While arcades are deader than dead in North America and Europe, they're still a thriving breed in Japan. Paired up with several gimmick titles that simulate horse races, arcades have found a niche in Japan by offering setups and ideas that aren't really suitable for home consoles. Case in point, one of the more popular arcade games in Japan right now is Virtual-On Force, the latest installment in the highly acclaimed Virtual On series. In teams of two, players take control of their weapons of mass destruction for some very fun and addictive team play. A setup like this is definitely not possible on a console, and even if it was, the cost of purchasing twin sticks to go with the game is often too much for most people. Several arcades even have entire floors dedicated to this addictive title. Oddly enough, another title that is also very popular in the arcades right now is a game based on the Zoids franchise, which plays eerily similar to Sega's mecha combat game. Another fun title that people will definitely enjoy is Namco's line of Taiko Drum Master games, which plays like any other rhythm title, with the only exception that you use play with a giant drum.
Yet another game that has been popping up in several arcades that I have visited is a monster dueling/board game called Dragon Chronicle. Here, players are able to purchase actual cards which are then scanned by the arcade machine itself and then thrust into the game. It's not uncommon to see four players playing this game at the same time, and the collectible factor of the game means that it is very addictive. This type of setup is also available for a title by Konami called Wrestle Arena Battle Climaxx. Instead of fighting monsters, you're actually battling against some of the top wrestlers in Japan. Featuring cel-shaded graphics, these types of games are some of the most interesting titles you can find in the country, and we'll cover them in-depth in a later article.
All of these games plus more can be found at Club Sega in Akihabara. Located a mere 3 minute walk from Akihabara station, Club Sega is a six floor entertainment center that serves the need of any arcade gamer. Like many arcades in Japan, Club Sega's game collections are divided by floor. Head down to the basement and you will enter the fighting game area, which is literally stacked from wall to wall with Virtua Fighter 4 Final Tuned, Soul Calibur and Tekken machines. Head to the main floor and you can play some of the UFO Catcher games, which are huge among many of the teenagers (especially girls). The second floor houses some rhythm games like the aforementioned Taiko drum game. You can find a huge display for Sega's World Club Championship Football on the third floor. The fourth floor has just about everything else you could want. Shooters, beat-em-ups, fighting games, you name it, and they probably have it. While there are also some newer titles on the fourth floor, they also have older titles such as Samurai Shodown 2 and a couple of older shooters. Naturally, they also have some of the newest releases too, including such titles as ESP Galuda.
Although Club Sega is probably one of the better known arcades in Akihabara, there is also a wealth of other quality game centers in the area, as well as in other sectors. There are also other amazing arcades in the immediate area, such as the Try Arcade Tower, which features 6 floors of games. Try Tower even rotates their retro games out every week so that you'll always have something new to play. If you head to Shibuya, you can check out the Beat Tribe arcade, which is home to some the country's best Virtua Fighter players. In the Shinjuku area, you can visit the legendary Nishi Sportsland arcade if you're big on fighting games, as the competition there is fierce for any title. Club Sega arcades also exist in other parts of Tokyo, such as in Shibuya and in surrounding cities like Kawasaki. In fact, just about every major part of Tokyo has its own arcade. You can purchase Dreamcast, Famicom, Super Famicom, Mega Drive and Wonderswan titles, all for a fairly cheap price.
So why have Japan arcades thrived while around the world, the industry is dying? I can't tell you the exact answer, but I do have some theories that might make sense to you. What makes these arcades worth visiting if you're a gamer is the combination of the competition available as well as the great service that is provided to you at each location. You can find competent players at just about any arcade, although it's obvious some places have a higher level of skill than others. Going to Shinjuku, Shibuya or Akihabara will net you the best players for any game, as the major arcades are located there, but you can find good players anywhere. The customer service is also very good. Arcade operators are always walking around each floor of the arcade, so you won't have to travel far to find someone to help you with a problem. I've had to talk to an arcade operator at least three times on a couple of visits to the arcade to help with a problem. First, my VF.net access card (used to record a win/loss record and other items) was stuck in the vending machine, and another time when my game of Soul Calibur 2 actually froze. Both problems were fixed in less than 5 minutes. It says something for an establishment when you have staff that are easy to communicate with and actually know what they're doing.
Finally, I think one of the main reasons arcades have continued to be popular places in Japan has been the combination of several different games to attract the most amount of people. While most of us are really interested in actual games, UFO Catcher machines, Pachinko/Slot machines and card-based titles are all fairly popular here, and attract a very different crowd from say, Tekken or Street Fighter. These fans have allowed arcades to continue thriving in the country, and it might be a good idea for other locations to try it as well. Orbit Entertainment in Toronto adopts a similar style, pairing traditional arcade games with a quality internet cafe and Derby Club center to attract different users.
While you may not find your favourite game every time (I personally had a hell of a time finding a Soul Calibur 2 machine outside of Club Sega Akihabara), there is always something interesting and unique to play in Japan's arcades, which can't be said for the rest of the world.