I’m Impatient and Want to Play Japanese Video Games

Steam offers games in multiple languages, including Japanese

Anyone who knows me, should be able to tell you that video games have been a rather significant part of my life. Some of the most solid memories of my youth involve the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis… and this hobby has carried through into adulthood where I’ve dabbled in indie development and now work as a VFX artist during the day. And you can bet that playing games is still one of my favourite things to do.

2015As you can see over to the right there, I actually kept track of all of the games I took to completion last year. Two years ago, I even attempted to write some mini reviews on the games I had been playing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I likes me some video games.

So it’s actually kind of odd for me right now. I’ve been so busy this year with attempting to learn Japanese, that the only game I’ve been playing is Influent. And let’s be honest here… Influent is gamification… which doesn’t quite scratch the same itch as Mega Man.

So after a whole month and a half of no games, I’m starting to feel that need in my blood. The beast needs to be satiated. But I’m going to stick with my goal, and the next game that I play is going to be Japanese. Which begs the question:

What Are Some Suitable Games For A Beginner in Japanese?

What do I already own?
What do friends have to say on the matter?
What does the interwebs have to say on the matter?

What Do I Already Own?

Well, let’s start with what little I’ve already looked into, and then come up with some sort of a game plan. Get it? I’m a fucking hoot.

It turns out that there’s a few games I’ve already got on Steam that are multi-lingual. Perhaps it’s not immediately obvious, but when you set-up your Steam account, you probably did it in your native language. But you can set games to different languages should you so desire. Valve hasn’t made the process entirely simple… they don’t provide a simple method for you to detect whether a game you own is available in multiple languages. You can search Steam and filter by a given language… In our case, there are over 2800 Japanese language games items (including DLC).

Steam makes this process annoying enough to figure out, but at least I *have* the ability to look. I couldn’t begin to guess whether or not any of the games I own on consoles have Japanese language options. I’m going to just assume they don’t. Apparently Fez, which I own on gog.com has Japanese support… but… my head hurts trying to imagine playing Fez in a different language given that it’s already in Tesseract tongues.

The following are games that I already own, that could be played in Japanese. I’m going to go ahead and cross off any of the ones I’m uninterested in playing in Japanese as I’ve already either completed or simply don’t wish to resume playing in a different language.

    – Botanicula
    – Braid
    – Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
    – Crysis 2
    – Dust: An Elysian Tail
    – Fable – The Lost Chapters
    – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
    – Influent
    – Left 4 Dead
    – Left 4 Dead 2
    – Limbo
    – Mark of the Ninja
    – Mercenary Kings
    – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
    – Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
    – Mighty Gunvolt
    – Never Alone
    – Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
    – Ori and the Blind Forest
    – Papers, Please
    – Portal
    – Portal 2
    – Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
    – Rocksmith 2014
    – Saints Row IV
    – Sid Meier’s Civilization V
    – Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
    – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Which leaves me with a shortened list:

    – Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons :: The help and interface might be in Japanese, but there is no dialogue / narration, so this is approachable.
    – Crysis 2 :: Has full on Kanji and Audio with no real pause capabilities in order to take time to translate. Not approachable as a beginner.
    – Fable – The Lost Chapters :: While there is plenty of dialogue here that could be translated, it also has full on Kanji and Audio with no real pause capabilities in order to take time to translate. Not approachable as a beginner.
    – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams :: Aside from the menus, there’s no language barrier at all for the game, so this is approachable
    – Mercenary Kings :: There are some cut scenes. The only way I’m going to be able to translate these is if I screen capture and take the time to do so… but each level also has pausable intro text… which means translating is an option. There’s enough stuff that pops up on screen… that… it might be worth it to play with screen captures, then go back and translate before doing the next level. I might actually be able to learn some basic nouns (papaya, dragon fruit). Approachable.
    – Never Alone :: Frankly, I’m more interested in playing this one in English as it looks like there’s a lot of information about the Inuit people here, and I’ll appreciate the non-fiction more in my native language.
    – Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee :: The Japanese Audio during cut scenes, and scrolling text in-game means that for now, as a beginner, this is a no-go.
    – Papers, Please :: I’ve tried the demo in English, and this game is too reliant on speed. There’s no way I’ll be able to play this in Japanese right now.
    – Portal 2 :: Way too much kanji at the moment. I can’t quite tell from watching on YouTube whether the subtitles wait for you to push a button before disappearing…. but the audio is in English, so… I think I’m going to skip this one until I know some kanji.
    – Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken :: It appears that there is almost no written stuff in-game, so this is approachable. There are cut scenes. I’d have to screen capture, and then go back to translate. No idea how much kanji is involved… but it might be doable.
    – Saints Row IV :: There’s just way too much dialogue that is unpausable here. Not approachable.

Which finally leaves me with just a small list to start with. And in what I feel would be a suitable order, we’ve got:

What Do Friends Have To Say On The Matter?

1024px-Nintendo-DS-Lite-Black-OpenNow I’m not entirely sure what my preferred method for playing games will be. I know that it’s easy to get a Japanese account on the PSN. Since I have my PS3 right next to my feet, attached to my monitor/headphones… I know that’s a route I could take. But from what I understand, any modern game is going to contain lots of kanji. It would be nicer to not have to deal with kanji immediately since that’s going to require a lot more effort.

