Last updated: sometime in 2015.

This page is still in-progress!! I have many more games to add that aren't as good as these other ones, and I have to add pictures!

Learning Japanese from playing videogames. The games:

• must be able to be fairly easily played without a walkthrough and without understanding ANYTHING.
• must not have too much, too little, or too stunted (unnatural) text.

Before real games, you should have (if you don't always have access to a computer or the internet):

1. (NDS) 漢字そのままDS楽引辞典 Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten:

A Japanese-English dictionary for the NDS, with handwriting recognition and word bookmarking function. I’ve heard many people say it’s even better than the $300 electronic dictionaries, in part because of the handwriting function. You can't play two games at the same time and switch between them on the DS, but if you are reading a magazine or something in real life then this is what you want to have alongside.

2. (NDS) 正しい漢字かきとりくん Tadashii kanji kakitori kun:

The best handwriting practise tool I've tried/seen so far. You can practise hiragana, katakana and kanji, and it's based on actual "good handwriting" instead of computer fonts like most other similar things use. Kanji are organized by which year in school Japanese kids learn them, and the three testing modes are "write the kanji" (with or without a kanji underlay that you can trace), "see the kanji in a sentence, write the hiragana", and vice versa. I only use the most basic feature. When you write a kanji you can also click a button to see its pronunciations and a definition in Japanese.

I put a piece of thin, clear vinyl (aka. a screen protector) overtop my DS screen and then use a non-mechanical pencil, colored pencil, or a pen that's run out of ink right on the DS screen, to better simulate actually writing on paper.

————— The games —————

#1 (3DS) とびだせ どうぶつの 森 Animal Crossing New Leaf (often abbreviated in English as ACNL):

It has a huge variety of speech patterns (ex. polite, impolite, semi-dialects...), yet most of the speech is fairly every-day, and you can still play the game without understanding anything. Almost every word has a picture attached in-game, except in dialogues and when reading mail. Every single kanji has furigana over it, there are spaces, and the game has real-life Japanese holidays (ex. setsubun, new year’s, children’s day) that are semi-practised and briefly explained in-game.

You can also go into online mode and play either with people you already know, or with strangers who own the same game. When you play with strangers you can choose to play with "only those from Japan" or "people from everywhere". The game isn't meant for you to talk a lot to other people so typing is a bit difficult, but you can still get writing practise with real people that way (tip: Japanese people will generally be shocked that your game says you're in Japan but you're not Japanese, and also some of them do NOT understand that you speak ZERO Japanese). You can send mail to people you've friended and then you can write longer messages.

As for the game itself, it doesn't have a plot. You catch fish and bugs, plant and pick fruits, play minigames, stuff like that, and then use the money to buy/upgrade your house, buy clothing, customize your character's hair, etc. This game is REALLY good for figuring out and practising the grammar and kanji that you've learnt.

Here are examples of dialogue (where the most reading happens). The actual normal gameplay has less text.

#2 (GBC) 二ノ国 Ni no kuni ("Two's country", it refers to a parallel world):

  About 1/3rd of the entire game is fully voice-acted, and there's furigana over every kanji even though the text is rather small. It repeats the words that it uses a LOT, and it's a very basic RPG game that's meant for both kids and adults. You can learn a huge amount just by context and seeing the same things over and over again even if you didn't know any Japanese other than hiragana and katakana when you first started playing. The dialogues can get rather long and sometimes you will want a walkthrough, lucky for you I started making one for everyone.

The plot of the game is that you're a little kid from the USA whose mother dies, and you find out that she might still be alive in a parallel world that has magic and stuff. The parallel world also has its own problems which you try to fix as you look for your mother.

#3 (GBC) ポケットモンスター 金 or 銀 (or クリスタル if not using an emulator on a DS): Pokemon Gold, Silver or Crystal:

You can play a Japanese game even on a gameboy color or gameboy advance from another part of the world. Currently, the 3DS and NDS can't emulate (meaning, trick the game into thinking it's being played on a real gameboy color) Crystal Version, because after a while there's a point where it has some kind of in-game event that the emulator can't handle and the game freezes and dies (the event is non-skippable!). Gold and Silver work fine as far as I know.

These games are entirely in hiragana and katakana with spaces. Unlike all other Pokemon games, these have enough dialogue that the speech isn't stilted and you can learn words from context, but it still doesn't have so much dialogue that if you can't already read it you're bored to death. Unlike the modern Pokémon games, these were made back when you didn't have to understand the text in order to beat the game.

In these games, you basically have little pet monsters that you walk around the whole country with, which you then fight wild monsters or other people with. The dialogue is usually very funny but also uses everyday words that you might already know, ex. "bug", "shop", "grandpa", "berry", "lemonade", "house". They also have useful words for when playing other videogames, such as "poison", "fight".