It's over. That's what people say about Japanese gaming. While there are bright spots in Japan, Western games (and gamers) now rule the roost. It's easy to forget just how great Japanese games used to be.
One man is here to remind you of that. His name is Shinya Arino.
Shinya Arino is the host of Retro Game Master (Game Center CX in Japan), a reality program in which Arino plays through retro games until he finishes them. He typically has a day to clear the game, and the show ends up being a marathon session. Old games can be trickier than today's hand-holding titles, Arino gets gameplay tips from guide books and the show's crew. It's an endurance test, made more difficult by the fact Arino's love for video games doesn't match his skill at playing them.
The show has a cult following in Japan and in the West. Part of the appeal is that Arino is a good natured guy. Even after he dies for the umpteenth time, he keeps going. "I don't throw a fit and smash my controller," Arino told me back in 2007.
"Since the staff cheers me on, I hate it when I mess up. Like when I die, I can sense the mood in the room change, and I feel awful." Arino said when he gets home, he just kind of sits there, zoning out and wondering why he couldn't beat the game.
Back in 2007, I visited a Retro Game Master taping for Wired Magazine. The piece was short, but it was also the show's first major Western coverage. You read the piece here, along with the set visit here.
"I hate it when I mess up. Like when I die, I can sense the mood in the room change, and I feel awful."
That specific episode happened to be filmed at Namco Bandai's headquarters, because of the show's Nintendo DS game tie-in. Not all episodes are filmed at Namco Bandai!
What impressed me most about the show was just how barebones the staff was and how much they love Retro Game Master. The guy who produces the show, Tsuyoshi Kan, is a big time Japanese television producer. He also directs the incredible Himitsu no Kenmin SHOW, a program that explores Japan's regional differences, and Vs. Arashi, a variety show with the popular boy band (and Nintendo spokespersons) Arashi.