image credit chris toledanes (used with permission)
Disclaimer: The latter part of this article contains a lot of speculation, of which a good chunk of it is actually baseless. Given the Internet’s ability to blow things up, I felt like I had to at least put this out there.
You’re probably asking what a Round One is, at this point. Round One happens to be a big brand for entertainment in Japan; think Dave and Buster’s — with its nifty arcade setup, its food selections, and its illusion of grandeur — meets bowling, and by ‘bowling’, I mean not the college-student-union-yeah-we’re-bored-let’s-go-bowling-it’s-only-$2-because-we’re-students variety of bowling, but more along the lines of AMF’s pricey-premium “300” brand.
Even in the US, Round One’s got a couple of Japanese touches here and there. Crane games and purikura line the arcade; non-redemption games, if they’re not in dedicated cabinets, reside in sit-down “candy” cabinets. They’ve got a couple of karaoke boxes; not the kind of karaoke where you sing your heart out to everyone in the audience, open-mic style, but the kind of karaoke where you and a group of friends gather around a screen and sing your heart out in a private booth. A person experienced in the nuances of Asian graphic design would be able to tell you the company isn’t American just by looking at the poster advertising their VIP pricing structure.
The presence of Round One came to the Bemani community’s attention when it was revealed that they were in possession of not only the US redemption version of pop’n music, but also fully-equipped GuitarFreaks and DrumMania XG cabinets — the first reported on the entire continent, with English translations of everything in-game excluding the song titles. I’ve been told that these cabinets are permanent.
This is a Big Deal, for six reasons:
- Konami has trusted Round One with location tests before — ones that personally come to mind are pop’n location tests at their (if I’m not mistaken) now-closed Umeda shop;
- This supposed altered version of GFdm XG is trying to tailor itself to a Western audience, as not only has it been translated (this only happens in special situations like location tests), its default songlist starts with the Western songs they have available;
- The last permanent location test for Bemani here in the US was beatmaniaIIDX 14 GOLD, offered by Tokyo Game Action before weather drowned it beyond repair;
- As mentioned before, this is the first GFdm XG setup available in the US — GFdm XG, being the newest version of the game, is very hard to acquire outside of Asia;
- Round One is another attempt at reviving the arcade scene by means of taking it seriously, bringing exclusive games that, for the most part, are not available on consoles;
- The struggling but famous Arcade Infinity is a five-minute drive away from Round One.
I’m in love with the first four points, with one caveat. Round One makes it seem as though Konami is okay with the importing of their machines, even going so far as to allow for permanent location tests of software (albeit modified) at a brand-new location. The potential problem is that if Round One’s tests (and potential expansion?) prove successful, the only way to play official releases of Bemani games (or, perhaps, even Konami arcade games in general) could solely be through Round One locations – giving them an edge that other arcades could not easily replicate.
However, in the case of points 5 and 6, Round One’s new presence can be a good or bad thing. The ideal thing that can happen is that the two businesses can live in harmony and help the Southern California arcade scene grow, but the more likely scenario is that, now that Round One is in direct competition versus AI, that AI is more likely to close its doors — and perhaps sooner! — as mentioned in the article linked above. Not only do Round One’s machines overlap somewhat with AI, especially in the case of the presence of data card-dependent racing games like Initial D and Maximum Tune, but Round One is arguably placed better (a mall setting definitely has its pros and cons!), does not completely rely on its arcade business in order to turn a profit, and has the financial backing that comes from being a branch, a part of a bigger company.
That’s kinda scary — of all the places Round One could’ve picked (the San Gabriel Valley Tribune notes in the aforementioned article that executives did take a look at several spots), it had to be within easily drivable range of Arcade Infinity.
Of course, it’s too early to tell how Round One and AI will do, but it’s definitely something to think about. It’s certainly something I’ll think about the next time I take a trip down to SoCal — I want to support and keep both ventures alive, and I wonder whether that’s possible.
On a brighter note, I’m working on a Technika gathering sometime in January, when it’s the most convenient for college students like myself to take a break without fear of failing grades breathing down our backs. The idea is that, at the very least, NorCal goes down to invade SoCal and we’ll have a Technika gathering, if not a full-on tourney or something, on what should be Technika 2 cabinets by that point. It’s sounding more and more hype the more I think about it, so hopefully that’ll come to pass.