The Incredible World Of The Japanese Arcade Racing Scene

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Arcades have become a rare sight in Europe over the last few decades. Meanwhile, Japan is home to a thriving arcade racing scene – including enormous tournaments and a steady stream of new SEGA games. Join us for a dive into the Japanese arcade racing scene for SEGA week!

Image credit: SEGA

Initial D is the most popular car-based manga and anime in the world. It has even gained considerable interest in Europe and North America in addition to its country of origin. Be sure to check back this week for a deep-dive into Initial D’s icon status by Timo!

Meanwhile, what may not be as well-known as the anime and manga series is the series of Initial D arcade games. Since 2002, a total of 10 Initial D Arcade games and machines have been released, the latest in February of 2021. Initial D The Arcade lets players compete against others in other arcades via high-speed internet connections. Even full-on tournaments take place regularly – you might start to grasp the scale of its popularity in Japan.

Japanese Arcade Racing Scene: Highly Competitive​

In fact, the 2019 edition of the SEGA World Drivers Championship used an officially-licensed Super GT game. While arcade in nature (surprise), the games do need a lot of practice to get to know the ins and outs in order to be competitive.

Initial D is different in nature, as the games focus on drift races on mountain passes, true to the manga/anime original. Toyohito Tamari, a former Initial D top player and now the Director for Initial D The Arcade, describes the Japanese arcade racing scene from his point of view.


“I think that it’s crazy. I thought so the first time I saw players battling by drifting at high speed through narrow mountain passes. Everything is so extraordinary, and the key draw is that there are lots of elements that you just cannot experience anywhere else.”
Toyohito Tamari, Director of INITIAL D THE ARCADE, on the Japanese arcade racing scene

The final part of Tamari-san’s quote is essential here. These titles can only be played in the respective arcade machines, making them extremely interesting for players. This is especially true when it comes to a competitive mindset. Tamari-san explains: “More and more users are taking part in Initial D as a space to test their true skill.

However, the sheer numbers of arcades in Japan are on the decline. According to a thegamer.com report, Japan had more than 26,000 arcades in 1986 – in 2019, only a mere 4,000 remained. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Initial D arcade machines. Image credit: SEGA

This does not mean that the competitive scene has suffered, though. Quite the contrary, actually. “In recent years, tournaments have been rethought as another way of truly enjoying the game“, states Tamari-san. “And although there was a period when they stopped for a few years due to COVID-19, a very high-level competition is held every year.” Earlier, these tournaments only sporadically appeared over the years in the Japanese arcade racing scene.

Annual High-Level Tournaments​

While the market as a whole has decreased in size since the early 2000s due to the increase in home gaming, arcade titles like Initial D have still risen to the top. Tamari-san adds: “Even in this environment, Initial D continues to be supported due to the elements it offers that cannot be experienced inside other titles, and combined with the growth of the Asian market, it has been able to expand in recent years.

What would usually seem like a negative in the games’ arcade exclusivity is apparently the exact opposite, then. For instance, hardly any Initial D games exist for home consoles, so fans can only play their favorite series’ games in arcades.

In spite of arcades in general losing ground, the competitive racing scene continues to grow. Not just in Japan, but in Asia as a whole, too. “When I came in contact with players from Asian countries, I was very impressed by the fact that we could connect with each other through Initial D even though we didn’t speak the same language“, Tamari-san reminisces.


Exclusive To Japan​

How come the wave of enthusiasm has mostly passed by the Western world, though? Initial D The Arcade Producer Kenji Arai has a two-fold explanation. “One is that, unfortunately, Initial D is not as well known in the West as it is in Japan and Southeast Asia. Another is that the kinds of high-speed connections needed to play the Initial D series within arcades are not wiedely available in arcades in Europe and the United States.

Still, Arai-san strongly recommends giving the games a try should your path ever lead you to Japan. “I would love for people to try playing at the game centres in Akihabara, Tokyo. There you can play against people who truly love subcultures like Japanese anime and manga. These players are people who adore video games and anime, which is something you don’t often encounter in the competitive console racing game space.” Or, simply put: “Competing against these kinds of players is something you will only be able to experience in an Initial D match!

