8 Best Japanese Learning Games (PC, DS, Smartphone and Tablet)

Although your parents might disagree, games can be a fun and engaging way to learn a language

Now more than ever, the potential of using video games as an educational tool is really kicking off. There are some great games that can help you vastly improve your Japanese skills, especially if you’re a beginner.

We took the time to test dozens of Japanese games and put together a list of the best ones for learning the language. These games are available on multiple different platforms such as PC, Mac, DS and even smartphones.

Contents

1. Best Japanese Audio: Influent

Summary: An open-world game where the user can roam around and find the Japanese names for everyday objects, as well as hear native audio for each word. 

Website | Steam | AndroidiOS

A language learning simulation that currently supports more than 20 languages, “Influent” was released back in March 2014 to mostly positive reviews on Steam, Valve’s digital distribution service for PC games.

“Influent” draws inspiration from Sega Dreamcast classics “Shenmue” and “Toy Commander,” and it utilizes a 3D environment which is completely interactive and saturated with objects for players to discover.

Since the focus of “Influent” is to teach players pronunciation and facilitate vocabulary acquisition, everything in the environment is named and readily identifiable through the power of a click.

Similarly, all the audio recordings have been sourced from native Japanese speakers, ensuring that language learners are familiarizing themselves with correct pronunciation from the start. Those interested in “Influent” can try it out on multiple devices, such as on PC, Mac and even smartphones!

You will be much more prepared to tackle Japanese games after you get used to listening to Japanese with the programs like FluentU

2. Best Katakana Game: Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War

Summary: An adventure game in which all the enemies are katakana characters the user has to defeat. 

Website | Steam

Released in early 2017 by Melbournian developer Sleepy Duck, “Learn Japanese to Survive! Katakana War” is an anime-studded educational adventure that contains all the basics for picking up katakana, one of the three main Japanese writing systems.

With the help of over 2,000 Kickstarter backers, “Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War” almost tripled its original funding goal of $5,000 AUD and ended up raising $29,275 AUD in total, which meant stretch goals such as partial voice acting, an illustrated manga chapter and hiragana and katakana flashcards could all be realized.

If you’re just beginning your Japanese language learning adventure, “Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War” is ideal since no previous experience or knowledge is necessary.

The game is structured so that, at the start of each chapter, players learn several new katakana characters, after which they’re free to explore the surrounding environments where there are friends to be made and dangerous enemies to be battled.

It’s in the latter—the dangerous enemies—that “Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War” lives up to its name. All the bad guys are shaped like katakana, and the only way to defeat them is—you guessed it!—translating them correctly.

“Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War” is currently available for PC and Mac via Steam. And there’s also a “Hiragana Battle” game from this same developer, so you can keep learning.

3. Best Content: My Japanese Coach

Summary: A classroom-like game that allows users to learn Japanese words and vocabulary with flashcards and mini-games. 

Amazon

An oldie but a goodie, “My Japanese Coach” originally came out in 2008 and was Ubisoft’s attempt to help Japanese language learners pick up native pronunciation, learn new vocabulary and memorize the stroke order of hiragana and katakana. It received mixed reviews upon release, with some critics claiming its explanations can be confusing and others praising the game as a solid edutainment title.

If you’re in possession of the original Nintendo DS, it’s nice to know that you can still purchase this game on eBay and elsewhere online. In addition to the more classroom-oriented activities, there also are some fun mini-games to play including word searches, flashcard games and multiple-choice tests

4. Best Free Game: Slime Forest Adventure

Summary: A free role-playing game in which players defeat slime creatures by identifying kana and kanji.

Website

Also known as Project LRNJ: Learn Japanese RPG, “Slime Forest Adventure” is a free adventure game that promises to teach you hiragana, katakana and kanji. There are paid upgrades which have a greater focus on learning how to read Japanese and offer an expanded range of kanji. For complete beginners, the free version does a pretty good job of providing casual katakana lessons.

Graphically, it’s very basic. I’d compare it to something like the original “The Legend of Zelda” game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s no music either, and without doing the supplementary training options first, the game mode will probably seem slightly confusing.

Gangs of green slimy creatures descend on you, and they can only be defeated by you correctly identifying the katakana on screen. Defeating them earns players gold coins, which can presumably be used later on to purchase new items. In terms of educational benefit, I’d say the katakana word primer stands out in particular.

It requires you to quickly read longer words in katakana presented in a vertical fashion, which is something you’re likely to encounter almost everywhere in Japan. The hiragana primer, too, is good for this. Even though both primers are framed in a repetitive loop where acquiring gold coins serves no real purpose, they do repeat characters you’ve struggled with, which can greatly aid your memorization.

5. Best for Vocabulary: Japanese Dungeon: Learn J-Word

Summary: An adventure game where players go through dungeons and defeat orcs by remembering Japanese hiragana and vocabulary. 

Android | iOS

Japanese Dungeon feels like a blast from the past, with its retro music and graphics that will remind you of 2D games from your childhood. 

The game will develop your ability to read Japanese words while you’re playing it. You start the game in the role of a hero, Lancelot, who wants to go to Japan, but doesn’t know Japanese.

He starts by progressing through dungeons to learn basic hiragana but slowly moves on to full Japanese words

The dungeons are filled with a ton of basic Japanese vocabulary, which is recorded in a separate bank for you to look over later. This gives you the ability to keep track of your progress and how many words you are learning. 

As you go you can collect different heroes. Each hero in the game has its own special ability, and you use them by choosing the correct answers to Japanese kana and vocabulary questions within a given time. The fighting system is simple, just choose the correct kana or word and you will deal damage to orcs and monsters you are fighting along the way. 

