kantai Collection)
This was the most in demand arcade that I saw. All arcade cabinets for this game were fully occupied. At first glance, it looked to me like the objective was to guide a group of girls who could glide on water, but I later realised that it is essentially a battleship game. You control a fleet where each female anime character represents a different type of warship.
A bit of a bonkers concept really but it looked very exciting nonetheless!
Final ThoughtsAll in all, I enjoyed trawling through the Japanese Arcades, but I definitely think I would have a better feel for the scene, with a bit more time. My brief experience was fun but actually raised more questions than answered them. Next time I return, I would love to have an extended stay and maybe get the views and opinions on arcades from the locals."
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