[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 01/29/03 ] = The Current State Of Japanese Arcades

In America, Japanese arcades are hailed by many as the best in the world. Japanese arcades are put on a pedestal of greatness. On the Internet, arcades with games as far as the eye can see are often depicted in reports or impressions. Through American magazines and other means of media, it is often told that Japanese arcades have all of the newest, hottest games...and in abundance. Some claim that regardless of the new games in Japanese arcades, joysticks on Japanese arcade machines in every arcade they go to are broken. Many who have visited Japanese arcades claim that in Japan EVERY player is of the expert level. Still, know-it-alls that linger on select message boards also claim that EVERY Japanese player is of expert skill, and basically imply that before you have even entered the arcade you've already been defeated. In addition to these impressions is also the fact that a significant percentage of the world's best players come from Japan, and have trained in Japanese arcades. Many good, great, and outstanding players come out of other countries (not just America), but when you read a Japanese magazine like Arcadia and see the high score tables in each issue, you'll realize just how many outstanding players come out of Japan. Out of the many impressions that editors and others feed to us, which ones are right, accurate, or wrong? You would have to visit Japanese arcades yourself to really know, but reading impressions of others who have visited them can sometimes be useful and at the same time detrimental. Are the aforementioned images of Japanese arcades impressions or myths? Are they images of older Japanese arcades, or new ones? Well, for now, I'll stick to calling them "impressions," and by the end of this article, let you decide which category they belong in. Fans of fighting and shooting games read on; for those who are wondering about DDR and Konami's other simulation titles, sorry, I did not examine them in depth.

To start, I'll first say that it is true, to some extent that Japanese arcades have the newest, most popular games. For the most part, a significant portion of Japanese arcades have the new releases on their release dates. Some arcades will get less-popular games on their debut, but from what I have observed, this happens mostly with the huge arcades owned by companies like Sega and Taito; these arcades usually have individual floors for each genre, and lots of games on each floor. Because this site primarily focuses on fighters, shooters, and action titles, the proceeding impressions are based on the respective genres often discussed on this site. I can say that since I first arrived, I've seen Gundam DX, Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, Guilty Gear XX, DoDonpachi Dai Ou Jou, and Ikaruga hit almost every arcade directly upon release. Titles like KOF2001, Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, Metal Slug 4, and Rage of the Dragons are in some of the arcades, but for the most part, as of this writing Gundam DX, KOF2002, Guilty Gear XX, and Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution are in about 90% of the arcades in Japan. KOF2002, however, is getting more and more popular, and thus more arcades are replacing their KOF2001 machines. Of course, this is just my personal observation, and I could be wrong...even though I visited the biggest arcade in Tokyo, and all of the arcades in Akihabara, as well as the arcades of Chiba, Nagoya, and Kyoto. I cannot say much about the arcades in Osaka (anyone know about them?), but only the countless arcades I have been to in the mentioned places.

For fighting titles, I was a bit disappointed in what I saw. Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, Capcom VS SNK 2, and Gundam DX are at many arcades (and that's a good thing), but where are the other Capcom and SNK fighters? In my observation, I rarely (if at all) saw certain titles that I had expected to see at least a few times. Among the unseen titles were Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper, Street Fighter III 2nd Impact, Street Fighter III, WarZard, Project Justice, Rival Schools, Capcom VS SNK Pro, Street Fighter Zero 2, Street Fighter Zero, Vampire Hunter 2, Cyberbots, Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter, Real Bout Fatal Fury 2, Super Street Fighter II, any Street Fighter EX title, Garou Mark Of The Wolves, or any of SNK's Neo Geo 64 titles. Why is this? I was lucky enough to see Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper once, but when I came back to the place, to no avail, it was gone and (surprisingly) replaced by Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha. I even expected to see a few Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers, or Virtua fighter 3 machines, but again, they were nowhere to be found. The fact that some of the mentioned titles are considered to be rare may also have something to do with it, but I expected to see them more often, considering I was in Tokyo. Sometimes Japanese arcades systematically switch titles in and out (which creates a bit of variety), but there still seems to be certain titles that are nowhere to be seen. I'll get into this later, but in my opinion there's no excuse for the lack of Naomi, ZN1, and ZN2 fighters in Japanese arcades. Though there is a certain variety in fighters that Japanese arcades possess that American ones don't have, I did expect more out of some of the bigger arcades I went to. I expected to see more of the games I mentioned not because I was hyped through what others said about Japanese arcades, but because the games were made in Japan, and in going to so many places I expected to see a lot more. Maybe I expected too much...

