Japanese Games

Learn Japanese Through Video Games

Many people would like to be able to integrate video games into their Japanese studies, but it’s often easier said than done. It’s very easy to feel like you are in well over your head when it comes to most games. There are a lot of different factors that can make things more difficult than you would imagine, so I would like to discuss some of these things, and talk about what you should look for when trying to choose a game to get started with. And before we get into this, lets be honest here–most games are fairly difficult. Your Japanese ability needs to be at least equivalent to JLPT N4 level before even a small handful of games will begin to be accessible to you. For the majority of games, your Japanese probably needs to be at least at N2 level. But the purpose of this article is to try to break down some of those barriers, and open up more games to less advanced learners. So, if you are ready to learn Japanese through video games, let’s get to it!

Choosing a game

First of all, the most important thing is to choose a game that is on your level. If you can’t understand the majority of the game without having to look things up constantly, then you won’t learn much. If you feel lost, then it will only make you frustrated, and you will start trying to play the game without even reading most of the text. As I said above, your Japanese level probably needs to be about equivalent to JLPT N4 level before you even begin to think about playing through anything in Japanese, and N3 equivalency is probably more realistic. So in other words, you should be fairly proficient in Japanese before you can even hope to understand a real game! Prior to that, you will be stuck just using a handful of games specifically designed for learning Japanese, though the effectiveness and entertainment value of most of those is rather questionable. And when you do get to the point you can begin playing games, you are likely going to have to focus on games aimed at children first.

If you are still in the very beginning stages of learning Japanese, you might want to look at Influent, which is a game designed to help teach you about 400-500 words of beginner vocabulary. The Nintendo DS also had a Japanese learning game called My Japanese Coach, which teaches beginner level Japanese. Some critics have said that My Japanese Coach does contain a few errors, primarily regarding kanji stroke order, but I believe it should be alright for the most part. The real question though, is whether you should even bother with these as opposed to learning through traditional means? Since I learned through traditional means, I really can’t answer that for you. But, give them a shot if you like.

Now, when your Japanese ability starts coming together and you think you might be reaching the point where you could try playing something, you are going to have to think very carefully about what you will be able to play. If you are going to be spending money on a game, you definitely want to do your research before plopping down a large sum on something that might be way out of your league! First of all, you want a game that has a fairly large amount of text, and is of a reasonable length. This cuts out a lot of the classic games from the NES era, and cuts out several genres of games almost entirely. We are mostly going to be limited to things like RPGs or adventure games. You also want to make sure the game displays the text onscreen, and lets you advance it with a button press. This cuts out many things like action games which might have a strong story focus. After all, if you don’t have time to read the text, what are you hoping to gain from this? The difficulty of the language used in the game is also critical. A tactical RPG based on historical storylines or a sci-fi epic might not be the best choices to start off. But something that has a simplistic story involving more typical everyday things might be a much better option. Look for something where you have about 80% or better comprehension.

Many older games have technical limitations that can make learning from them difficult. For instance, in the NES/Famicom era, cart sizes were too limited to display kanji most of the time, or even a large amount of text in most cases. Things would also sometimes have to be written strangely in order to fit in limited space. Throughout the 16-bit to 64-bit eras, things improved a lot, but games were still often produced at low resolutions. This means that though they began using kanji in most games, it can often be extremely difficult to read, as the strokes often just blur together. If you need to try looking up a kanji in a dictionary, you might not even be able to do so, because you are unsure exactly what it’s supposed to look like. And don’t even expect furigana!

More modern games bring a lot of improvements that often make them better to learn from. Higher resolution text, furigana on occasion, and even voice acting all serve to make things easier on the learner. As good as that sounds, these newer games can bring their own problems as well. For instance, the 3DS system is region locked, meaning that for many people the only options to play a Japanese game on it are to either buy a separate Japanese system, or utilizing piracy, which could possibly get your system banned from Nintendo’s online services. This is a real shame too, because it has several games which are quite nice for learning from, such as Youkai Watch, which not only uses mostly simple Japanese, but has furigana as well.

