Folks like me that have been gaming for 25 years inevitably grew up on Japanese exports. All these years later, the NES – a Japanese product -- is still my favorite console of all-time, Mega Man 3 – from a Japanese developer -- is still my favorite game of all-time, and nothing – and I mean nothing – can replicate the love and appreciation I hold for series like Castlevania, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Ninja Gaiden.
I’ve been an IGN editor for over six years, but it’s only this year that I was finally sent to Japan to cover Tokyo Game Show. As a lifelong appreciator of the many, many games Japanese developers have delivered to the west – from Mario to Zelda to Metal Gear – I knew that I had to find the time to get a taste of the Japanese old-school scene. With my time at TGS 13 now behind me, today was that day.
Accompanied by a small crew of IGN editors and video producers, I traveled by train to Tokyo’s “Electric Town,” the video game culture capital of Japan (and perhaps even the world), Akihabara. And during my brief time there, I had a blast, especially after we were joined by prolific game scribe Jeremy Parish, who showed us around.
I wasn’t there to see or look at anything from this century, and thankfully, it’s pretty easy to avoid anything but the glorious old-school stylings of Famicom and Super Famicom. Games and hardware from the likes of Sega’s Mega Drive, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, N64, and Game Boy, and even MSX and Neo-Geo all drew my attention, but only briefly. Then again, it’s hard to see a wall of Famicoms and Super Famicoms for the first time and not look away.
My mission was simple: go to Super Potato, perhaps the most famous old-school shop in Akihabara, and buy Famicom cartridges to display in my apartment. Ex-IGN editor Ryan Clements already got my collection going several years ago when he returned to the States with a copy of Rockman 3 for me. Today, I was intent on expanding on it.
Super Potato is multiple floors of retro gaming goodness, and for anyone who grew up enamored with NES and SNES especially, browsing the store shelves is a trip. Loose cartridges are neatly wrapped in plastic with prices clearly stamped. You’re going to pay a premium for games at Super Potato compared to other shops around it, but it’s worth it just to see what one co-worked described to me as “a museum.” Dozens of CRTs blare random games on loop, plush toys and display cases full of rarities fill in the gaps between cartridge-lined shelves, and ancient-looking posters adorn the walls, and even the ceilings.
I immediately darted towards the Rockman cartridges. They were out of 1, 2, and 6, but I immediately picked up and purchased 4 and 5. The ultra-rare Castlevania Famicom cartridge was sitting nearby, as was Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, the one with the special music chip that gave its extraordinary soundtrack some oomph. I picked them up for only a minute, but placed them back down. I had to control myself multiple times as I went through the same ritual with Dragon Quest I-IV and Final Fantasy I-III.
On the other side of the shelf with the Famicom games was a shelf with Super Famicom games, and again, I had to practice self-restraint. I noted to Jeremy Parish that the RPGs we grew up so enamored with were so cheap there. It makes sense – they were mass-produced and wildly popular – and Parish aptly described them as Japan’s Genesis sports games. In other words, they’re everywhere. As I did with their Famicom counterparts, I picked up and then put down Super Famicom versions of Final Fantasy IV-VI and Dragon Quest V and VI.
After visiting a couple of other stores (at which point I picked up the original Rockman and a rather adorable Slime toy from Dragon Quest), Jeremy brought the group to another game shop, this one a little quainter and off the beaten path. It’s called Friends, and it’s there that I found the Rockman 2 Famicom cartridge I was seeking.
What I loved about this place was how casual it was. Its two floors had all sorts of great stuff to find, including stacks of old Japanese gaming magazines and strategy guides. There was even a boxed copy of Rockman 3 that I briefly considered picking up. On the top floor of Family, my eyes were drawn to two gentlemen silently sitting behind a counter, tending to games and other goods that patrons had brought in to sell. One man was carefully wrapping loose cartridges in plastic, recording them in a computer, while the other was gently cleaning the covers of some strategy guides, getting them ready for sale.
What really floored me and brought me back to my childhood during my trip to Akihabara was how, for the first time, I was staring at Japanese-only games that I once coveted. In the '90s, I would scour the Internet for morsels about games like Treasure Hunter G and Bahamut Lagoon, consuming bits of information and the tiniest screenshots you could possibly imagine. And there they were, as accessible as I wished they were when I was a kid. Twelve year-old Colin would have been very, very jealous of 28-year-old Colin, there’s no doubt about that.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, chances are you know what Akihabara is. And if you’ve been to Japan, you’ve probably been there. But today is a memorable day for me. It’s a day I was able to subtly connect with my gaming roots in a way I never thought possible. In many ways, today was an overwhelming – albeit short -- trip through my personal gaming history. And as someone who will never forget his first time shooting Mega Man’s arm cannon, or swinging Simon Belmont’s whip, or running through the forest as Ryu Hayabusa, it’s a day I won’t soon forget.
Source : ign[dot]com