LvL Up! (Learn Japanese with Games)

  • Current Status

    Stealth update with DQ8 going to update the title after I find the opportunity to photoshop the P4G menu screens + the DQ8 menu guide. That stuff is sadly somewhat more time consuming than the write up, especially when I have to screen cap myself, after that I think I'm doing Ni no Kuni

    Working on it the hold up to be perfectly honest is that I just fell into a pit called I am Setsuna xD sorry. Just for anyone that might be curios. Beyond replying to people I'll just update the thread title when the next update is finished.

    Will do the dragon quest 8 entry as well as the menu sheets for P4G shortly after the 20th after my last exam. Just wanted to put it out there cause what annoys me personally sometimes is uncertainty around updates.

    So I finished everything for today I think from here on out it's just additional entries. Currently I'm eyeing Persona 4 Golden but if you want me to do something else
    vote here!. Ok I couldn't help myself and just do the Persona entry instead of studying xD poll is still in play for the entry after that though which is either going to be Dragon Quest 8 or Ni no Kuni.

    If anyone of you has any ideas, suggestions, feedback or want to chat about Japanese games or learning Japanese feel free to post in this thread or drop me a pm on this site I'll do my best to be helpful!

    L&R fellow allies!

    RPL(Recommended Proficiency Level) tier list:

    Beginner (~0-500 Kanji)

    Intermediate (~500-1000 Kanji)

    Advanced (~1000+ Kanji)

    (list will be updated)

  • Introduction

    I believe that games are one of the greatest tools to help someone improve their language skills, not that I'm an expert after all I'm only basing this off of my own experience learning English/Japanese, but there's a lot of things about games especially RPGs that intrinsically make a pleasant learning experience.
    For one, games have a lot of components that make for really good memory anchors, from music/story/visual. Lots of Kanji have been etched into my head because I instinctively connect them to certain moments I've experienced in games. They also usually challenge your vocabulary, reading ability as well as listening comprehension given that many games have some amount of text and often make use of voice acting. I think the only other big language relevant aspect they don't really help you improve is your speaking proficiency. And a lot of times those challenges are automatically well paced by the game design itself. Where cutscenes give you an opportunity to get some listening practice, quests make you read and general gameplay gives you a nice break in between.

    What is RPL?

    RPL is a short for "Recommended Proficiency Level", my way of trying to assess the level of difficulty a game might pose to someone that tries to learn Japanese.
    Currently the only two factors I take into consideration to make these assessments are:
    1. The estimated number of Kanji one should know to have a decent playing experience without having to look up every word they come into contact with.
    2. I try to consider is the types of words they might encounter.
    For example does the game in question use a lot of words that are rather uncommon especially when it comes to games or if it even has its own special words? An example of this are the Trails/Kiseki games where you will just end up learning lots of words that from my experience are very specific to them, like the word „遊撃士”(Yuugekishi) which was translated as Bracer, that's something I've never encountered somewhere else, much less had a chance to use in some other context outside of talking about the Kiseki games themselves. On the other side of this are the Dragon Quest games full with short phrases and words that are just super common, especially to JRPGs. I also want to provide some thoughts on how I arrived at the Kanji numbers you see associated with each tier:

    • Beginner ~0-500 Kanji
    • Intermediate ~500-1000 Kanji
    • Advanced ~1000+ Kanji

    These numbers are kind of based off of my own experience while playing through those games. As for why I have these numbers in the first place, it's because at the time when I was playing a lot of these I was still studying using Heisig + Anki so I kind of always had a rough idea about how big my Kanji knowledge was for almost all the games.
    I have since become a bit lazy abandoning Heisig in favor of building my own Anki vocubulary deck based on the stuff I encounter since I was hitting a lot of Heisig Kanji I don't really see around and it was seriously hurting my motivation.
    But I believe I stopped at around ~1500 over a year ago.

    The first takeaway here is that the 2000 Kanji number you see around for people to become able to read Japanese newspapers? Yeah that's irrelevant you can enjoy Japanese games much, much earlier and chances are you're probably not going to read a Japanese newspaper anyway so don't worry about that :D . The second takeaway is that a 1000 Kanji does not equal a 1000 actual words but usually much more than that thanks to compounds(several single Kanji coming together to build a new word, most of the time 2). Meaning you only need to know half the number of Kanji for games to have a very decent time if you get to a ~1000+ from there it's just retaining diligence and not skipping over new stuff and always adding into your own vocabulary list. This also brings me to why no additional tier after a ~1000+, well in my opinion if you're at that point where you can almost enjoy anything and the rest being just self study and discipline any further tiers become meaningless to you since you're not really looking for help to study anymore.