In the shooter genre, Japanese arcades are for the most part, diverse; as of this writing, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label has thankfully caught on well, and as of this writing most arcades have it. Ikaruga has also caught on, but not nearly as well; for every 3 arcades that have DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label, you'll see one that will have Ikaruga. Usually DDPDOJ is occupied, and sometimes I have to wait to play it, but Ikaruga often looks a bit lonely, with play only when large crowds exist to see a badass kick the game's ass. In addition to shooters powered by the Naomi and CPS-II, Taito's G-Net hardware is also popular; 1 out of every 4 arcades you go to will have a G-Net game. Though Japanese arcades usually have only a few shooters compared to the number of titles they have in other genres, I have to say that there is a lot more variety. Sure, you get DDPDOJ or DDPDOJBL at nearly every place, but with it you will get usually a nice assortment of titles ranging from one of Psikyo, Cave, Capcom, or Konami's great titles. Cave and Psikyo shooters are fairly popular, and the bigger arcades have a fair assortment. I guess since shooters are less in demand and therefore have less distribution, not as many of them physically exist, and therefore create a bit more diversity in than that of fighters. You see repeats, but not nearly as much as you do with the other genres; you will see VF4E and GGXX at almost every arcade you go to, or any place that has games, for that matter. I couldn't really ask for more in the shooter dept. as far as selection goes, as opposed to what I demand in fighters I think are essential in every arcade. It was great to see titles like Dragon Blaze, Giga Wing, Galactic Attack, Guwange,, and Gradius II so often. And get this - those are the titles I never expected to see as often as I did...

Japanese arcades do have in abundance the newest games, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a big variety in your average arcades. In actual variety, I mean a varied assortment of new and old titles, not the same old and new titles at nearly every place you go to. I'm not saying that Japanese arcades have no variety at all, I'm just saying that (for lack of a better description) they have somewhat of a limitation on variety I hadn't expected. The quick change-out rate for old games in exchange for the new ones effects the availability of titles, and it seems like places have to do it just to stay in business. However, it still doesn't explain why revisions of certain titles are nowhere to be found (they last longer, and are therefore cheaper in the long-run). For instance, Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper is a GD-ROM, and doesn't expire like the CPS-II board, yet the Japanese arcades continue to keep Street Fighter Zero 3; not only is the Naomi version better because it won't expire, but also because it has more characters and options. The same goes for Capcom VS SNK not being replaced by Capcom VS SNK Pro; even though seeing CVSS at all is borderline rare, where the hell is Capcom VS SNK Pro? I can't understand why these games haven't been replaced with their better versions. So many arcades have tons of other Naomi games, like Gundam DX, Capcom VS SNK 2, Guilty Gear XX, Marvel VS Capcom 2, Giga Wing 2, Cannon Spike, Ikaruga, and a load of others, but still no SFZ3U, CVSSP, Project Justice, so it's hard to believe that they can't get them. One would think that the suicide CPS-II titles wouldn't be in more demand than the long self-life of safe Naomi and CPS-III titles, but it seems to be the opposite. Of course, I haven't been to any of Osaka's arcades, and this may be an important factor, but this is my observation on the variety of the arcades in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya that I had visited often. I guess since the aforementioned games originated in Japan, I expected to see them at most Japanese arcades, but that is (unfortunately) not the case.

As a side note, if you haven't yet been to Japan and are considering making a trip to, say, a Capcom Plaza for endless rows of Capcom game machines as far as the eye can see, reconsider. I had the chance to visit, through the generosity of my girlfriend, a Capcom Plaza arcade in Tokyo. It was disappointing, to say the least. Not only was the train ride long, but I had convinced my girlfriend to waste her time going to an arcade that I thought would at least have one Street Fighter title (at least). To my surprise, the Capcom Plaza I went to had a Street Fighter Cafe, but did not have a single Street Fighter title to play. Instead, I was given the choice of the same four titles that even the most run-down arcades in Japan have: KOF2002, Gundam DX, VF4E, and GGXX. Not only did I feel like a dick for conning my girlfriend into taking me to this arcade because I thought since it was a Capcom arcade it would actually have some SF machines (namely, SFZ3U), but I felt disappointed that a Capcom arcade didn't even have an SF machine. Sure the place had one Capcom VS SNK 2 machine, but it's just not the same as playing an SF game (no matter how many say it is). The game that put Capcom's name on the map wasn't anywhere to be seen even in their own arcade. Oh man. I'm not sure if this is the same for other locations of the Capcom Plaza arcades, but if it is, it's a crying shame.

