Video games, one of Japan’s shining beacons of popularity, and a common catalyst for interest in Japan. Elements of Japanese society, imagery, quirks and of course language feature in video games, and there may be some games that even have a profound effect on us, just like an inspiring novel or movie. Many games, retro and new, are available to play at many of Japan’s game centres, allowing you to either relive childhood memories playing street fighter, or playing the latest version of Tekken that may not even be yet released in your country. Better still, games exclusive to Japan are ready and available to play! You may know that Akihabara the centre for gaming in Tokyo, and many of the popular game centres are featured there. While you can simply walk into a game centre and try your hand at what’s on offer, our article will arm you with all of the information you need to make the most of your Japan gaming experience.
Finding an Arcade
The major arcade chains Taito, Sega, Adores, Round 1. Very often they're easily identifiable based on their logos alone.
・Sega - Club Sega is their flagship arcade centre that will feature games published and developed by Sega. They will often feature crane games on the lower floors, with upper floors separated into current, retro and physically interactive games.
・Taito - Now owned by Square Enix, their flagship arcade, Taito Game Station, is identifiable by the red background and the Space Invaders alien logo. The array of games available are similar to Sega, although the actual games on offer will differ. However, the games on offer do not differ hugely between each Taito game station.
・Round 1 – This arcade centre (one of the largest of which is in Ikebukuro) carry an array of games from all publishers. In addition, they also feature Karaoke, Billiards, Darts, and Bowling.
・Adores – These game centres are more oriented towards crane games, medal games, and photo booths. Their logo is a square with an italic “A”
Of course, there are also lesser known private arcades. These may have other games available not featured in the major chains, and there is greater flexibility to hold tournaments or livestreaming of certain games at these destinations.
The majority of the games you see in Japan will require a specific card if you want to experience them fully. This is due to these acting as memory cards for the games, allowing you to unlock further levels, characters or other features relevant to each game. This means that arcades offer more than just a casual demonstration of the game, but can be used to experience more of the game depth as you would with a home console. Most of the games are connected to their respective online services that enable record keeping or even multiplayer between different arcades. The major companies that carry these cards and services are Taito, Sega, Namco, and Konami. Purchasing a card is only 300-500 yen, and can be bought directly at most of the major game centres listed above. Each game you start for the first time will require you to register your username to the card. From there you can also manage your data with their online services.
Multiplayer is a standard feature in most arcades, but this is taken even further in most arcades with the countrywide multiplayer facility, known as 全国対戦（Zentoku Taisen）. When this option is available, this means that you will be connected at random to any other person in the country playing the game at the same time as you, and be matched up with them! This is where the above-mentioned memory card can come handy, as you can build characters/cars/weapons that have been unlocked or upgraded, and used to maximum effect against a human opponent. This allows for a great multiplayer experience even for the solo traveller.
・Typically, a game will cost only 100 yen per play, which lasts for 3-5 minutes on average. Certain places may charge 200 yen per play for popular games. On the flip side, there are some places that will do 2 credits for 100 yen (observed in rhythm games, saw one in Round 1 Osaka in Namba). Some arcades that carry old games will charge 50 yen per play.
・Private arcades may allow a by the hour purchase if you're planning to compete in a tournament. For example, Game Spot Versus in Nishinippori, Tokyo will provide hourly charges for longer tournament led games.
We hope that this article was illuminating for you and allows you to enjoy as many video games as possible whilst in Japan. Whether you’re a veteran gamer or just wanting to try your hand on a few games to while away a few hours, we highly recommend experiencing video games from the country that has given birth to so many!