A Retro Game Guide To Akihabara

Greetings and welcome back to Akihabara, Tokyo’s beloved and sheltered paradise of everything electronic and nerdy.  It’s me, Marc, Hardcore Gamer’s official nerdy guy in Japan.  Last time I gave you devoted readers an account of my very frustrating, but successful mission of breaking into the new Final Fantasy cafe.  This week, I felt that the general area of Akihabara deserved its own article, so allow me to be your guide in yet another adventure into the land of bustling crowds and inexorable lines.  Today we’re going to be taking a look at some popular places to get your retro game on.

akihabaraえき

 

How To Get There

Akihabara is fairly easy to find since it is connected a plethora of different train lines that include Japan Rail’s Yamanote line, Keihin-Tohoku line, and Chuo-Sobu line, as well as Tokyo Metro Subway’s Hibiya Line, and the fairly new (as of 2005) Tsukuba Express.  Not too far from the main shopping street is also Suehirocho station, which is connected to the Ginza line.  The area itself holds several popular IT and publishing companies, hence why it is used as a central train hub.  You can reach Akihabara easily from any corner of Tokyo.  If you happen to live in the middle of no where (AKA Saitama/Chiba), there are still express trains that can take you there in record time.

Upon arriving in Akihabara station you have a few choices.  While the Showa-Dori exit (昭和通り口) of the station houses plenty of entertaining things such as Yodobashi Camera, the world’s biggest electronic superstore, and several interesting dive bars, today we will be taking a look at the infamous shopping area outside of the 電気街口(Electric City Exit).  The exit is actually divided into a fork, going to the left and right.  The exit toward the right will take you to the Gundam Cafe and the AKB48 Cafe, while the exit on the left will greet you with a large, multi-story Sega game center.  Take the exit on the left, and directly afterwards turn right and go straight to be carried off by a crowd into the main shopping district.  BOOM!

Super Potato (スーパーポテト)

image

I’d actually be surprised if you haven’t heard of this retro game store before, since it’s been covered by several magazines over the past two decades and has a reputation that precedes itself.  Originally started as a second-hand store in Osaka, Super Potato now dominates Tokyo’s Akihabara and Ikebukuro.  Super Potato is, in one word, awesome.  It’s a three floor megaplex of crowded shelves of everything game related from the 80s and 90s.  The interior design of the store is heavenly if you’re a retro game fan.  The walls and ceiling are covered with nostalgic game ads, magazine clippings, and blown up 8-bit sprites.  You might also run into their somewhat scary life-size Solid Snake and Super Mario statues if you aren’t careful.

The first floor of the shop has Famicom, Super Famicom, PC Engine, and Sega games, along with playable setups of those respective systems.  Amusingly, there is also a Virtual Boy near the front of the store if you miss that nostalgic feeling of ocular stigmata.  The second floor has an impressive selection of Playstation games, MSX(!) carts, and handheld software.  There’s also an abundance of collectable merchandise such as figurines, old strategy guides, and soundtracks, although some of it is unfortunately not for sale.  The last time I went to the store they had a Sonic the Hedgehog wall clock that no amount of sad puppy dog eyes could convince them to sell. The third floor houses a game room with old-school arcade cabinets, a candy shop, and a smoking section where you can read manga.  It’s a shade inexplicable, but trust me, it’s a great place to hang out.

image_2

The Good:

Super Potato has an immense selection of retro games, along with their associated systems, including the Famicom Disk System and the MSX.  Its catalog really can’t be beat anywhere else in Tokyo and if you’re serious about finding something you need, it’s the best place to go.  All games are cleaned, tested, and repaired before sale.  Any irreparable damage to the merchandise is noted either by the staff before you buy it, or by a sticker placed on the outside of the game’s box or cart.  If you are a knit-picky collector, then this is the place for you.  Super Potato also offers frequent shoppers a point card which accumulates store credit after every purchase.  The atmosphere will make geeks of all stripes feel right at home!  The third floor alone is worth a visit if you’re just bored and don’t feel buying anything.

The Bad:

Life is not fair, the world is not perfect, and Super Potato is not cheap.  You can find just about any game you’re looking for here, but it’s going come at a terribly inflated price compared to the other stores on this list.  Sometimes games will go for double the price at Super Potato compared to competing stores!  A small scratch on a cartridge or system can make the difference of 30% of the price.  I love this place, but it’s usually my last resort when it comes to finding a game I really want.