    I've also considered letting other things factor into the tier assessment like the tools each game gives you to make the learning experience easier.. Like the P4G text log with an option to have voiced text be repeated is invaluable to learners. For now I've decided against that since that kind of information should be included in the description or the Pro/Con breakdown segments of each game entry. In the end no amount of nice to have features will cut down on the number of Kanji you need to know so that's my current argument against letting those things influence the assessment. But let me know if I might be wrong on this.

    Getting Started

    Personally I think the minimum requirement to start is to learn reading the basic Japanese alphabets, Hirigana and Katakana. This enables you to kind of read along through most of any game listed under the Beginner list and it helps looking things up with this dictionary.
    It's totally ok if you don't know what any of the words mean but getting a feeling on how everything sounds is a good place to start, at least I've found that useful. I personally used this when I started. They seem to have added a few more things to the site since I used it a few years back. Learning the alphabet should probably only take a day at most if you have decent memory I think like ~ 3-4 hours?

    Other useful tools are flash card programs like Anki and Rikaichan which is a browser plugin that allows you to hover over any Kanji to get their meaning, not sure about other browsers but I would be surprised if there are no equivalents out there for them.

    The thing with languages is, it's all about what works for you so you kind of have to experiment. For me learning grammar never worked I do better figuring the grammar out through absorbing a ton of material and subconsciously picking up on the patterns looking up grammar only after to get an even better feeling of how things work. So what I can suggest is something like this:

    1. Learn the Kana.
    2. Learn about stroke order/count.
    [This will help you to look up words in case you don't know their pronunciation. Glanced over the article in the link it seemed solid]
    3. Use that knowledge and read as much as possible.
    [By either using the games in the beginner category or anything else you can get. Manga are also an excellent source to do that since many employ Furigana.
    Furigana are Kana over the Kanji denoting their pronunciation making it super easy to look them up on Jisho. That said Manga will be a lot more expensive than games although it might be the easier start]
    4. While you enjoy yourself load up many of the available free decks like Heisig for flashcard programs like Anki
    [You can learn more Kanji alongside or just make your own deck and put anything new to you into that deck and do at least 1 memorization run through that deck each day.]


    So I am by no means an importing expert but I can share my experiences which are based on being situated in the EU. These are the sites I use:

    Amazon Japan

    From my experience Amazon is the fastest way to get what you want while also not being obscenely expensive. The prices are generally normal to great(there are sales).
    The only big downside is that Amazon jp doesn't ship everything internationally. Everything that they don't have in their own warehouses but have to get through a second party is Japan only. Also no surprise customs it's all dealt with from the get go.

    Nin Nin games

    In cases where I didn't get hit with customs this one was by far the cheapest with customs I pay about the average or slightly more. They have frequent sales or things reduced. Just an example but I got Bravely Default, Pokemon X and FE Awakening for like ~50€ a few years ago. Where they suck is the customer support and shipping speed. I had to wait at least a month for everything I ordered there so better do it in batches to make it worth it. Their customer support is very slow and not that helpful, the first time I ordered from them I wasn't accustomed to the long shipping time and they only tried to help after I threatened to cancel my payment.


    Currently I don't know, it's where I ordered the P5 collectors edition, it was the cheapest there. I'll update once I know more.


    Good old Ebay it's a ton of effort and over the recent years prices generally suck especially if you want new stuff but it can still be worth it especially since they seem to have frequent partner deals with Paypal, things like 15€ off any purchase more than 30€.


    This is only important to anyone that wants to help out with the list. Everyone else feel free to skip.

    Since I preferably don't want this thread to be just a list of loosely ordered games and hope that this evolves into some kind of insightful compilation where people are given a good idea of what they can expect from each game and choose something that suits their current RPL I believe it is best to have a one post per game format. Dedicating a full post on one game detailing the pros and cons or any other useful information you can think of.

    The best way to understand the current format is just looking at the first entry(Pokemon) just below this post. Ideally would like to have every entry stick to one format since I like conformity and to keep parity for the kind of information each entry should offer. That said right now with only very few entries it's still very easy to improve or change format related things so let me know if you have any ideas!