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Main street of the Akihabara district in Tokyo. Image credit: ElHeineken via Wikimedia Commons under the CC BY 4.0 Deed

Japanese Arcade Racing Scene: Electric Town​

If you have never heard of Akihabara, imagine a part of town in Tokyo lined with arcades. These are not simply arcades, though. We are talking about multiple-story buildings full of arcade game machines of all kinds. In fact, the Akihabara’s nickname is “Electric Town”, and it is one of the must-see tourist attractions of Tokyo. Manga and anime fans will also feel right at home at Akihabara.

High-level competitions, an entire district full of arcades – these two things alone show how intense the Japanese arcade scene is. Check back with OverTake for more exciting SEGA week articles!

What are your thoughts on the Japanese arcade racing scene? Have you ever visited and raced in an arcade yourself? Let us know on Twitter @OverTake_gg and in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

Comments

Speaking of Japanese arcade games: check out ‘Drift King: Shutokou Battle '94’ and of course the ‘Pole Position’ series for SNES. The former is basically Gran Turismo-lite, with upgrades. The latter had slipstreaming, tire wear, parts damage, rain, saveable car setups, some kind of simulation of engine specs, and somewhat accurate tracks with a bit of elevation changes, the tunnel at Monaco and the crossover at Suzuka. On SNES. That's besides actual driving that required following the optimal line, because the tracks are laid on a mode-7 layer, in both games.
 
Many of the recent games run on PC in the somewhat shady (pay for access to latest version) PC loader Teknoparrot.

In fact, reading the comments, I think Sega World Drivers Championship is using that.

Sega Rally 3, arcade GRID, Sonic Racing arcade, Initial D, Mario Kart Arcade, House of the Dead 4, Outrun 2 SDX and After Burner Climax can be run on it, plus many more.
 
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Many of the recent games run on PC in the somewhat shady (pay for access to latest version) PC loader Teknoparrot.

In fact, reading the comments, I think Sega World Drivers Championship is using that.

Sega Rally 3, arcade GRID, Sonic Racing arcade, Initial D, Mario Kart Arcade, House of the Dead 4, Outrun 2 SDX and After Burner Climax can be run on it, plus many more.
I mean, Teknoparrot is basically an emulation platform designed specifically for modern arcade games, but literally nobody in the emulation community likes them because not only the thing is not open source (fair enough), but you have to pay for it and it has DRM on top of it, which are all things that are frowned upon, other than being borderline illegal (paying for software that lets you emulate commercial games).
 
borderline illegal (paying for software that lets you emulate commercial games)
Not illegal. If the software itself doesn't help with obtaining the game images, then it doesn't even fall under ‘circumventing copyright-protection measures’. To my knowledge, emulators aren't considered unlawful anywhere, and being paid software has nothing to do with that.
 
Geez i wanna see SWDC tracks ported to AC soon. That would go with Chivas' Super GT car mods.
 
I visited Japan in 2015 and the Arcade scene was eye-opening.

I remember at one point, in one of the two Club SEGA buildings in Akihabara, waiting in line to play Wangan Midnight, during which time I witnessed a ~20 year old male, a ~30 year old woman, a teenager and a ~50+ salaryman have a 4 way battle, they didn't arrive together and they were clearly having 'banter' with eachother in Japanese. Once they finished they all went their separate ways.

Arcades - maybe in Tokyo specifically - are probably only second to bars as a place for literally anyone to wind down.
 
When I was in the Philippines with my fiancé last January/February, we went to an arcade to play on some of these (older) initial D arcade machines. I remember being able to drive a Toyota Prius in one of these, and it was as slow as you'd imagine :)
 
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When I was in the Philippines with my fiancé last January/February, we went to an arcade to play on some of these (older) initial D arcade machines. I remember being able to drive a Toyota Prius in one of these, and it was as slow as you'd imagine :)
Now I want to try that...does it drift tho? :confused:
 
In the first video it´s somehow cool but also strange for me to see 100% arcade stuff, but all the real superGT liverlies on the cars :D
After a minute of watching, I had mixed feelings:
I recalled with joy the days when I was a kid, and I cried out of pain because I don't like to see 100% arcades in 2023, it should be something of the past.
 
