If you're looking for something a little bit different to add to your Japan itinerary, then the Real Escape Game is equal parts off-beat, challenging and fun.
The Real Escape Game is a real-life adventure game that requires participants to work together to solve puzzles using their surrounding environment and available tools. The Real Escape Game was first developed in Japan by a company called SCRAP Co. in 2007 and has since expanded to the U.S., Spain, France, Canada and Singapore. Other escape games of a similar concept have since been developed independently around the world, with an estimated 3,000 escape game experiences now available globally!
In Japan, there are two types of games: the room type and field type. We tried them both to give you a little taste of what each one has to offer.
Real Escape Room
Let's start with the room type. Escape rooms are probably the most well-known type of escape game. This is when you and your team members are literally locked in a room and have to work out a way to escape within a set time limit. We tried the Red Room in Asakusa, Tokyo. This is a permanent room that can be booked year round.
The time limit for this game is just 30 minutes! And it goes by incredibly quickly! There are multiple challenges so escaping the room within the time limit requires quick thinking, focus and team work. If you run out of time and feel you are close to solving it, you can choose to pay to extend for an extra 10 minutes. Our team was able to escape within the maximum 40 minutes.
The feedback from our team was that it was really fun, but we wish that the game went on a little longer. The game requires lateral thinking so just when your brain starts thinking out of the box, it's almost over.
Things to keep in mind: This is quite an expensive activity for the amount of the time you spend doing it. The Red Room costs 2,300 yen (+800 yen for the 10 minute extension) per person, although it seems this is quite an average price for similar games around the world (in US$ that's around $20+$7 and in Euros €19+€7). Be sure to plan ahead. Although it may be possible to join as a walk-in, it is best to reserve your spot in advance to ensure you can play.
This game is great for: Those who love puzzles and are looking for a fun and unique experience, as well as those on a tight schedule (the entire experience can be wrapped up in an hour). If you're planning on visiting the Asakusa area to visit sights such as Senso-ji Temple or Tokyo Skytree, then it is easy to fit this experience in around your other sightseeing activities. The Red Room can be played in English, Japanese and Traditional Chinese. Although knowledge of a specific language is not required to understand the puzzles making it a great cross-cultural game.
Field Type Escape Game
Then there is the field type. It is similar to the escape room in that you have to solve puzzles, but the field type has you using entire areas or cities as your game board.
We tried the latest installment of the field type game called Tokyo Metro: The Underground Mysteries, in which we rode the Tokyo subway system, uncovering clues and solving puzzles along the way. Solving the puzzles would then indicate the next subway station we needed to go to in order to uncover our next clue.
With the field type, you buy a kit that includes the puzzle guidebook and various other items you'll need to solve the puzzles. As this was a game based on the subway system, a 24-hour Tokyo Metro Pass for unlimited rides within a 24-hour period was included with the kit. The entire kit cost 2,160 yen in total. While it is advised to buy one kit per team member, unless you want to play individually, we'd suggest just getting one kit per group and then buying extra 24-hour metro passes separately, as they only come to 600 yen each for adults and 300 yen for children.
What's cool about the field type is that you can do it as quickly or as slowly as you like. You can even do it over more than a 24 hour period – you'll just have to pay extra for more subway fares if your 24 hour pass expires. The puzzle guidebook also pointed out places of interest in the area and nearby cafes that are good for puzzle solving – which is great for the challenges that take more time to get your head around, especially when you may need a break from the outside weather. You can therefore use the game to explore different parts of the city, and perhaps discover interesting things at stations you might never have ventured to otherwise.
The questions ranged from easy to really challenging – there was one question in particular that had us wracking our brains for more than an hour. If you get stuck, you can get a lifeline by clicking on the hints buttons on the game's website.
This is an activity you can make a whole day out of. Once you buy the kit, you can start anytime of the day or night at any Tokyo Metro station you like as long as the subway is running – no reservation required. The Metro Pass will only start counting the 24 hours from the time you insert the ticket into the first ticket gate. We had a lot of fun with this one and saw a lot of other people enjoying it too – individuals, groups, couples and kids with their parents.
Things to keep in mind: This game may take longer than expected. You should factor around 8 hours to complete it – although it may take more or less depending on how quickly you move through the challenges and how many breaks you take along the way. Some puzzles may be more difficult to complete in the dark or just be more challenging to get through in the cold. Accessing the hints page as well as checking the final answer requires an Internet connection, therefore a smartphone with data is the most convenient. Field type games are only available for set time periods so this type may not be available during your visit.
This game is great for: Those who have more time or want to tackle challenges at a more leisurely pace, as well as those on more limited budgets. Field type games can also be combined with general city exploration, making it a great way to discover different corners of the city.
Overall thoughts and more info
Overall, we found the Real Escape Game options in Tokyo to be interesting and fun alternatives to the usual sightseeing activities in the city. They are particularly suited for those who love the thrill of a good challenge and working as part of a team. We especially liked our Amazing Race-esque jaunt across the city with the field challenge. With lots of people out and about doing it too, it did give that sense of unofficial competition that makes for some fun rivalry!
The Real Escape Game is currently available in Tokyo and will soon also be available in Nagoya and Kyoto. For more information about the games currently available and to make online reservations, please see the official Real Escape Game website.
Disclaimer: SCRAP Co. provided us with these activities in exchange for an honest review. As always, we tell it like it is.