A while back I wrote about the Top 5 Nintendo DS Games for Learning Japanese. I still think that those are great resources for gamers learning Japanese, but what if you’ve already played those? What if you crave more extreme graphics and more complicated technology? Well in that case, we’ve got the 3DS.

Japanese games with furigana (pronunciation kana over the kanji) are always nice for learning Japanese because they make for easy lookups on kanji you don’t know. The game company Level-5 made some great DS games with furigana and their latest portable offering, Youkai Watch, looks like it could be another winner.

Why Might I Want a 3DS?

[yframe url=’’]

As with anything, there are pros and cons. First off, you need to be pretty decent at Japanese (think early intermediate and above) to get the most out of a study material like video games. If not, you’ll be looking up a lot of words and not getting the sentence structure and grammar and might end up just frustrating yourself further. We don’t want that. If you’ve ever tried to read Japanese media like manga before, you probably have a pretty good idea of how well you’d be able to handle something like this.

So, if you’ve determined something like this is within your abilities, let’s check out the potential pros and cons.


Advantages of a Japanese 3DS

  • You Can Play Games that Never Come Out in Your Home Country: Of course this is an advantage that comes with owning any Japanese game system. You’ll have access to a lot more titles, some you probably didn’t even know existed. All your friends will be super jealous.
  • It’s Backwards Compatible With Regular DS Games: Just in case you never jumped on the Nintendo DS bandwagon, the 3DS is backwards compatible with old DS games so you can play awesome Japanese titles like these.
  • It’s Great, Fun Practice: You learn the most when you’re having fun. It’s true. So if you like video games, you’ll have fun studying this way and you’ll learn words relevant to your video game interests and make subsequent games all the more easy to understand and enjoy.
  • The Japanese Yen is Currently Weak: Like Hashi mentioned earlier this week, the Japanese yen is weak right now which increases the buying power of your foreign currency. Why not take advantage of this opportunity and get a Japanese 3DS and some games on the relative cheap?


Disadvantages of a Japanese 3DS

  • The System and the Games Cost Money: Regardless of the yen being weak, a 3DS and games still cost some cash. If you don’t have too much extra dough to throw around or you’re on the fence about whether or not you’ll be able to handle this level of Japanese, you might be better off using some free or slightly cheaper materials on the internet or elsewhere. There’s plenty of other Japanese media out there to consume.
  • Not All Games Have Furigana: Again, this depends on your Japanese ability. Personally, I dislike playing games without furigana because it gets really frustrating trying to look up new kanji, especially when some of the characters are small and slightly pixelated on the screen. But if you’re super good at kanji, this won’t be as big of an issue for you.

Bottom Line

If you know you can handle the Japanese level in video games and have some disposable income to spend on a Japanese 3DS system and games, this is a no-brainer. Assuming you like video games, that is.

Youkai Watch

[yframe url=’’]

Like I mentioned before, Level-5 is coming out with a new 3DS game soon. This is the game that inspired me to write this post because it looks really cool and exemplifies all the great things about playing a Japanese 3DS game.

Youkai Watch takes place in Sakura New Town and stars a protagonist named Keta, who’s joined by two youkai (Japanese ghosts), Jibanya and Whisper. In the game you’ll be exploring towns, advancing the story, and fighting battles. Using Keta’s special watch, you track down and recruit other youkai into your battle roster, kind of like Pokemon.


The various youkai all have their own moves in battles which are controlled via the 3DS touch screen. Three youkai can be active in battle at any given time and they can be rotated in as you see in the video above. There’s also an “Aim” command which allows you aim at enemies using the stylus for a super awesome hyper-tensioned ultra ultimate massive attack. Or something.

Anyway, the game looks like it could be super fun. RPG games are always the best for Japanese practice because of all the spoken dialogue and text in battle and menus and such. Games similar to Pokemon are great because everyone loves Pokemon. The only reason I never recommended Pokemon games before was because to my knowledge they never had a furigana option.


