How to go about playing games in Japanese

I know I’m trying to play waaay before I really should be trying to tackle things like playing a game in japanese but I figured I’d want to try it as reading practise regardless.

That said Game Gengo recommended Ni no kuni and a few tools like game2text and a few sentence break down tools as well as a dictionary.

With that said what is the best approach? I’ve gotten some conflicting information because r/LearnJapanese is… ya not a great place imo.

Should I be looking up pretty much every word I don’t know (which would be about all of them), using my breakdown tools along side translation software, or just trying to muddle through it reading as I got picking out the odd one or two words I know about of entire cut-scenes / dialogue and doing my best to try and make sense of it all?

Or despite Game Gengo recommendation (basically they said it’s possible to do even at 0 knowledge) kind of give up on that idea and return at level 20 to 30?


What’s your goal for playing games in Japanese? I think that needs addressing

Are you playing a game in Japanese to reinforce your Japanese study or do you want to experience the game in its original language and therefore get the original meaning?

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That’s a little tough to say.

So generally I have a hard time setting aside dedicated time for learning. I’ve gotten better about doing my lessons asap every day but when I first hit level 10 and it was suggested I trying to start learning grammar I started out by trying to read the genki text books and other things of the like (bunpro etc). But the problem was my motivation to set aside my free time to read was killed by the dry nature of the text.

I think I have a general grasp of grammar structure (not amazing grasp but it seems more or less pretty straight forward to me) and wanted to look for ways to both improve and re-enforce my learning as well as increased my vocab / understanding while still have fun doing so.

I am a voracious reader, I love stories and like manga and light novels. To that effect I often read much faster then official translations and fan translations were released and was getting frustrated so I started learning Japanese as a way to allow myself to read these stories at their source.

So I guess my goal is just to do something fun for practise that would help keep me motivated but also something that is practical, for example I could have started with pokemon instead but there are so many terms exclusive to pokemon that I wouldn’t reading anywhere else other then in pokemon games.

So to reiterate I guess my goal is to get reading as soon as possible so I can enjoy my stories more often?


Sounds like you’re doing everything right.

You just need to accept that playing Japanese games are a slog, if it’s a game that matters to you, it’s a lot of stamina to deal with lookups and slow progress in the game

On the other hand, you could play a throwaway game, something with little dialogue or a storyline you don’t really care about or even a game you’ve played before. You understand some % of the dialogue but you’re not gonna spend an age looking up every missed vocab and grammar point.

Important thing is you’re already immersing in the language and that will pay you dividends in the future

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So then to tie that to my original question what would you recommend for best practise?

Should I try looking up every word I don’t know or just make due with not really understanding what’s going on and do my best picking out a word here and there and making due with context?

I might back off from ni no kuni because it’s a story heavy game and I actually wanna know what’s going on and so maybe try another game that I already beaten. Part of why I chose ni no kuni was just because of the furigana so it’s not like I can’t try again later or even just play the game in english once then go back again in japanese.

This is an r/LearnJapanese moment so may or may not be sound advice but the general consensus was trying to translate would actually be detrimental to my learning and I should do my best to just and try associating a word idk to what w/e is being talked about atm.

I mean that makes a certain amount of sense that if an apple is shown It’s better to just think りんご instead of apple, but doesn’t really work when it’s it’s dialogue textbox between two people.

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I’ve started doing that around your level. I certainly recommend trying it, but it’s going to be very slow at first. Expect to have to look up every other word and kanji until you’re closer to level 30.

I ran some kanji stats here for Final Fantasy VII:

And here for FFVIII:

That should give you an idea of what awaits your kanji-wise.

I really think that messing with real Japanese as early as possible is really a good thing, so I encourage you to try it, but keep in mind that you’ll need a lot more kanji, vocab and grammar knowledge to read even simple Japanese. Treat this as side content for the time being, then as you get better and better you can spend more time actually playing games and less time doing reviews…

Do you already know the game? If not I strongly recommend playing a game you already know. Having a good idea of what’s happening helps a lot with deciphering the moonrunes early on.

JRPGs like Ni No Kuni are certainly good targets though, because you have a lot of dialogue and especially a lot of unimportant secondary dialogues with random NPCs who give you a lot of simple conversational content. You also want something where you can read the dialogue at your own pace.

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Hmm, arlight!

Perhaps I’ll try to find another game I already know to practice on. Preferably one with furigana and nothing fast pace.

I wonder if rimworld has furigana lol

So it depends how much you want/need to know the story or dialogue

If it’s a throwaway game then just accept you’ll only understand a small percentage of it and get away with minimal lookups.

If it’s story heavy, and you need to take it all in then expect many lookups

I think the pertinent point is how much look ups vs how much you’re enjoying the game.

Some people can really tolerate that constant look ups, some.other people can’t. It’s important to keep it fun

Makes sense, I’m enjoying Ni no kuni, but if I have to look up 99% of everything every-time some one speaks then I don’t suppose it makes very good practice as I’m not actually practising much of anything so far as just machine translating everything or staring at a bunch of japanese words I don’t know.

