Back in our Tips From John-sensei post, I mentioned that it’s very important to have fun while learning Japanese. Well, video games are fun – and the DS is a great resource for the Japanese learner. American DS systems are region free, so all Japanese games will work on American DS systems. There are also a handful of games that have the kana written above the kanji which is a great help for learning the readings and meanings of new kanji. I’ve compiled a list of the 5 best DS games to play in Japanese (you can trust me because I’ve played them all myself!) and now I’d like to share them with you. Read on and start having fun with your Japanese!
5. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Dark Dawn is the third title in the Golden Sun series, and is set 30 years after the events of the first two games. The story is more or less just another tale where the heroes band together to fight the forces of evil and save the world. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a good RPG. You think of a standard and solid RPG, and this is it. It’s got some interesting mechanics, and the Djinn system spices things up a bit, but overall it’s very traditional. The story is interesting and I enjoyed playing it. It’s not really a stand out game though, so don’t expect to be wowed by anything.
If you’ve played a Japanese RPG before, you’ll know what to expect here. It certainly won’t let you down though. Golden Sun is a very solid choice, especially if you’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the series.
Check out the video review of the English version from Gametrailers here.
4. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
I’ve always really enjoyed the Dragon Quest games. The story is pretty thick in them though, so if your Japanese isn’t all that great, you may find yourself getting lost or confused quite a bit, but that’s what online guides are for. I recommend making good use of Gamefaqs.com. Some guides are based on the Japanese versions and will even give you translations of the dialogue or the menus. At the very least, you can use it as a reference to make sure you stay on track and don’t get too frustrated with your journey. In Dragon Quest IX you play as a guardian angel who has become human and travels around from town to town fixing everything for everyone.
The streamlined multiplayer support is also very nicely implemented, but you’ll need some friends who own a copy. Regretfully I’m not sure if American versions are compatible with the Japanese versions of the game, but as the Pokemon games work just fine together, I would assume that’s the case for Dragon Quest as well. Game on!
Check out the video review of the English version from Gametrailers here.
3. Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi
In Ni No Kuni, Studio Ghibli teams up with Level-5 to create a magical role-playing game that stars a young boy named Oliver who receives a magical book that takes him into another world.
Ni No Kuni is a beautiful game. The cut scenes and voice acting both are superb and really make for an enjoyable experience. It’s half like watching an anime, and half like playing a great game. If story is important to you, you can’t go wrong with this one. This is also the only game on this list that hasn’t been localized yet. Ni No Kuni will becoming to American shores early 2012. At least that’s the plan, anyway.
The girl from these CMs is also one half of the phenomenon responsible for bringing us this ridiculously adorable song.
Check out a trailer for the Japanese version here. Sorry, no review for this one :(
2. The Legend of Zelda Games
ゼルダの伝説夢幻の砂時計 (Phantom Hourglass)
ゼルダの伝説大地の汽笛 (Spirit Tracks)
We all know what to expect as far as story goes with the Zelda games. You play as Link, and your job is to save the princess. Phantom Hourglass has impressive visuals, beautiful music, and a huge world packed with plenty of things to experience. What it was missing, however, was some of the hardcore difficulty and classic dungeon puzzles that longtime Zelda fans had come to expect from the series.
Spirit Tracks is pretty similar, but improved upon in nearly every way. Spirit Tracks delivers amazing boss battles, stunning dungeons, and a substantially longer adventure overall. Both Zelda titles are great and equally helpful to the Japanese learner.
Check out the video review of the English version of Spirit Tracks from Gametrailers here.
1. Professor Layton Games (Friendly Versions)
The stories in Professor Layton games revolve around puzzles. Pretty much everyone you interact with has a puzzle for you to solve to advance the story and in every game there is some overarching mystery for you to solve. The games are extremely enjoyable laid back experiences with some pretty challenging and clever puzzles to boot. Once you play one Professor Layton game, you’ll know what to expect from the rest of the series. Greatness.
What makes this the best DS game for Japanese learning is the wonderful voice acting, clever puzzles, and relatively linear story. Make sure you check out the “Friendly Versions” though. The non-friendly versions do not have kana readings above the kanji which makes for a much more difficult reading experience if you don’t know that many kanji yet.
In the Japanese versions of Professor Layton games, the puzzle aspect is nearly doubled when you first have to decode the instructions from Japanese, and then once you actually understand what is being asked of you, you get to work on a clever and engaging puzzle. And like I said, the games are very linear, so even if you miss a few lines of dialogue here and there, you don’t have to worry about getting lost. The Professor Layton games are great fun and very beneficial to the Japanese learner. If you only check out one game from this list, make it Professor Layton.
Check out the video review of the English version of Diabolical Box from Gametrailers here.
How to Study With Japanese Video Games
The way I study with Japanese video games is pretty simple. I play the game, look up words and phrases I don’t know, then add those to an Anki deck. (If you haven’t heard of Anki before, check out our review of it here.) I usually play the game until I get to a certain number of new things, usually about a page full, and then I’ll stop playing and add those into an Anki deck. Before I play the game again, I’ll review the Anki deck I created and then start the whole process over again.
Once you get a bit better at Japanese, you can start playing the game and just inferring from the context what the new words and phrases mean and only make cards out of the things that totally stump you.
Like I’ve said in previous posts, it’s important to not get frustrated with your studies, especially when you’re playing a game and trying to have fun. Even though you’re playing a video game, it’s still in a foreign language, and things could get frustrating and discouraging if you’re not careful. So set yourself some sort of limit for how long you’ll play or study with a game and quit while you’re still having fun so you’ll be looking forward to coming back to it.
And also, please try to avoid just mashing the A button through all of the dialogue so you can get back to the gameplay. It’s an understandable temptation (heck, I’ve done it before), but you’re really not doing yourself any favors. You might as well just be playing the game in English. But in most cases this can be avoided as long as you quit while you’re still having fun with it and before you get frustrated.
Even though you’re already playing a game, it’s still important to still keep fun in mind. You’re not going to like every game you play, so if you’re playing something in Japanese, don’t tough it out if you don’t actually enjoy the game itself. Find a game you know you would enjoy regardless of the language.
As your skills progress, you’ll be able to graduate on to imported games that don’t provide kana readings for all the kanji. Think of all the games you’ll be able to play and enjoy before all your friends! It’s totally worth it, so stick with it and don’t give up!