Save up your rubies from answering these questions to unlock the next dungeon so you can keep progressing. 

The English in the game isn’t the best and it’s only for beginners, but nonetheless, it’s a fun way to start or practice basic Japanese

6. Best for All Ages: Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds

Summary: A series of adventure games for all ages and Japanese levels.

Website | Android | iOS 

Don’t miss your chance to embark on a thrilling linguistic adventure with the latest addition to the Ni no Kuni game series, ‘Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds.’ Crafted by the talented team at Level-5, this game seamlessly blends reality and fantasy within the immersive world of the virtual reality game ‘Soul Divers.’ 

Dive into an open world that rivals the beauty of animated films, thanks to stunning graphics powered by the Unreal 4 Engine. Every detail is meticulously designed, offering players a breathtaking environment to explore. The game’s customizable player characters, including the mysterious fencer Swordsman, the magic spear-wielding Witch, the genius gunner Engineer, the mischievous archer Rogue, and the brawny hammer-swinging Destroyer, allow you to showcase your individuality.

Meet your helpful protectors, the Familiars, unique creatures exclusive to ‘Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds.’ These adorable companions pack incredible strength, and collecting them will contribute to your journey’s strength and success.

That all combines for 100+ hours of excellent Japanese exposure.

7. Best for Upper-intermediate Learners: Final Fantasy 15

Summary: An open-world action role-playing game with epic action-packed battles for upper-intermediate and advanced learners. 

Website 

Upper-intermediate is definitely the category for this entry in the series—the designers have incorporated an excellent quest tool that tells you exactly where to go and what to do. Plus, you don’t even have to find the best route yourself—the game will literally drive you to wherever you need to be.

Now, the best feature of this game is open-world, so you can drive, ride a chocobo, fly or even walk to wherever you so please. But during any of the transportation methods and throughout any of your activities, your team of four bros will entertain you with situationally-appropriate banter and consistently sharp humor.

Noctis, Gladio, Ignis and Prompt each have distinct personalities evinced through their actions and language, making this the ideal opportunity for you to decipher their idiosyncrasies and infuse your Japanese with the one you like the best.

Mix and match until you sound like you’ve always wanted to in Japanese. All of the dialogue is subtitled, too, from back-and-forth banter deep in an ice cave to breath-taking summon scenes, so you can pause and check out words you don’t know as they’re being read to you.

8. Best Game Story: Yakuza 4

Summary: A series of long-running beat ’em up steeped in drama games centered around the Tokyo underground. 

Website 

Be warned, this game is violent and earns its Mature rating.

For those who have been to Tokyo before, and specifically to the infamous Kabukichō, the open-world of Kamurocho will hit all of your nostalgia buttons. Walk into a convenience store and look at some magazines, eat a quick bowl of gyudon at Matsuya, sing a duet at karaoke and just enjoy running around the city before hitting a group of bad guys in the face with a traffic cone.

If you’re new to the series like, you can watch every cutscene from all three previous games right from the main menu.

Sometimes “Yakuza 4” can feel more like an awesome yakuza movie than a game, clocking in at about 6 hours of cutscenes, which are subtitled. It’s worth noting that these are excellently performed, some roles being filled by real Japanese actors. 

How Games Can Help You Learn Japanese

If you are a bit old-fashioned like I am, learning with video games may sound like something out of a fantasy world. But with today’s technology and linguist expertise, you really can use games as a learning tool to help you start or continue with your Japanese skills. 

Learn the Japanese Syllabaries 

Beginner games usually prioritize hiragana and katakana, which are the foundation of the Japanese writing system. Nowadays, learning how to write in Japanese can be much more entertaining than repeatedly scribbling the symbols in a notebook. Games can make the process fun and entertaining while you learn the very basics of the Japanese language. Some games even have writing practice, and leveling up in these skills will have you familiar with the kana in no time. 

Build your vocabulary

The skill that most Japanese games focus on is vocabulary. This can be a great boost when you are just starting out with learning a language as you will have all the puzzle pieces you need to put sentences together. Any Japanese game that you play will reinforce vocabulary even just by learning the interface. Pretty soon, these words will become second nature to you, and you will be on your way to being more comfortable playing more Japanese games, which will then make it easier to pick up more vocabulary. 

Improve your listening skills

A lot of the games above also have audio, which means while you play, you will get a ton of listening practice. When you are starting out, learning how to pronounce each kana correctly is essential, and games can help you do that with native audio. Hearing Japanese words spoken out loud will show you the intonation and cadence of the language. Listening to native speakers can be difficult if you don’t live in Japan, so games with audio are essential for enhancing your listening skills.

Keep up your motivation

One of the hardest things about learning a new language is keeping up your motivation. No one ever said learning Japanese is easy, so you will have to keep yourself going when things get confusing or difficult. Games will condition you to associate Japanese with fun right from the start, leading to good learning habits and endless motivation to keep going. Games can also make it so you want to learn because you feel the need to get to that next level or to know what happens in the game story. 

 

There are lots of assumptions out there about the right way to learn a language, but the truth is, learning can happen anywhere—even in video games.

From PC to mobile, there are heaps of interactive ways to learn new words, pick up grammar points and even memorize kanji stroke order.

So, next time your mom or dad appears in the doorway ready to shout the immortal line, just refer them to this article.

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:

learn-japanese-with-videos

FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.

learn-japanese-with-songs

All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

learn-japanese-with-movies

And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.

practice-japanese-with-adaptive-quizzes

The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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