I think above lv 35 should be good enough. Before reset, I had started reading light novels around lv 27-28. I saw an unknown word every 5 sentences or so but I could read it albeit slowly
At lvl 60 WaniKani I still struggle to play video games in Japanese. So level is not important, but how much grammar and other knowledge you have
I have neglected mine, focusing on one thing at the time (both at once was too much for me)
To add, it can still be about vocabularies.
And in Pokémon, for example, the vocabularies can still be in Kana, even if they are Jukugo.
Personally, I think this is much more about how much you’ve been keeping up with grammar study than it is about pinning down a specific level of kanji learning at which it becomes possible. If you have a strong grammar foundation, you can probably start a lot earlier because you’ll be able to more easily identify which parts of speech you’re “stuck on” and have an easier time looking up new words.
I tried playing old RPGs at around level 20 and found it completely inscrutable. I shelved that for a bit while I continued taking classes and doing my daily kanji lessons. After about 18 months of study, probably around level 25-26, I started again with games I knew had simple, everyday language (Pokemon X and Harvest Moon Friends of Mineral Town) and found it substantially more accessible. So I’d guess, somewhere in your mid-to-late 20s is probably a good level to start with beginner-friendly games.
I don’t personally recommend playing your “favorites” in Japanese, because you’re essentially turning your primary leisure activity into homework. I tried turning FFXIV Japanese on, and I found I enjoyed it substantially less because it not only broke the immersion of the storytelling, but it turned reading tooltips/menu text into a massive chore. I’d recommend finding instead games that:
- Are enjoyable enough that you want to keep playing
- Have played before or kind of know the story so you aren’t completely in the dark
- Are probably written with kids in mind, or at least don’t delve too deep into hyper-specialized language.
gaming in japanese is hard. But it also feels rewarding to come back to previous games and understand way more everytime you go back to them.
at around level 30 in wanikani kanji became easier for me in video game.
I recommend finishing bunpro n5 and n4 as soon as possible if you hate textbooks. It was a game changer for me, I wish I would have done sooner.
Here are the games I feel you you don’t need to understand everything(maybe 30% comprehension) and still enjoy the games
ghost of tsushima
gardians of the galaxy
fighterz(add commentator voice pack)
bloodstained ritual of the night
star wars fallen order
hajime no ippo ps3
prince of tennis
captain tsubasa,ps2 version is the best
naruto ninja storm
iron man vr ps4
It is likely going to be difficult no matter your WK level, so why not start dipping your toes in now.
I don’t think your WK level will have a huge bearing on this, as grammar will likely play a huge role, and I expect most games to contain rare and unique vocabulary.
As others have mentioned, it depends on what kind of games you want to play.
I’d +1 the recommendation to play a game with a game script (more on this below) which you can have open on your computer while you play, so you can lookup words in yomichan as you go, and ideally a turn-based game or a game you can easily pause, maybe with furigana.
It also helps if you can find a game that you are interested enough in to warrant the effort it will take to play it, this is the same for other native material.
Have you tried immersing in any other native material?
if not, consider joining the Absolute Beginner Book Club to work on your general reading skills with a group which will help build skills that translate over to reading in Video Games.
Here are some Youtube channels in this area:
Japanese Quest is a Japanese teacher who live streams playing Japanese video games of increasing difficulty and teaches the audience the words and grammar structures that come up. For example Super Mario odyssey, Dragon Quest XI, and Breath of the wild.
Game Gengo does reviews of Game’s for learning Japanese (for example Pokemon), has a series of videos dipping into various video games, and just released a tier ranking of 50 Steam games for learning Japanese (1.5 hours long).
Game Grammar which walks through some games in Japanese (Pokemon, and Ni No Kuni IIRC) as well as having some Japanese learning videos.
I’d highly recommend watching some videos of these channels playing various games to get an idea of what is out there.
Games I’ve tried
Super Mario odyssey is a great first game
- most text is pausable or progresses only when you want.
- instructions are (generally) repeatable, many include animations to illustrate moves.
- good use of colours and emoji to add context to the text.
- Japanese quest videos means you can get help.
- I’m (slowly) playing Demon Slayer - has Furigana + I’m reading the Demon Slayer manga in Japanese, so lots of cross-exposure.
