When I went on exchange 10 years ago, I learned the joys of the Japanese second hand gaming market, I quickly amassed a number of Japanese games, most of which I really couldn’t play due to the language barrior. But my host family had a gamecube, and so when I saw Wind Waker for 1280 yen (about 12US) I couldn’t resist. I booted it up, and very, very slowly tried to work my way through it. It had furigana in it! But… the TV I was playing on wasn’t really high enough quality to actually make them readable. In fact, I didn’t know the original Wind Waker had furigana in it until I did some research!
However, through a combination of a terrible TV, extremely basic Japanese skills, and impatience, combined with a physical pocket dictionary designed for everyday use and not things like “ghost ship.” I was ultimately unable to get through the game. Giving up somewhere around the 3rd temple. Later in 2008 or so I would obtain a PAL English version for an Australian Gamecube I was given by a dear friend, and me and a different dear friend worked together to play through a large amount, with the game somehow getting lost before I finished collecting the Tri Force hunt.
With Japanese lent having removed my interest in playing games in English that aren’t systemically very complex or story driven, I’m now in a situation where I may never play a Zelda game in English ever again. The series is so remarkably well designed with visual cues, that even with my skill level 10 years ago I was able to make some good progress despite being functionally illiterate. The Zelda series, until recently, always used it’s visuals and world design to communicate a lot more than you might notice as a literate person. Additionally, with important words highlighted in read, that can also limit language checks a little too.
So, having started it again, how did I do? Did I finally finish it?
Yes I did.
Given how troubled my experience of playing it the first time all those years ago with language constantly getting in my way, ultimately feeling defeated by the fact as good as my language was, it wasn’t enough, it was nice go through it relatively problem free language wise. Not that I understood everything of course, but I was able to nicely follow even a lot of the nuance with the script and characters. That being said, I for all the Japanese games I’ve now played, every game makes me more and more impressed with just how well Nintendo localizes games generally.
Obviously given 10 years, with some extra study in there, it’s not at all surprising I could get through a game that is designed to be somewhat accommodating to children who can barely read. The point here is less my ability to do this, but to defeat something that previously had defeated me. Maybe I should try and read those Full Metal Alchemist manga I bought then too…
Oh and Wind Waker as a game? It’s pretty good. Although… for all its strengths it is a pretty flawed entry in the series.