After a minute of watching, I had mixed feelings:
I recalled with joy the days when I was a kid, and I cried out of pain because I don't like to see 100% arcades in 2023, it should be something of the past.

I was starting to have hope we wouldn't see the usual narrow minded statements in that topic, and here we are...

Arcade games are just a different genre of games (several genres in fact). Not being interested in this kind of games doesn't make them irrelevant. Not being realistic doesn't make them irrelevant, it has never been their purpose. Looking vaguely like another genre you worship doesn't make it less interesting or even simply comparable.
Flight Simulator and DCS don't make Ace Combat or Afterbuner irrelevant.
UFC games don't make Street Fighter irrelevant.
Arma doesn't make CoD irrelevant.
But what to think about someone thinking that what he doesn't like shouldn't exist?

Playing to Scud Race, Initial D, Out Run, WipEout or Burnout as always been and will always be fun, and a completely different experience than playing to an hardcore sim. There was simulation games 20 or 30 years ago which didn't make arcade games irrelevant then, it's not different today.

Plus, arcade games are extremely diverse, playing to Ridge Racer is not the same thing as playing to F-Zero GX, Initial D or Mario Kart, so you can enjoy some and not the others, there is so many different experiences that it's very unlikely there is not a single one you could enjoy if you were a bit more open minded.
 
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I hadn't seen any racing arcade game in a long time, so regarding the graphics,
they don't look better or much better than what we have in our PC Sims, right?
Trackside objects or 3D trees look about the same quality, so we should be
pretty happy about what we have...
 
I hadn't seen any racing arcade game in a long time, so regarding the graphics,
they don't look better or much better than what we have in our PC Sims, right?
Trackside objects or 3D trees look about the same quality, so we should be
pretty happy about what we have...
Since 15+ years, arcade systems are low specs PCs (and 1080p/60fps at best, often 720p), so it's not the technical benchmark it was in the 90's anymore.
Sega World Driver Championship runs on a PC with a GTX 1070, and it's one of the most recent systems.
Moreover arcade games are more about visual style than details. Take a look at Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune, very simple graphics, they haven't changed in 12+ years and 7 games (It's still rendered at 720p, not even 1080p), but it's all about style and the game looks great, one of the best looking ones for me.
 
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Speaking of Japanese arcade games: check out ‘Drift King: Shutokou Battle '94’ and of course the ‘Pole Position’ series for SNES. The former is basically Gran Turismo-lite, with upgrades. The latter had slipstreaming, tire wear, parts damage, rain, saveable car setups, some kind of simulation of engine specs, and somewhat accurate tracks with a bit of elevation changes, the tunnel at Monaco and the crossover at Suzuka. On SNES. That's besides actual driving that required following the optimal line, because the tracks are laid on a mode-7 layer, in both games.
I wonder why this OP ignored the other vastly popular manga adapted arcade racing game released at the same time - Wangan Midnight: Maximum Tune (despite being by Namco) - Arcade Stage was pretty popular in Asia until the late 2000s then WMMT took over - it was not uncommon to see people queuing up to have a play

Arcade games like IDAS was why I had a lot of repect for the arcade scene to online gaming - one of those was that if you want to vent your frustration, just say it to the guy sitting next to you. Another was that some like to play to a crowd

Playing those arcade driving games have helped me in sim racing - I learned how to deal with people and how to deal with them when you have a less powerful car
 
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Arcade games are nice. They always had proper wheel support and force feedback.

With the Arcade FFB plugin, you can drive almost all of them on your home PC with your wheel.

You can't say the same about most arcade racers on PC. Most of them were crappy console ports with bad or no steering wheel support at all.

One example is NFSU2. Instead of the crappy PC version, NFS Underground 2 on PS2 had 900° force feedback steering wheel support without any dead zones and fully linear steering, paired with pretty nice simcade physics. With some patches, it runs at 60 FPS in full 4k resolution.

Touge 3 and Kaido Battle: Touge no Densetsu are pretty nice Japanese touge drifting games with wheel support and FFB on the PS2. I still play them, because there are exactly zero good simcade touge drifting games on PC.

Maybe Japanese Drift Master on steam will be pretty good one day.
 

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