    Closing Thoughts

    I'm super open to feedback on what to improve/include even for things like typos/formulations/formatting, given that English isn't my first language but I believe that the nature of this thread profits from trying to make it read as pleasantly as possible. Or more importantly feedback from people that are still deciding if they want to try learning with games, if there is anything you think you would profit from let me know! And of course I'd be even be more happy if the JP savvy allies take the time and share this thread with me and add their own recommendation.

    Love & Respect!

  • Pokemon


    Let's Play




    Various Nintendo handhelds/Virtual Console


    Beginner (~0 - 100 Kanji)


    If there is any game to start with to get your reading skills going I believe a 100% it's Pokemon. The reason is simple if you're part of the generation that at one point has played one of these games you'll have the huge benefit of being able to guess a lot of words during your playtime. Beginning with the menus to the little standard phrases that come up when people challenge you or a wild Pokemon appears, it's very likely that you're able to make the connection when you see the equivalent in Japanese. This can cut down time looking things up in dictionaries. The LP example is Pokemon Alpha Sapphire but to be honest any Pokemon should do.

    [ + ] Pros

    • everything is written in Hirigana/Katakana (At the very beginning of the game it asks you if you want to have Kana only or if you're ok with Kanji) so you can concern yourself mostly with how things sound/are pronounced and picking up a few words through conjecture
    • after playing this your Hirigana/Katakana knowledge should be rock solid given how much you're going to use it
    • very easy sentences since it's a kid friendly game
    • multi language support, even if you get the JP version for the newer Pokemon games you also get the option to switch between languages at the start of the game

    [ - ] Cons

    • no voice acting
    • no furigana
    • newer titles are on the 3DS which is region locked so that's a money barrier if you don't want to deal with breaking into your handheld

    Helpful resources

    Menu Cheatsheet
    Given that there are so many Pokemon games I'm not sure how to go about this I also personally only can take screen caps from X. Preferably I would make an exception here and do them based on requests only instead of doing them for all available games, optimally with people helping out with the menu caps.

    Useful Kanji
    List of 20 generally common Kanji appearing in the first few minutes of the game + a list of all the Pokemon types.
    Totally went with gut feeling after watching the first LP part on what Kanji to include, I was mostly trying to add stuff I would see in ton of other places/games. That said 20 is not that many but it's the first list and I'm also going to get better at choosing.

    Where to buy?

    As of the time of writing this should be available on for international shipping. Here are the links for the ORAS games:

  • Persona 4 Golden

    Persona 4 Golden

    Let's Play




    PS Vita/PS TV


    Advanced (~1000+ Kanji)


    Persona 4 Golden is a great game with a ton of helpful features for intermediate to advanced learners. One of its greatest features is the text log with playback for voiced dialog. If you plan to play P4G in Japanese I think one's listening skills should at least be at a level to make use of that function. Don't know a Kanji that was just spoken? Use the playback option until you're sure how it was pronounced and then hit Also everything plays out at your own pace. Unlike in many other games you dictate when you're ready to hear/read the next sentence in any given scene. Personally Persona 4 Golden's biggest strength is being an awesome game with gripping characters and a pretty decent story making you want to read/learn more to understand what is going on.

    [ + ] Pros

    • Text log for scenes
    • Playback for voiced dialog
    • You're probably going to learn a lot of new Kanji
    • The player dictates the pace of almost all scenes leaving you time to read at your own pace or look stuff up, the only exceptions to this are the rare anime scenes

    [ - ] Cons

    • No Furigana, there might be some in very isolated cases for super obscure words that even Japanese players wouldn't know how to read but I don't really remember
    • Not everything is voiced so the playback option isn't quite almighty
    • Several class scenes will bulldoze you with a lot of Kanji that you might not know, I especially remember a certain school trip class scene where you're taught some mythology

    Helpful resources

    Menu Cheatsheet

    Well most of the menus are already in English but here are the ones that are purely in Japanese:
    (will add later)
    Also the stat screen translations:
    (will add later)

    Scenerip site
    I actually played through Persona 4 Golden when I was quite a bit below a 1000 Kanji.
    The game was just that motivating to me. What helped a lot though to keep the Jisho time down was this. It's a scenerip site of the original Persona 4 with tags to the different scenes(with graphics and all) in the game, something which I found on another forum. If you have a hover dictionary plug-in installed on your browser like Rikaichan this will cut down the time being glued to a dictionary by a lot!

    Useful Kanji
    List with all the arcanas + the names of their holders.
    I will most likely add a few phrases in that list at some point because there are things that repeat a lot. Like you deepening your bond with someone.

