Here's how to learn Japanese simply by playing retro video games

galaxy fraulein yuna pc engine

Learning Japanese is hard and most people eventually give up when they realize they have to actually read books. You're not some kind of loser who reads books, right? Fortunately, there's another way. You can learn Japanese by doing what you already love. That's right, playing video games can help you learn Japanese.

You'll still need to put in some work learning grammar and vocabulary, but video games can act as great supplemental reading material for people learning a new language. Here are 5 ways that you can learn how to read Japanese with retro video games.

1. Animal Crossing (N64)

Animal Crossing was first released in Japan on the Nintendo 64. The N64 version of Animal Crossing was never released outside of Japan until it was finally ported to the GameCube. It was assumed that Western audiences wouldn't enjoy the game because it was too casual and very dialogue-heavy. However, the fact that there is so much dialogue in the game makes it a great choice for Japanese language students.

Unlike many other retro games, the font is Animal Crossing is very bold and very large, which makes it easy to read the characters if you're less familiar with them. The game is also beginner-friendly because most of the dialogue is written in kana (hiragana and katakana), which means you won't encounter any hard-to-read kanji while playing.

2. Dragon Quest IIIDragon Quest III Ortega Battle

Dragon Quest III is probably one of the most accessible options on this list. The game is incredibly easy to emulate because it was released on the Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System. You can even play it on your phone. There were also several remakes and re-releases which makes this game even easier to get your hands on. You might be inclined to play one of the releases on the SNES, Wii, PS4, 3DS, and Switch.

Whichever way you decide to play DQ3, it can be a useful tool during your journey into the Japanese language. Not only is there a lot of text to read, but the story is relatively compelling. To make the most out of it, try taking notes of new vocabulary words that you come across as you play the game.

3. PC-Engine games

The PC-Engine was a fourth generation console that never really found its footing outside of Japan. You might know the PC-Engine as the TurboGrafx-16. Since the console didn't do very well in America, there are plenty of great games that never made it out of Japan.

If you're learning Japanese, PC-Engine games can be a great tool because there are plenty of visual novels and other text-heavy games to play. Additionally, there was a CD add-on to the PC-Engine, so many games were able to utilize the technology to bring voice acting to their games. That means you'll be able to listen along while you read, which is great for language learning.

Here are a few Japanese PC-Engine games that are great for learning the language:

  • Galaxy Fraulein Yuna
  • Tokimeki Memorial
  • Momotaro Densetsu

4. Pokémon Green and Pokémon RedPokemon Green

Almost everyone has played Pokémon, especially the original Red and Blue games. But did you know that in Japan, the first two Pokémon games were actually Green and Red? Additionally, the sprites in the Japanese version are quite a bit different than those in the Western versions. If you're looking for something familiar yet novel at the same time, try picking up the Japanese Pokémon Green or Pokémon Red.

Much like Animal Crossing, there is a lot of dialogue in these games, but since the games were primarily for children, you won't encounter any difficult kanji. This makes Pokémon a great choice for people who are still beginners at Japanese.

5. The Japanese version of your favorite RPG

If none of the choices above suit your tastes, don't worry. There's a 99% chance that there's a Japanese version of your favorite game, however niche it may be. An excellent way to learn Japanese is by playing the Japanese version of your favorite game, especially if it's a dialogue-heavy RPG. Sure, it might be boring playing the same old game again, but it will be helpful knowing the translation beforehand instead of needing to keep a dictionary handy throughout every sentence.

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