Luckily, as with most Level-5 games, furigana is included in Youkai Watch. This makes it much easier to read and look up kanji and words you’re unfamiliar with. Nothing’s worse than reading along in a Japanese sentence and stopping because you don’t know how to pronounce a word, let alone know what it means.

So tell me, have you ever played any Japanese 3DS games? Have any suggestions for good Japanese games to play, 3DS or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!

  • Hamyo

    Nice article john, dating sims or Visual novel is still a great way to learn japanese from the game instead of pretty much girl on it. XD Well.. just want to remind you about love plus because it’s still recomended i guess. :D

  • piderman

    I have a EU 3DS already, it’s just a bother that it’s region locked. I don’t think I’ll pay up for another one of these, there aren’t *that* many games for it. I’ll just import stuff for my old regular DS :)

    Also, Steins;Gate on iOS :D

  • HatsuHazama

    It’s a shame the 3DS is region locked, otherwise I might have considered doing some importing. But hey, I got me a Vita, so at least I can import something.

    One other possible disadvantage I’d say is that Japanese games prices can still seem ridiculously high if you’re in another country. I was looking at the download cost of Vocaloid: Project Diva f (download) and even after all about a year (I think), it comes out £10 more expensive than a brand new European Vita game.

  • kimseongja

    the latest pokemon games do have the option to either have kanji or hiragana only

  • John

    Yeah, it’s lousy when things are region locked :(

  • John

    Yeah, I know. Too bad there’s still no furigana option!


    Thanks John.

  • Margaret Denholm

    You have no idea how timely this is. I’ve been debating whether I should pick up a Japanese 3DS during my trip since I already have the NA model.

  • Patryk Grabowski

    I still can’t forgive Nintendo making the 3DS region locked. :( What’s the point to it, anyway?

  • Jasmin Darnell

    Is the only difference between Japanese 3DS and western 3DS the ability to run Japanese games? And do you know if either system will play games from the other country, western game->jp DS, or jp game->western DS? I’m really interested in buying a Japanese DS if it’s the only way to play Japanese games

  • John

    Unfortunately the system is region locked, so the only way to play Japanese 3DS games is to have a Japanese 3DS :(

    However, the regular DS is region-free, so you can play Japanese DS games on a Western DS. So if you haven’t played any Japanese DS games and already have a Western DS, that’d be a cheaper option.

  • John

    If you’ve got the cash and the Japanese skill level, go for it!

  • Henro 88

    The Zelda games for DSLite had a system where you would touch the kanji and the furigana would pop out. It was absolutely amazing, and I recommend that for anyone trying to use a game to study.

    The kanji in Pokemon are relatively easy – it’s a children’s game. I’m playing it now (ostensibly with my son, but he quit months ago), and there are some difficult kanji, but they are often presented in multiple ways. Like, say, during a battle, you might get a kanji, but if you look at the TM for the move, it’s in kana. Anyway, yeah, I’ve learned a few good words from Pokemon, so it’s worth checking out.

  • Henro 88

    I just want to throw out that I bought a 3DS for my own birthday solely because I absolutely love anything stereographic.

    Oh! And maybe I can give a recommendation! There is a piece of software, the Genius Kanji Dictionary for DS that you can get – it has touch pen input – meaning, you can look at a new kanji and then just write it in your DS and find out what it means. I used to use it CONSTANTLY when I had translations at work. It is absolutely essential if you’ve got a DS and you want to learn Japanese!

  • John S.

    Do PS3 and Wii games feature furigana? Or is this usually only for DS games? (Yeah I know DS will have more text, but more with games like Skyward Sword etc.)

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Depends on the game. A good way to find out is to Google the name of the game in Japanese and look for screenshots. Skyward Sword has furigana, but keep in mind that the Wii is region locked.

