Since the beginning of my early childhood, I had always dreamed of escaping reality and entering a virtual world. Not because I had a bad life (because I actually had a really good life), but because I was heavily influenced by anime and games as a kid and wanted to live in a fully interactive world where I could freely express myself. My fascination with VR started when I first watched Digimon as a kid, then later grew as I became engrossed with Yu-Gi-Oh! (specifically season 3) and Sword Art Online. When I entered college, I had the opportunity to test VR games with an Oculus Rift through Michigan State University’s CAS program, and even got to try some indie VR games at Tokyo Game Show last year! Just recently in 2017 the Shinjuku VR Zone has opened in Tokyo as an experimental VR gaming arcade and playground for the public to try out, so naturally I had to go and visit! Currently boasting 15 different immersive activities and an interactive VR exhibition by Tokyo Art City, this zone is growing at a rapid rate and was definitely worth the trip!
I came here early Saturday morning with my friend visiting from America who is also a huge nerd like myself. We purchased 4 different colored tickets online (each for a different selection of games) so we could ensure that we got in. Tickets are available at the door, but some attractions are so popular that you may not be guaranteed entry so I recommend booking in advance online. You can buy tickets in sets of 4 (for 4,400 yen) and also individually (for around 1,200 each). After showing our tickets at the door, we were welcomed in by friendly staff and decided to explore the area! At the center of the building we saw a hologram projected on the wall and a giant glowing VR tree structure looking like it was radiating powerful energy. This was such a fitting atmosphere–I already felt like I was the hero of a sci-fi series!
Immersive Horror Room
After staring in awe at all of the cutting-edge decorations, we made our way to our first game, which was the Immersive Horror Room (IHR), just because we wanted to be thoroughly spooked before we had to wait in line for the more popular attractions. IHR was overall the best way to start our VR experience because the wait for short and the game was extremely entertaining and high quality. The aesthetic was very Silent Hill-esque and some parts of it actually made me scream out loud. Fortunately, I was not the only one!
While sitting down with VR helmets, you and your partner control characters in a wheelchair and navigate through a haunted house full of wicked obstacles and enemies that try to kill you. It was a bit hard to get used to at first, but you could use a flashlight to choose different directions so the gameplay was easy to learn. At one point, I triggered an alarm and was blindfolded and captured by the enemy. Once I regained my vision, I was strapped to the floor and couldn’t move my character was twisted figured surrounded me and other victims. I watched them murder characters around me one by one with gruesome weapons and was truly terrified that I was next. Luckily my friend was able to solve a puzzle and save me just in the nick of time! The game has multiple scenarios, and you can see and talk to your partner through a headset. Though we won the game, it had a “To be continued…” screen at the end implying that it might be developed into a “real” full-length game someday. I really hope that it is because it was a lot of fun and it was truly immersive making me feel a lot of terror, suspense and excitement! I would rather pay for this than go to a horror movie any day.
VR Beach Paradise
To relax after that nerve-wracking experience, we decided to relax on a VR beach near the restaurant of the VR Zone. Yes, they recreated the beach scene from Eureka 7! Too soon!
Evangelion: Throne of Souls
Next, we decided to go to the Evangelion Throne of Souls attraction, because who doesn’t want to pilot a giant robot!? Since I was 14 (the same age as the pilots) I’ve wanted to volunteer myself at NERV HQ, so I am happy that nearly after 10 years later I can finally achieve my dream! This VR attraction was extremely personalized and you could choose to pilot Unit 00, 01, or 03, and see a launch sequence that made you feel like you were in midair! After launching, you need to stealthily navigate through Tokyo-3 and pick up weapons along the way to destroy the AT field of a giant Sachiel with your partner co-op style. The simulation was amazing because when you looked down at yourself, you were wearing a plug suit, and piloting the Eva felt a bit narrow and clunky just like its frame implies. It felt genuine–like nothing else I have ever experienced before. My only complaint is that there weren’t multiple stages and the simulation was so short. In the future I really hope they give you the option to pay more to continue, because I definitely would!
VR Mario Kart
Next we made our way to everyone’s favorite attraction–VR Mario Kart. The wait for this was nearly an hour, but there were places to sit while waiting in line (unlike Tokyo Disney and Universal) so the wait was actually quite pleasant. The game was complete with 4 different players going against one another! They let you choose your character (Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, or Peach), and I of course chose Princess Peach! The game sequence begins with the 4 of you lined up at the starting point, and all of you can communicate through the headset! Then 2 popular villains show up, and you must all race them to the finish! Along the way you can pick up and throw turtle shells, whack other players with hammers, and also throw bombs at one another! Fortunately blue shell VR technology has not been developed yet (and for the sake of friendship, it hopefully never will). The game was very fun and had a lot of obstacles that balanced out who stayed in first. You could not customize your car so everyone plays on equal ground. Being launched in the air and flying through the sky was my favorite part! I came in 3rd but I had a wonderful time and was glowing after the experience. I highly recommend doing this one, because before a long-term VR world like SAO and Accel World is developed, this is a once in a lifetime experience.
The last attraction that we did was one called Panic Cube which is a non-VR activity where you are locked in a prison cell and must solve puzzles on a giant touch screen while handcuffed or else a giant balloon will pop and you will meet your end! We were specifically asked not to publish any hints about this game online by the staff so I will respect their policy, but one thing I recommend is not sharing the cuffs with your partner. We did this thinking it would make the game easier, but it did not! We sadly lost in the simulation, but it was still a fun way to die.
After finally processing this mind-blowing experience, I am eternally thankful for my trip here. To those who truly interested in VR and have the money, I highly recommend it because currently this is one of the most cutting-edge public areas where you can have a hands-on VR experience. However, unfortunately the long wait lines and ticket purchasing policy ruin some of the momentum, so if you are just looking to spend the day at an arcade playing with a friend then I would recommend going to something like a Taito game center instead. I really liked how clean the place was as well. They make all players wear a face mask before putting on the VR helmet and also thoroughly wipe down the controls before the next players get in (hence the long wait). It is reassuring to know that the facility is well-maintained and treated with respect so it was last long! It is clear that this is a very experimental project and a lot of the games they have are still in development, but it is drawing a crowd and gradually expanding! Being one of the first to try it out truly made me feel like a hero.
Because I know that my money is going to a good cause, I will likely return in the future. I would really like to try the Gundam, Dragonball, and VR rock climbing games next time. I have high hopes that they will develop more angels for me to fight and more courses in Mario Kart that I can go back and triumph over. From 8bit to virtual reality, I will always appreciate the glorious gaming world that has forever influenced my life.