Why Is It Called Super Potato?:

potatomix

The heck if I know.  They do sell their own official bread mix though, in maple or chocolate flavor.  No, it’s not potato bread.  Just bread.

Retro Game (レトロげーむ)

 image_8

Located down the main street, a little ways from the Don Quixote department store,.  Retro Game is pretty small but has a real charm to its design.  From the getgo you’ll probably notice the cute Mario/Pac-Man store sign.  Right on the outside they have a Famicom setup with either Super Mario Bros. or Kirby’s Adventure so random passers by can stop for a game or two.  They often blast video game soundtracks through their outside speakers as well. The first floor is jam-packed (sometimes to the point where it’s hard to move…) with Famicom, Super Famicom, and N64 games, while the second story holds mainly Sega Saturn and Playstation merchandise.  A year ago they also used to sell cosplay goods on the second floor, but at present they only sell wigs.

The Good:

Retro Game has a decent selection of games.  It’s definitely no competition for Super Potato’s inventory, but it’s pretty good.  They also got a lot of cool merchandise that you can’t find at too many other places, like plush Nintendo and Sega dolls, figurines, and old Famitsu magazines.  It’s got a fun atmosphere, augmented by the TVs around the shop that play old Japanese game commercials from the 90’s and episodes of the cult reality show Game Center CX.  

The Bad:

The exterior design and setup is cute and alluring, but don’t be deceived, Retro Game is really overpriced.  Often their inventory costs more than Super Potato and I don’t even know why.  It’s not like the quality of their merchandise is any better – to the contrary it’s often worse.  There’s a reason why they go to all the trouble setting up their display outside to draw customers in.  I sometimes feel as if this place is a bit of a tourist trap, for those that just don’t know where else to buy games.  The selection is decent, like I said, but you can find the same games at any of the other stores in this guide.  Also, they don’t really have much in the way of consoles for sale.  They instead heavily endorse knock-off consoles or emulated machines, which won’t satisfy any serious collector.

They Sell Anime-Style Wigs?!

They do.

Trader (トレーダー本店)

image_7

Trader is located across the street from Retro Game, and down a little ways, next to a conveyor belt sushi joint.  The store’s huge yellow banner is a bit hard to miss.  Consider seeing an eye doctor as soon as possible if you can’t find it.  It should be noted that there’s a second store by the same company located on the same side of the street as Retro Game called Trader3.  This store sells quite different products, and specializes in doujin software and erotic games.  Don’t get confused… unless you’re into that kind of stuff, in which case, try not to wander into the retro store.

Trader is a second-hand game and video shop.  They unfortunately did not allow me to take pictures inside the store but the interior design isn’t really anything special, though it is huge!  Used Playstation 3/4, Wii U, and 3DS games take up the first floor.  They also have a large shelf with games from the USA and Europe for English-speaking collectors.  The second floor has a pretty damn impressive array of software, ranging from Famicom to Saturn/Playstation titles.  There’s also a corner devoted to “junk” software, which can range from carts with dead save batteries to discs with tiny scratches.  Everything in this corner is cheap, usually around 100 yen ($1), but you’ll get no explanations of specific damage.  It can be a bit of a crapshoot.

If it works it works, right?

If it works it works, right?

The Good:

Great prices.  Compared to Super Potato and Retro Game, this is where it’s at, yo.  Trader, like Super Potato, still gives short explanations on their packages as to what the game might be missing or how it might be damaged.  Often times the quality of their stuff is actually very good.  In fact, I have obtained some particularly nice gems from the junk section such as mint condition copies of Street Fighter Alpha 2 (50 yen!) and Policenauts  (100 yen!) for the Saturn.  Both games had some scratches on the discs, but they were easily fixed with a CD repair kit.  Trader also has some consoles for sale in their original boxes.  Last time I went there they even had a limited edition Dreamcast in complete packaging

The Bad:

For real collectors, Trader might be a bit of nightmare.  They don’t really offer any “complete” games that include boxes and manuals, and the junk section is, of course, very hit or miss.  A friend of mine picked up Pokemon Yellow for 50 yen and found that the game couldn’t save data, making it a waste of money for anyone not willing to play for a week straight on their Super Game Boy (which he did).  For less exacting retro gamers, though, Trader has plenty to offer.

Your Friend Played Pokemon For A Week Straight Without Saving?

