Video game recommendations for reading Japanese?

I’ve played games all my life, and they’re a big part of how I originally got better at English. I am curious to know if anyone has suggestions of games that would be good to get more used to reading Japanese, or if anyone has done that.

I believe a lot of retro games used few kanjis due to technical limitations and had a lot of hiragana or katakana, which might be good for beginners?

Alternatively, I wonder if some games have furigana on harder kanji as accessibility settings (I have no idea if that’s a thing).

Would playing old japanese RPGs, or visual novels, or maybe just current day games be a good way to get some practice?

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Dragon Quest XI S was my first start in Japanese gaming and was a GREAT start. Animal Crossing is also great if you wanna learn the names of every day things, which is huge!

Those are my go to starters.

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Animal crossing sounds like a good idea. I assume it uses simple kanji to be accessible to kids? or has furigana maybe?

Do you end up having to look up words a lot when playing games to learn or do you manage to guess from context?

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Furigana is available. And why do you need to look it up when the objects are right there? Maybe with some conversations it might be tough but you should be learning grammar and stuff on the side.

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Eastward is a great game for that, because it has subtitles (it’s the only game I know that has subtitles). The system is a bit weird though – the subtitles are always in the language you set the game for, but the language of dialogues can be set separately. One would expect it to be the other way around – the dialogues should be in the language you set the game for and the subtitles should be customisable, but oh well, it’s not a big deal.

So, you can set your game to Japanese and the dialogue language for English (which is what I did) – then everything except for dialogues will be in Japanese and the dialogues would be in English but with Japanese subtitles.
Or you can set the game to English – then everything except dialogues would be in English and the dialogues would be in Japanese, but with English subtitles.

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I ordered the Passport to Undertale companion book from Fangamer the other day which is supposed to be a language learner’s companion to playing Undertale in Japanese. I haven’t heard much about it from other language learners but surface level it sounds great.

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The more recent Pokemon games are pretty good to start with. The grammar is fairly simple and you have the option of Kanji or Kana.

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Here’s a list of games that use Furigana:

This is also a very helpful spreadsheet that lists many games, manga, etc:

^this works much better if you open it outside your browser (I use LibreOffice)

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Playing games is a great way to learn - it’s just sometimes a little tricky to find something that you want to play, that is sold in your country, is available for your systems, and is the right difficulty.

Personally, I learned a lot from クレヨンしんちゃん for the Switch and 13 Sentinels for PS4.

It’s counter-intuitive, but hiragana-only games tend to be challenging for beginners. Since there aren’t any spaces between words, it can be hard to parse sentences.

Some games will have furigana, but I don’t see it as a setting very often.

I recommend checking out the Game Gengo YouTube channel. He has a lot of recommendations for learning with video games (Steam, Switch).

I know a lot of people have had success with visual novels too, but I don’t have much experience with that personally.

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I was mostly thinking of old games that can be emulated or downloaded easily for that reason, gives a lot more choice

Yeah, makes sense. I’ve been noticing that recently, kanji make sentences easy to read intuitively, whereas a series of hiragana with no context feels like a mess

I think the single best starting game is probably Yo-kai Watch 1. It has lots of everyday vocab in a present-day Japanese world, full furigana, and is targeted to a younger audience which makes it really accessible from a difficulty standpoint. It was still enjoyable for me as an adult, and I really think it’s the perfect starter game.

But don’t just take my word for it:

That video is from the Game Gengo YouTube channel, which also has other recommendations!

A little higher difficulty would be the newest Pokémon games (older ones had you select between kanji-only or kana-only modes). Harder language, but still for a younger audience target and full furigana.


Visual Novels are also fantastic, especially if they have language learner-friendly features like being fully-voiced, having a log with voice replay or even language switching on the fly or dual language settings! It’s such a fun mix between reading and listening practice, without the downside of other audio media (having to manually stop and repeat when you cannot follow).

And if you want to read them in company and be able to ask questions: We have VN Reading Clubs both on the Natively forums and here on these forums.

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Ni no Kuni had furigana like this (though not in cut scenes, where I suggest you simply listen rather than scramble to read quick enough to catch the subtitles).

Though I think it’s easier to just start with a game with less reading overall and then gradually move onto fully text-centric games. A really cute game I recently found that I can recommend it Pikuniku!

Playable in multiple languages and Japanese on Steam and Gog.com.

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I’ve spent some time with “Passport to Undertale” now and I feel like this is an excellent way for beginners to get more vocabulary under their wing.

