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Mar 16, 2011

Gaming Your Way to Fluency

I've already talked about novels, manga, dramas, and other such forms of media and how to use them to learn Japanese, but I've skipped over a rather important one: video games. Video games are truly different from the other media forms, because they come at all levels of difficulty (in terms of language) and some come with voice acting, animation, and other things that can alter the experience. There are also some additional issues that can arise in using Japanese video games, so that must also be addressed. Let's start with a basic discussion of Japanese in games.

In video games, depending on the target audience, you can encounter all kinds of language. Some games will use kana only (the Pokemon series) while others use kanji. Any games aimed at teens and up will be kanji heavy, so that can make understanding more difficult if you don't have a whole lot of vocabulary mastered. Additionally, the games will probably not have furigana, which means it'll be more difficult to look words up. However, you can learn some new words intuitively through experimenting with interface options and choices in game. There are a lot of different kinds of games, so you really need to consider the certain qualities of each game before you leap into it.

The major qualities to consider are game type, voice options, animations, and platform. With game type, it's basically the same as with novels – certain types, or genres, are more difficult. Trying to play a story heavy space adventure game will be a lot more difficult to follow than wooing girls and planting turnips in a game like Harvest Moon or Rune Factory. Keep genre in mind, because each genre has its own set of vocabulary. Voice options should be pretty easy to understand – if the game has voiced dialogue then you're gaining listening practice and you can hear the kanji you don't know being read. Animations and cinematic scenes will help to convey parts of the story, so even if you can't understand every word you'll still be able to follow along. Finally, the platform of the game basically just means that if you're playing a game on a Nintendo DS, you may have trouble reading characters due to their size.

The final issue isn't really related to Japanese, but has more to do with marketing and purchasing games. Unfortunately, it seems most consoles are region locked, so you'll have to either buy a Japanese console or invest in some method to unlock your own system. I've got no recommendations for such. Not all systems are region locked, so check it out and see what you can do about getting games. Emulators or some such could also work. Anyways, I felt like I should mention this issue to avoid anyone purchasing a game and then realizing they can't use it.

Video games are a really great way to have fun and learn some Japanese at the same time, so definitely give them a try if you're into gaming. Plus, you get the added benefit of being able to play games that never get translated or just getting to play them earlier than the rest of the people in your country. Trust me, it's really fun to hear people talking about a game that's not been released in America yet and be able to say, “Oh yeah, I played that, it was pretty good.”

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  1. >if the game has voiced dialogue then you're gaining listening practice and you can hear the kanji you don't know being read
    >Video games are a really great way to have fun and learn some Japanese at the same time

    Wow, great points :O It almost makes me want to learn Japanese.

  2. I'm sure you have tried games that never been localized in North America, I would like to hear your opinion on what you have found.

  3. In regards to region locking, the PSP and (to my knowledge) the PS3 have no such restrictions, so if you have either of them feel free to import away.

  4. I would like to add that the entire Japanese Gameboy/Color library only uses kana due to memory limitations. A lot of RPGs on the Super Famicom like Shin Megami Tensei, personal favorite, only use kana as well.

  5. Flash carts for the DS really work wonders. Also, Pokemon Black and White actually have a kanji option now, which I put on during my playthrough. Too bad I can't find my DS to continue playing ;_;

    If I can just find my little brother's DS I'll use that instead, since he never plays with it, but he doesn't know where he put it either.

  6. While it isn't as widely distributed in the West there's no region locking to PC games. And since you can often buy them as a downloads you don't have to deal with trying to find Japanese language versions locally or the expense of having them shipped.

    In particular I'd recommend Recetear: An Item Shop's Tale. It doesn't have a tremendous amount of text, but it has enough and a large amount of that is repeated enough to help you consistently review. While it has a strong story element it's also not the entire game so not catching every line won't hurt as much. It's also very, very easy to buy in the West as it can be had for a reasonable price from Steam... with (only) Japanese audio and text.

    1. Thanks for sharing this! I believe that Fortune Summoners is a similar game that also has Japanese language support in Steam (if you change your Steam language to Japanese).