5 Exciting Nintendo DS Games To Practice Japanese With

You’ve prepared your equipment; now it’s time to get gaming! Because of the wide variety of games out there, in each installment of this guide I’ll focus on a different theme, whether it’s by price point, system, genre or some other factor. As a starting point, we’re going to take a look at the Nintendo DS, one of the highest-selling systems of all time: it’s region-free, cheap and easy to get your hands on.

5. 漢字そのまま DS楽引辞典 (Kanji Sonomama DS Rakubiki Jiten)
2006, Nintendo

漢字そのまま DS楽引辞典

It’s not a game, but it’s worth mentioning first. This piece of software is a bargain for anyone that keeps wishing for one of those expensive electronic dictionaries like a WordTank. Using the Nintendo DS’s stylus and touchscreen interface, Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten basically turns your DS into a stylus-equipped electronic dictionary for a fraction of the price! It includes Japanese-Japanese, English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries, word banks for storing vocabulary, bonus functions like kanji quizzes and clocks, and some fun Nintendo Easter eggs. A used cartridge can be found for under 2000 yen. In 2009, Nintendo released each of Kanji Sonomama’s dictionaries as downloadable titles under its DSiWare program for 800 points apiece.

4. ナナシ ノ ゲエム (Nanashi no Game)
2008, Square Enix

ナナシ ノ ゲエム

This first-person adventure/horror game centers around a game that, like the video tape in The Ring, curses all who play it to die within seven days. Gameplay alternates between a first-person perspective where the player talks to others, solves puzzles and avoids monsters, and playing the game-within-a-game itself that resembles a glitched version of Dragon Quest. A sequel was released in 2008 called ナナシ ノ ゲエム目.

3. スローンとマクヘールの謎の物語 (Surōn to Makuhēru no Nazo no Monogatari)
2009, Level 5


“A man lives on the 20th floor of an apartment building. On rainy days, he takes the elevator when he comes home from work, but on sunny days, he climbs all 20 flights of stairs. Why?” Based on the books of lateral thinking puzzles authored by Paul Sloane and Des MacHale, and released under the “Atamania” banner of puzzle games, this game stretches your mind and vocabulary. A mysterious guide will present you with stories, told in silhouette montage, and challenge you to find the truth at the heart of the mystery by connecting concepts to ask yes or no questions.

This game isn’t very action packed, but it’s hard to recommend a game better suited for Japanese learners. Not only is it filled with full furigana and everyday vocabulary, told in bite-sized stories that don’t overwhelm beginners, it’s a game that lets you see how natural Japanese questions are formed in real time. When you draw lines to connect two concepts, the game will form a question for you. In real life, there are situations where you know what you want to ask but have no idea how to ask it. This game lets you see thousands of sample questions for hundreds of situations that can improve your question-forming abilities.

2. 逆転裁判 (Gyakuten Saiban, localized as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attouney)
2005, Capcom


Naruhodo Ryuuichi is a budding defense lawyer, learning the ropes of the courtroom under his superior Ayasato Chihiro. But when he arrives at their office one evening and finds her dead, he must work together with her sister Mayoi, a shaman who can channel the spirits of the deceased, to solve the mystery and bring the killer to justice. Along the way, he’ll solve other cases and run up against dozens of colorful characters, including the famous prosecutor Mitsurugi Reiji. A courtroom-drama-adventure-game hybrid, Gyakuten Saiban adventures run in two phases: an investigation phase where Naruhodo visits crime scenes and gathers evidence, and a courtroom phase where players must carefully read witness testimonies to spot inconsistencies and present proper evidence to challenge them.

The series is still growing. Two more DS games starring Naruhodo have been produce, and two spin-off games from a prosecution point of view called 逆転検事 (Gyakuten Kenji) were more recently released. The original Gyakuten Saiban has been rereleased for several platforms, such as iOS and the Wii.

