The Collection Grows: Why I Track Down Old Japanese Games

There are many reasons to explain my most recent gaming purchase: a gently used, great-condition Super Famicom system that came with all cables and two controllers for the princely sum of 2,450 yen (~$25). One reason is that price. After spotting the system at my new local Book-Off, I did a double-take when I saw what it included and how little it cost. I’ve seen Super Fami systems in worse shape with higher price tags in other shops, including around Akihabara’s used game depots. For the price and quality, it was an unbelievable deal.

But that begs the question: it’s 2016 -- why look for such an old system at all?

I already have way too many games to play on modern consoles, my 3DS, even my phone. The New Nintendo 3DS has many of the best and most popular games from Nintendo’s 16-bit system available as downloads on Virtual Console. Why waste time, effort and money searching for an old Super Famicom and a good copy of Super Mario World, Super Metroid, or Super Mario Kart when you can download the virtual versions on the go?

Some of my favorites from generations past adorn my shelf -- and they're enjoyed on a regular basis as well
Some of my favorites from generations past adorn my shelf -- and they're enjoyed on a regular basis as well

Some may disagree, but it's not a waste of time for everyone.One of my favorite ways to pass the time in Japan has been by window shopping used game shops to see the variety of titles, systems and hardware available. Most of the time I don’t walk out with anything new, but I do leave with a smile on my face getting quick hits of nostalgia after seeing old favorites still on a shelf for sale. Japan’s stores often go all the way back to the 8-bit era, and while the selection isn’t always amazing -- the Japanese obsessions with horse racing, Mahjong and soccer are persistent through the years -- it’s still fun to dig up a gem just for the sake of doing so. In a funny way, it’s like catch-and-release fishing. Half the fun is going to a store with a friend and digging out something wacky and seeing their reaction.

Of course, the other half is having the titles that meant something to me or to my image of games history. I don’t consider my handful of old titles to constitute a full collection, but I do like to collect titles that mean something special to me. That’s why I have Jet Set Radio, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the entire Gran Turismo series on my shelf.

But these games don’t stay on the bookcase as museum pieces. When a couple friends came by my apartment recently, they spotted the Super Famicom and the copy of Super Mario Kart sticking out of the top. It was an instant conversation starter, and after pulling the controllers out, it became a time warp back to the early 1990s. Because before games had street prices, collector value, or became deals to hunt at recycle shops, they were fun to play and provided entertainment. It’s still good to remember that they still do.

My life has been shaped and influenced by Japanese games, I appreciate that game stores in Japan still have older titles available, and I think it’s amazing I can still track down these artifacts that mean so much to me. I’ve written about how I wouldn’t be here without Gran Turismo; games have always been a large part of my life, and have helped lead me to the life I have today. It means more to me to look at shops every couple of weeks with a couple of cool titles in mind to search for than to add to a PlayStation Network queue or unending Steam library. There’s always the thrill of the hunt that comes with the small victory of finding something which has evaded you for months or years. Honestly, this clean, cheap Super Famiwas one of those white whales for me. And now that I have one, it’s time to find some 16-bit games!