Choosing a good game for learning Japanese turns out to be a pretty difficult task. After all, game creators are definitely not making their games with language learners in mind! But a little research up front will go a long ways towards stopping a lot of frustration down the road. Now, lets move on to how to actually go about playing and learning from Japanese games.

Use Scripts

When it comes to playing games in Japanese, scripts are your savior. Having a text file containing all of the Japanese text from the game you are playing makes things so much more comfortable, as it’s a lot easier and quicker to look up words and phrases that you might not know. But… there don’t seem to be a whole lot of Japanese scripts out there! This post on the Koohii forums links to a handful, but many of those games aren’t using the easiest Japanese to begin with. If you want to try your luck at searching for Japanese scripts online, the word for “script” is セリフ集.

If you can’t find a Japanese script, then the next best thing is an English script. While it doesn’t make looking up words any easier, it will help you to understand the storyline and give you some hints as to the meaning of some words and phrases that you have difficulty with. Loading up an English script into your tablet or phone and keeping it by your side while you play through a game can be a big help. You can sometimes find game scripts on GameFAQs, but it’s fairly hit-or-miss.

Another cool site is Learning Languages Through Video Games. This site has translated scripts for several games, mostly for the NES and SNES. Most of the games covered have very small amounts of text (Mario 3 isn’t exactly known for its intricate story!) so actually playing these games in Japanese probably won’t be terribly beneficial. But it can still be cool to go back and look through the translations for games that you might have played in your childhood.

Let’s YouTube!

But what if you can’t even find a script for the game you want to play? Well in this case, we can turn to “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube! While you play the Japanese game, you can follow along with a Let’s Play of the English version of the game. Or if you are lucky, you might find someone playing through the Japanese game while translating it to English in realtime, such as on the RisingFunGaming channel. Many Let’s Play videos tend to have a lot of commentary over the gameplay, so if you prefer not to hear that, you might also want to search for videos with “longplay” in the title. These videos generally don’t have commentary.

If you really aren’t that keen on actually playing games, you might find that watching other people play through them is just as satisfying. By simply watching a Let’s Play or longplay of a Japanese game, you can pause and rewind in YouTube to take things at your own pace, and learn from a game just as effectively as you would by playing it on your own.

And for improving your listening skills, maybe you want to watch some Let’s Plays done by actual Japanese gamers? Just search on YouTube for the word 実況 along with the Japanese title of the game you are looking for!

Or maybe you are more into the competitive side of gaming? The YouTube channel Shi-G features Japanese Smash Brothers tournament play, sometimes with commentary, sometimes without. Adding 大会 into your YouTube searching can bring back results featuring tournament gameplay, through many of the videos tend to be from tournaments outside of Japan, so they may not be useful.

Visual Novels are games too! Sort of…

Ah, visual novels. The finest pornographic literature that the world of gaming has to offer! If you are over 18 and have become fairly proficient in Japanese, then these might be a good option. While most of these really aren’t suited to be classified as “games”, they usually do tend to offer some amount of interactivity and branching story paths. And to be fair, they aren’t all pornographic, and some of them even make their way onto mainstream gaming consoles. Furthermore, these types of games are great for learning Japanese, not only because there are a ton of them and they all have massive amounts of text, but there are also some amazing tools available to make reading them so much easier!

By using Interactive Text Hooker and Translation Aggregator, you can extract the text into a copy/pasteable format and get dictionary and translation assistance in realtime! A newer application called Visual Novel Reader also looks like it has some amazing features, including many of the things you can get from the previous two tools, in addition to other features like crowd-sourced translations!

To get started with setting up the software and choosing some easy visual novels, you might want to check out this article at Visual Novel Tea Party, or the visualnovels subreddit, which has a list of easy VNs to start with, and a guide to getting your software set up.

Finally, if you just want to check this stuff out without having to spend a lot of time figuring out how to work all this stuff, you might want to take a look at The Asenheim Project, which has several older Visual Novels emulated through Javascript, allowing you to play them through your web browser and look up words using Rikaichan. Most of the VNs listed here have English translations available, so you could open two browser windows side-by-side, with the Japanese version in one and English in the other!

