Hello everyone, and hope that things are going well! There are many video game threads here, but not one that seems to handle this question that well.
While I’m going to start reading a bit of manga in Japanese very soon to start really practicing reading (other than countless example sentences), I was hoping to find a video game to start with sometime afterwards (a few months - I’m not completing level 20-21 that fast now!). However, my ability to correctly get some of the N4 grammar right and expediently is still lacking at this stage.
This said, there are a few games like Ni No Kuni and Pokemon that are multi-language (and I don’t know which ones are), and many Steam games either have a “Language” tab or allow you to switch text to Japanese outright. Despite that, this doesn’t mean they are good for reading practice earlier on, especially if they are all text like a LN or are like Mario Kart where you learn a few words and button positions and you’re ready to go!
So my question is which major video games are actually useful and good Japanese reading practice for someone who is not ready for true intermediate reading material? Is Ni No Kuni the standard starting point or is there a good list of starting point “games” out there that I haven’t seen yet?
Thank you! Feel free to ask as many questions as you wish!
I liked Pokemon, but you do need to learn a bunch of moves.
I would also say Pokemon would be a good place to start, or the soon to come Monster Hunter Stories 2. Generally, RPGs and Adventure games with voice over and text boxes are quite nice practice material. You may also consider DragonQuest 11 Definitive Edition, since it has a furigani option (that can be turned on and off).
Other games I would recommend are Zelda: Links Awakening and Animal Crossing (どうぶつの森) - should all be easy enough to understand. What might be a bit harder are games where you don’t know the base mechanics yet and of course games targeting higher age groups, since they tend to have more advanced writing.
Pokémon is quite good and it’s easy to access. Starting with Gen 6 you can change the language to Japanese on every version, but it kills your old save file.
On the Switch you can just use another account, so there’s that.
About Dragon Quest 11… the EU and US version does NOT include Japanese, it supports all languages EXCEPT Japanese, so you would have to download that from the Japanese eshop or import.
I recently played Cave Story (洞窟物語) in Japanese. Its a platformer but it has a good amount of dialogue and story elements, as well as items, weapons, and upgrades, which I think combines to make a solid variety of text. As for difficulty of reading, you can probably get through the game by just being able to pick out key words (location/item names, often katakana), while understanding more of the story and interactions requires a bit more reading ability of course.
It may be hard to find, but the Japanese versions of the first two Paper Mario games might be a good place to start. The writing is very good, but because of the target demographic it’s written to be very kid friendly in terms of kanji usage - most words that have more difficult kanji are simply written out in hiragana or katakana instead, but it doesn’t shy away from using more simple kanji that you might be familiar with at n4. That being said, it is still native content so it will have lots of words you’ll need to look up, but the relatively light use of kanji should make that pretty easy. They’re also just great games, and by nature of being RPGs they have lots of text for you to read, both in and out of battle. They’re also fairly intuitive games, so you should be able to progress even if you have trouble understanding everything.
Beyond that, as others have said Pokemon can be a decent place to start, though adjusting to the move and type names may be difficult. Pokemon Sun/Moon was one of the first games I tried entirely in Japanese, and I found that rather challenging at the time. It may help to play one of the older games where kanji wasn’t used, or just turn off kanji in the newer ones. (I know at least S/M had that option). It really makes me wish it had a more “intermediate” option where it still used some kanji, but alas.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with Dragon Quest XI for 3DS lately and I think the language they use is mostly understandable even for beginners
If I start mine on an account that says it’s Japanese it already boots in Japanese. So I can basically have an English and a Japanese save file.
Oh generally, yes I second Link’s Awakening and Pokémon, they’ve been great for me, DQ11 in Japanese is still a bit much for me, I think
Thank you all for replying so far!
First, I didn’t even think to check Cave Story or Link’s Awakening as options even though I’ve played neither game to this point, so that’s cool! If I have to play a game on one language only then that’s fine - the bigger problem is making sure that it isn’t a jump into something that requires very advanced ability that would be a poor match right now. I didn’t get to much with N3 Bunpro yet. Personally I’m not afraid of it using grade level kanji, or a lot of kanji, and have started to get used to entering radicals into Jisho anyway.
As for adjusting for move and type names, you mean such as “Fire / Ice / Dragon” and “Surf / Flamethrower”? If the game is useful practice for getting better at reading then it’s useful practice and if it’s a useful option then that’s great news! I just got the sense that rolling into Fire Emblem: Awakening or one volume of a LN with 7000 unique words wasn’t a good choice for the near future.
Yeah, those names are often not what you’d expect in Japanese. They took a number of liberties when translating them. The translation isn’t inaccurate but, many of the move names are rather specific and the Japanese versions are often a bit different. Some of the translation choices for gen 1 and 2 moves were limited by character limits.
