Trip Roundup!

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Another year, another trip over, but that just means its time to plan the next one! This trip was planned for the summer holiday season in Japan and it showed, as it was very crowded in most places. Well, Japan is normally crowded, but this is a whole lot more crowded than in years past.

Returning to the REMM Akihabara after a 3 year absence, the last stay being only 2 nights before.  This time though I seemed to have fallen into a bit of an odd room. All the prior times I had stayed in the REMM, the room layout was the same… this time however, the layout swapped and the giant window wall…overlapped the bathroom/shower.

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I thought about opening up the shower briefly, but I could clearly see the diners across the street at ChompChomp, and if I could see them, they could see me. So those blinds remained shut for the majority of the time.

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As for new stores in Akiba itself, there were a few and it seems like more may be opening up soon. The big draw many of the new stores have it seems is used goods. As its possible to find all sorts of items used out there throughout Akiba. Though I would never recommend buying any sort of Retro Game in Akihabara itself, you can take a Train 30 minutes north and find much much better deals. I’m also unaware if the non Kanji initiated tourists are aware they are buying used goods. As some of the new shops the only indicator is written in kanji “中古”.

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Since last year a new restaurant called Yakiniku Like opened up right next to the KFC, This place is awesome as its a Yakiniku restaurant, or Japanese style BBQ, designed for solo eaters and being quick and pretty cheap. I got a full set meal with 200 grams of steak to cook on my little grill, rice and miso for roughly 1200 yen. I was in and out in roughly 15 minutes as well. If I could dine like this in the US for $11, I would never eat fast food again. This does bring me back to the dining scene in Japan in general. I really do feel at home there, whether its hitting up Ichiran Ramen, or small Yakiniku joints like this one, or even Yoshinoya.

One thing I do like to sneak in each year is a movie, while I was a few weeks early for the new Konosuba movie, I was glad to catch Weathering With You by Makoto Shinkai. For anyone considering going to a movie over in Japan. Paying a little extra for the Premium Box seats is kind of nice. Though definitely not recommended for couples. It’s pretty much like a first class seat, with privacy walls, and extra leg room with an extra plush chair.

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No trip would be considered complete without a trek to see the Gundam as well as the Gundam base. Given that Comiket and Odaiba Summer Event were both going on in the near vicinity it would be doom to try to fit in many plans around Odaiba during that time. The best way it seemed to me was to squeeze in some time late night after most events ended on the island. And it always seemed to me at least that the Gundam is much better to be seen at night.

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Unicorn is as cool as ever, though part of me does miss the original RX-78. Though it was super packed, and this was late at night when I had thought most would have been heading back by now. This was actually, easily, the largest crowd that I have seen centered around the Gundam itself. It’s possible others had the same idea as me. I also know I saw some who were still lingering around from Comiket.

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So yeah, tourism is definitely on the increase over the last few years. I do fear what Tokyo is going to become during the Olympics. As I can only imagine a giant cluster of aloof tourists not really knowing about any of the unwritten rules of Japanese Culture. Or how crowded the trains will be, and I know the hotel shortage is become a thing too. Given how many business hotels exist… well.. that’s impressive to fill them up.

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For the first time I did walk through the Diver City mall, as many of the stores and areas were having a special Gundam Festival for the anniversary this year, many restaurants had Gundam themed specials and there were various displays like the one pictured above set up throughout. One thing that did catch my eye is that there are a lot of interesting VR attractions in Diver City, most needed more than 1 person so I was unable to try any of them, but do look forward to possible future visits.

 

 

Starwing Paradox

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One of the more cool and neat games to come out more recently in the Japanese arcade scene is Starwing Paradox from Square Enix. As with many of Squares arcade titles, it’s big and flashy. And does take up a lot of space in an area where space is often at a premium.

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In Akihabara for example, one of the, if not the game center capital of the world, Starwing could be found in only a few locations. The only Sega location with it is Sega Gigo located on the south end of Akihabara, the area which used to be reserved for Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna has been replaced by a heck of a lot of Starwing Paradox, outside of Gigo, Tokyo Leisurland over by Kentucky Fried Chicken also carries a few machines. The cost model is different as well, the first play is 200 yen, the first continue is also 200 yen, but the third continue drops down to 100 yen. After that the game is over and you can either start again, or swap out if it is busy.