You should be able to read hiragana and katakana well, although the passport does include a hiragana and katakana chart it would make the whole process painfully slow if you didn’t already know them.

The book briefly covers Japanese sentence structure and the basic grammar particles, and includes a list of 100-something kanji you’ll run into in the game.

The largest chunk of the book is a 3000+ words long glossary that you can use to look up the words in the game and instantly get the intended meaning without having to guess at the many possible readings you’ll find if you use dictionaries like you would have to with other sources.

I use the passport in conjunction with jisho (for looking up words I either can’t find in the passport, or for further explanations of words) and ChatGPT which has proven extremely helpful in parsing sentences and breaking them down. Just make sure you use it as an aid and not just to get an answer then move on, it’s important to try and really understand why the sentence works.

As I go through the game I make flash cards for vocabulary and sentences I don’t know.

If you approach this as a sentence mining and comprehension exercise, I feel like Undertale is a great game to help you get more comfortable with reading and the process of using a game as a language learning tool.

Can recommend!

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pokemons great. start out with all kana and then you can switch over to kanji at any point once you embrace the superior writing system

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Rather, playing newer Japanese RPGs like Dragon Quest and the “Tales of” series. Visual novels are also a good idea, because they are sometimes voiced and dialogues are not auto-progressed like in other genres.

Another genre which has a ton of titles is gacha games. Different themes and lots of dialogue (for instance, in Uma Musume: Pretty Derby). Mostly RPGs, though, I guess.

However, what’s your overall level? If it’s decent enough, the selection of games will definitely be broader :slight_smile: . For instance, I could recommend Error Game 404 or Heaven Burns Red (a very well-known title in Japan), but the latter uses a ton of slang and sometimes niche vocabulary and kanji so it might be a problem even for intermediate learners (it is for me, for instance). Error Game 404 has no furigana, though uses fairly standard vocabulary.

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I’ve mostly picked up japanese from anime over the years, and learned a bit by myself here and there. but yeah, level 5 on wanikani, I’ve got about 200 kanji.

I just tried a new playthrough of Pokemon Violet in Japanese, I seem to be able to read a lot of it, and guess some new words from context. still a bit too hard for me. it has furigana which helps, but it’s nice to recognise a lot of the kanji I’ve learned in there.

I guess one weird thing with wanikani is it’s focused on radicals complexity as opposed to frequency, so despite knowing 200 kanji there’s probably a lot of super common ones I don’t know…

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didn’t even realise it had an all kana option, but I definitely prefer having the kanji anyway. as long as there’s furigana for the ones I don’t know it’s fine

conveniently, the furigana is hard to read on my switch, so I’m not too tempted to read the furigana instead of remembering kanji I know, because it’s easier to actually read the kanji I know than to read the blurry furigana trying to fit into 8 pixels or whatever

This seems amazing in a lot of ways.

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Absolutely, exploring video games to learn Japanese can be both fun and educational. I’m a big fan of CS2, but I appreciate the idea of using games like Pokemon for language learning. It’s great that they offer options for all kana or kanji, allowing you to progress at your own pace.
Also, thanks for sharing the spreadsheet resource; it sounds like a valuable tool for anyone looking to practice Japanese through games and manga. Learning a language should be engaging, and using games is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the process.

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It’s only tangentially related to this thread but I dumped the kanji textures by Final Fantasy VII and VIII on the original PlayStation here:

https://community.wanikani.com/t/video-game-thread-what-are-you-playing/13837/6017?u=simias

I’ve almost completed Final Fantasy VIII which will be the first game I play completely in Japanese (and the first time I play in it like 20 years).

I think I learned a lot from it and I would recommend it for the purpose of Japanese practice but with a few caveats:

  • Nothing is voiced, so no listening practice whatsoever.

  • No furigana, go big or go home.

  • Huge amount of text, being a JRPG and all that. If you want a lot of gameplay with a little bit of Japanese in between this isn’t the game for you.

  • Because of the low resolution all characters are 12x12 pixels, and that results in very blurry or “mashed together” kanji for those with many strokes. In general I find that it doesn’t impede the recognition of characters I learned, but it does sometimes make it very hard to look up characters I don’t know.

For instance take this word I just screnshot:


The 2nd character is obviously 女, but what about the first? If you already know it then it’s not difficult to identify, especially in context, but if you don’t it can be challenging to figure out the components to look it up. It’s 魔女, meaning witch. And there are worse examples.

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Where’d you get pasport to undertale from?

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