I’m also not keen to invest in any more consoles at the moment as I never know when I’ll move next (but it’s bound to happen eventually) and so I want to keep clutter to a minimum. So picking up something like a retron 5 seems out of the question. This means I might find myself emulating some games. But luckily for me, GameBoy, GBA, and Nintendo DS games all are region free. So with my handy DS Lite I could also freely import any game that’s been released for GB, GBC, GBA, or NDS. That’s a lot of open doors, and the games will take up next to no extra space in my apartment.

I haven’t done a tremendous amount of polling given that there’s a small ratio of my friends who have learned Japanese, however I always have the reliable Matt to get advice from on nerdy shit. After a brief discussion with him where I posed the question “Any Japanese RPG’s from Famicom/Super Famicom days you’d recommend?” he recommended that I stick to stuff that takes place in modern day such as Mother 1,2,3 (Earthbound). While he’s aware that I tend to prefer stuff like Dragon Quest and Fire Emblem, that stuff tends to have stylized/old timey dialogue such as “thou” and obvious references to sword/armor combinations that might not benefit me tremendously in day-to-day conversation.

So basically:

    – Try to find games that take place in modern day to learn relevant vocabulary
    – Avoid RPG’s early on since there will be an extreme amount of dialogue that will need to be translated
    – Actiony type stuff will give space to actually play the game and have fun. Old school games like Zelda 2 / Battle of Olympus also have minimal kanji to deal with.

Particular Games He Recommends Include:

    ファミコン探偵倶楽部 (Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Kōkeisha) – The game is a standard command-style adventure. The player chooses from a set of text commands to interrogate, examine, or move from place to place. The setting of the secluded mansion gave the game a tense and horror movie-like atmosphere which was well received by fans. The original Famicom Disk System version requires the player to switch the Disk Cards midway through the game, but the Game Boy Advance version can be played without such interruptions.
    リンクの冒険 (Zelda 2) – Now this one I’ve played extensively already. I can see the merit of playing this as there’s pretty limited dialogue in it. I should also be able to get this on Game Boy Advance.
    アルゴスの戦士 (Rygar) – This is a side scrolling Metroidvania… so I think I’d like it, but it’s not available without emulation/famicom
    オリュンポスの戦い (Battle of Olympus) – This one plays like Zelda 2, and is a game I remember trying as a kid and really liking. It was a rental though and I never made it all the way through. It’s exciting to think about picking this one up. Unfortunately, this would need to be emulation/famicom as the only GameBoy release was EU (so not Japanese).
    ファザナドゥ (Faxanadu) – This one I remember playing as a kid too and wouldn’t mind playing again. This one would be emulation/famicom
    ゴッド・スレイヤー はるか天空のソナタ (Crystalis) – A 1990 action RPG/action-adventure video game produced by SNK for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The GameBoy Color version is only in English and is seen to be not enjoyable compared to the NES.
    メタルマックス (Metal Max) – a 1991 vehicle combat role-playing video game developed by Crea-Tech and published by Data East for the Nintendo Famicom exclusively in Japan on May 24, 1991. This sounds appealing as Metal Max was an early example of an open-ended and non-linear role-playing video game. It lacked a predetermined story path, but the player was instead given the choice of which missions to follow in whatever order while being able to visit any place in the game world. The ending can be determined by the player, who can alter the ending through their actions, complete the game at almost any time, and can continue playing the game even after the ending. But as an RPG, I’m worried about initial difficulty. It’s also going to be emulation/famicom only… so I’ll likely hold off on this one for a while.
    ラグランジュポイント (Lagrange Point) – Lagrange Point has the distinction of being the only game ever released with Konami’s VRC7 sound generator integrated circuit. That’s kind of exciting! Maybe I really should consider getting a Famicom…

While I’m interested in Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo Zenin Shugo, Matt’s suggestion remains the same as with Dragon Quest -> Be prepared for weird grammar. Maybe I should give Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (River City Ransom) a shot though.

Another suggestion that had come up via Facebook included:
ジーザス:恐怖のバイオ・モンスタ (Jesus: Kyōfu no Bio Monster) – An Enix game which proceeds as a linear adventure game in which the player chooses an action and what to perform the action on. These actions vary based on the room and situation. Although the game implies some danger, it does not seem to be possible to lose the game. It looks like Famicom is the way to go with this title. Music by the amazing Koichi Sugiyama. Though I think there’s enough Kanji here to make me wait until I’m much further along in my study.

What Does The Interwebs Have To Say On The Matter?

Screenshot_20160213-012436Quite a bit actually! Are you surprised to learn that you and I are not the first people to have thought to use video games as a learning resource? I tried to keep my searches specific, but there’s actually quite a few recommendations out there on where to begin.

I’ll revisit this topic once I get a chance to chew through my existing four Steam titles. Those should keep me occupied in the immediate future, so for now I’m just going to give the urls that I’ve been storing up in my phone. (That way I can clear them out of my phone!).