Playing video games in Japanese is possible but not fun

I bought Spritfarer for switch and decided to try playing it in Japanese. At first I was pleasently surprised that with the help of I could understand. But the more I had to look up the more tired I became. Also I started to resent the characters for speaking so much (which equals resenting the game in a game like Spiritfarer). Lastly I felt I couldn’t enjoy the special mood the game is creating. I ended “playing” for an hour, but didn’t even get past the introduction. A solution would be that I only play for a short amount of time every day. But I’d really like to dive into the game and have longer playing sessions.

Afterwards I started again in my native language and got to the same point in only 5 minutes. So my takeway is that it is still to early for me to dive into video games and I should stick to textbook Japanese for now (currently I’m working on “An integrated approach to intermediate Japanese” by the Japan Times).

Would you agree or should I force myself to keep going ?


Videogames are not a medium that you can force yourself that way and enjoy.

I think manga would be better.


I’d recommend first playing it in English - and then a second time, in Japanese. This way you would already know the plot and wouldn’t need to look up every single word.


It really depends on how you feel playing it. I gather from your post that you are simply not enjoying it yet. This could be due to the selection of game (so starting out with a game that is more suited to your level might be more interesting), or it could be due to your reading level, unfamiliarity with specific vocab, … While it still takes me a long time to play through a game (around an hour of Japanese for 5 minutes is about where I’m at too), I remember starting out and needing an hour for just several sentences, but due to persevering that time has gotten shorter and shorter. IF you can stand the drudgery, I think you’ll see improvements relatively quickly, you already have a relatively big vocabulary due to completing wanikani, and the game specific vocab will get clear throughout playing. But, I’m not gonna lie, there will still be many “boring” and “uncomfortable” hours ahead of you. You can possibly avoid those boring times by switching your selection of game though.

But, due to being bored dropping the game isn’t so bad, but there is always a danger that you’ll burn out on language learning too if you force yourself too much. Thus, my advice is that IF you want to play a game, look for one you can enjoy even if the pace is slower, otherwise maybe delay playing a game 'til you feel more comfortable with a high volume of reading.


There is a sort of balance to it. When playing my first game in French, i spent 3 hours in char creation, and it could easily be more. And i know that game so well too (tes3 morrowind). The further i was into a gaming session, the less i bothered looking words up if i got the general idea. Lvl60 feels like you should know stuff. I could hardly game in jp not knowing any kanji, but planning to give it another go around lvl30. Are you trying to look up every single word you don’t know?


You’ve jumped into a story/text-heavy game. You should probably postpone those types of games until you are able to read japanese books or manga at a reasonable speed.

You could try playing:

  1. A game that you previously completed in English so you know the story
  2. A game that you like the gameplay of, but are not too invested in the story so you can skip difficult dialogue
  3. Games aimed at younger audiences(something like Pokemon/Animal Crossing)

I had a similar experience some years ago, and have tried a few things since (with varying degrees of success):

  1. Play it through in your native language first and then replay it in Japanese, and only look up words when you feel like it. This worked well for me with short games without a lot of text, games with a lot of repeat text, or games where most of the gameplay does not involve text except for certain cut scenes (for example, the Pokemon games and Final Fantasy 13).
  2. See if a transcript of the game exists, so you can pre-read or post-read and still enjoy the game. For example, I was able to find transcripts of the entire game texts for most of the Fire Emblem games on fan sites.
  3. Follow along with a Twitch or Youtube vlogger who plays the game in Japanese. JapaneseQuest is one I know of who specifically tailors his videos to Japanese learners, and I’m sure there are others.
  4. This isn’t an option for most games, but for some visual-novel type games you can pre-learn the vocabulary via wordlists others have created (Anki decks, or kitsun or koohi). If the game is for PC, you can also set up a texthooker + yomichan for an easy way to import words you read right into Anki.
  5. Again, this isn’t an option for most games, but some games on Steam let you switch languages on the fly by pressing a key. Also, many games for the Nintendo Switch you can change your system language and the game automatically switches languages.

