I’m back from just over a week in Japan and in between all the cultural sightseeing, I managed to find some time to check out what’s happening in Japanese arcades. As it turns out, the world has turned upside down or come full circle, depending on how you’d like to look at it. I had to try it; Border Break from Sega is an online multiplayer 3rd person shooter featuring giant robots instead of beefy space marines. The matches seem to play a little like the onslaught game type from Unreal Tournament 2004, though with classes and an unlock progression system. The crazy thing is it follows those kinds of shooters so closely the machine has a MOUSE! A MOUSE! Attached to AN ARCADE GAME! The only thing missing is a miniature WASD layout. Instead, movement is handled with a thumb-stick ala any controller since the N64. The thumb stick is mounted on a kind of joystick with no movement of its own, but with a couple of buttons on the front and an awkwardly placed action button by the thumb – though how you’re supposed to press it during any kind of action is beyond me. The analogue nature of the stick overcomes the limitations of WASD quite nicely, while the little mouse allows smooth aiming control that feels very natural to anyone who’s played a few shooters on PC. Because of the simple action based nature of the game, resembling Unreal Tournament, and the familiarity of the controls, I found myself buying a save card for the game and playing a few more matches than I expected I would, even topping the scoreboard.
I’m surprised to see a game with what looks to be a deep unlock path and engrossing team-based multiplayer in an arcade. PC multiplayer games must be even more unpopular in Japan than I thought. Sure I’ve seen a few Japanese players on Battlefiled 2, but for Border Break to survive, there has to be a significant audience out there with no other means to play such a game. Either that or I’m missing the draw of the noisy arcades. It makes me wonder if an arcade developer could revisit some older online first person shooters and modify them a little for the arcade. Though I suppose they would not appeal as much to the Japanese sensibility. Border Break does at least meet that requirement in spades, not only with the giant robots but also the anime looking pilots. I assume this is also to keep the game kid friendly, though all the people queuing up to play it were adults.
I must say I enjoyed my time with Border Break and it makes me think that Japanese gaming isn’t so dissimilar from western after all, but I do wonder if the format would last if the money-based time limit were removed and the game became a retail PC release. There’s certainly a lot more potential for more money to be made with this pay-to-play model, especially with the amount of progression there appears to be. Still, running out of 100 yen coins and suddenly dropping out of a game is more annoying than having to answer the door or the phone, since you can more successfully ignore those.