My love letter to Japanese Arcade Music Games
Arcades. 5 storey tall buildings filled with machines built to suck your money. Truly amazing arcades can only be found in Japan. A 100 or 200 yen, maybe even 500 to get maybe a minute or two of entertainment when you try your luck at a claw machine. What if I told you, that 500 yen could get you a good half an hour of entertainment at an arcade? Would you think that is possible?
When I came to Japan for the second time in 2017, my friends and I found ourselves ending up in arcades very often, tempted by claw machines. Back then, we somehow made it work, occasionally losing a 1000 or 2000 yen, but sometimes hitting a jackpot and spending only a 100 yen to get a toy. I had a friend spend a shocking 10,000 yen at the arcade in one night and end up with nothing to show for it. It was then that we truly remembered, that we were still at the mercy of the arcade and would only lose money at the claw machines.
However, there were a series of machines that caught my attention at the arcades. Machines that were on the 5th floor and did not permit us to win any prize of sorts. And that was the Music Games. The ones where we would go on Youtube or Instagram and see the fabled Asian Boy Geniuses who would be playing at an insane speed or with insane accuracy. Multiple comments or likes that will follow in that post, in amazement for what these players could do. I too was one of those who used to be mesmerized at the magical art of playing Music Games.
I had actually tried my hand at these types of games back in 2015 and 2016. I played this game you could download online called Osu! And yes it does sound like it is Japanese developed but it was developed by an Australian. The game hooked me on to Music Games and I couldn’t help but try my hand at them.
As an Osu!Mania player, Chunithm (チュウニズム) was the one that got my attention the most. It resembled a piano, with simple tap and hold mechanics. But I was once again amazed by Japanese ingenuity as they had implemented features such as ‘Air’, where one would flick their hand into the air, off the gamepad, and it was a mechanic in this seemingly simple game that made it increase in difficulty.
I struggled. This game was foreign to me and it took me several rounds of failing before I could even clear a song. After several visits to Akihabara, I saw myself doing a bit better, clearing the beginner stages of some songs with ease. Before I knew it, my trip came to an end, and I left with a bitter taste in my mouth for barely learning how to play the game well enough.
It was good that I came back the next time in 2019 with my brother, Marcus. You see, Marcus had spent much more time playing Osu! compared to me and was rather skilled in it. He was hooked onto Music Games when I introduced them to him. It gave me a competitive streak and my brother and I spent several hours in the arcade now that we were together. We ventured into other games, like maimai!DX and Ongeki (オンゲキ) and before I knew it, I spent hours rotating between various machines. In the end, the one to take my heart was still Chunithm.
Now back in Japan for the 4th time, I couldn’t stop at just visiting Akihabara a few times. I stayed in the Chiyoda Ward near Akihabara, I lived and breathed arcade for half an hour a day. I even dared venture into some of the dancing games like DanceRush Stardom. It was great. The dance games were truly hilarious sometimes. The stereotype of what a good dancer looks like is blown away. Many a time you would see someone with unkempt hair or clothes that look like they were a hikikomori (acute social withdrawal, ひきこもり) but they would bust out amazing shuffles, running man or pops. Truly a sight to behold.
And now that I’m here in Hiroshima, having a Taito Station just a 10-minute walk away is godsent. Just the other day I achieved my first SS rating on a song in Chunithm~ It is a tad bit sad that I have yet to see DanceRush Stardom, but having my pet game Chunithm is more than enough for me.
It’s amazing how they hook you in with the prospect of improving small aspects of the game like your title, your nameplate or even how your avatar looks in the game. But they just make the game that small bit more enjoyable. (Like look how cute Nagisa Akatsuki is <3)
Yes, Arcade games may seem like a waste of money and purely a drain of energy but for me, I love music and getting to play a game in which I can play to the music is the best thing ever. Every tap or swipe is just like another dribble or shot in sports. It’s truly exhilarating when you try to go for a full combo and the adrenaline rush is truly comparable to when you are playing any sport.
I have seen many tourists give these music games a try or two but ultimately give up and never come back. But I dare say that if you put in just a bit more time and money, instead of giving it to the claw machine, you might find a much more enjoyable way to spend that time and money. Never falter when you see that Japanese boy or girl play like a crazed piano player, because behind every one of these Senseis, are countless hours spent on improving their skill to achieve their level of competency. And I believe with enough dedication, anyone can improve to their capability.
If you come to Japan because you enjoy anime (and occasionally their opening songs) do consider trying and spending some time on Music Games. I doubt you will get a chance like this in another country! (I know for sure because Taiwan and Korea don’t have the same thing for sure. Hehe.) Feel free to approach me to ask about it if you would like to know more 🙂
Arcades in Hiroshima are in the Hondori Shopping District. You can refer to the map below on where you can find them.