Remember to Have Fun

Trying to play games in Japanese, especially when you aren’t that good at Japanese, can be really stressful. If it’s not working for you, don’t force it! Step back for a bit and study some more, and maybe you will be ready later on. Games are supposed to be fun, so don’t let learning take all of the fun out of them!

And every now and then, you just need to unwind and relax. Here are some things to check out when you need a break:

Game Center CX

Most gamers will probably enjoy watching Game Center CX, a Japanese television show dedicated to retro gaming. It’s been going for over 10 years, and most of the episodes have been fansubbed! While the Japanese tends to be on the more difficult side in my opinion, its a fun distraction that gives a lot of insight into the Japanese viewpoint on retro games.

Legends of Localization

A cool website that I stumbled across is Legends of Localization, which takes a look at various questions regarding the translation and localization of games, and goes back to look at the original Japanese, to see what the games were really saying. It also has some in-depth comparisons between the English and Japanese versions of several games, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Earthbound, Final Fantasy IV, and more!

Alright, that’s it for now! In my next post, I will be listing my top 11 games for Japanese learners!

How to rename and organize files from JapanesePod101.com

JapanesePod101.com has thousands of audio tracks, pdf documents, and videos that you can easily download all at once through an XML feed. But, the files all have cryptic filenames and the MP3s have inconsistent, missing, or altogether wrong ID3 tags, which make it impossible to know what’s what! If you try sorting things by filename, lessons from a particular season don’t even get grouped together or appear in order! Its a total mess!!

So, I’m going to walk you through the process of getting things cleaned up and organized!

Download the files

My Feed

First of all, you need to download the files from JapanesePod101.com. Premium members can use the “My Feed” option to set up a feed that contains all the files you want. If you don’t currently have an account with JapanesePod101.com, I would recommend reading my review of it, which tells you how to sign up for a free trial of their premium service.

You can then use the feed to download the files to your computer. I suppose most people use iTunes. Juice seems to be another popular podcast downloading tool, but I couldn’t get it to work on my computer. I had success using RSS Owl to download the podcasts.

Renaming the files

Since the format of the filenames does not remain consistent, standard file renaming tools are not much help here. Completely frustrated, I resorted to making my own program to rename the files. I will share it here, but it only runs on Windows, though I will include the source code if you would like to try porting it to another system.

Also please note, that this program was only made for my personal use, so it has NOT been thoroughly tested or debugged. It is entirely possible that you could lose your files, or it could rename/damage something unrelated. That shouldn’t happen though, but just be warned that I take no responsibility! Again, the source code will be there if you want to inspect it.

And before you begin, BACK UP YOUR FILES BEFORE RUNNING THIS PROGRAM ON THEM!!!

JapanesePodRenamer

Download JapanesePodRenamer for Windows – Click Here

This program will basically turns filenames like this: 215_B108_081006_jpod101_dialog.mp3
Into something like this: Beginner Lesson #108 – A Way with Words – Dialog.mp3

Instructions

First, you need to download a copy of the XML file that Japanesepod101.com uses for their RSS feed. This can be obtained from the “My Feed” area of their website. If you can’t figure out how to actually download a copy of the xml file to your pc, try emailing the url to yourself. This will give you a link that you can right-click on and then “save as”. Next, you need to have actually downloaded the files from this RSS feed onto your PC (for example, the actual mp3 or pdf files). The files should all be collected into a single folder.

Then, open up JapanesePodRenamer, and click the “Select Folder” button to select the folder your files are stored in.

Then press the “Select XML” button to select the XML file that you downloaded. When you do this, you should see the list fill up with filenames and titles that were extracted from the XML file. This has no purpose other than verifying that you loaded a valid file.

Finally, after making sure you have first backed up your content, press the “Rename” button, and your files will get renamed.

