TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK

Densha de Go Series - Review

One of the most successful railway simulations of all time is, in fact, a Japanese console game - or rather a series of games - known as Densha de Go (which translates as "Let's Go By Train). Developed by Taito primarily for the Sony Playstation, the game has not received quite the wider recognition it deserves. It has only ever been released to the Japanese/Far East domestic market and Sony's strict regional restrictions on game distribution and coding mean Japanese games do not work on western consoles. So the only options for those outside Asia who wish to play the games is either to import a suitable console, modify a western machine to play the game or investigate the murky world of emulation on PC. The last two courses of action are strongly opposed by Sony who have even taken people to court for selling mod kits etc. It's a bit of a shame neither Sony or Taito have seen fit to give these titles a worldwide distribution, one can only assume even given the success of commercial sims such as MSTS and Trainz they do not regard the titles as appealing to the typical western console gamer. However if you can get hold of a suitable console and the games you are in for a rather different train sim experience to that which you may have had previously.

In addition to the Playstation, Taito also licensed certain versions of the game on other consoles and a PC edition (unfortunately also only officially released for the Japanese market). A flight sim spin-off known as Jet de Go was also released.

Although the gameplay is arcade in nature, Taito have tried to recreate the train driving experience as closely as possible. You get good graphics, albeit PS1 games now look a bit blocky and pixellated on today's large screen, high definition TV's. Sound is excellent, you get station and on train announcements, departure jingles and very good traction, track and environment noises. The interface is largely in Japanese so some trial and error is required to work through the menus or what is happening on screen (though there is a surprising amount of English in there too).


Screenshot from Densha de Go Final

Box Art from Kisya de Go

The core of the game is of course running the trains. This can be very challenging and sometimes frustrating. Not only must you keep time to within a few seconds of the schedule, you must also stop within a few cm of the designated platform point. Although lower difficulty levels offer some on screen help, you need to learn the route as speed restrictions pop up with little warning. Overspeed and you will get a penalty brake application. Run too early and you will get a signal check catching up the train in front. You may not recover in order to be on time at the next checkpoint or station stop. This may be an arcade game but success requires skill, a quick mind and a certain degree of luck. The reward is an intense feeling of satisfaction and usually further runs unlocked (or more timetables in Professional and Shinkansen). Occasionally a little sub-game pops up which requires you to couple a locomotive to a train or two multiple units together. Do this gently and within the allotted time to gain mucho bonus points!

Looking in more detail, the majority of titles were released in the Densha heyday between 1996 and 2000 for the:

PLAYSTATION ONE

The first title was simply known as Densha de Go and came with 4 routes. This was followed by Densha de Go 2 which introduced some new routes and limited experience of running faster bullet trains. The real coup and possibly best Densha of all was Professional (1). This combined and extended the routes from Densha 1 & 2 and introduced the "timetable" mode. Rather than a set number of runs, progress through the game and successful completion of a run unlocked further runs on the timetable and offered considerable incentive to keep playing. Other PS1 Densha titles included a version based on the Nagoya Railroad, fairly specialised simulation of various routes in the eponymous cityand also offered tramway operation. Kisya de Go introduced steam haulage and more scenic routes to the Densha world possibly in direct competition to the Tomy SL de Ikou simulation series. The latter two titles are quite rare and collectible, with secondhand copies commanding a fairly high price on auction sites such as Ebay.

PLAYSTATION 2

The release of Sony's new console in 2000 ushered in a new era of Densha de Go games. First off the blocks was Densha de Go 3, followed a new version of Professional. Ryojohen expanded on the tramway theme with four routes offering interurban and city driving. In complete contrast was Shinkansen focusing on high speed rail operations. The last version of Densha de Go is Final. This offered a substantial upgrade in graphics, sound and gameplay compared to previous PS2 releases which, it has to be said, look more akin to their PS1 predecessors. This appears to be the last Densha title that Taito are developing as thus far they have not released any titles for the newer and much more powerful Playstation 3 console.


PSP


Sony have, however, released 4 Densha games for the handheld PSP games console. In fact, these are the four routes from Densha de Go Final (Yamanote Line, Osaka Loop, Chuo Line and Tokaido Line) adapted and released as individual titles. The quality is quite impressive and while some detail has been lost compared to the PS2 versions are very immersive. The good news, so far as western users are concerned, is that PSP consoles and games are not thus far subject to regional coding. They will work on a western PSP though supply can vary as Sony still seem to have an issue with exporters selling this type of product outside the Far East.

CONCLUSION

If you can overcome the logistics of obtaining the hardware/software and get past the (slight) language barrier then Densha de Go offers a very rewarding experience. You can't create your own routes and activities but certainly all the games other than perhaps the first couple on the PS1 have plenty of scenarios to play. So far as replay value is concerned, you will always be pursuing that elusive gold star. I apologise for the lack of screenshots (I'm currently working on this) but due to its console nature, Densha de Go is not the easiest title to obtain your own imagery for. With Taito seemingly having removed most of the information from their website there's very few around to "borrow" off the web either.

At the time of writing this review, the official Taito Homepage for Densha de Go no longer existed.

Link to Densha de Go Wiki

Back to Homepage

(This page created 24/09/07 and last updated 24/09/07).