Conquering past foes: Wind Waker

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.



Gaming to study: Choosing your game well.

So, you have learned several things to keep in mind about import gaming with language learning as a desired result. You know to set goals, so that you know what you want to get out of a game, and can focus on getting that aspect. You know the keep in mind your level. You know the importance of actually using a dictionary and using it to learn the vocab. You know to think about how game features might help you learn. You know that convention is a useful shortcut through some game systems, but that you shouldn’t just skip the text. And you know that you can rely on your intuition to work out the overall meaning of a sentence.

But that is all focused on you, the player. This is about helping you identify games that might be well suited for second language playing.


Please bare in mind that while I focus on Japanese games, import gaming is not limited to this country. Germany, Korea, China and many other countries all have a huge amount of interesting games that don’t get released elsewhere, and while this advice is tailored to Japanese games, I am sure some of it will transfer.



Continue reading

Game or study? Why choose when you can do both!

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.

Continue reading