  • Hannah Whittingham

    Yeah, I’ve really been wanting to get a Japanese 3DS. (Even though I already have an North American 3DS) xD ♥ I REALLY want “New Love Plus” SO BADLY! Gaaaah! But my Japanese just isn’t at a high enough level yet where it would be worth it. And throwing down $200 for a 3DS, and another $50 for a game does take a bit of a blow. I’m still a student after all.

    But I still hope to get one in the feature, when my Japanese is better.

  • John

    Yeah, the Zelda games are great. I wrote about them in my DS games post. I tried to play one of the Pokemon games in Japanese back when I wasn’t so good at kanji and it was annoying for me, haha.

  • HokkaidoKuma

    About a month ago I was torn about buying a Vita or 3DS. I ultimately went with a Vita. However, if you get a Japanese 3DS you can get Monster Hunter 4 this summer, whereas Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate is about to come out in the US. Long story short, I’ll be picking up a Japanese 3DS as soon as Monster Hunter 4 comes out in Japan.

  • John S.

    Ok thanks!

  • Eustacia Tan

    Don’t forget games like the Ace Attorney and Professor Layton crossover!

    One day.

    My…. Precious…

  • Absolutionz

    You forgot the most important reason…. Link to The Past 2. That sir, is enough to convince the world to buy one.

  • Amy Wheeler

    DSi enhanced games, however, are region-locked. So just make sure you check for that little detail :)

  • Amy Wheeler

    I actually bought a Japanese 3DS about two weeks ago. Much cheaper than in Australia. So thank you for the game recommendation :)

  • Jaehoon Jeong

    A game that I’ve been playing, that has furigana, is Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Tobidase: Doubutsu Mori). Since a lot of the game revolves around conversations between characters, I find it fun to just read aloud the dialogues and get some reading practice out of that. Since there is furigana, looking up kanji is hell of a ton easier. The only really problem is that you need to understand that some characters speak informally and some don’t; some have dialects and some use keigo.

    Another game would be Pokemon Black/White (both 1 and 2) because they have a kana/kanji switch option. There’s no furigana though, so you should only use the kanji option if you already know a lot of them. Otherwise, the kana option isn’t a bad choice, and words are separated (unlike normal Japanese written works), so it makes for good practice as well.

  • Shollum

    Also keep in mind though that the Wii has been cracked open like a pecan, so it doesn’t really matter that it’s region locked anymore.

  • John

    I saw the trailers while I was looking up videos for this post, haha. Link to the Past was my favorite Zelda game. Hopefully the 2nd one lives up to the name.

  • Gregory Descamps

    Heck, i only knew my EU 3DS couldn’t read japanese games after buying it :(
    Oh well, i’ll stay on my PSP for japanese games.
    Do you guys have some suggestions for PSP japanese games? (i’m a beginner ^.^)

  • Gregory Descamps

    Sales of course !

  • CelestialSushi

    I bought a 3DS for my own birthday last year too :D It was a North American 3DS, but it was still one of the best purchases I’ve ever made :D
    And that Genius Kanji software… yes, I’ve heard of it! I would just hope it’s still available so I can spring for a copy when I get the chance.

  • Henro 88

    If you find it used, it’s unpopular and old enough that it might be as cheap as 1000 yen. The less popular a used game is here, the cheaper it is.

    Hm, it’s 20 bucks on Amazon, but I’m sure you could find it cheaper at Tsutaya or somewhere like that:

  • CelestialSushi

    Hmm… no offense to, but knowing their shipping rates to the US, I think I’d only order it from them if I was really desperate :/ But keeping an eye out for the used version on other sites is an option. Thanks :D

  • resuri

    Probably going to buy a Japanese 3DS if my Japanese comprehesion would be in an agreeable level. :) Until then, time to save some money for one.

  • Jeremy Writebol

    Are prices cheaper to buy a DS or 3DS in Japan vs. here the United States?

  • Lava Yuki

    At least the psp and ps3 arent region locked! So u can use games on those to learn Japanese.

  • shiroshitsuji

    Pokemon has a furigana option