Sega and Taito's arcades, on the other hand, are awesome. They have floors dedicated to each genre, and even though shooters always get stuck on the mahjong floor, it's still cool to see something like this. This is a good and a bad thing; it's a good thing because you can play older games like Street Fighter III 3rd Strike, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Vampire Savior 2, Capcom VS SNK 2, KOF2001, and The Last Blade 2, which is awesome. However, there seems to be a catch to this. With these games, one will notice that even in the older games, you again have the same shit. Well, it is a bit disappointing when you see the same OLDER games at every arcade. Variety? Well, sometimes, but only at the most odd arcades that get the games others have discarded, and even then you are still prone to seeing repeats. Maybe I'm being harsh, but man, they can take out one of their four KOF2002 or GGXX machines and put in SFZ3U, CVSSP, Project Justice, or even WarZard.

How are American arcades in comparison? American arcades are always being shit on in comparison to Japanese arcades, and in my opinion, it is only half justified. I used to think Japanese arcades were probably better than American ones, until I actually visited some Japanese arcades and saw for myself. As far as variety, American and Japanese arcades are on about the same level; US arcades shove Tekken and every other Namco creation down your fucking throat, and Japanese ones push the aforementioned four titles. (I'd rather have the same Capcom, SNK, or Sega games at every arcade pushed on me than having loads of Namco bullshit at every arcade, like in the US) Still, Japanese arcades and American arcades do have their own respective advantages, as strange as it may seem.

Japanese arcades have the immediate advantage of having the new stuff right at your fingertips when it's hot, while American arcades sometimes never get new releases (unless they get an insane discount). On the other hand, however, at least you can still play some of the games you might not be able to play at some of the Japanese arcades simply because of their age or change-out rate. Chances are though, rare titles that you can't seem to find at Japanese arcades will not turn up in American ones, either (excluding CA arcades). What now? Well, they may not have as much variety as many think, but Japanese arcades do have more than American ones. Sometimes you will happen to stumble over a gem (like Vampire Hunter 2 or WarZard) that is not at the other arcades, but I guess it all just depends on what part of Japan you are in. Generally though, Japanese arcades have variety that will keep most gamers satisfied; just about every arcade is half Konami simulator machines, a quarter fighting, a few shooters, and some mahjong titles. Japanese arcade operators seem to know a bit more about gamers' needs than their US counterparts (who seem dislike their customer base). It's not that Japanese arcades have no variety at all, but if you are a gamer that likes games across each genre, finding what you like may be hard, especially if it's not recent.

American arcades have two advantages over their Japanese counterparts though, and two very important ones at that. First of all, in Japanese arcades, all machines use the "ball" joystick that died out around the time SFIIT came out in America. Where Japan has their machines equipped with the dreaded "ball" joysticks, American machines are thankfully equipped with the "ball-bat" style joysticks that fit the hand more comfortably. What does this mean? Well, when you combine it with the guts of the joystick unit, it is at the very least a tragedy to speak of. American joysticks move circular in a smooth motion, with no catches, but Japanese joysticks tend to get caught in deep grooves that completely hamper execution. This is hard to explain, but if you bought the Sega Arcade Stick (by AgeTec) for your DreamCast system, it feels about the same. These grooves are especially rough and troublesome when trying to pull off Super Moves or 360 motions, and doing complex combos is near impossible unless you have been using these joysticks for most of your life (like Japanese players have). Not saying they are impossible to play on, just saying they are very difficult to use if you have been using American style joysticks for a long time.

As far as machine maintenance goes, I think Japanese arcades are very on top of this important issue, as opposed to most US arcades. In Japan, you run across machines every now and then that have a broken joystick and/or buttons, but most Japanese arcades keep their machines in good working order. Within about a day usually, the machines are fixed and ready to go if they have suffered some abuse. In some American arcades, I've seen machines broken for days, even weeks, before being taken care of; this is something that doesn't seem to happen in Japan often. However, with the terrible "ball" joysticks, it's almost hard to tell if they are broken or not!

This is probably where the "American players suck" stereotype (in both countries) comes from, because when those from America come to Japan to throwdown, they find that the joysticks are completely different than that of their homeland, and thus eat shit when they play. This is also probably where the same stereotype of "every Japanese player is of god skills" also came from; did the American players who got their asses handed to them in Japanese arcades ever consider that the reason they lost is because of the plain fact that the joysticks are just different? Probably not, thus, many American players are left with the impression that winning matches at Japanese arcades is impossible. I'll say from experience that yes, there are some really good players that are near-impossible to beat, but not all Japanese players are at the same master level (contrary to what has been put into our heads). Just like in America, there are good players, and there are shit's just that there are probably more great players in Japan. The fact is though, that there are bad and great players in Japan; remember, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

