You may remember a few months ago when I wrote about my newfound love of watching trains. Sadly, I haven’t been able to really continue enjoying this new, um, hobby? It’s not because my interest faded or anything, it’s because “Train Cruise” hasn’t had any new episodes! Whether it’s because of the YouTube channel I’m subscribed to not updating, or, more likely, because someone at NHK was like, “holy shit! Having a bunch of loud foreigners walking around Japan and touching things in the middle of a pandemic is a really bad idea!” Unfortunately, because the Japanese government is almost as shitty as ours at dealing with this thing, it could be a very long time before I get to watch more relaxing train action. As a consolation, there have been a few episodes of Japan Railway Journal. But as I said last time, the show fucking sucks without Russell Totten as the host.
With this sad news in mind, I started playing Densha de Go! I needed something in my life that involved Japanese trains, and my dumb ass bimbo brain cannot comprehend the otherwise excellent “Take The A-Train” series (Artdink rules).
I need to let you all know something: Densha de Go! is really, really, really fucking hard. All those remarks you hear thrown at stuff like Dark Souls? Forget it. Trying to hit the brakes and stopping at the exact right moment to drop off and pick up passengers is the stuff of nightmares. It’s extremely stressful managing time tables, being able to match speed limits in a matter of seconds, and making sure you aren’t jostling a train full of kids and Salarymen all over the place. Don’t go into this expecting something really chill; you’re here to do a job, and you’re here to do it well, since Japan’s entire economic workforce is literally relying on you.
That being said, Densha de Go! might be hard as fuck, yes, but it’s also amazing. Not just in terms of how it plays, but the overall aesthetic. The things about Japanese railroads that I enjoy so much are fully represented here. Things like the vast countryside, or the roofs of houses peeking over the station walls. Traveling over rivers and forests. Watching the sun set over the mountains. You might be focused on the rails and the job at hand, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the sights, you know? Just you, your thoughts, and the sounds of the train.
So, I suppose in a roundabout way, I got what I was looking for. Maybe not the relaxing activity I expected, yet still maintained a zen-like quality to it. Due to the difficulty, you will be running the same tracks over and over, memorizing layouts and signage. More opportunities to admire the environment; really appreciate that jagged, low-poly style mixed with sharp texture work. I know that this series began life in the arcade, but it’s incredible how much cozier the games feel when played at home. Maybe listen to some City-Pop while playing it if you’re feeling jaunty. Toshiki Kadomatsu is really good.
I’m playing the Nintendo 64 version, as it’s the only one in English. The games aren’t overly Japanese-intensive, but it helps in learning when to brake or when a speed limit is lifted. There’s a patch right here.
Densha de Go! is a game that demands perfection out of you. But, if you stick with it and become a better driver, you’ll find a unique little game that’s worth firing up on a boring late night to help liven up the mood.