Retro Fun at Akihabara

Last weekend I came back to Tokyo for a short visit. The main purpose of that short stay was to meet up with mmKALLL who happened to be there for a while, and to go together (with a couple of other friends from mine) in Akihabara to check stuff out. I knew most of the shops we went to, but there were a few interesting discoveries on the way…

We first started our visit with Super Potato. I have already covered that shop before, but since they run a business of selling used stuff, it’s always worth to come in and check what stuff they have been able to get recently. By the way, Super Potato is a franchise and they have tons of stores all across the country, but it’s true that the one in Akihabara is one of the most interesting ones.

As usual, there are TONS of used games for old, retro systems so it’s really a nice place if you are looking for software for your old PS1, Saturn, Dreamcast and course even older systems (8 bits and 16 bits). They sell hardware too, and usually you can expect these disk drives for Famicom to be stacked up on the shelves. That’s from an era where you could actually buy games for the NES on disks and you also could swap the games for a new one with disk-writing vending machines. A very interesting concept, somehow akin to renting games.

This time I could find stuff that I had never seen before, such as the PSX system, which was a hybrid hi-fi system with PS2 compatibility, produced by Sony and sold only in Japan. This stuff is massive and weighs a ton. I clearly remember hearing about it when it was released back during the PS2 days, but since it never made it to Europe this was probably a rare gem even in Japan.

In the same shop, one could find cool stuff like this super nice, big box edition of Sakura Taisen online (I didn’t even know there was an online version of this game!) for Dreamcast. Sakura Taisen is an interesting mix of visual novel, love simulation and tactical RPG. Yeah, all in one game. The first version of the game was for Saturn and later on they re-released it on Dreamcast, and more recently on PSP as well.

Sakura Taisen Online for Dreamcast.

Going into Super Potato is like going for a treasure hunt, there’s just so much stuff everywhere, it’s really a cool place to visit even if you don’t end up buying anything. It reminds me a little of Don Quichotte (the stores in Japan, not the character!) where there’s stuff literally in every single corner and no white space anymore. If you love Apple Stores, this is NOT the place for you.

It did not take long for mmKALLL to find out about the visual Boy from Nintendo in demonstration, the kind of 3D vision helmet ancestor… using a single color: red. Yeah, no wonder that stuff failed.

The 3rd floor of the shop is actually a small arcade games center, with arcade units crammed into a very, very narrow space. There’s barely space to walk in between when people are actually playing, and you are constantly stepping on people’s feet which is not good for your karma in Japan.

And on top of that, people smoke there, just like in Game centers (and gosh do I loathe that smell), so it’s not the best gaming experience out there, but they had DoDonPachi ! MmmKALLL could not resist and tried it. He managed to go to the second level with a single credit, which was pretty good. My trial was not so successful 😛 I need more practice.

Walking around the street, we stumbled across the Linux Cafe, Gateway to the OpenSource Community. Unfortunately, the Gateway is…closed. Out of business. Closed for good. That’s really unfortunate but it describes pretty much the state of the operating system in Windows-loving and Mac-loving Japan. There’s where you feel that Japan is still a distant island from the rest of the world, even in terms of technology, no matter how many people actually have internet access all around you: it stays very much self-centered.

This time my good Belgian friend from Tokyo took us to another interesting place: a shop where they sell actual used arcade hardware: in other words arcade motherboards and arcade roms (either in cartridge format or hard drive format for more recent games). Here’s what arcade games for systems like the MVS (Neo Geo for Arcade) look like:

You could also get much more recent systems there, such as the Naomi arcade from Sega, which is, unless I am mistaken, the arcade version of the Dreamcast hardware:

They even had a Half Life 2 arcade board, a kind of huge big ass controller that needs an entire shelf by itself. 58 000 JPY, or something like 500 USD for this kind of stuff. Impressive joystick.

Half Life 2… the arcade version !

The sun was soon about the set on the horizon and we still had a couple of shops to visit. In the next one we stumbled across a 20th anniversary edition of the Famicom (NES) in a gorgeous retro packaging. That stuff is worth gold. I mean, huh, literally.

Yeah, we all wanted to buy it… until we looked at the price tag. Not today.

Our trip ended with a final retro arcade place, separated in two floors, where you had both very old games together with a few recent ones. Needless to say, the older games were the most popular. If you’re looking for an arcade version of Super Mario Bros (before the NES episode), Tetris, Golden Axe, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and more exotic games from Japan you had never heard about before, that was precisely the right place to go.

As you can see, most Retro gamers in the arcades are… older gamers. But they are usually excellent at the games they play.

MmmKALLL playing Tetris.

All in all, we had a good time, and I was glad to see these places still survive for now. Retro shops and retro arcades have had rough times in the past few years, with several popular places closing and being replaced by idol stores or maid cafes (f*** that shit).

It’s very clear that Akihabara is not the heart of gaming it used to be in the 90s, but if you’re nostalgic of the golden era of Japanese Games… there’s still some places where the legend lives on. For now.

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