Born in the early ’80s, I’m at that age where “Back in my day!” is starting to sound like an acceptable phrase. Having spent the most memorable parts of my childhood in the ’90s, I have many nostalgic memories of days spent with Game Boy and NES. It still confuses me that Game Boy Advance isn’t the previous generation anymore, or that Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire are old enough for remakes. As an adult, retro gaming has been a passion of mine, not to mention a financial downfall, since it can be so expensive in the U.S. Moving to Japan, however, has changed all that in more ways than one.
The late ’80s and ’90s were an amazing time of relative prosperity, new ideas, new technology, and social change. Growing up in a Christian family and going to a Christian school, I missed out on most of it, except for the few video games I could get my hands on. At the time, the internet was a brand new thing, and it was very hard to find a lot of information about the world outside our own spheres of influence. Now that I’m an adult, however, I’m going back to the ’90s and enjoying everything about it that I secretly desired.
Both the U.S. and Japan are fairly quick to lose interest in anything deemed old, but while the U.S. tends to trash old things, Japan keeps everything—right down to the packaging. This is because Japan has a massive used goods industry, and if you look hard enough, you can find just about anything within reason. But the amazing part is that, because this used industry is so big, and items often have little rarity, prices can be amazingly low. For me, this means a big chance to relive my childhood the way I want to. I can rent the X-Files and not worry about my parents turning off the TV or finding out about my crush on Gillian Anderson. I can buy all the overtly lesbian Sailor Neptune/Uranus merchandise I want, listen to the Indigo Girls CDs, and even watch hentai if I so desire. More importantly, I never have to hear, “Stop playing those games all the time!”
My local used store, called “Hard-Off” (as in taking hardware off your hands, yes I know it sounds dirty), is full of inexpensive relics of the ’80s and ’90s. I bought a Windows 95 laptop, anime on LaserDisc, and tons of “junk” games for Famicom, Super Famicom, and Game Boy. Not all of this is guaranteed to work (I’ve bought a few games with dead batteries and a Pokémon Red that was clearly dipped in seawater), but at prices equal to around $3 U.S., it’s worth the risk. Games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy can all be bought for this price, often being as much as 30x cheaper than their U.S. versions. Of course, the catch is that they’re all in Japanese, which can be a hindrance, depending on the game and your level of language ability.
But where Japan really shines is in the more obscure parts of the ’80s and ’90s that I missed completely as a kid. In recent years, I became a huge fan of the Ys series, playing the more modern PC and PSP games, then going back to older ones. This means exploring systems like the MSX computer and the PC Engine (known as TurboGrafx-16 in the U.S.), which I had no clue about as a kid. The PC Engine was the first console to ever have a CD-ROM attachment, and it produced stunning games, complete with large, pixel-drawn anime cutscenes, voice acting, and CD audio. While it isn’t a perfect system, it’s pure joy for the Japanese culture-loving retro gamer.
In the U.S., finding the TurboGrafx-16 with CD-ROM (or its later “Duo” combo system) would cost you upwards of $600 or more for a working unit. On top of that, they will eventually need some faulty electronics repaired, a job usually costing around $60. In Japan, however, these systems can be found for around $180 in the slightly overpriced Akihabara stores, and less if you’re able to shop online. The games are also easy to find and, unless they are rare, usually sell for around $10-20.
What does all this mean for me? It means I can relive my youth playing games I never dreamed of as a kid, using the computers I lusted after, watching the girls I … well, lusted after, and destroying my budget. The big problem with Japan is that for a retro gamer, it’s very easy to say, “Oh, this DS Lite is only $15!” and before you know it, you have every product in the DS line and a budget that has more holes than Swiss cheese. In the end, though, isn’t it worth it?
Writer’s Note: Yes, I did originally write this article in Word for Windows 2.0. Long live 1992!