Yeah, and it was his first time playing, too.  He would just leave it on when he wasn’t home or sleeping.  Eventually, as he reached the end and was about to battle the Elite Four, his apartment suffered a power outage.  He lost everything and became pretty depressed afterwards.  He knew the risk of Trader’s junk section, though…

Mandarake (マンダラケ)

 image_6

It seems like someone messed up when trying to spell “mandrake,” but this store’s name is pronounced “man – da -rah -kay” in katakana.  Mandarake is located on the same block as Trader, a few buildings back.  It’s hard to miss as well, since it literally towers over everything else.  The store is completely black except for its red sign, and looks somewhat ominous.  Running up the side is a giant stairwell, going up all eight floors of the building.  It’s quite a sight to see and a bit of a pain to climb up.  I hope you’re not afraid of heights.  There  is an elevator, but it rarely works and is mainly used by the staff to transport stock.

Mandarake actually prides itself on being the largest store for nerds in the world, and they might be right.  It has several floors devoted to all things otaku, including cosplay, regular manga, erotic manga, collectable toys/models, card games,  and more.  The game/video section is located on the sixth floor.  Mandarake also has a sister store in Shibuya that resembles something of an underground warehouse/storage room, although it’s quite a bit smaller than this location.

The Good:

Immense amount of games, second only to Super Potato.  If the Potato’s prices are too high for you, then Mandarake is your second best bet.  They have a lot of collectables and rare games as well, secure within a glass cabinet in the back of the room.  On the other side of the room, near the elevator, are a number of limited-edition console designs for the Famicom, DS,  Saturn, and more.  I actually come here quite often, not only for games, but also for the game and anime soundtracks with which they share a floor

The Bad:

Very confusing layout.  It’s pretty hard to find anything here, and the walking space between shelves is very narrow, at places only able to accommodate one person passing through.  Browsing here can be very annoying.  The staff is fortunately very knowledgeable and willing to guide you through the maze of product, though.

doll

The Ugly?

They’ve got a whole floor devoted customizable dolls (pictured above).  It’s terrifying.  When the elevator door opens you’re greeted with tiny disembodied gothic-lolita heads staring at you with dead eyes.

 

Friends (フレンズ)

My favorite store!  It’s unfortunately very, very easy to miss.  Friends is located all the way at the end of the street, past both Trader and Retro Game.  Eventually you’ll hit Suehirocho Station (末広著駅).  Make sure it’s the train that’s headed toward Asakusa.  Across the street you will see a Zenith Coffee shop.  Directly next to it is a small, plain-looking building.  Friends has a tiny sign display on the door.  They are open every day except Tuesdays and national holidays.

This little game shop is run by an old lady and her two sons.  Like the other stores, they sell most of everything retro, but recently added a third floor for more modern games, like PS2 and Xbox titles.  They also offer system repairs .  To add to the atmosphere, they have actually drawn, colored, and cut out pictures of Nintendo game characters on cardboard and hung them on the walls.  The old lady almost always has the soundtrack for the Famicom game Mother playing on repeat in the store.

image_10

The Good:

Excellent prices.  I mean, this is actually awesome and most of the time you can find games for less than half the cost at Super Potato.  I once found Rock Man 3 (Mega Man 3) here for about 500 yen , where it sold for 1200 at the Potato.  Just goes to show that you gotta shop around for the best deals.  Friends also offers matching quality to their games and the atmosphere has that friendly mom-and-pop feeling that Trader and Mandarake can’t beat.  They also offer student discounts which apply to foreigners who are studying abroad or going to a language school.  On top of this, like Trader, Friends sells “junk” software.  The same pros and cons apply here… Don’t buy Pokemon Yellow.

The Bad:

Nothing, really.  Err…Well, unfortunately, it’s very tiny.  Their selection is small and often times I can tell you that you probably won’t find anything outside of popular titles here.  They do have a display case for rare games and collectables though.

Friends?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure they named the store after the song from Mother called “Bein’ Friends”.  It actually has English vocals, as does the whole soundtrack.

Time to chill out and get a beer...

Time to chill out and get a beer…

That about wraps up my report on retro shops in in Akihabara.  Now, there are of course countless more stores in the immediate area, and even better options outside Akiba.  Nakano Broadway and a few gems in the outskirts of Chiba and Saitama deserve their own coverage in the future.  If you know any other places you like or think I should check out, let us know in the comments below.  I’d love to write about them.  またね!