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Arcades in Japan

Growing up, I used to spend hours in the arcade at malls across the island. I probably played every game available, and then some. These ran the gamut, from gunning down virtual terrorists to hammering the heads of mischievous plastic crocodiles. It was an easy way for my family to keep me occupied if they needed to shop for long hours. Even if I couldn't play due to the lack of tokens, I could always watch other players going at it. Unfortunately, arcades appear to be dying out in Singapore, with mobile, console and PC gaming being so readily available these days. Even the cavernous Timezone arcade I patronised for a good decade or so was replaced by a tuition centre several years back. Arcades in Japan on the other hand, are thriving, to say the least. Some take up an entire building, with each level having a different set of games or a cafe even, like the red SEGA ones you see in the photo above.

In secondary school, I owned a book that detailed Japanese arcade culture along with the different kinds of games that were available, from fighting games to UFO Catchers. Unfortunately, I wouldn't make my first trip to Japan till I swapped my pink IC for a green one. However, I vividly remembered the contents of that book and even though it has been close to a decade since its publication, little has changed in these bustling game centers. New titles have become even more innovative and old favourites such as Time Crisis have gotten major upgrades. Think two pedals that allow you to face enemies on three different sides instead of a single one.

I even saw machines that wouldn't look out of place in a sci-fi movie, featuring pods that boasted a large curved screen and comfy seats. 
One such pod allowed you pilot a Gundam and duke it out with other players and another recreated iconic dogfights from the Star Wars saga. To say that the experience was immersive would be a severe understatement. Watching more experienced players control the virtual Gundam with ease was half the fun. I only lament that I don't understand enough Japanese to fully enjoy the game, but I'll be sure to work on that and hopefully, navigating the menus will be a breeze during my next vacation.

Despite all the newfangled games that dotted the arcade, my friends and I constantly found ourselves returning to the UFO Catcher machines. It was hardly the crane game we knew from when we were kids and winning a prize was far from easy. I only had a small Charmander soft toy to show for the thousands of yen spent during my first trip last November. Fortunately, or otherwise, I managed to walk away with several Mega Jumbo Nesoberis during my recent getaway, after several lessons from my friends and the arcade's staff. The merchandise plays a huge part in attracting people to the UFO Catchers. Everything is authentic, from simple keychains and bath towels to the aforementioned Mega Jumbo Nesoberis and scale figures. Don't be surprised to see someone walking away with a Pikachu toy that's the size of his torso.

Did I also mention that the prizes are seasonal? This means that they'll only be present for several months before being replaced by something else. The prize lineup is constantly changing and that also contributes to why these machines receive a steady stream of players on a daily basis. Trying to collect the Nesoberis of all nine members of Aquors in their school uniform without resorting to resellers or an actual store? Good luck with that! The day I won the Rem Nesoberi in the photo above was also the day that Emilia was introduced. I neither had the skill nor money required, with the Elven mage requiring 200 yen per try instead of the usual 100.

The arcades also had the unusual purpose of acting as pit stops for my friends and I. We were able to beat the heat, or cold, and take a break before resuming shopping or sightseeing. With more than 15 kilometers logged per day, I think we deserved a few of those breaks in the arcade. This was especially true for Akihabara and Ikebukuro, where there were game centers aplenty. I found myself spending much more time in there during my holiday in July, where the mercury soared to more than 30 degrees per day. It didn't help that Love Live! School idol festival ~after school ACTIVITY~ was present at most of the arcades I was in. I already played the mobile game on a regular basis and was eagerly waiting for the chance to check out the arcade version. I'm looking forward to my next visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, which I hope will be sooner rather than later. I might even need an additional suitcase, should my UFO Catcher obsession not die down by then.

Written by ET

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