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.
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:
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.
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!
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!