By Niall Magee
Last December I went to VR Zone Shinjuku, a virtual reality park in Tokyo, for the second time. It opened in July 2017 and will be closing in March of this year, but another location, VR Zone Osaka, opened last year on floors 8 and 9 of the Umeda HEP Five building. These theme parks are a part of “VR ZONE Project i Can” which is an initiative headed by game/toy company Bandai Namco to popularize virtual reality. It all started with a pop-up VR park that ran from April to October 2016 in Tokyo’s Odaiba district, near the famous giant Gundam statue.
VR Zone Shinjuku has 14 virtual reality attractions, ranging from Mario Kart to fishing, to riding over Odaiba in a Gundam’s hand. There are also two ‘Field VR Activity’ attractions: ‘Dragon Quest VR’ and ‘Futuristic Warfare Arena, Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds’, where participants wear a VR device on their back, meaning they can walk around without being tethered to a computer. I wasn’t able to play them, but Dragon Quest is a co-op game for four players, while Ghost in the Shell is a four-versus-four shooter. When I went, I bought a set via the Family Mart machine for ¥4,400 that included an admission ticket and four tickets that could be used on any of the 14 regular attractions, which last for 5 to 12 minutes each. All the games I tried either required no Japanese or had an English instruction sheet or an English dub in-game. The following is a list of the three games I enjoyed the most, along with some honorable mentions.
In third place is Hospital Escape Terror. In this game you are confined to a wheelchair, with one hand operating a lever to move, and the other holding a controller that acts as a flashlight in the game. You work with another player to solve Saw-like puzzles and escape the hospital. You really feel like you’re trapped as you move slowly down dark, abandoned corridors. This is a great example of what VR can add to horror games, as there is a huge difference between having something approach you when you’re playing on a screen and when you’re playing on a headset.
My second favourite game was DragonBall VR: Master the Kamehameha. In this game you and up to 3 other players are given a headset as well as trackers for your hands and feet and Goku will teach you how to do ki blasts (small energy balls). After that, you choose a mentor from Goku, Vegeta, Piccalo or Krillin, and they teach you step by step how to do the Kamehameha. The hand sensors are fitted with rumble packs so you can feel it charging, and yelling while you power up is encouraged. Finally, you are teleported to an arena with the other people you are playing with for a kamehameha battle royale. This is a must for any DragonBall fans.
Hands-down, my favorite game there was one you might have seen on Facebook: Mario Kart VR. Before you play, you pick Mario, Luigi, Yoshi or Peach, and then the attendant will lead you to the matching kart. You’re then strapped up with a headset, headphones and a mic, and gloves that track your hands in the game. You race against the other three players, as well as Wario and Bower controlled by the computer. During the race you grab items by reaching out from your kart and touching item boxes on the track. If you get a banana or shell you can use your hand to throw it, and if you get a hammer your can swing it around to hit other players. Unfortunately it looks like Mario Kart VR hasn’t made its way to the Osaka park, but it might wind up there after the Tokyo one has closed. Keep an eye on the VR Zone Osaka website if you’re interested.
Some honorable mentions for VR attractions are Godzilla VR and Evangellion VR Throne of Souls: Berserk. In Godzilla VR you fight Godzilla while piloting a helicopter over the skies of Tokyo and finally stop him by aiming a blood-freezing missile down his throat. During the fight, there are cinematics where you have close shaves with falling building as Godzilla destroys the city. In Evangelion VR you pilot an EVA (a giant mech suit) to fight an Angel using an arsenal of weapons. The sequence for synching with the EVA is particularly cool; you’re put in the cockpit as it fills up with liquid, and the booth uses fans to make it feel like you’re being submerged. If you get beaten, you might be able to restart the EVA by yelling “動け！動け！” or “Move! Move!” as the Angel drags you towards it.
The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets have only been commercially available from 2016, but in this time we’ve seen the variety and availability of VR explode. In the future I hope that VR attractions will become more common and more sophisticated, and we see more places like VR Zone. While you’re in Japan I highly recommend you check out a VR park.
Niall is a 2nd year ALT in Iyo City. Before coming to Japan, he lived in England and Australia. His main interest is Japanese nerd culture, especially trading cards and tabletop role-playing games.