Last weekend I spent my weekend in Tokyo (yeah, I live in Japan, so this is not very hard to do) and when in town, I usually schedule a quick trip to Akibahara (秋葉原, also known as Akiba and famous for its Electric Town) with one of my friends there, who likes retro-gaming even more than I do. What did we do there? Well, we found a couple of interesting games, I ended up buying some Japanese Playstation 1 oldies, and once back at home I ripped them so that I can play them on Pandora. Ready for the full report?
First of all, while Akihabara has had a reputation to be a great place to find the latest electronic gadgets and so on in the past 20 years, let’s say that the situation has somehow changed over the past 10 years (and the recent lack of innovation in Japan). Once internet retail took off, the place has progressively lost its relevance. It used to be the place to be to find the latest consoles and games. Nowadays, while it still retains some of these aspects, it is being invaded by what i consider the “inferior” otaku culture focusing on debilitating anime, maid cosplay fetish, and teenage girl bands (such as AKB48) and everything that goes with it. Unfortunately, I had never seen Akihabara at the peak of its golden years (80s-90s) so I can only imagine what it may have been.
This being said, due to its history and location, it remains one of the best places on Earth to find rare, old games and old hardware in almost pristine condition (Japanese gamers take care of their possessions, nothing like in Europe where used means “I ran over it with my car and my dog chewed on it”) and at reasonable prices, too (not like eBay). Prices are usually defined by the rarity of items and their state of preservation. A product with scratches, missing manual, stains, will probably end up in the “junk” category where games are sold for 50 to 200 yen max (0.5 to 2 dollars). Well-preserved ones have much better value and end up on the shelves with more visibility. No matter what they sell, however, all stuff put on the shelf is thoroughly cleaned up. In one of the shop I went to on that weekend, I saw a grandmother at the counter diligently cleaning the sleeves, the plastic CD covers and so on. I must admit I love that deep respect for things.
The Electric Town of Akihabara is basically structured along a large street populated with wide and smaller shops on each side of the road, from bottom to top (different shops on different floors), some being very specialized in what they do. You do not really see anywhere else shops specializing in Japanese indie games, with goods made for the game (t-shirts, accessories, etc…). Some of these games are very impressive, well designed and technically well done. Unless you go to such places it is very unlikely you would hear about them, though. They probably have a kind of niche following.
But most of the really interesting shops are in the smaller, dirtier side streets where independent shops thrive where they can. There are also sellers on the street (I wonder how they are regarded by the Law…) who basically put their stuff on the ground or in carton boxes.
One of my favorite places (known to many tourists as well) is Super Potato, a small shop selling games and hardware for ancient/retro Japanese systems. Hardware-wise, you can find stuff like early Famicom models (the Nintendo Entertainment System), the first console Sega ever marketed (the SG-1000, the model before the Master System), 3DOs from Panasonic, PC Engines, MSXes, Neo-Geos and of course a lot of Saturns and Dreamcasts.
There are hundreds of games available for each system. Even if it deals only with used games, there is always a point to come back since the offering varies depending on what they are able to find, and there is a large turnover of titles.
So, in a way, it’s more fun than shopping for new games on newer systems where you have only 5 games available (WiiU, anyone?). On top of that, I consider that most of the newer games out there are utter crap (since they are made for EVERYONE including non-gamers) and there is nothing like the games from the 80s-90s made by gamers for gamers only. I know I may sound like a senile grandfather claiming “T’is was better before, I tell ya!”, but when it comes to games (and many other cultural things) there is just no way you can put earlier games on the same level as recent ones. Companies developing games nowadays refuse to take any risk and end up making everything very dull and boring and keep iterating on previous hits. Someone said before: “when something becomes mainstream, it becomes crap”. Food for thought. Anyway, that is a whole different topic.
So here is what I got back from my (shopping) trip.
Notice that I bought Saturn games on top of PS1 ones. I am yearning for the day when Saturn emulation will be good enough to play on Pandora, but since this day may never come, I will have to play those on my Saturn at home in the meantime.
As for the PS1 games, I wanted to rip them on my Linux PC (my rips of other PS1 games were done on Windows) and I thought that this was going to be pretty straightforward. Actually, it is pretty simple but it took me some time before I reached that point. I had issues, for example, with running the tool cdrdao on my OpenSuse Linux box, and am still not sure why. Using the same tool (same version) on my Ubuntu laptop worked flawlessly. So here I am, recommending Ubuntu for this setup, while it should, in theory, work on most Linux distros. Then, do not trust what you find on the Pandora wiki about ripping PS1 games. Somehow whatever they recommend inside there did not work for me – I ended up with “unsupported Playstation images” when trying to load the games in PCSX Re-ARMed. Instead, I recommend the following.
- A Linux PC (Ubuntu 12.10 worked fine for me).
- A CD drive (internal, or external. I used an external one).
- Your Playstation 1 CDs to rip.
- The tool cdrdao should be installed in your distro (type cdrdao in a terminal and see what is says. If you do not have it you will have to install it first, but it’s unlikely).
- This script from ED : ps1rip. (right click and save it to your computer)
You start from a actual, original PS1 CD and you will end with a .iso and .cue file for each CD ripped. If everything goes well, you should have no problem playing these files with PCSX ReARMed, and you will have gained some command line skills! Sometimes you realize using GUI tools is not always the most practical solution, especially when you do simple tasks.
So here goes. First copy the ps1rip script I mentioned before in the folder of your choice. In a terminal, go to the folder where this script is and change its permissions:
chmod +x ps1rip # makes the script executable in Linux
Then, edit it to customize where it will save its data:
gedit ps1rip # launches the gedit text editor to modify its contents
and modify the output folder to your liking. Make sure the directory exists before putting the full path, if not you will get an error. Then, save your file. Once you are done, you can run in the terminal the following command:
./ps1rip <nameofyourgame> # launches the rip. Change the name, of course!
to start ripping it. From there on it should all be automatic, you can get yourself a cup of tea or coffee in the meantime.
Once it is done, you can find the .iso and .cue files in the folder you specified, and you simply have to copy BOTH of them to your Pandora SD card – then select them in PCSX ReARMed.
As you can see, it is really, really simple actually.
Now a little bit more about the PS1 games I got. Xenogears is not a J-RPG for the faint or hearts. Expect a very, very long adventure with lots of battles. But the story and everything about it is really worth it. An excellent game, extremely ambitious, that I do not hesitate to put almost at the same level as Final Fantasy VII. I did it a long time ago in English, and now I am looking forward to playing it in Japanese anew. That is when you realize language skills can prove useful.
Popolocrois is a cute J-RPG game (with beautiful 2D art) that I had never played since it was only released in Japan as far as I know. Certainly not a perfect game, but still interesting to do nonetheless.
Clock Tower 2 is an horror game where you try to save a defenseless young lady chased by creatures trying to kill her. Very stressful if I remember well.
I am not familiar with Soumatou and Kagero, but they are apparently in the same series, where it seems that you own a dungeon and you have to prepare traps to defend it against invaders. It’s very gory, from what I have heard. My friend’s recommendation.
Finally, Persona (the first one) by ATLUS is the game that started the whole series. A mix of J-RPG, fighting and some kind of love simulation between the different game characters. I have never played this one though. It will be interesting to see how it all started.
I hope this article will encourage you to venture out of your geek vault and find out hidden treasures in REAL shops around you. You never know, sur un malentendu you may actually find pretty decent games you never knew about, for less than a dollar, and play them on your Pandora in no time.