The second, big problem with Japanese game centers is that in every single one of them smoking is not prohibited. This is somewhat of a "godsend" to those who inhale, but to those who don't it's a troublesome distraction. In some American arcades this is also the case, but not so often as in Japanese arcades, where walking through the entrance is like walking into a fucking James Bond smoke screen. Not fun. At all. Some players smoke and play, while others light a cancer stick only to play and let the motherfucker burn right next to you while you're trying to concentrate on winning an intense match. Sometimes, burning cigarettes get so out of hand you'll have to quit your game and play another, hoping that the bastard who lit the cigarette doesn't decide to play another game near you and light up another just to burn. This will irritate you, if you are not a smoker, that is. Shit, even smokers get sick of this problem in Japanese arcades, because a burning cigarette in an ashtray on the machine next to you not only saturates you in smoke, but also burns your eyes. This is by far, the biggest drawback of Japanese arcades; in addition to shit joysticks, you get the favor of being drenched in cigarette smoke with every visit. Again, some American arcades are like this, but majority of them are nonsmoking facilities. It may seem like a petty argument against Japanese arcades, until you see for yourself how bad it really is.

Japanese arcades are, however, are much more convenient in terms of competition; for fighting or other types of battle games, two cabinets with monitors facing opposite of each other are used, and each player gets their own single joystick panel. So, technically, you can't really see who (or what) you are playing against, because the other player is across from you, playing on their own screen. I have rarely seen this setup in America, but it is definitely beneficial in a lot of ways. The first benefit of this cabinet setup is that for the big bodies who A) love to fat-finger the buttons or B) love to take up the whole machine when they play, nothing they do has any effect on their opponent. For example, in the states, it's often easy to lose a match to some random piece of shit who has never played the game before, but refuses to give the common courtesy of space to you during battle; this is rarely the case in Japan, because although there are machines set up in the single-cabinet two-joystick panel format, most of the biggest competition games have two separate (but connected) cabinets that allow each player to play on a single control panel. This is a huge plus in my book, because in America some cabinets are too big and the buttons are spaced too far apart, while others are too small for two people to play. The second benefit of double cabinets is that whether it is a fair or cheap match, at least the person you pissed off (or are pissed off at) isn't right next to you, within striking (or stabbing) distance. This is especially helpful, because as some will know, after an intense match, sometimes the intensity can last on outside and into the parking lot. Not pretty.

As touched on before, competition is good a Japanese arcades. Competition will always find you at a Japanese arcade, skilled or unskilled; usually before getting halfway through a fighter a challenger will come to rain shit on your parade (especially if you play in Akihabara). I don't really know what more I can say in regard to competition at Japanese arcades besides the fact that there are some really good players, some great players, some god players, some shit players, some players that are still learning...and some female players. I don't see female players much in America, but some of the female players I've seen and went up against in Japan are pretty good; definitely a sight to have seen. I must point out, however, that seemingly unlike America, even some of the less-skilled Japanese players try or use challenging techniques (like parrying in SFIII3S) during battles, and seem to have an overall understanding of the gameplay. I've seen a few button mashers here and there, but for the most part, I have to say I've seen a lot more button-mashing in the states. Overall Japanese players are of many different skill levels of course, and in my own personal opinion, more respectful. You get your cocky-pricks here and there, but nothing compared to some of the assholes I've played in the states. Don't get me wrong, there are still those guys who get pissed and hit the control panel and shit like that in Japan, but it is actually quite rare and it seems to happen more in America. While some Japanese players are too cocky to even watch the ending or put their initials in when they finish a game, for the most part they are more respectful. Although I hate how so many Japanese players pick all of the same characters (like some US players), this is not reflected in my personal impression of Japanese players as a whole. In fact, I enjoy very much playing Japanese opponents, and have made a few friends here and there.

All in all, my impression of Japanese arcades is a good one, but not perfect. While Japanese arcades have considerably more games to choose from, variety is still lacking in some aspects. Compared to American arcades, Japanese ones are adequately stocked with the latest games though, and this is perfect for those who don't stay on one game. Competition in Japan is good, there are more shooters, the players have more respect, and there is an abundance of arcades in general, but Japanese arcades suffer from two aforementioned big disadvantages. In my observation, I have came to the conclusion that where American arcades lack, Japanese arcades deliver, and where Japanese arcades lack, American ones deliver. American arcades are nonsmoking, have better joysticks, and some competition (depending on where you are in the country), while Japanese arcades almost always have new releases, consistent competition, more variety, and overall a more respectful player base. From my experiences, I'd have to say that US and Japanese arcades break about even; each adequately makes up in the areas the other lacks in. I have come to have a profound liking towards Japanese arcades, but I have also developed an appreciation for American arcades as well.