    Where to buy?

    I checked amazon and of the time of writing this there doesn't seem to be copies available directly from Amazon itself. So no international shipping, sadly.
    So we're left with the usual suspects of import sites, check the import section in the introduction post for more info on that. That said I think your best chances for minimal hassle and getting a good deal is getting a PSN JP card and make a Japanese PSN account and get P4G during a deal there.

  • I actually just started playing Pokemon Y on Japanese, and man it is though, I've been studying Japanese for about 2 years, and man the Kanji's without furigana really put on a halt on my progress, at first I was trying to go over everything properly, but after a while I pretty much gave up on that, and now I'm mostly focusing on the bits that I think are important.

  • @bard91 Would be interested in did you try to play in Kana only mode? If yes how was that experience? Personally I just assumed it's a lot easier especially when you have a somewhat moderate vocabulary like from maybe watching anime attentively. I think the biggest challenge there is though not to be mislead since there's a lot of homophones in Japanese.

    But yeah I also would suggest not to go over every little bit that you don't understand.
    Pick up any vocab that interest you/or you feel pops up a lot alongside the super basic menu related stuff. I would view Pokemon as a game where it's ok to focus on taking in single words rather than whole sentences given that the story isn't that important and lots of stuff you can probably guess off a few words you might understand like the typical trainer phrases that challenge you.

    I think the biggest reason why I think Pokemon is a great game to start with are the big pool of resources you can find on the net, as well past pokemon game experience being a huge help going through them even if you don't understand a 100% what's going on. I might be off though maybe something a little more challenging on the reading side but with more features helping you on other fronts(like voiced text) might be easier. Maybe Layton games are actually easier to start with if you disregard the few Japanese word related puzzles. Those games have furigana as well I believe. But then I remember finding them very exhausting to play when I tried them in Japanese way more than things like Ni no Kuni.

  • oh yeah the previous experience with the game mechanics are a huge help here. I didn't go for the all kana option because at this point I mostly want to improve my Kanji knowledge, so even though they do pose a big challenge, they are one of the main reasons why I'm playing it.

    The one thing that I wish I could do is have multiple save files, so I could keep one in english and the other in japanese, so I can compare between the two, and see how well I'm understanding the stuff.

  • Dragon Quest VIII Remake

    Dragon Quest 8

    Let's Play






    Beginner (~500+ Kanji)


    So I had to replay the first hour of this to really get a feel again for how this game ranks RPL wise. The main reason is that this is a game I played when I already was rather comfortable with reading Japanese, so my judgment could honestly not align with how beginners might feel about this game. That said I think this game is honestly a gold mine given the easy sentences and several phrases that will repeat a lot, the multitude of Kanji that you'll learn here being useful again in other fantasy RPGs and last but not least every Kanji having Furigana. Really the only drawback I see is this is a game where skipping stuff you don't fully understand is detrimental, so you at least want to be sure that you either have the motivation to hit the dictionary a lot or have enough of a vocabulary to read along somewhat comfortably.

    [ + ] Pros

    • Furigana for all the Kanji!!!
    • Fully voiced main story(from what I can tell)
    • Easy sentences, it's rather friendly to read in my opinion
    • Players have control over scenes they don't move along on their own
    • Teaches you all the basic vocabulary/standard phrases that are typical to fantasy RPGs from all kinds of weapon Kanji to things like "You obtained X" or "Enemy Y appeared"

    [ - ] Cons

    • No playback option for voiced dialog
    • I think it is the kind of game where you want to be able to follow the story along so it might not be optimal for the pick up what you feel like approach that more mechanical oriented RPGs like Pokemon/Etrian Odyssey/etc might be more suited to
    • Not exactly a con but because it's rather kid friendly it does use a lot of Hirigana for things that other games would probably write in Kanji, just something to keep in mind as a learner

    Helpful resources

    Menu Guide
    After the editing the Persona 4 golden pics y_y

    Where to buy?

    Surprisingly this isn't sold directly through as well, given how popular DQ is in Japan I thought they would have it in stock. So you have to check the other import shops for this. Current price seems to be around 5000 yen without shipping expenses.

  • @bard91 Nice! I totally get that and yeah one of the shortcomings of Pokemon games seem to be the lack of quality of life options from things like only being able to have a single save file to not being able to switch language on the fly or at least after rebooting.
    Good luck on going through the game and picking up tons of new words!

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