1. 超執刀 カドゥケウス (Chou Shittou Kadukeusu, localized as Trauma Center: Under the Knife)
2005, Atlus

超執刀 カドゥケウス

I admit, those few games up there are pretty laid-back, action-wise. To send you off, here’s one that will send you into fits. It’s throw-your-system-across-the-room hard. You play as Tsukimori Kousuke, a doctor who must battle an outbreak of mysterious man-made viruses called GUILT. Using the DS’s touchscreen, players must disinfect and suture wounds, zap tumors with lazers, inject patients with serums and more, while working against the clock and stopping patients vitals from dropping to zero. Filled with medical jargon and brutally difficult missions, this game is an exciting challenge for players in more ways than one. Try and beat the X1 mission. I dare you.

Chou Shittou Kadukeusu was also released on the Wii, with updated graphics, sound, and a Wiimote-based control scheme that arguably makes the game a good deal easier.

Kanji Sonomama DS Rakubiki Jiten‘s Official Website
Nanashi no Game‘s Official Website
Surōn to Makuhēru no Nazo no Monogatari’s Official Website
Gyakuten Saiban’s Official Website
Chou Shittou Kadukeusu‘s Official Website

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Akebi spends her time playing copious amounts of video games in Japanese, when she's not learning the craft of making delicious noodles at her part-time job.


5 Exciting Nintendo DS Games To Practice Japanese With — 8 Comments

  1. I watched the Gyakuten Saiban movie the other day and it made me curious about the games. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for these titles the next time I’m at a Book-Off. (Going to Japan for 3 weeks this winter, excited!)

  2. Nice article! I was thinking about getting a handheld system for Japanese games, and I think I’ll settle on a DS as it should be pretty cheap by now and has a big library of games. That electronic dictionary sound really cool too!

  3. I just got an imported 3DS and I’m really enjoying it; I haven’t even decided on a game to buy yet but I’ve been playing free demos. Thanks for telling me about the dictionary download! It’s much better at recognizing my poor Japanese handwriting than what I’ve been using on the iPhone (the Chinese input and the 大辞泉 app.)

  4. I think, although not extremely educational, RPGs are fun to get into for language learning. A lot of the stuff you might learn wont be extremely helpful or even understandable as a beginner, but you see a lot of the same phrases again and again. This is especially notable in games like pokemon, where it’s the same cookie cutter phrases for encounters, wins, and acquirement of items and such. Whether you really try to learn some of them, you end up knowing them anyway just from seeing them a lot. The newest ones, black & white and I believe the newer black & white, even have kanji options.
    Another advantage of most of RPGs is that they push you through the story. So even if you don’t understand things you can still have fun playing the game. Which, for me, when I’m not understanding things, motivates me to figure out what is happening.
    Definitely a fan of all the games listed, as well as the dictionary though!

  5. The next installment of this series absolutely should include 極限脱出 9時間9人9の扉. Intriguing story, clever puzzles, and a whole shit-ton of advanced vocabulary with no furigana :S

  6. I didn’t find this article until after I had made the decision on what my first Japanese game would be: ゼルダの伝説 大地の汽笛.
    I’d have preferred ゼルダの伝説 夢幻の砂時計, but I couldn’t find one available.
    I’ve yet to receive it but one reason I chose a Zelda game was because it supposedly lacks furigana in the text box. However, if you click the kanji with the stylus – the furigana will pop up.
    I feel like this is an ideal medium for a noob like myself. I don’t know enough kanji to read all but the easiest words. And if I already understood the kanji’s meaning, now I’ll know how it’s pronounced as well. (By the way, I can’t even read the title without a cheat sheet.)

    Not to mention… Zelda’s such a well known title in the US – it would be in many people’s comfort zones. And I’d like my first game in Japanese to be something I’m comfortable with as I spend an hour trying to decipher one conversation.

    • What a terrible ゼルダ fan I am… despite having played all the main games except for Zelda II, I still couldn’t figure out which one 大地の汽笛 was… Sure, the title doesn’t translate literally, but still…

  7. Anyone ever considered the スーパーロボット大戦 (Super Robot Wars) series? It’s like a mash-up of various mecha anime plotlines in an SRPG format. Pretty awesome if you like Gundam, Gurren Lagann, etc.

    The games include a lot of dialogue both spoken and written.

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