And there’s always the option of working on your Japanese and trying again later. :slight_smile:

I’ve done this many times, especially for text-heavy games.

Best of luck, and don’t give up!


Hey, last year I got into magic MTG Arena, the card game, with a friend and I told myself “hey why don’t I try this in full japanese to practice?” Honestly it was kind of hard because I didn’t even really know how to play magic. But in the end I think it was a great idea I because even if I could not fully understand some cards the game would auto resolve their effect. Plus you repeatedly see patterns and the same cards over and over which kind of works as an SRS in terms of memory.

So, I think that if you jump straight into a game where you kind of need to immerse in the story to enjoy it (and I assume you want to enjoy it), then it being in japanese is constantly going to break your immersion and you’re not really going to have fun. That being said there’re other kind of games, like magic, that kind of work better for learning while still playing the game fully. For a story based game it would be better, as others already said, to pick one you already know the storyline or to just play the game seeing it as a japanese learning tool rather than a game itself (does it make sense?).


Years ago I tried playing stuff in Japanese and it was as “painful” as you describe it mostly. Because, this was years before I knew WK existed, so my kanji knowledge more or less non-existent. So, I settled for VN games, because when playing on a PC you can basically do dialogue extraction. And then you can do Ctrl+c/Ctrl+v and search for kanji(combos) and what they mean.

Was it slow going? Yes! Was it going for something too hard for my own level? Yes! Was it learning stuff all the same? YES! Did it get easier with the next game I played? YES! Did I learn things permanently just from playing and doing simultaneous translations? Yes!!!

Whether you’re able to continue with this particular game, I’m not sure. since I haven’t played it. Generally speaking, action games are not great. Go for slower-moving stuff until you get faster at reading and simply don’t have to look up as much.

But, there is also learning the specific vocab of a game. Basically, genre specific stuff, so once you got those kanji down, you’ll start to read faster.

I’m reluctant go give you a clear advice as I don’t know this particular game or how hard it is. But, feel your way through this and answer honestly, are you willing to put in the time needed to play it to the end?

If yes, go for it! Because you learn tons by doing so! No kidding! It’s great!

But, you do have to have the patience with going slower than you’d want to, and put in the effort of looking up stuff you encounter.

Since you’re lv 60, then at least you have a MUCH better starting-point than I did around 10 years ago. So, I think this is certainly doable.

Final thoughts, if this is a game you’re much invested in, then perhaps play it first in English and then Japanese, because there is no denying that it will be more intuitive, faster, and more easily enjoyable for you - it is what it is as Japanese is not your first language. If it means something special to you, make that experience number 1 and then learn the Japanese.*

*Full disclosure:* I'm still trying to get through *Ookami* in Japanese after giving up about 10 years ago. You just have to learn kanji first! :sweat_smile:

Now I remember. I think my play/read time 10 years ago might have been something akin to this. :joy: I was not going fast. But, as you say, this all depends on the game. A VN game doesn’t require immediate player input, so it doesn’t really matter how slow you read something. The game itself, works.

But that’s not true for all game genres. Then reading slow becomes a problem for game play.

I wouldn’t personally suggest playing something like that unless you CAN keep up with game play. I think that sort of sets the limit to ensure the game is enjoyable.

I do agree that one of the best ways to learn a language is do so while also enjoying the medium.

However until a certain point you should also remember that constant language distraction will reduce the immersion, throw you off the pace, and might make for a worse experience. If it’s a game you’re hyped about, I don’t recommend risking to ruin the enjoyment - especially if the game is text/plot heavy.

So I’d rather play a game you’re not hyped about, or not text-heavy, or one you’ve already played before but has a good replay value - at least until you’re comfortable enough with your Japanese. Balance really is key.


