Alright, so you read my previous post on how to learn Japanese through video games, but you are still having trouble choosing the perfect game start off with? Below you will find several of the top titles that I have frequently seen recommended on various forums and websites, along with some of my own additions, and my thoughts on each. Please check them out through videos or other means before playing, to ensure that you will be able to handle them! You will see several games developed by Level-5 here, because they are one of the few developers who make it a point to include furigana in their games. Thank you, Level 5! Also, this used to be my “Top 10 Games for Learning Japanese”, but then I noticed that I had miscounted and actually listed 11 games instead… sooo yea, now its my “Top 11 Games for Learning Japanese”.
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11) Phoenix Wright / 逆転裁判
For Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS & 3DS & IOS
I’ve seen several people recommending this one as a fairly easy game. And my first thoughts were “what in the world are these people smoking?!” This is a game with lots of vocabulary regarding crime and court and law, fairly heavy use of kanji without furigana, and people are saying it’s easy? Well, when you actually take a look at the game, it does seem like the majority of the text is actually fairly straightforward! But, it does undeniably have a lot of difficult vocabulary which you are going to need to know in order to get through these games. Fortunately, it looks like someone has put together a helpful vocabulary list. There are also scripts for several of the games available. Also, the 3DS version of Phoenix Wright Trilogy contains the Japanese version of the game!
10) Chrono Trigger / クロノ・トリガー
For SNES, Playstation & Nintendo DS
An undeniable classic, and often regarded as one of the finest RPGs of all time, fans of this game might want to give it a try in Japanese. While the game definitely does not try to simplify its language, there are some great scripts available from the Chrono Trigger Retranslation Project. You can find full scripts from both the original English and Japanese versions of the game, as well as a completely retranslated English script made by fans.
9) Ni No Kuni / ニノ国
For PS3 & Nintendo DS
I tried the first couple of hours of this game, and found the language a bit hard to follow in parts, but fairly straightforward in other parts. It’s also voiced and has subtitles with furigana. Not bad for those who are a bit more advanced in their Japanese ability. Note that the DS version uses a primitive form of copyright protection in which you must have an accompanying guidebook that comes with the game in order to draw secret symbols at certain points. You can not play the DS version without this book, unless you manage to find the contents elsewhere. From what I understand, the PS3 version does not require a separate book to play.
8) Professor Layton / レイトン教授
For Nintendo DS & 3DS
This series of Adventure/Puzzle games from Level-5 for the Nintendo DS and 3DS have a deep storyline that unfolds as you progress, but the main point of the game is solving puzzles. Sometimes they are very difficult puzzles. In order to solve these puzzles, you will need to be able to read the very specific instructions in Japanese that accompany each one–not necessarily an easy task! But if you happen to get stuck, there are lots of English language guides available to help you. The later games in the series include furigana over the kanji, and the first 2 games on Nintendo DS were re-released in a “friendly version” (フレンドリー版) that includes furigana. Note that the 3DS games are region locked.
7) Inazuma Eleven / イナズマイレブン
For Nintendo DS and 3DS
Another popular series by Level-5, these are RPGs about a soccer club! Since the story involves children, the language doesn’t get too complex, and the furigana is a big help. This series was popular enough that it spun off its own anime and manga series as well. Remember that with any 3DS games, they are region locked.
6) Dragon Quest IX / ドラゴンクエストIX
For Nintendo DS
One of the most highly acclaimed games for the Nintendo DS, this one isn’t bad for beginners! It has furigana, which makes things a lot easier!
5) Phantom Hourglass & Spirit Tracks / 夢幻の砂時計 & 大地の汽笛
For Nintendo DS
The two Legend of Zelda games released for Nintendo DS make good entry points for someone wanting to play Zelda games in Japanese. Because these are aimed at a younger audience than their console cousins, the language tends to be just a bit on the easier side. It also has furigana available when you touch the kanji!
All Nintendo Handhelds
Pokemon seems to be the main title that I see a lot of beginners wanting to try in Japanese. And it’s also a title that gets recommended a lot. But these games can be more difficult than you might think. I’ve tried playing through several of the Pokemon titles, and still had a lot of frustration and difficulty. A big aspect regarding Pokemon that a lot of people overlook, is the fact that it has so many different Pokemon, attacks, and items. Knowledge of what these things are is pretty critical to playing through the games, but with so many of them, you could easily end up spending more time learning these fictional names than you spend reading actual Japanese! The first several games in the series are written entirely in kana, but with Black & White for the Nintendo DS they introduced an option to enable kanji (but no furigana, unfortunately). Since Pokemon X & Y on 3DS, the American releases have included a Japanese language option.
3) Mother 3
For Gameboy Advance
A fantastic RPG that left many fans disappointed when it never got released outside of Japan, prompting fans to take matters into their own hands. But since you’re learning Japanese, who needs a western release?! The language in this game is fairly straightforward for the most part. This game’s text is mostly restricted to kana, so you don’t have to worry about difficult kanji throwing you off. Best of all, there are both English and Japanese scripts available.
2) Youkai Watch / 妖怪ウォッチ
This game has taken Japan by storm, but has yet to be brought to the rest of the world. This is an innovative and fun game from Level-5 that shows some inspiration from Pokemon, and also happens to have some of the easiest Japanese I have seen in any game. I was also really impressed by the attention to detail that makes this feel like you are really in a Japanese town. Your character even takes off his shoes when walking inside his home! The video above goes to a live playthrough translation of the game, so by following along you can be sure to understand everything in the game!
1) Little Charo Travels in English / えいごで旅する：リトル・チャロ
Here it is, the absolute best game for beginners to play! Little Charo was originally a Japanese television program designed to help teach English, and later on a Nintendo DS game was released which followed the main storyline from the TV series, but expanded on it greatly. We have a game here that is designed for the purpose of helping to teach English to Japanese people, so why in the world would this game be good for Japanese learners?! The answer to that lies in the fact that this game is fully bilingual, and you can change the text from English to Japanese at the press of a button. Because they purposefully keep the English from getting too difficult, a side effect of this is that the Japanese translation is also kept from getting too difficult! As a result, this game ends up being almost as effective for Japanese learners as it is for English learners! The game itself is actually a visual novel for the most part, and it has more than 25 chapters to keep you busy for a long time. I only have one real criticism of this game, and that is the fact that there is no furigana available. And they don’t hold back on kanji use! There are over 1300 kanji used in this game. However, this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that there are full scripts available. I am planning to have a huge ongoing feature on this game starting from my next article. Be sure to check it out!
Do you know some other great games for Japanese beginners? Let me know in the comments!