When I was 11 my sister got our very first video game, Final Fantasy IX. Little did I know it would greatly shape me to be who I am today. I’m sure many people who fall in love with video games have found the same thing, but for those who fall in love with Japanese video games, it can be so much more.
For many it’s not anime or manga which is their gateway drug to studying Japanese language and culture, but video games. And for many of these people, being able to understand games in Japanese is the sole reason they start learning Japanese.
This post covers what you need to know to get to the point where Japanese games are understandable, tips for using games to study Japanese, and some terms that you might find cropping up in Japanese video games. (With Memrise course hopefully soon to follow).
What You Need to Know to Understand Video Game Japanese
So this is very similar to the Manga Japanese for Beginners post as understanding the basics and understanding informal grammar is key to understanding video games.
- The obvious one is to learn hiragana and katakana first of all. Katakana is especially important as it comes up A LOT in video games (i.e ゲット・メモリー・ブレード)
- Next it’s important to build up your vocabulary, but most importantly, kanji based vocabulary. Japanese games are made for Japanese people and unless they’re games for children they will not have furigana (the reading of kanji above it).
- Study informal grammar. Other forms of grammar (such as formal or keigo) will come into play, but informal grammar is most likely to turn up because the characters will often speak conversational Japanese.
However, do not be afraid of starting to play games now, even if you think you don’t know enough. Read on to find out what I mean…
Using Games to Study Video Game Japanese
You should start playing Japanese games asap. Obviously it helps to be able to read at least hiragana and katakana, but if your goal is to learn Japanese for video games then start playing now.
If you play games anyway it’s normally clear from your experience playing them in English what you need to do in a certain situation. So if you don’t understand a kanji or a word you can make an educated guess. But still make a note of it and double check in a dictionary if you were right.
When playing games you should be constantly making notes of words or grammar you don’t understand. If you can screen cap that section even better! You can look it up, or ask others online for help if you can’t find it in a dictionary.
Why start playing games right away if I can barely understand Japanese?
Well, if you only want to learn Japanese to understand games then the best way to learn it to use it.
- Games tend to have very specific terms which are repeated often, so playing them will expose you to these words.
- Games will expose you to language you wouldn’t learn normally in the classroom anyway, so there will always be words you won’t know even after studying Japanese to JLPT N2+ level.
- You can learn Japanese in context rather than just drilling vocabulary/kanji (although it’s still useful to do that, have a healthy mix of the two).
- It will force you to learn the words quickly as the game text and situations will often move quickly.
- Playing Japanese games with Japanese audio and text is a great way to study faster as it helps with reading speed, kanji reading, and Japanese pronunciation.
What games should I play then?
If you don’t already have an idea of what games you want to play here are some suggestions you might not that thought about:
- Children’s Games – Or rather games marketed for children, but adults play as well, such as Animal Crossing, Pokemon, Youkai Watch, Ni no Kuni etc. These games will have simple sentences, kanji and vocabulary, and often you take them at your own pace and will often have furigana to help with kanji. Great for beginners.
- Dating Sims – Depending on the setting you choose dating sims can be great because they often expose you to everyday situations and conversations. Especially if you choose a school or office setting. Dating sims are often made for adults though so kanji and vocabulary will probably be harder than those found in children’s games.
- Role-Play Games – These will often have the weirder kanji and vocabulary as RPGs are often set in fantasy settings. This is where the vocabulary you wouldn’t normally come across is found!
- Online Role-Play Games – If it’s a Japanese MMORPG and you’re playing it in Japanese the likelihood you’ll meet Japanese people online is quite high. This gives you a chance to not only read Japanese text, but to communicate to Japanese people in Japanese as well!
It depends on what games you like to play and your goals. If you love RPGs and want to study to play games then start on RPGs so you can learn the specific language for fantasy settings. If you just want to play games to help you with everyday Japanese then work on children’s and dating games.
There are also lots of Japanese study games developed by the Japanese and Westerners, often you can find them on android and ios, but if you want to study Japanese to learn video game Japanese then it’s probably better to focus on the other games.
Where can I get Japanese games?
- Nintendo DS is region free! Nintendo 3DS IS NOT. If you have a Nintendo DS you can import games from Japan and just start playing them. If you want to play 3DS games you’ll have buy a whole new 3DS from Japan to play them. Nintendo’s great for children’s games!
- PS3 & PS4 are region free! PS3 & PS4 games can be imported and played right away with little worries about it’s region (although some PS4 games MIGHT be region locked). This is great as Japan still released RPGs and other games on the PS3 where the US market has moved to PS4. Also, more and more Japanese games released outside of Japan are keeping the Japanese audio and text as a bonus feature, so check if the game you want to play can still be played in Japanese. (Note: PS2 is region locked)
- PC. With the PC you can download games in Japanese very easily, both legally and through emulators (only suggested for REALLY old games you can’t get hold of now).
- Apps. Try and find Japanese mobile games that are accessible outside of Japan. (Often dating sims)
How do I study using games?
When learning Japanese in any situation it’s best to learn through a balance of using and studying.
Play your game for 10 mins-30 mins (or however long you’re happy with), and make notes of words and kanji that appear that you don’t know. Try and read the sentence all the way through first before making a note because often you’ll find that you can guess the meaning of the word through the context of the sentence. Make a note of it anyway, but if you stop and start constantly while reading a sentence it will often stop your brain from absorbing the meaning naturally.
Study the kanji and vocabulary that come up. Either by writing or using a program like Memrise which lets you create your own flashcard program. Don’t forget to review the kanji/vocabulary you were unsure of, especially right before you play the game next.
If you study before you play you might find kanji/vocabulary that you didn’t know before come up in the game again, helping you brain solidify the meaning even more. If you don’t review before you play again and you come across the same kanji/vocabulary, you might find yourself writing down the same word that you should have already learnt.
Play in entirely Japanese. You could play with Japanese audio and English text, but often the Japanese and English translation won’t match, they won’t be direct translations. You brain will also be tempted to ignore the Japanese and just focus on the English because it’s easier. It’s best to play entirely in Japanese if you want to learn faster.
Common Video Game Japanese
Here’s a very short list of common video game Japanese found in menus, but a longer one should be coming soon on the J-Talk Online Memrise.
start – スタート
save – セーブ
load – ロード
file – ファイル
continue – つづく・つづき 続く・続き
retry – リトライ
yes – はい
no – いいえ
settings – せってい 設定
options – オプション
config – コンフィグ
order – ならびかえ or たいけい 隊形
music – おんがく 音楽
language – げんご 言語
level – レベル
magic – まほう 魔法
item – アイテム
equipment – そうび 装備
status – ステータス
mode – モード
buy – かう 買う
sell – うる 売る
leave – でる 出る
fight – たたかう 戦う
defend – まもる 守る
run away – にげる 逃げる
return – もどる 戻る
Other Useful Posts
- J-Talk Online Memrise (free flashcard program online and as an app. Includes beginner’s grammar, vocabulary and kanji courses.)
- Manga Japanese for Beginners (covers basic informal grammar found in manga/video games)
- How to Make a Memrise Course (if you want to create your own flashcard course to study video game Japanese)
Do you play Japanese video games? Got any other tips? Let us know on the Japanese Talk Online Facebook page!