7 Best Games for Learning Japanese (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 various technological platforms that you can use to your advantage.

Contents

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 in make it easier to pick up more vocabulary. 

Improve your listening skills

A lot of the games below 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. But its not only kana, 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. 

7 Best Games for Learning Japanese

1. Best Writing Game: Learn Japanese with Tako

Summary: A writing game that allows learners to practice writing the stroke order for hiragana, katakana and kanji. 

Website | Android | iOS | Amazon

This one is perfect for playing on the go. Whether you’re going to school, work or abseiling down that mountain, “Learn Japanese with Tako” is right there by your side on your smartphone.

The app released back in 2015 for Android and iOS devices (and Amazon) under the name “Tako’s Japanese,” and it’s best described as a casual educational app that assists you with learning the stroke order of the three Japanese writing systems: Hiragana, katakana and kanji.

It comes with an elaborate writing system supporting touch controls, enabling users to memorize the stroke orders of various characters. “Learn Japanese with Tako” earns its ludological stripes with its assortment of mini-games, which act as learning reinforcements or summaries of the lessons you’ve previously completed, and include playing baseball, serving customers at a restaurant as an octopus waiter and enjoying a variation on everybody’s favorite game for releasing pent-up frustration—Whac-A-Mole.

Lower-level learners looking to score well on their JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) are in luck, because “Learn Japanese with Tako” comes with all the hiragana, katakana and kanji pertaining to level N5 (the easiest level of the test).

2. 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

A language learning simulation that supports more than 15 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 today for $9.99 USD for PC, Mac and Linux operating systems.

3. 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

From Melbournian developer Sleepy Duck comes 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.

It released earlier this year to positive reviews, and 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 at $6.99 USD. And there’s also a “Hiragana Battle” game from this same developer, so you can keep the learning going.

4. Best Immersion Game: Koe

Summary: A fully immersive role-playing game in which the player uses Japanese words and kanji as weapons.

Website | Steam 

“Koe” is a JRPG, or Japanese Role Playing Game, that had a very successful Kickstarter during 2014 and is expected to launch sometime in 2017. There’s currently a second alpha demo available to play—so it’s still being tested, but it’s also creeping closer to completion.

“Koe” really has something special to offer learners looking to supplement their studies, and even works from a purist, non-educational game perspective. Developer Strawberry Games (Jitesh Rawal) emphasizes that, before anything else, “Koe” is a game, so it will run as such, complete with story, item collection, leveling up and engaging in random bosses, all in true RPG style.

Like “Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War,” this is a game that lets you use words as weapons and gives you an introductory look at Japanese, so there’s absolutely zero pressure to come to it with background knowledge. The biggest content difference between “Learn Japanese To Survive! Katakana War” and “Koe” is that the latter also offers the chance to learn kanji along with full Japanese words and phrases—it’s going to be more well-rounded, in its final form.

5. Most Content: My Japanese Coach

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

Amazon | GameStop

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.

Regardless, 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. For a taste of the gameplay, check out this playthrough presented by a YouTuber.

6. 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, top-down affair. 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.

7. Best Game 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 is only for beginners, but nonetheless, it is a fun way to start or practice basic Japanese. 

Bonus: FluentU

FluentU is not a game, but it does use some of the same principles. The program gamifies language learning and is a great way to study when you want something more immersive but still entertaining.

FluentU offers a variety of interesting video clips that you can use to learn Japanese. These videos come from authentic sources, like news reports, movie trailers or clips from popular TV shows. This means you are watching content made by and for native speakers. Plus, the videos all come with interactive subtitles.

This means when you click on a word you don’t know, you can get the audio, English meaning and references to other videos where the word is used. You can also store the word in your own custom vocabulary list to be used later in flashcard decks and quizzes.

You can use FluentU’s video dictionary to look up any words you want to see in context. The platform also has a speaking feature that lets you get used to saying Japanese words and phrases.

After you get used to listening to Japanese with this program and reading subtitles, you will be much more prepared to tackle Japanese games. 

 

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.

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