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As mentioned, the game is crisp, colorful and a lot of fun. The character displayed on the main screen is fully animated and voiced and there are several to choose from. The one pictured above was celebrating her “Birthday” and there were special bonuses related.

But onto the game itself, Starwing does have a relatively sharp learning curve due to the control mechanics and mech customization parts you can unlock. The controls themselves consist of a left and right joystick, as well as a pair of footpedals. The joysticks each have two buttons as well as a scroll wheel type implement on the right joystick. Not to mention the aside from the gigantic main screen of Starwing, there also exists a sub monitor with touch controls.

The gameplay objectives are fairly straightforward at least and is easy to understand even with no knowledge of Japanese. Each map will have several control points, as well as each team will have their base. When one team controls a set amount of the points, typically half+1, then the base becomes vulnerable to attack. The first team to wipe out the enemy bases health wins. Or if it is a timeout, then it goes to the team with the most health remaining.

All in all the game is a blast to play and learn. It’s popularity seemed to be kind of low however, possibly due to the learning curve itself. Each arcade was handing out flyers with free play coupons as well, so they are really trying to push it. The production values are outstanding and the force feedback and the motion from the cockpit itself is a nice touch. I do hope Starwing hasn’t fizzed out by the time I return to Akihabara, because I do want to play it again. As for prospects on it coming to the US, via RD1. I would say its low to improbable and I don’t think I would want it to come either, knowing how well RD1USA upkeep’s their machines, I fear what would happen to a game with as much motion involved as this one.

Girls and Bombs

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Spending some time at the Tokyo Leisureland in Don Quihote, I decided it was time to spend good yen by trying out Bombergirl. As the name implies, its a waifuized version of the popular Bomberman series from Konami. Complete with clothing damage and MOBA mechanics.

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Theres a decent amount of characters to unlock and each have different classes they fit into such as Bomber, Blocker, Attacker and Shooter. As for what the classes actually do is adjust the stat maximums and minimums you can level up to in a match. For instance the character shown above is a very balanced Bomber type, so she can plant up to 5 bombs and upgrade her size and speed 5 times each.

 

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The battles themselves take place in a large arena filled with blocks, bases and teleporters to capture. The blocks drop powerups and stop normal bombs just as you would expect them to. The Bases are the main objective to attack as destroying them will ultimately win you the game. As your team gains experience through bombing things or other girls. You unlock several skills and than be customized and unlocked.

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If you take enough damage, your clothes eventually get ripped to shreds and a large cut pops up. Originally at release the censor bars were not present, but eventually they were added in, not all characters are of the developed type.

I initially wondered how new characters and items were unlocked, and was thinking there was an exp progression or something as it is not really explained, but then the after match happened and I was treated to a Gacha scene.

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By spending an additional credit, you get a spin at the gacha, 2 pulls with the highest rarity items, the characters, having a 6% chance. I drew a few times and did unlock a new character, so I can see it not being too difficult to unlock more.

The gameplay itself was actually a lot of fun. If this game got a home release, minus the exploding clothes, I feel it would actually do really well as it offers the same kind of short burst fun that Wonderland Wars offers but in a Bomberman format.

Odaiba Report

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Heading out to Odaiba to see the new Unicorn Gundam and check out the Gundam Base as well, the weather was kind of gloomy and raining but that wouldn’t be enough to stop a Gundam. Sadly though the ever faithful leisureland in Odaiba closed down with its wacky assortment of attractions and gimmicky games. So It’s hard to justify many trips out here unless you are into shopping malls and shopping malls.

Even so though every fan of Gundam owes it to themselves to make the pilgrimage at least once. While definitely not as iconic as the old RX-78 Gundam that was standing here till last year. They really upped their game with the work involved as the Unicorn Gundam is really rather stunning.