Sorting

sorted into folders

Once the files have been renamed, it shouldn’t take you long to manually sort them all out into separate folders if you want to. I would highly recommend it, as it will make the process of correcting the ID3 tags a bit easier.

Correcting ID3 Tags

mp3tag

Now for the final step, correcting the ID3 tags, so that the MP3 files will show up with correct titles, album, and so on. While there are numerous programs out there for editing these tags, I found that the best one for me was MP3Tag. It is a Windows program, but apparently can run on OS X and Linux through Wine.

Now, I’m not going to write up a full tutorial to the program itself, as I’ll leave that for you to figure out. The program is pretty straightforward though. But basically, first you want to make sure that the “Album” tag is named for the title of the Season that the lesson comes from. For example, Newbie Season 2 will have some files that have the album listed as “Newbie Lesson S2”, and some just listed as “Newbie Lesson”. If you have correctly sorted all of the seasons lessons into a folder, then this is as simple as selecting all of that folder’s files within MP3Tag, and then batch edit the Album title for them on the left side pane.

You might also see that many of the titles are not consistent, with some having the season title before the lesson title, while some don’t.There are two buttons along the row at the top of the application which can help with this, which say “Tag – Filename” and “Filename – Tag” when you hover over them. These can either rename the files based on information from one of the tags (you would use the title tag of course), or you can rename the title tag based on the filenames, whichever might work better for a given situation. You might need to manually rename some things here or there. You will find that Newbie Season 1 is definitely the worst offender as far as things being inconsistent.

Track numbers can also be out of order. Once you have them all sorted by filename, you can easily fix the track numbers using the button along the top row that says “Autonumbering Wizard” when you hover over it.

Once you are finished, give yourself a pat on the back, and start practicing your Japanese listening!

Natsume

Natsume – Japanese Writing Support System

I want to tell you about an amazing tool that I have been using for a while, that seems to be relatively unknown amongst the majority of Japanese learners. It’s called Natsume, and it basically allows you to search for collocations from amongst a large corpus of native Japanese sentences. For more information on collocations and why they are beneficial for language learners, see this previous post I wrote.

This tool is especially beneficial for when you are trying to write in Japanese (it is called a writing support system, after all). You may often struggle knowing just which nouns go together with which verbs, or which particle makes the most sense to use. With the help of this tool, you can look up the words you are trying to use, and see just how they are typically used by native Japanese people.

Rather than go on all day about exactly what this thing is, I’ll just provide you with a short video that I put together explaining how to use it.

For further information on Natsume, I recommend reading this thesis by Bor Hodošček, as well as this journal article by the same author.

The sentences that Natsume pulls data from are from the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese.

Natsume – Japanese Writing Support System – 日本語作文支援システム

Kikisuuji – An android app for practicing number listening

I just published my first Andoid app. It’s called “Kikisuuji” which is totally a real word that I made up, meaning “number listening”.

So, what’s this all about anyways?

Well, numbers were always really tricky for me in Japanese. Not in the sense of merely understanding them. They are very straightforward and easy to learn. The problem for me is understanding numbers quickly and in real-time. If I hear a number in English, I just instantly know what number it is. I don’t have to sit there and think about it. It’s automatic. But in Japanese, if someone were to say today’s date to me, I might have to sit there mentally processing it for 5-10 seconds to figure out just exactly what numbers were spoken, and by that time I missed the rest of the conversation.

So, I created an app specifically to train my listening comprehension for numbers! Using text to speech technology, it will repeatedly call out random numbers, nonstop. Your task is to just try to understand the spoken numbers without falling behind! There are several settings to help control the speed and the types of numbers that are presented, so you can start off simply and then work your way up to more and more difficult numbers. You can also practice times and dates as well!

I’ve been using it myself for several days now, and I’m definitely seeing an improvement in my recognition speed, though I haven’t improved as fast as I would have hoped. But, slow and steady wins the race! I recommend just using it for a few minutes of Japanese listening practice every single day. If you try to go at it for an hour straight, that will probably only drive you to insanity.

Oh, and did I mention that its totally FREE?! So click over to the Google Play store and check it out!