- I’ve started Final Fantasy IX, which is slow as there is no Furigana but it is a game close to my heart and there are game scripts online when I need them.
- I’ve Done some Vocab mining from other game scripts including Ace Attorney and Professor Layton, and I’m planning on playing Dragon Quest XI later so I’ve starting dabbling in mining key vocab from that game (by watching Japanese Quest play through).
- I’ve heard great things about Yokai Watch 4 and Ni No Kuni but I haven’t tried either myself yet (both are waiting on my Switch).
If you have a Nintendo Switch then setting up a Japanese account is pretty easy, and then you can download Japanese game demos from the Switch store - many of them are very generous, for example Dragon Quest XI’s demo is something like 10 hours long IIRC.
Here are some links to lists of Japanese game scripts and a discussion on how to find more:
- Jo Mako’s difficulty list, see the Game Scripts tab
- Another list of game scripts / resources
- Reddit discussion on how to find game scripts, and some links
Finding a game’s difficulty
Jo Mako’s list linked above ranks games by their Japanese difficulty, there’s also this WK thread roughly ranking games by their Japanese difficulty
If you didn’t know, Yomichan (setup instructions) is a browser plugin that can do dictionary lookups for words you hover over, so it is amazing for going over Game Scripts while you are playing a game - rather than typing the word out.
You’ve got a lot of great advice already in this post, but I figured I’d add my two cents! I’m literally just going to talk about Paper Mario, so skip all of this if that isn’t the kind of game you’re into.
For reference, I passed the JLPT N4 pretty easily in December, and my spoken Japanese is at a level where I can hold a conversation about day-to-day topics smoothly. However, my reading is by FAR my weakest skill, and I almost never practice. I just reached level 18 here on WK.
I recently started playing Paper Mario: Origami King in Japanese, and I’m really enjoying it. It uses a mixture of kana and kanji+furigana. It also has nice spacing so that it’s easy to read. The negative is that you will get ZERO listening practice.
It often opts for hiragana instead of kanji, so you might feel like you’re not getting as much practice as you’re looking for. BUT on the other side of that coin, I feel like it’s a good place to start if you’re not used to reading. i + 1 and all that. I know myself, and if I had to strain to read every speech bubble, I would simply give up. Plus, you can always throw the hiragana into Google translate or Jisho to find the Kanji, and it becomes KaniWani style practice. Kind of.
Dialogue progresses when you press A, so you can take it 100% at your own pace, the game mechanics are super easy, and the dialogue is cute/funny!
I totally +1 what has already been said :
- study grammar before reading/playing, it really helps to get at least the intentions behind the sentences (if it’s an order, hesitation, advice, questionning, and so on…)
- I personally like having some kanji vs all kana because it really helps to know where a word starts/ends. And sometimes you can get the meaning of a word even if you don’t know it, which is impossible in full kana version.
- Sometimes you have to keep playing even if you don’t get everything that’s going on.
- A script really helps to endure these times
As for a recommanded game, if you have a Switch you can basically access any game in japanese on the japanese eshop, some of them never translated… That’s a tough call
I spent a few enjoyable hours on the first Yokai Watch (that i got for something like 1500円, so around 12 €/$). Lots of small dialogs, with basic everyday vocab since you’re playing a child. The yokai are… okay i guess, nothing like pokemon, but with funny names and the atmosphere of the game itself is pleasant.
I hope you’ll find the right game for you to start this demanding (but fun) japanese path
Warning: Be sure you’re good at reading カタカナ before you reach 9-4 in SMB2.
Ooh! I want to try Ocarina of Time!!!
I’m at Level 27, and 4/5 done with DuoLingo; and I still his look up everything LOL…
Do in the fabled words of Yoda, “There is no try, only do.”
So I am choosing a game you love, translating and learning. Check the boards… When I actually start doing this, I will put a Vocabulary table and/or Anki deck for the games I do…
The Wiki for Breath of the Wild was wonderfully extensive…Couldn’t find them link just now
BUT FOUND a nice translation link FOR OCARINA OF TIME (YAY!!)
A lot has been said above, so I’ll just pile on one additional thing: https://game2text.com/
This software helped me enjoy games with story a lot more, although much slower than normal.