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It features the gimmick of being able to transform into its NT-D mode that is often featured during the Anime, as well as several video synced performances, one of which is pretty much a 5 minute summary of the Unicorn series that could very well serve as a place holder for watching the actual series.

But that is not all that is featured out here in Odaiba for Gundam fans. The Gundam Base has since replaced the Gundam Front, though it is quite a bit different in scope and scale.

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The Gundam Base serves primarily as a museum to all things Gunpla as well as what I would have to think is easily the worlds largest Gunpla store, as well as several other types of merchandise such as clothing and some trinkets. The size of the place is truly impressive, even though it takes up roughly the same space that the old Gundam Front did, the open atmosphere makes it feel gigantic.

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The store features essentially every single Gunpla in existence for sale, and carries on for as far as the eye can see. Many of the model kits are also featured on display so you know what you may be buying if you are unsure.

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Many limited edition exclusive gunpla are here as well such as the RX-0 Diver City version which is a real grade style kit… with two types of internal lighting for both versions of the NT-D that are featured. I can only imagine the difficulty of piecing this kit together matching the hefty price tag of 10,800 JPY. A note to buyers though, aside from the various limited editions that are only sold here, many of the kits can be had in places such as Akihabara for much cheaper.

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While the Gundam Base is neat, I do miss the old attractions that the Gundam Front had, such as the entry video or the Photography section. It does look like the Base has various time limited tie in events. The current one being a Gundam Build Divers event which I have not personally seen, though it looks kind of strange. I could see a main stream event with a UC series being worth seeing.

Fate/GO Arcade

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Riding off the massive success that is the Mobile Game, it was really only inevitable that an arcade version would be in the works. And it sure is something, Aside from everything being rendered in decently sharp looking anime style 3D as opposed to the 2D sprite based mobile game. It offers rather simple gameplay that even non Japanese speaking players should be able to handle without much difficulty.

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The controls consist of two buttons, the smaller attack button which is mashed and mashed to attack and the larger Noble Phantasm button which unsurprisingly unleashes your current servants Noble Phantasm, aka Super Move, for those who are unfamiliar with the Fate franchise. As well as the fake joystick which is controlled with the smaller joystick on top to move around. I often tried to pull the entire stick. A pretty odd design choice.

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As anyone who has played the mobile version will see, the UI is practically identical with few arcade only exceptions such as the GP meter or card reading button. Thats right, card reading button. Using the same system as Kantai Collection, at the end of every mission you complete you are offered the chance to summon a servant or craft essence for 100 yen. You can also do a 10 pull gacha for, you guessed it, 1000 yen. When you do your summon, you get a rather nice looking card printed off that you can then take with you and use. The downside is the game can be ridiculously expensive if you start pulling after every mission. I would recommend scouting out several card shops in the area and direct purchasing the card you want. On the flip side, once you have everything you need you can play for a long period of time off the 100 or 300 yen buy in.

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Noble Phantasm in action.

I haven’t seen the full card list yet, but It seems like currently a lot of the popular “waifu” class servants are missing in action. I suppose it is smart of them to roll them out slowly so the whales spend hard every so often.

To go back to gameplay, it’s controlled in a full 3D space where you can run around and dodge at will the incoming attacks. You only control one servant at a time as opposed to the three in the mobage, each with their own attacks. The Arts Buster and Quick system also makes a comeback as your attacks are chosen randomly from your servants stock and those effects from the mobage also take place.

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Caesar got the short end of the stick with his character…

Right now I feel as if this game is a bit too shallow in story mode, there is a PVP mode which I have yet to try that seems to be fairly popular that I will need to give a go. For now though, unless your a major fan of the Fate franchise I wouldn’t invest a lot of time in this game, there are simply better out there.

 

Shining Force Cross Exlesia

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Shifting focus to an older game this week, the Shining Force series has been around in Arcades over in Japan for quite some time, even though this release is over 4 years old and is it self an update to an Arcade game released in 2009. Which is terms of Japanese arcade games is ancient, with very few having the staying power to still exist after that amount of time.

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The first thing to notice about Shining Force is the general cheapness of the game itself. As the typical 100 yen coin here counts as double, and with just 300 yen you can play for well over an hour, which is a bargain by any standard.

