A Visit to Square Enix’s ARTNIA Store and Café in Tokyo
On my recent vacation to Japan, I had the opportunity to spend some time at ARTNIA, Square Enix’s store and café located in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo. Located 1.4km (0.87 miles) from the famous Shinjuku Station (the world’s busiest train station), ARTNIA is easily incorporated into any trip to the Shinjuku area. Higashi-Shinjuku is the closest train station, should you be looking to go directly to ARTNIA (note that this station is served by far less rail lines than Shinjuku station, so you’ll likely need to transfer; Tokyo often requires you to decide between walking further or the hassle of train transfers). Although I had read some mixed reviews of ARTNIA prior to my visit, I still think it’s a worthwhile destination for any Square Enix fan.
ARTNIA is split between a store and a café, but with only 2 rooms, the overall space is quite small. The larger main room is split between both the store and café, the later of which consists of about 10 tables/booths and a seating area at a bar. The second smaller room, meant to recreate the crystal rooms of older Final Fantasy games, is filled with mirrors and the store’s highest priced merchandise. Throughout the space, classic Square Enix game music is played over ARTNIA’s speakers (primarily Final Fantasy, from what I recognized). The store also includes a listening station, where you can use headphones to sample the various soundtracks available for sale.
Negative reviews I’d read focused on high merchandise prices and the small size of ARTNIA, two valid complaints. Merchandise prices were very high; high enough that I quickly stopped looking at goods with the expectation of making a purchase, and more just to see what products ARTNIA had to offer. An overwhelming percentage of the items for sale were from the Dragon Quest series, followed by Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. Games published, but not developed by, Square Enix go unacknowledged in ARTNIA.
Given the popularity of Square Enix’s games, ARTNIA is also a very small space for it’s official store and café. I visited at about 8pm on a weeknight, and the dining area was about half full. I could easily see wait times for a table at more popular times. The shopping area is also pretty cramped, with not much room to walk around to see all the goods for sale. If others are shopping, you will need to be patient if you want to see all the merchandise, and be prepared to take alternate paths to get around people.
After I finished browsing the shop, which really only takes about 15 minutes at a leisurely pace, I decided to get a table in the restaurant. Each table has a basket underneath one of the chairs, giving you a place to store your belongings without having to put anything on the floor. This is fairly commonplace in Japan, but I didn’t understand the reason for the basket the first time I saw it.
The menu has a surprising amount of variety for a game themed restaurant, and offers enough selections that you can have anything from a drink or light snack to a full meal. While I thought merchandise prices were high, the restaurant menu prices were reasonable, and in line with what you would pay at a non-themed café. Prices are inclusive of tax and gratuity (generally there is no tipping in Japan). The menu is in both Japanese and English, and offers plenty of pictures to help you choose (you can also look before your visit at http://www.jp.square-enix.com/artnia/en/cafemenu.html). The food and drinks are beautiful (I ordered only a drink, but the food at the table next to mine looked great).
The ARTNIA original cocktails are some of the most visually pleasing items on the menu, and take their names from Final Fantasy items and summons (potion, Shiva, and Ifrit, for example). I settled on the Blue Materia, a cocktail with gin, lime juice, and blue curacao. The great thing about this drink is that you are really forced to take your time and enjoy it. The blue curacao is trapped in a frozen sphere (to create the materia) and floats in gin and lime. If you drink it immediately when served, you would get only the gin and lime. You have to give the blue curacao materia time to melt and mix into the gin and lime to fully experience the drink. Note that alcoholic beverages are served only after 5pm; so if experiencing one of the ARTNIA cocktails interests you, be sure to plan your visit accordingly.
Forced to slowly enjoy my Blue Materia, I had to take the time to really take in my surroundings at ARTNIA. The classic Final Fantasy themes relaxingly played in the background, as I observed some of the other people visiting the café. One person, who appeared native to Tokyo, was taking a nap at their table. There was a family from the USA, who purchased both a lot of food and souvenirs, taking every piece of Square Enix memorabilia not glued down. Another family was with their young son, who was very obviously enjoying his time at ARTNIA.
My favorite part of the experience, however, was observing the Japanese couple dining at the table right next to mine (their table was so close, we were practically seated together). I’m not sure if they were visiting from outside Tokyo or not, but this was obviously their first trip to ARTNIA. They were both so excited to be there, it was impossible not to catch their enthusiasm. It was very fun watching them closely admire the details of each item they ordered. I didn’t have to know any Japanese to understand that they were having a great night.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my trip to ARTNIA. It was definitely a memorable part of my time in Tokyo. I think the key is knowing in advance some of the drawbacks to Square Enix’s café, so you can set your expectations accordingly. If you are a fan of Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or Dragon Quest, I highly recommend adding a visit to ARTNIA to your Tokyo itinerary.