I guess that also answers that question, it’s best to find a game you already know/don’t care about knowing and just muddle through for the sake of exposure as oppose to actively looking up everything all the time ya?


There’s other options

I really like

It doesn’t machine translate it breaks down the vocab and grammar points

I think you can learn a lot more from it

Indeed! That’s actually the site I use for sentence break down.

So in theory I could break down sentence by sentence while playing to get a vague idea of what’s going on without machine translating things.

Though I’m so glad I’ve made an active point to never bother with romanji as I’m of the same opinion as pretty much everyone who mentions it, that is to say pointless if not detrimental to learning.

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Yeah I think the first thing I said is you’re doing it right.

Feels like ultimately it’s how much stamina/tolerance you have for lookups versus how much you enjoy the content

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That’s what I did, especially for Kanji. Finding an unknown kanji in the wild then looking it up on WaniKani was a big source of motivation for me. “Oh ok when I’ll be on level 22 I’ll know this word… and on level 18 that one… and on level 30 that other one…”

But keep in mind that a lot of the difficulty early on will also come from the grammar. I distinctly remember struggling to even break sentences apart into individual words at first due to lack of spaces. And of course if you can’t do that it’s tricky to look anything up…

Some things that helped me:

  • Have a Youtube “longplay” video of the same game in English to look up when you really fail to understand something (which is going to be a common occurrence early on) or if you think you understand but want to double check.

  • Deepl and/or ChatGPT can help but should never be trusted blindly.

  • At first replaying through the same portion of the same game like every week or so can be a good workout: you’ll see how much progress you’re making, and you’ll be able to get a deeper understanding of what’s happening every time. Once you feel a bit more confident you can progress further in the game.

Honestly lack of furigana is not that big of a deal IMO, you just need to learn to look things up by components which is a valuable skill to have anyway. And if you do WaniKani seriously your kanji knowledge will progress fast anyway.

I don’t think I would recommend rimworld though, although I never played it myself. It’s a kind of “sandbox” game, right, not story driven? A bit like Factorio?

I expect that this thing will be filled with layers upon layers of menus with tons of technical jargon and little dialogue.

I mean I just looked up a random Japanese video to get a feel for it and I find screens like these:

That just looks like pure pain at Wanikani level 12.


lol fair!

And ya I actually had deeptl (for pronunciations) and chatgpt helping out with ether breaking down sentence structure (using other secondary sources such as and I actually been making multiple separate saves in ni no kuni before each “majour event” so I could go back when I feel like I have more energy to work through it.

I think I just MIGHT stick with ni no kuni and slowly work my way through it, i’ll undoubtedly miss a lot of the story but perhaps due to the nature of how the game is (lots of grammar practice, throw away NPC dialogue etc) it might be still a very good source to try and learn from. Something very much higher then what I should be doing but not so insurmountable that I fall trying to climb it.

But it’s good to know my instincts were fairly on point coming from people already at level 40+, so to reconfirm in general:

  • Ether play a game you don’t need to know the story too and just muddle through
  • Look up everything (not directly translating unless you’re completely lost) and to try and get a vague idea of what’s going by breaking down the sentence using tools.

That said I’m not sure how I would go about looking up kanji components but I do have game2text as well as 10ten so that might not be a real issue.


This sounds all great, just try it out and if its too hard and demotivating, search for something else then. :slight_smile:
In case you are comfortable with visual novels, you could search up very easy ones on and then try to read through those with textractor or something alike. I think jpdb has a rating system 1 to 10 for how complex the visual novel is and I’m sure there is something interesting on there for each and every level.


I’ll defiantly do this as well for those days I’m to tired to play a video game (as such happens in working adult life lol).

It’s funny because apparently LeyLine is a really good VN to read through for practise, although it’s NSFW and my partner makes fun of me for reading what is equivalently “reading a porn mag for the articles”. lol


Ah yeah, that would help. By looking by component I mean either finding one of WaniKani radicals and using that to find the corresponding kanji (assuming that the kanji even exists on WaniKani, which it probably will the overwhelming majority of the time when you start). Otherwise you can just use for instance jisho: Japanese Dictionary

Personally I mostly play retro games on emulators which is kind of a double-edged sword: on one hand the text is low res and there’s often no voice acting which is a big minus for learning, on the other hand I can freeze and savestate the emulator at any point if I want to look something up or read text that’s only meant to stay on screen for a few seconds.

I tried playing Grandia II on my Switch the other day and I was just super frustrated because a lot of the dialogue is voiced and as such progresses at a set pace and I just couldn’t keep up.

I never cared much for VNs but they do seem like a good medium for practice, I’ll keep this one in mind, maybe the smut will keep me interested…


Certainly not gonna judge taste in media, who cares. :smiley:
I recently read Lilycle Rainbow despite not being interested in any of the presented topics, just because it was cute and stupid. Sometimes the brain needs to be able to shut off, even while technically learning. :slight_smile:


Moe is truth!
Moe is justice! :laughing: