What level to start Japanese Video Games

Just because the level guide doesn’t explicitly say, what level of WaniKani should I be at before I try attempting a japanese video game of Genki I level? Also, does anyone recommend any games for the Switch that would be on this level? Thank you.


Speaking from personal experience, I found there’s a tendency to think there’s a ‘right’ level to start reading/writing stuff. That if I get to a high enough level first, it won’t be hard.

The best advice I’ve seen cobbled together is that there’s no reason to delay starting a video game, especially if it’s one you’ve already played so you roughly know what to do anyways.

There will be lots of looking things up, and it will be hard, but that’s what we all signed up for, right? : )

Other people might give specific levels like 10 or 20, but I’ve found for myself that it’s best to just accept that it will be hard and frustrating at first and just do it, you know?


No true set level I think, best to get into reading native media. Especially if it’s a game you played the English version already.
A good example is Paper Mario, the Japanese version does not contain anything that difficult and the English version is fun to play so you can learn everything about the game first. You can easily get it on a emulator.
You will likely spend time looking up vocabulary ,verbs and grammar information but that is where you really start to learn.

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A lot of older games are almost entirely written in hiragana.

Some modern games intentionally use really difficult kanji because it gives it a literary feel. Like, I played P5 in Japanese and things like 如何 (どう) in kanji show up. That’s どう as in like どう思いますか

It’s a mixed bag.


If you want something on the Switch, Super Mario Odyssey’s US release comes with the Japanese version included. If you switch your Switch into Japanese in the settings menu, Odyssey will boot up in Japanese. It’s not very difficult and I remember it having a lot of furigana since it’s intended to be kid-friendly. Plus it’s a mario game, so your reading ability (or lack thereof) doesn’t really prevent you from progressing most of the time. If you want to try something more story-based like a JRPG, definitely be aware that it will feel like a slog, and it can often be frustrating or exhausting when it takes 30 minutes to an hour just to get through a brief story scene that normally would take you 5-10 minutes to read in English. (I’m still kinda at that point with some games) It really depends on if that’s worth it for you, how much you’re willing to push yourself, etc. If it isn’t too story-heavy, I’d suggest just pushing through even when there’s something you don’t understand. But yeah as others have said, it’s really never too early to start. Just make sure you’ve got your verb conjugations and basic sentence structure down.


Also consider that (similar to manga/anime) a lot of characters in videogames are going to be written with exaggerated local dialogue to give them ‘personality’. I used to play the Gyakuten Saiban games a lot and the difficult part wasn’t all the legal terminology - it was when they’d bring in an old lady character who changed all their verb endings and used ridiculous old lady expressions that I’ve never heard before or since. Probably for Japanese people it’s not so difficult because they’re used to how their grandma speaks, but it’s not the sort of thing that textbooks make it a high priority to teach you.

That said, I do really recommend those games if you’re trying to improve your Japanese, for the simple reason that they actually gate your progress depending on whether you’ve understood the text or not. This is not true of something like Dark Souls, where you could ignore every single text box in the game and still finish it quite handily. Basically what I would say from personal experience is, if you want to consume Japanese media, go ahead, there’s absolutely no drawback to doing so, BUT, don’t imagine that it’s going to rocket your language ability all by itself. When you’re enjoying the game part of it, it’s all too easy to be lazy about the language part of it.


As a side note, I wonder if anyone has been watching Tim Rogers’s series on Kotaku about translating FF7 from Japanese to English? I think it’s really well put together and has a lot of pretty cool insights:


This is really nice! Anyone knows of some similar resources?

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When I finished studying by myself hiragana and katakana and knew some words because of anime. I tried to re play Pokemon Yellow in Japanese, because i used RPG as a teen to learn English, so i had this idea i would force myself to learn since everything is written in kana in those old games, therefore might be easier than those awful kanji

i used a notebook to write down everything and played up to the first gym (pewter)… It was PAINFUL like 10 hours or so, and since i knew no grammar i couldn’t be 100% sure of the intention of some phrases. I stopped and never came back.

More recently i’ve tried to play some games for the nintendo DS in Japanese
I started with games for kids like “Anpanman”
There’s also a game called Kanji wataridori, to learn kanji but in japanese, i really started to get a grip of it after lvl 30.
there’s also a visual novel called ni no kuni, i believe art was made by studio ghibli
you should also try detective Layton after lvl 30

For pc, i’ve tried some visual novels based on anime i’ve already watched like Grisaia no Kajitsu or Steins Gate

Of course the more advanced level you are here, the more you get to understand.

Level 10 gets you through games for kids
Level 20 allows you to understand the gist of most texts
Level 30 makes you understand way more
Above here, I can’t tell because I’m just about to hit 40 but it’s mandatory to study grammar to boost your understanding, last levels just provide you with uncommon kanji so the boost in understanding gets reduced.


You can try game grammar and on YouTube. I recommend his pokemon Playlist. Or you can just check his different live stream.

It still amazes me that it seems many people on this forum and maybe wanikani in general are working on their 3rd plus language.
It’s easy to assume everyone is a native English speaker.


I downloaded and played a free to play VN today on Steam. At lvl 6, utterly impossible, but I’ve been living in Japan for years, speak the language and know a lot of kanji already (1000ish, to some degree) - and there were 3 instances where I had to ask my wife to read a word for me.
I think the 20s are a good time to jump in, and then you need to know a good amount of vocab or be able to look it up (ie guess the reading of the kanji right).

I think that rather than thinking in terms of levels, just give it a try regularly! You’ll be able to determine very quickly whether or not it’s currently doable!

You can look at a let’s play (実況プレイ じっきょうプレイ in japanese) to check a game out before throwing money at something you may or may not understand.


i’ll turn on japanese subtitles on games on a replay of it since i’m familiar with the dialogues

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