To get into more detail about the game itself though, its first and foremost an Action RPG, similar in style to Phantasy Star Online or Monster Hunter, and features online coop for quests as well as various events that the game features over time. Though being as old as it is it can be difficult to find machines in the various arcades, both Sega Gigo and Club Sega Akihabara Shinkan offer several within Akihabara itself.

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Using an IC card system that predates either Aime or Banapass to save character data, when a new player first starts they are taken to the character creation screen and given the choice of 5 different races with different stats, they are pretty standard choices such as Humans and Elves and even the demons who are just named “Dark Race”.. maybe there’s an in-world explanation for it in the Shining Force series… or they just thought that it sounded cool.

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After settling on a character and class for them, both of which can be changed at any time, from the menu, your given the option to pay for GP which is essentially the points you have to spend to go on quests and participate in events and those familiar with other Sega titles such as Kantai Collection or Code of Joker will be more than at home with how the gp system works, but in simple it slowly counts down while your browsing the menus and then you spend a large chunk to go on a quest or mission. In this case about 300 for a quest which can last up to 10 minutes. and for 300 yen you can buy more than 2500 gp allowing for a very long play session.

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The game does strongly recommend that new players go into the tutorial at the start, and its well worth it as it does a good job explaining how the command system works. as it uses a hybrid between a Joystick and 5 button layout as well as a touch screen. When entering the game it does show its age graphically as it looks about something you would see on a Playstation 2, but it does play very quick and fluidly which is what matters most.

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There are quite a few commands available for use from the limited amount of buttons, as different combinations enact differing attacks. For basics there’s a Jump button, an attack, a force button, which sadly is just a stronger attack and no Jedi powers, and a camera button. The largest button is the item use and skill use button which is controlled via the touch screen.   By using buttons together you can do things just as a dodge roll, a dashing attack and various other attacks that the game does a solid job of introducing.

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The quests themselves offer some fairly high paced dungeon crawling and multiple pathways which can lead into enemy trap rooms such as the one pictured above… they are usually easy to spot with the large blue altars that inhabit them. By moving through and clearing there’s rooms in the dungeon various chests and items can drop and offer gear and restorative items as their prizes.

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After completing a quest your taken to the customization screen where you can view the loot that you acquired as well as skill settings, all of which can be changed to the players liking or to suit the situation that calls for it. The equipment menu is pretty self explanatory and functions through drag and drop as well as it will show you stat previews beforehand as well, though the amount of time you have to spend in here is limited, and you should watch your time. Although you do get the opportunity to change your load-out when you start a quest as well.

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While I didn’t have the opportunity to try the game out where I think it would really shine in co op multiplayer quests, the general game play still holds up very well even if graphically its a bit dated. It is interesting to see though what is probably a precursor to the standard Aime Touch Screen cabinet that most of the popular Sega titles use these days and just how far they have come. If something along these lines could have been made 7 years ago, I wonder how a modern version would fare.

Sega High Tech Land – Shibuya

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The game center scene in Shibuya is rather sparse, which is surprisingly given the sheer amount of young people that pass through the area every minute. Located roughly a 5 minute walk from the Hachiko exit at Shibuya station tucked in a building is a rather unassuming Sega location. It’s easy to miss and more than possible to walk past without realizing that it even exists.

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This location is spread out over two floors, but more on that in a short while, the first of which is fairly well sized. With the standard assortment of crane games and other assorted games to play, though unlike other sega locations, this floor is devoted to more than just crane games as there is a rather large section of fighting games and Gundam Ex to cover the bases. The main floor also covers rhythm games as well.

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One thing that I noticed was… how empty this location was, it was very devoid of people with few exception and it easily takes the crown for the quietest game center that I have been in while in Tokyo. There was a decent gathering of couples playing crane games by the exit and maybe a small scattering of players on the various fighting games. It did make it easy to navigate and play games that might other wise be crowded.

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One tricky thing that threw me for a small loop is that the game center occupies two floors of this nine floor building… the first and the seventh. Deciding that I owed it to the location to visit it in its entirety I slogged up the elevator. Upon arrival on the seventh floor I was greeted with more of the same.