As an example, Dark types are called あく “evil/wicked”, and Psychic types are called エスパー (Esper) types. Flamethrower is called 火炎放射（かえんほうしゃ） which literally means like “flame jet.” (Although, 火炎放射器 means a flamethrower device, which is probably where the English name comes from). Surf is called なみのり (“wave riding/surfing”). Plus most of the pokemon names are different, so you may see a pokemon mentioned in text and not know which one it is. Just something to keep in mind. It’s almost like playing pokemon entirely blind 'cause you have to relearn all the names.
Thank you for the information about this - but if I may ask, do they use the actual kanji in the case of “evil” and “surfing”, or is it a mix of kana and kanji (very rare or hard kanji or Jinmeiyō notwithstanding of course).
It certainly makes sense to use “surfing” and to use ESPer at the least, and one can understand why such liberties were taken for different audiences. If anything, that could make it more interesting to see what comes up for such names! Besides, I do have some prior knowledge of the series so it’s not like I’m going in totally blind.
Personally, I recently had nice time with Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy and Doraemon: Story Of Seasons, both on Switch. Earlier Layton’s games would probably work too, but I really appreciate that Switch has a better screen resolution than 3DS or even earlier handhelds.
If you don’t have a Switch, I think they released Friends of Mineral Town remake on PC, and while I prefer original graphic style of FOMT - again, the font is easier to read with the remake. And looking at screenshots, it seemed to be on similar language level as Doraemon: Story of Seasons.
Both Layton and Doraemon spin off have kanji and full furigana. Layton is obviously a little text-heavy, but it’s still lighter than your typical VN and the difficulty is quite gentle.
As for farming games, it’s a comforting mix of gameplay and story - villagers have their own daily dialogue and events, but it isn’t as overwhelming as in RPGs/VNs cases.
I played through all the 90s Square RPGs - Chrono Trigger, all the PSX Final Fantasy games, etc. - a few years ago for reading practice. While I didn’t understand every single sentence, the sheer quantity of text in those games make them really good for practice.
Doublevil also frequently recommends the Atelier series, as they have voiceovers that you can repeat as much as you’d like, helping with listening comprehension, identifying unknown kanji readings, and reading practice.
One thing about 洞窟物語 - doesn’t it have somewhat of a specific dialect in how its written? Since the creator is from Kyoto, so the characters kind of all speak with a regional dialect from that area, iirc. It probably won’t affect reading comprehension too much, but something to be aware of if you pick this game.
I think Gen 5 (Black/White) were the first ones to actually use Kanji as part of the dialogue. Before that everything was hira/kata due to hardware limitations.
Aaah, I’m actually in the middle of something similar.
One of my goals is to be able to play games in japanese, and I find that as long as games have voice acting there’s a nice balance between what I can understand from just READING and what I can understand with HEARING.
I’ve played a few RPG’s and even monster hunter world in japanese, and the most difficult part honestly is the kanji, specifically kanji that I think is way too specific (like biology stuff in monster hunter, or some astrologic terms in genshin impact).
I recommend that you actually play a game that you have already played or that you are familiar with the story, because you’re bound to come across new words and sometimes it might get overwhelming.
That being said, I would recommend any Tales of games (interest enough but lighthearted enough), animal crossing, undertale (if you are already familiar with the english version), pokemon, Zelda (any zelda really) and if you’re feeling bold try one of those dating sim games hahaha (I’m not ashamed to say I invested a lot of time in Tokimeki Girls side).
It also depends on what type of vocabulary you’re after. Games like Persona or that are set in a school usually will give you more “daily” japanese that fantasy games. You can learn a lot from both, but the feeling changes a lot.
Hope it helps! Don’t feel discouraged and if you play on PC try playing on windowed next to you dictionary of choice!!!
Yeah some things were changed for localization reasons, or text space limitations, basically all kinds of reasons; plus there’s always some leeway involved with translation in general. It’s just tricky sometimes to work backwards to see something in Japanese and more or less understand what it means but not be able to immediately recognize what the English translated version would be. Especially when it comes to moves with similar names. But yeah it’s not a huge problem, just something to look out for.
As someone who has played a lot of Japanese JRPGs, the gold standard in my opinion are the SNES versions of Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6 (although I mostly played just 6).
I have played through roughly 95% of 6 and found the game quite easy to understand. I found most of the grammar pretty straightforward and the kanji to be something a level 25 Wanikani-jin could handle fairly easily (though some specific kanjis may trip you up a little like 魔獣 = summoned monsters). Due to the game being a SNES game, it is not overly text heavy and has a good balance between dialogue and gameplay.
When I was a kid I got a great amount of English understanding by playing video games. I like playing older games like NES/SNES period, so while I don’t understand everything it’s a fun way of picking up some words and phrases. It helps with the proper studying afterwards, like it did with English in my case.
Move names don’t use any Kanji at all. In all generations it has been like that.