Yeah I have thought about playing games in Japanese but can see it would ruin the enjoyment of the game as it would slow it down so much. I play with japanese voice but english subtitles and look up words/ phrases that I don’t know but even that can be too much after a while.

I would recommend Game Gengo on youtube, has some great content using japanese games to teach Japanese grammar etc. Enterntaining and educational.


Nor would I. I said as much also in my too long comment. Though VNs are just text (almost :wink: ), but it’s all up to you how quickly you read and there is no prompting of being quick really.

But, yeah, it’s really about how you feel about the game for me. If it’s something you just wanna give a try, it’s more forgivable if you need more time reading and translating.

I’ve done several DS games in Japanese with various success. Basically, games I have little preconceptions about. And that worked to my benefit I think. :slight_smile:

(I was not too upset about a less than perfect gaming experience)

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VNs and manga are my go-to as well, since you set the pace and translating doesn’t feel like a chore you have to do inbetween some fun gameplay. Just gotta stick to the ones you’re moderately interested in.

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This is a very good measure! :rofl: Like you’re a bit invested, or you wouldn’t be playing it, but you also don’t mind if this particular game isn’t all that great! (since you haven’t played it before), so you can put up with it being a less “perfect” gaming experience.

Alternatively: you have played it before and know wanna see the original version.

The latter was a bit problematic for me personally, when I tried it with Ookami. Basically, I didn’t really “read”, but instead I started to “guestimate” the dialogue due to my familiarity with the game. So, that familiarity worked against me…>_>

I think it will be quite different now, just from knowing more kanji. :sweat_smile:

(sorry out of likes at the moment :) )

A couple quick tips that help for me (YMMV of course):

  1. pick games that were originally in Japanese that you’re enthusiastic about.
    “Wow, I get to play this game I always wished would be localized in the original language! Cool!!”
    goes a lot farther than “hrmmm should I switch this back to English I don’t know if I care about this game” for example.
  2. Get a good dictionary app on your phone. (I like takoboto).
    This is important because you can keep it next to you and look things up quickly without breaking the flow too much, compared to alt-tabbing out to go to Jisho or something.

In my experience, the weight of reading text in a game is more intimidating than even a book, because you’re surrounded by it, so to speak. So it’ll definitely be slow-going and exhausting for some time. But with practice, and finding things you’re into, it can definitely be fun too!


Play the game in English first and try again in Japanese so while reading the story in JP, you may be able to identify key words.


I would play it without looking up words too much. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t understand 100%. I didn’t understand any English at all as a child and still played Pokémon through to the end (in English). You should of course look stuff up from time to time but you will learn a lot even if you don’t look anything up as well, trust me. I learnt a lot from playing “Pokémon Shield” and “Fire Emblem Three Houses” in Japanese with very limited dictionary using. It stops being fun for me if I always have to keep looking everything up all the time.

It’s always a balancing act between the most Japanese learned and the most fun. IMO if you max the fun the Japanese will come on its own, so sit back, relax and play some fun games :smiley:. You will notice that there are some new words and phrases that come up all the time in your game and start bugging you; if you can’t understand those words through context look them up.

With that said, some people hate not understanding 100%, if you’re that kind of person I don’t have any good tips unfortunately.


Neko Atsume is a phone game I’ve been playing that you should at your level be able to play with little to no issues (depending on your level of grammar). Even though it’s not really an engaging game, as it’s one of those games where you leave and come back and you get stuff, it can get you used to the words used in settings, personality tropes, etc. If you feel discouraged, maybe playing that a little might help boost your confidence, but if this is insulting, I am so sorry that was not my intention.

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i tried playing stardew valley in japanese a while ago, and even though the language change wasn’t too hard (i’ve got hundreds of hours of playtime), it wasn’t much fun. recently i started reading a manga, and even though it’s harder than playing stardew valley was, it’s considerably more fun. so like others have said, i’m thinking games (in particular one which is as story-based as spiritfarer) might just be a more difficult medium?

also, with spiritfarer, i was often confused about what to do even in english…