Video games in Japanese

Hello everyone,

I never intended to use the forums a lot (as it’s a habit that can become very time-consuming, I can tell from my own experience!); I’ve written quite a long post before about my reasons not to continue beyond level 51, maybe some of you will remember.

However, I have a question now that I think some of you might be able to help me with:
I’ve recently been considering buying a Nintendo Switch to play several games in Japanese, like for example Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Katamari Damacy (…speaking of “time-consuming habits” :sunglasses:).

What I’d like to know is: Do you think this is a good idea to begin with? My WK level, as you can see, is 52, which gives me a rough idea about quite a lot of kanji but a vocabulary that consists largely of jukugo words. Also my grammar knowledge is not too high yet, slightly above JLPT5, but I’d say I’m quite enduring and imaginative when it comes to decrypting yet unlearned grammar structures … as long as any game’s texts and dialogues will give me the time to properly understand them and not continue automatically.

So, has anyone of you tried the same thing while not being super proficient at Japanese yet? What were your experiences?
Also, do you know if it is possible to simply buy any retail version of these games and set the language to Japanese, or do I have to look out for a specific Japanese version to buy?
And moreover, are the above mentioned games friendly towards slow readers/listeners, or is there - e.g. - a lot of real-time dialogue?

I’m looking forward to your responses,
thank you a lot in advance!


Not with Japanese, but I did it a lot with English, when I was a bit younger. As long as the key to finish something isn’t heavily interlaced with the text, you can usually figure it out just by exploring and trying things. You need to be more tolerant to speaking to npcs and trying multiple things though

Not sure about damacy, but in BOTW I think you can pick language on the game itself. Some games will allow you to change but others are region locked, so I recommend you always do a bit of research whenever buying something.

Botw doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and most of it is on player input, but there are cutscenes where the textboxes are automatic, though I remember being frustrated that they were too slow so maybe it won’t be a problem. I believe the memories link collects don’t have subtitles, but correct me if I’m wrong.

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I played several VN games before starting in on WaniKani, so basically had to look up all kanji appearing in the games. :joy: It’s certainly doable if you have the patience for it. But since you’re lv 52, you shouldn’t have the same issues. I’d say go for it. :+1:

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sounds absolutely doable to me. at worst, you’ll have some ambiguity because you didn’t quite get the details. but that’s a very normal situation to be in when learning a new language. and in most games it really won’t stop you from having fun ^^

I’ve played a few of the modern Pokémon games in Japanese, which I think are quite suitable when you’re still not completely confident with the language. Modern pokémon games like the ones for the switch generally have two modes of Japanese: all kana and kanji mode. In kanji mode, nearly all text aside from move names and the in-battle interface uses kanji. If you’re comfortable with kanji, I can recommend the second one, as you don’t need to parse long strings of hiragana, which I find makes understanding the dialogue a lot easier. The kanji used aren’t too obscure, and I could recognize most of them at level 30, so I assume this won’t be too much of a problem for you. There are a few exceptions to this, little children for example tend to “speak” in hiragana only. You can switch between the two modes at any time, so if you want to switch back to kana-only you can do so from the settings.

Grammar-wise I’d classify them as somewhere around N4/low N3 level. Most of the grammar isn’t too hard, but some characters like the villains may have weird speech patterns or be overly formal/informal. The difficulty of the dialogue is similar to what you’d find in a shounen manga. This is mostly if you want to follow along with the plot of the games, the interface and objectives are simple enough that you can progress through the game even if you didn’t fully catch all the dialogue. The sentences also tend to be fairly short, which makes parsing them a bit easier.

The biggest advantage to these games is that the text usually doesn’t go on until you press a button, meaning you have time to read. If you want to look up a word or grammar point, you have the time to do so. There are a few exceptions to this, but they’re few and far between.

As for having to buy a separate version, the newer games have a language select option once you boot the game for the first time or when you create a new save file, regardless of what version of the game you have. So for playing in Japanese you don’t have to go out of your way to buy a separate version.

In short, difficulty-wise they’re about the same as a shounen manga. And dialogue not continuing until you press a button makes it easier to look anything up if you want to. They’re some of the first games I played in Japanese for that reason :grin:


I think the less grammar you know, the harder time you’ll have. That said it is not absolute and to grow you might have to pick things slightly above your level. Check out this thread as well:

As for which switch games support Japanese it really depends on the developer/publisher. Some support them off the bat and you can actually change them on the fly. Many other nintendo games you need to change your system language for it to actually change. Others you’ll have to purchase a Japanese version separately. The store page in the eshop will indicate which languages are supported, although you’ll still have to look if it is through the menu ingame or through the system language.

Pokemon games are a bit of a separate case.They support multiple languages, but when you choose one you’re stuck with unless you delete your savefile.

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Were you also learning vocab on the side as you progressed through WaniKani? If not, I can see this being the biggest possible bottleneck. WaniKani does teach readings, but:

  • usually the most common ones

  • it’s often a catch 22 problem: you need to know a word to be able to read it, as the word might use kun’yomi instead of on’yomi, have a mixed reading, because it’s a compound word or not have rendaku where you would expect it.

I would still try to learn at least N4 and maybe some N3 grammar points to make the experience smoother.