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A rather empty extremely quiet area. The seventh floor offers titles you would usually encounter crowded or with lines at them in more popular locations. As was made apparent when the locations four Kantai Collection machines were unoccupied. Moving through the rest of the seventh floor the locations most popular game was noticeably Wonderland Wars as it was well represented as well as well played, Border Break had a small contingent as well.

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Playing a couple of rounds of Wonderland Wars, and full credit play of Kantai Collection, the reason for the general lack of sound became all too apparent. The machines are set to what must be their lowest volume settings. I have never really needed to use the headphone jacks that many games offer these days, but it was almost necessary here.

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If you find your self in Shibuya looking for a game center, there are not many and it may be better served to hop on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku about 7 minutes away though as none of the game centers in Shibuya are all that impressive. Though this location could work well if you want to try out a game you haven’t before, the general atmosphere of this place could be be described as sticky.

More from Sega High Tech Land

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Takadanobaba

Deciding to head to a bit of a different area of Tokyo this time, I ventured up to Takadanobaba which is a station on the JR Yamanote line, its 2 stops from Shinjuku and 2 stops from Ikebukuro by train, leaving this as a much more quaint area since many people would head to either of those two destinations over this one.

Its location however does not prevent it from having a pair of quality game centers, a Taito Game Station, and a local place simply called Mikado.

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Taito Station Takadanobaba is located on the 6th floor of a large department store called Big Box that’s attached to the station. Though the entrance can be a bit tricky to find as the easiest way is via elevator, once inside though your greeted with a rather spacious arcade which is fairly rare for a game center outside of Odaiba. This Taito Station offers several benefits to playing at a more centralized area such as Akihabara or Shinjuku. For starters it is a fairly quiet arcade, both in terms of noise and player base, it also has a solid selection of Medal Games for players looking to try those out as well. Many of the game machines have USB charging ports added to them so if your concerned over the battery life of your phone or other device you can charge right up while playing.

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Though this arcade does offer some disadvantages as well, It is large and spacious, though it lacks somewhat in personality. The arcade it self does not have any major specialties in games, though it does have a solid mix, the number of machines available for even popular titles is usually about 4-6, where as in Akihabara for example the more popular games can see 16-20 cabinets without much issue. One thing to note is that while there is no smoking at the game machines themselves, the smoking areas were often congested and overwhelmed by a plume of smoke, so if heavy smoke is a concern be sure to avoid those areas.

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For Takadanobaba, while Taito station caters to the modern gamer with the popular titles like Gundam EX, Wangan 5 DX, Wonderland Wars and so forth, the best game center in this area has none of those games.

Situated along side the train tracks, lies Mikado, an excellent little nook game center that is not easily found as it rests along a rather dim street that does not see much traffic.

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Mikado is rather rare for Tokyo in that it caters to fans of Retro games of all types, from Sports games to Fighting Games to Shmups, just about all kinds are represented here. The first floor contains some awesome titles like Power Drift and Metal Hawk, as well as others like Tank Force and Star Blade. These titles may not sound familiar for those that grew up outside of Japan, as I don’t remember seeing any of these in any Arcades back home. But they offer a blast of what Game Centers offered some 25 years ago.

While the first floor offers all sorts of experiences, the second floor is home to some serious fighting games. The walls littered with tournament brackets and tournament sign ups, I lost count of how many fighting games were offered up here. Everything from the latest BlazBlue title, to Street Fighter II and pretty much everything in-between could be found up here.

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I was half tempted to go down the line trying all the different titles here, but time would not permit it, so that will have to wait for another day. Mikado is absolutely worth the trip for fans of late 80’s-90’s. Will very well have a more detailed look at Mikado sometime in the future as the it was shortly before closing time when I arrived.

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Takadanobaba station is a good choice to visit if looking for a more quaint experience outside of the major stations. Whether its new or old you can most likely find the place to play at here, though try to look up where Mikado is ahead of time as it is a tricky place to find.

Gallery – Taito and Mikado

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