As you may know from my review of the Playstation Vita, I actually use video games as a way to practice what I have learned besides studying the textbook, memorizing new vocabulary and writing sentences. While the readings are great in the textbook as they show how the grammar is being used for a particular lesson, it can get a bit cheesy at times as it’s usually consists of people talking about school life and such. For that reason, I decided to play some video games in raw Japanese and I had a pretty good experience from it.
Where do I get the games?
With the Internet, it’s rather easy to import Japanese video games. If the games are fairly recent, I recommend buying them from either AmiAmi or CDJapan as they are a bit cheaper than PlayAsia, ship reasonably quick after release and you can earn frequent shopping points. PlayAsia should only be used if the game you want is an older release. On the other hand, if you want to download the games digitally, you can buy Japanese points for the Playstation Network at Japan Codes. The only drawback is that it can cost a bit more than a physical copy and you need free memory.
Aside from that, make sure the game is region free as Nintendo consoles besides the DS are region locked. Otherwise, you will have to go out and buy a Japanese console just to play the game. Currently, the Nintendo DS, PSP, Playstation 3 and Vita don’t have a region lock. As for what kind of games I would recommend, buy ones that are text heavy such as role-playing games or visual novels.
When I played Shining Hearts back in August of last year after finishing all the grammar from both Genki textbooks, I had a somewhat hard time when I come across some grammar and Kanji I haven’t learn yet. But generally, you will be able to have a basic understanding if you are familiar with casual, polite and honorific speech while knowing the basic grammar you already learned.
When I come across a word, I look it up on my iPhone to find the meaning and the reading. Afterwards, I put it on a list so I can refer back to it when I add it to the deck. Of course, I got better at looking up Kanji by using radicals as none of the games I own has Furigana. There are few exceptions such as the 5th Generation Pokémon Games, which you can switch between using kana only or Kanji. I don’t recommend using the former as it can make life harder when you try to look up the meaning. With the Chinese Characters, at least you have some idea of what the words mean even though it’s more difficult to look them up.
If you decide to play any RPG that is in Japanese only, there are usually commonly used words such as 攻撃 (こうげき、Attack), 防御 (ぼうぎょ、Defense/Defend) 素早さ (すばやさ、Quickness/Speed) and 逃げる (にげる、Flee/Run Away). Not only that, there is a good number of words and phases that frequently get used throughout the story. Generally, you should memorize those so you don’t have to look them up.
As for Visual Novels, it’s like reading a marathon of Japanese text to no end because it’s a text-based game. While there are tools out there to capture the text from the game, which makes it a lot easier to look up new words, there is one frustrating aspect: it can take a long time to complete. For me, I don’t have a luxury of owning a Windows tablet to play visual novels on the go, so handheld ports are my only option. Because of this, it makes things even slower. Even with the extra work, visual novels have a lot of new vocabulary you can learn while having a general feeling of how natives speak.
Overall, I think video games can be a fun way to practice Japanese just like reading untranslated manga or light novels. However, it takes a lot of effort to lookup words. Because of that, some people may become impatient and become inclined to press the A or circle button. I don’t do that personally since I want to enjoy the story even if it takes more time to beat it.
I leave this question for those who know or are learning Japanese: Do you use video games as a way to supplement your studies? If so, what kind of games?