But to answer your question: I think covering N5, N4 and maybe N3 grammar is a minimum for gaming in Japanese.
I didn’t expect that grammar would be more of a key factor to being able to read in games, so I will definitely start practicing that even more now
The nice thing about grammar is that a little goes a long way.
Learning the most common grammar covers a lot of text. As you get into reading (or another way of enjoying native material), you’ll find that after the initial difficulty of learning a lot of grammar, you reach a point where you’re hardly ever looking up grammar.
You’ll probably still be looking up kanji, and undoubtedly will still be looking up vocabulary words, long after you reach the point where you’re not looking up grammar.
Ill definitely check out the book club and resources, thank you for info and advice
Thanks for the recommendations of games. To me, the textbooks aren’t that much of an issue more than to what to learn and how I can improve more quickly, although having everything on my computer is very convenient
A lot of good advice in this thread, and just wanted to add some of my own experience:
As someone whose primary Japanese interest came from wanting to play various Japan-only video games, I held off for a long time on playing the video games I wanted to because I wanted to ‘understand’ them properly before playing. Then I realised - while playing Animal Crossing in Japanese - two things:
- No matter how much I study, there’s nuances and humour I will likely never fully ‘get’ - but that’s okay, because…
- Video games are an extremely useful tool for learning - even putting all the unusual vocabulary aside, they’re just inherently fun enough to want to stay committed to without requiring the psyching up that usually comes with regular studying
While there’s definitely an threshold of basic/intermediate grammar and vocabulary to cross to make playing easier (I was studying for N3 when I made the switch), most of the reason I can play basic games in Japanese now is through vocabulary learned through playing other games in Japanese. I had been holding off on playing Mother 3 because the story is so important to why that game is considered so good, and there’s so much in there that I’m sure I won’t get. But conversely, that’s a great reason to play it and learn as I go. So my new year’s resolution is to finish that game by the end of the year come what may!
EDIT: Also wanted to add that I distinctly remember learning lots of vocabulary in my native English from playing Pokemon as a child - so many of the move/ability names were completely new words (“Fissure”, “Ominous Wind”, “Intimidate”, “Psych up”, “Spatial Rend” just off the top of my head). But that didn’t stop me enjoying the games in the slightest, and I never even considered the possibility I might not be fully “understanding” them. All this to say - don’t worry about full understanding, accept there will be times that you don’t know what’s going on, and above all make sure you’re enjoying the time since that will be the biggest motivator to continue.
Everyone has given good advice so far that I would +1.
I will just add that I recommend どうぶつの森(Animal Crossing) since I didn’t see it above.
- It is mostly everyday Japanese, so a good way to build confidence in the stuff you need the most.
- The characters all have different ways of speaking which might familiarize you with those different levels of speech you may encounter (albeit some are pretty cartoony). There is everything from keigo to really rough/rude casual speech.
- The dialog doesn’t progress until you prompt it so there is no rush.
- There aren’t many time sensitive things in the game, so you can move at a leisurely pace.
- There’s lots of life and nature vocab which are pretty useful to know overall.
- Even if you understand none of it, you can still carry on as you would so there is low chance of getting frustrated.
I think I started playing it around Wanikani level 20ish? and I never encountered any problems. (Though to be fair, I live in Japan and so my passive knowledge of Japanese is a lot higher than my reading in general/Wanikani level if that makes sense.) But I still think that someone of relatively low Wanikani level could play the game with little difficulty, though would get the most out of the dialog if their grammar was at least intermediate.
EDIT: I realize now that Animal Crossing is not at all like the games that you initially mentioned and so my comment is likely not helpful to you.
gameplay isnt the absolute best for ni no kuni (the battle mechanics combined turned-based and real-time fighting in a weird way), but my goodness the cutscenes are as gorgeous as a fully-voice-acted movie. 10/10 for listening/reading practice
For those interested, Game Gengo has a video (1 hour and 45 mins) covering Animal Crossing new horizons.
Good point and thanks for mentioning it - I was mostly focused on language difficulty but I think game play is just as important to consider - and I think you’re right, when I’ve watched people playing Ni No Kuni the battle mechanics have seemed a little janky - but the “Ghibli movie as a video game” aesthetic has kept it on my radar for years.