Regarding playing on Switch in Japanese, some games rely on your console’s locale so if you switch the language to Japanese, so will the game, even if the game itself has language settings. I know this to be true for Final Fantasy X and God Eater 3, but not sure how universal it is.

About Katamari Damacy, someone on the forums warned that the king uses tons of katakana which ruins the experience a bit.

All that being said, good luck and fingers crossed! :slight_smile:

Yeah switch is weird, as it isn’t technically region locked, but some games only support the languages of the region that version is released in. At least games are shared between accounts on the same console–I have two accounts on mine, one for NA and one for JP regions to make using the eShop easier.

Sadly if the devs didn’t add language selection in from the get go, there is no way to launch individual games in a certain language without changing the entire system console language. Steam can though, as long as the game supports the selected language. Looking forward to the steam deck.

Regarding playing games while not being proficient, it’s mostly about getting used to the particular game’s vocabulary. A particular game gets easier as you understand more of it.

There’s an old PlayStation 1 game called Planet Laika, and I’m amazed at how much I understand - even words or expressions I don’t actually know. I’ve gotten to the point where I can predict what’s going to be said somewhat - 美 and 弱 words frequently pop up around a vain and violent character, respectively.
But here’s something interesting: The game I’m mentioning uses very simple Japanese with little complex grammar. The subject matter, however, is complex. I’ve asked Japanese people what some things mean, and it’s got some confusing choice of words - one combination of words I got confused by actually confuses the characters and starts a huge mystery where they need to find out the meaning. As far as I can tell, at least. The game’s a psychological horror Pong in space on Christmas with dog people and a 60’s/70’s retro futurist setting.

Should also add, furigana is an option in some games as well. This will be more helpful than you might think. As you get to know how to read words/phrases in the case you don’t know that particular reading (or refresh yourself in case you forgot). And if you don’t know the meaning at all it is very easy to quickly look up.

I got my switch to play Breath of the Wild (in my native language, English).

I bought No no Kuni (a story game that sounded Japanese), in order to try to play it in Japanese, but I couldn’t get the subtitles to not be in English, so it was too hard for me (just listening, without other clues). The Ni no Kuni movie was OK, tho.

Thud was VERY right about it depending on the game makers!! I really thought Ni no Kuni would be good, since it was made in Japan by Studio Ghibli artists and music by Tokyo Symphony Orchestra… I bought it online with a device located in the US.

But I watched the Japanese Quest first BOTW video (4 hours!) to get a bit of the Vocabulary, and then started playing BOTW in Japanese. It has a lot more Japanese than I expected, if you take the time to read through every item description as it comes up. It’s mostly in present tense for the item descriptions. I’m really enjoying it (although I look up a lot of stuff). Mostly because I already know what I’m doing, so it’s just a matter of absorbing the Japanese. It’s been making me quite happy. I have been taking a LOT of photos of the screen in order to zoom in and look things up. It has some furigana… But (like in a book), after the first time, the furigana isn’t always there!! I’m not very far along, yet.

I think that it could be fun for you, mooritsu, since you are a good sport about guessing with unknown grammar structures. I will just copy it into a machine translation if I feel stuck.

I haven’t tried to play Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley in Japanese, yet on the switch.

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Breath of the Wild is a very friendly game for beginners. The game has great conveyance. That said since you don’t have to read there’s s good chance you won’t.

I think it is a good idea ! I started playing some games in Japanese, Visual otome games. The content isn´t hard to understand and the text is stopped so you have time to read it. I found the grammar to usually be quite simple (around N4), so even though your current grammar level might be a little low right now you should be able to catch up very quickly (like, I suggest you to learn passive and causative forms, they tend to be used a lot). Try also to play voice acted games because it will be a good listening training ! Of couse it doesn´t need to be otome but visual novel might be good for a start, to my opinion.

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I played BOTW in Japanese but I gave up… There are so many lores and item description I can’t read and that’s really annoyed me :frowning:

On the other hand, I’m going through VN very slowly and it’s kinda better because I can take my time reading slowly and use texthooker to throw vocab into a dictionary easily.

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I think it’s a good idea, but you need to use it with games that match your current skills. For example, going through the latest Fire Emblem is an absolute pain unless you’re at N2/N1 level.
I recommend voiced Visual Novels. The reason is that you practice everything, and any words you don’t know are usually repeated throughout the story so you end up eventually learning them. Voices are important just as general practice, and sometimes might help you associate weird kanji with a word you already know.

If you want something a bit more active than reading, you just have to aware that a lot of games use very specific lingo that you might not really understand, and is only used within the game. Like item names, for example. I’ve played some of the latest Metroid on my switch and it’s a very easy game to play where text is minimal, but enough to serve as decent practice, even if you only know N3 grammar.

The more story heavy games are a bit of a pain to play if you don’t know enough vocabulary and grammar because you’ll feel stuck and with no progress while trying to figure out the language, which is why I think Visual Novels are a better fit. Once you’re more comfortable with a ton of in-game text, you can do more complicated games like RPGs or action games, where you’ll be trying to process information at a faster pace.

Just my opinion, your mileage may vary and it’s really up to your own personal preferences.