Plus Alpha: Zen and the Art of (Affordable) Gaming

Walking the path of low-cost gaming in high-cost Japan

Plus Alpha is a weekly column that explores life in Japan from the perspective of American expatriate and game-industry veteran Jarik Sikat. Having worked in numerous areas of the game industry since 1994, Sikat relocated to Japan in 2010.

My journey on the road to enlightenment began on April 1, 2010 – April Fools’ Day. Exactly one month later, I’d be moving to Japan for what I hoped would be for good. Despite living out of a 300-square-foot studio apartment, I still managed to accumulate a great deal of “stuff;” my car, a ukulele, my surfboard, a G4 folding “gamer chair,” action figures, and of course my entire collection of videogames. Considering outrageous shipping costs and airline excess baggage fees, not to mention the size of my new apartment, there was no way I could possibly bring it all with me.

Several months beforehand, I started this whole Zen Buddhist kick. For better or worse, I decided to use this moving experience as one big exercise in detachment. Thanks to craigslist, the car, ukulele, CDs, DVDs and a 42” HDTV were all purged and sold. Though I’d be taking a snowboard, my surfboard was left in the custody of a friend. So what about all those games?

All the games I ever owned were sold.

Obscure PSOne imports like The Bombing Islands and Tondemo Crisis, my favorite PS2 games (including Fatal Frame 2 and Romance of the Three Kingdoms X), a Bandai Wonderswan handheld, a PSP, plus all of my PS2, PS3 and 360 games… sold. Well, not everything. Uncharted 2, Shaun White Snowboarding, Railfan (a train driving simulator), and a Nintendo DS lite made the trip.

Faced with the reality of a tight budget and hardly any games to play, I went on a PlayStation Store demo-download binge. My football season consisted of the Colts playing the Jets every week, and Pacquiao’s only rival was Miguel Cotto. I did purchase a few games, like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, but was banned from playing when I smashed a controller and inadvertently taught the upstairs neighbors new ways to use the f-bomb in an impromptu late-night English class.

Why not just buy games in Japan, like everyone else?

At Costco, I picked up Demon’s Souls for 3,800 yen (about US$50 at the time) and that was the reduced price for a “the Best” game, Sony Japan’s equivalent of a “Greatest Hits” title. Newer releases such as Final Fantasy XIII-2 would set me back 7,280 yen (US$100), and I don’t want to eat cup ramen every day. After I began freelancing for PlayStation: The Official Magazine, I had some extra cash, but with the yen at an all-time high, new games were still pretty much out of the question. So began the next stage of enlightenment: acceptance of the pre-owned.

I once worked for a game publisher that vilified pre-owned games, but Michael Jordan owns the Charlotte Bobcats now, and it’s an entirely different story.

If you’re visiting Japan and searching for games, you’ll most likely head to Akihabara. At some of the larger electronics stores, like Labi in Shibuya, you’ll also find a selection of used games. In my case, closer to home there are a few game resellers, but prices can vary greatly.

Over at Get Game & Recycle, which had the widest selection of used releases ranging from 8-bit to current generation, Namco Bandai’s Tales of Xillia was 4,480 yen used (retail price: 8,379 yen). Battlefield 3 (PS3) was just 4,980 for a used copy. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3) was priced at 7,980 yen new, although even used, it’s still a little high at 6,780 (though selling a copy could fetch you 5,300 yen). Get Game & Recycle deals in buying and selling pre-owned games exclusively, but this location for some reason seems to do brisk business in used clothing, too.

The awesomely ever-present Book Off stores specialize in used media, ranging from manga and anime to game software and hardware, and of course books. Selection naturally varies by location. At one shop, Tales of Xillia was spotted for 4,980 yen. Battlefield 3 (360) was tagged at 5,950.

Tsutaya is a nationwide chain specializing in movie and music rentals; some locations actually rent manga as well. Their larger shops sell new movies, music and games among other items. The used game selection varies by store; at the Tsutaya closest to me, a pre-owned copy of Tales of Xillia was a bit steep at 6,480 yen.

To be honest, it’s really not that bad. I head out to game centers more often, and prior to this year’s Tokyo Game Show, I got six hours of hands on time with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Still, even with newer pre-owned titles approaching US$100, it’s best to wait to a few months for prices to come down. How does one cope?

Zen and detachment, grasshopper. Zen and detachment.

Jarik Sikat has worked in the videogame industry in areas ranging from localization and product development to public relations and marketing. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine and Newtype USA.

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