Playing video games in Japanese

Would it possible to play and understand a game in Japanese after hitting level 50 on WaniKani?

This really depends on a lot more than WK. For one, I find that listening skills tends to be more my issue when playing games, and kanji isn’t exactly super useful for listening lol.

If the game you’re wanting to play is something closer to a visual novel, or isn’t voice acted then I’d expect 50 should be plenty. I can actively read the Darling in the Franxx manga with only having to look up a kanji every few pages and I’m only level 29 right now.

And perhaps you already know this, but keep in mind that even knowing the kanji you’ll obviously be limited by your vocabulary knowledge, grammar knowledge, etc. All of which is very much achievable, but also isn’t really something you should rely on WK for. (The vocab WK gives you is good, but not sufficient. It’s great for learning kanji, but it’s not meant to teach you all the words you’ll need to know.)

This is all to say that WK is not a magic bullet to learn Japanese. It’s a great tool to learn kanji, but for the rest you’ll need to go elsewhere.


What’s your definition of understanding?

Assuming grammar was a non issue (it’ll be an issue), I would still say no. You wouldn’t be able to comfortably understand the entirety of a game. You would just be way too lacking in vocabulary.


I’ve been playing Japanese games since I was about level 15 and I only have JLPT N3. I have a large collection of Japanese PS2 games and Switch games can be played in Japanese if you just change your console’s language setting most of the time. It really depends on the genre of game. Games for kids usually have furigana availible. Stuff like Mario, Zelda, racing games and a lot of action games aren’t really too difficult. But games that require a lot of reading like RPGs are a lot more difficult. I would suggest playing a favorite games that you’re familiar with in Japanese first.


Perhaps I interpreted the question differently, so I’ll add a little something something so I don’t sound like a negative nancy.

If you are going to do more than just play and actually look up words and stuff and try to work through sentences, sure you can understand a japanese game.

If you are purely asking whether or not it would be comfortably to read through a visual novel at level 50? Yeah, hell no. Maybe for some easy ones. For ones like I read, they have like 8000 words not included on wanikani and that doesn’t even dive into unknown meanings and uses for words you do “know”.

If it is the former, then one thing worth noting is that if you’re looking stuff up as you go, the level of content you can understand is much more determined by your persistence than by your current ability. If your grammar is there, you can do anything you can do at level 50 at level 3 with enough effort.


For me personally I’m more on the “go for it, why not?” side of the level of understanding scale.
I think looking things up gets a worse reputation than it deserves - it’s at least possible to look things up frequently, add to your vocab review warehouse as you go, and still have fun at the same time, even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

But it’s undeniable that the answer to this question is going to vary extremely heavily based on level of side-by-side grammar study and also choice of game, to the point of being unanswerable on it’s own.

My best guess is that a late-level WaniKani level user with associated grammar practice would be much more likely to be at the “cautiously choosing their first game to try playing” level than “confidently playing anything they feel like” level.
But if you know you want to play a lot of games, pick your target games well, and don’t mind the pain of not always knowing exactly what’s going on, you can technically play whatever you want and probably learn at least a little along the way.
Some people import games without knowing the language at all, after all!

So definitely don’t expect perfection but don’t necessarily let caution/disappointment/not feeling prepared enough stop you either.

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I’m only at level 29 and I do it every day.

I keep an iPad next to me with Jisho open while I play and translate as I go. First, I try to translate in my head, then if that doesn’t work, I hit up Google Translate and/or DeepL. (This isn’t my only Japanese practice, mind you.)

You won’t be able to play at native speed, and it takes a tremendous amount of patience. But if you’re willing to either go for the top-down “fuzzy” understanding or the bottom-up translate-as-you-go understanding (or both), it’s a legitimate way to get better at reading. Seeing words in the wild that you’ve seen in WaniKani will make them much easier to remember too.

When you start this, make sure you choose a game where the text never scrolls by itself and you can turn on subtitles for cutscenes. Use an emulator that has a pause function that freezes the screen (so not ePSXe). You can try with a modern game, but you’ll be going so much slower at first that the repeating background music will drive you up the wall.

If what you’re asking is whether it’s possible to do this at level 50 without stopping and looking up words: I’m not level 50 yet but as those above me have said, I very much doubt it. This isn’t a criticism of WaniKani, but there are thousands of common words not in WaniKani (yet?). You’ll be able to guess a lot of them from the kanji and the context, but that’s still not the same as learning them.

But if you’re willing to either use a dictionary or settle for understanding less, you don’t need level 50; you can start today. And I think you should!


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