So, recently I bought myself Hyrule Warriors in Japanese. It’s a fun, dumb beat em up so I thought what could be the problem. Plus it’s Zelda, so Furigana (pronunciation guide for kanji) will be there… And it was.
But the problem with a Warriors game I hadn’t considered was because it’s so real time and a lot of constant information, combined with my reading speed not being quite quick enough to catch everything. Curiously, in an attempt to seem more Zelda-like, cutscenes play out in real time, but with textboxes and the odd sampled “oh/gasp/what” which also left me without time to read some of the more complex parts, and certainly no chance to look up anything. Making this dumb game much more language intensive than expected.
So while I had planned to make an effort, right now all I’m able to do is get a gist and try and remember what words to look up later! This miscalculation got me thinking about gaming in Japanese when it is your second language, which I have been doing for about 8 years and so here is some advice on the subject of gaming in Japanese WITH THE INTENT TO LEARN.
I will cover some things to keep in when in Japanese when you don’t have learning as a core outcome another time. This advice assumes you have basic Japanese. ひらがな nor カタカ
should make you scared, but you still wince at 漢字.
1) Know what you want from any given game you play.
This is easily the most important advice you will ever hear for import gaming. Different games you play for different purposes, so what you do and don’t need to learn while playing changes greatly. If you are playing an Adventure game, but skipping through all the text you don’t understand, you probably aren’t getting what you want out of it, however, you can probably skip a system tutorial because that aspect isn’t so important to you and you can figure it out.
Here are some example goals for a few games
a) I want to enjoy the combat in Jump Ultimate Stars, I don’t care for any text I just want to progress. (So, no looking up, use a walkthrough to solve progression problems, not a study game, although you’ll notice patterns in the UI I’m sure)
b) I want to enjoy the gameplay in Hyrule Warriors. (So, looking up dictionaries for menus, and maybe alerts, but for story you’ll play by ear, or skim reading in this case)
c) I want to enjoy the voice performances in Umineko. (Since the main part of the enjoyment is the vocal performances, you might look up some words to confirm understanding, but this assumes already conversational Japanese, so the study goal here is listening)
d) I want to enjoy the story of Corpse Party in Japanese. (Enjoy is an odd word here, but this implies you will look up words until you have a good idea of most text boxes)
Now you have some goals you can prevent yourself getting sidetracked or obsessed with things that aren’t helping your goal.
2) Know your level!
Now you have a goal, it is important to see if that goal is viable. If you can’t read the following sentence, and are unsure how to approach it 私はオレンジジュースが大好きです, then maybe you should not be trying to play Final Fantasy VI in it’s native language. Just be reasonable, know where you struggle and be prepared to struggle.
Do keep in mind though that with patience, and a good understanding of dictionary look up you will be able to solve most language problems eventually. So, if your level is low, but you are prepared to be patient, you can struggle though even some painful visual novels with enough dedication.
3) Get a dictionary. Use it. Make lists.
If you are doing any kind of looking up in your games, you should probably make some kind of list to review with later. I use two applications mostly, on android I use JED, a basic dictionary, and “Japanese” for iOS. Both of which let me assign words to categories (usually game titles) for review, and as a quick reference while playing. Japanese for iOS can do flash cards with those lists to test you, a great way to check if you can remember the words cropping up.
Also, learn how to look up Kanji, it will help you. Trust me. Japanese for iOS has a decent Kanji drawing option, but is very fussy. The English Japanese dictionary for DS is incredible, but you’ll need to use a DS which you might not have, and the software is about 4000 yen, but if you have a good understanding of stoke order it will be right 9 times out of 10 for even the worst scribbles. Outside of those you’ll be learning either the radical or skip methods of look up, which can be frustrating.
But remember your goals. If you just want general understanding, not every unknown word needs to be dealt with right now. Think about your level, your goals, and where you want to be. Use intuition and assume parts of the text if you feel you have a good idea, and have already just looked up 4 words and want to progress a bit more quickly.
4) Use game features to your learning advantage!
Does your game have full voice acting? Backlog with the option to replay voices like Persona 4 Golden? Excellent, you are set for a pretty decent experience. You can use the voices to follow along with the Japanese text to help you get a feel for it, then can go back and read through to check meaning.
With higher resolutions on our handhelds and Nintendo making an effort, Furigana has never been in more games than this generations. While constantly looking up words is a pain, having Furigana to guide you without the time pressure of voice acting can be a relief. Many games still don’t have this so don’t assume it’s there.
5) Use genre conventions to reduce what you have to read.
Here is a screenshot of Final Fantasy VI in Japanese.
Now, lets assume you can’t read any of that. In JRPGs, it is pretty typical to list Strength first, so you know that much. And you know that within the other options there must be statuses for Defense, speed, magic and so on. You might also assume that the offensive stats will be in one clump, and defensive stats in another, or to be in magic or physical clumps. That all depends on the series.
In the command box, you can also probably assume that the top command is your generic attack, the bottom is probably item. The two numbers below the portrait, one quite big, the other smaller, probably XP to next level. But you can check that with a single battle.
Now, let’s look at this in english!
So we got a few things right. A few things wrong. Commands, XP and strength we were correct on. However, it seems stats this time were clumped by the left side being character stats, and the right, equipment stats. This probably would have come to light when equipping items.
Many many aspects in games you can apply genre conventions to. This saves you considerable time, and frustration. It is important to not just try and use convention plus trial and error to solve all problems, but don’t feel you need to look up every word either. (although, if you are playing a lot of JRPGs, every word on that Japanese menu, probably worth learning).
Always remember those learning goals, stat management language might not be what draws you in to Final Fantasy VI, so, if this speeds up the menus and let’s you worry more about the plot, do it.
6) Don’t over play.
Most games can be pretty demanding in new vocabulary. For english games, you might plan your playtime around actual time, but for language learning… Consider planning it around new vocab. 20-30 new words per session is quite a lot but can go through very quickly. I ran into maybe 20 new words I had to check in less than a hour playing The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (幽霊船, ゆうれいせん, ghost ship, handy word for one game…) Too much longer than this can be frustrating, exhausting, and make it difficult to learn words. Hit your set cap, flash card a few times before your next session, then start again. This ties in with your goals of course, If you don’t care about the story, then once you’ve learned menus, there will be little vocab to actually learn. But this is still important.
It’s important to not overplay as you want this to remain a fun experience. Moving on to…
7) DON’T SKIP ALL THE TEXT
“I just want to play the game!”
Stick with your goals, if you want to know the story to Moon RPG Remix, you can’t skip any of that text. I know it’s frustrating, but if you are playing to learn, then you need to try. Just noticing common words and maybe picking up a few of them wouldn’t be so bad. And if it’s voice acted, just let it wash over you, you never know what you might pick up from context, but again, don’t just skip the text, even it’s not crucial to your goals.
So that’s a lot of thoughts on gaming in Japanese to learn. In my best import gaming times I actually did all this, and it’s hard to maintain these good habits, so some games I slide on a lot more than I should.
Also finally, this article marks my intent to take on the 30 day writing challenge, where the goal is to produce at least 5 minutes of writing content every day, not all has to be published, but at least written with intent of publishing.