Game Equipment used for Playing Japanese Video Games

First there was drama. Then came variety shows and books. You’ve all been waiting for this: video games. Since Adshap doesn’t have a lot of experience with Japanese video games, I will be your guide to show you how to get into games to power-up your Japanese. While with all guides on JALUP you need an intro, with this guide you also need a bit more preparation. It’s often not as easy as clicking on a video or pulling a book off the shelf. Although you might already have what you need to get going, let me present you some of your best options for starting your J-gaming adventure.

Game Consoles

Game consoles — everything from the ones you plug into your TV like the Xbox 360 to the portable ones like the Nintendo DS — are where the blockbuster games are, especially in Japan. Each one tends to play a different format of media, from different-shaped cartridges to special sizes and types of disc. In Japan, they are ubiquitous, especially portable systems for long train rides, and unlike in the West, older systems like the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo) are easy to track down and find in good working condition.

Much like DVDs, many games are region-locked, which means that Japanese-region games won’t work in American- or European-region systems and vice versa. A select few systems are region-free, so every region’s systems can play every game, no matter what the language or country of origin. This means that there are three options available for people who want to play Japanese games on game systems: buy Japanese games and a Japanese console, buy Japanese games for a local region-free console, or buy a local region-locked console and use dubious, warranty-voiding techniques (cheat code peripherals, mod chips, etc.) to release the region-locking system on it.

The modern region-free game systems are:

  • Nintendo’s Game Boy line (Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, and Game Boy Micro)
  • Nintendo’s Nintendo DS line (DS and DS Lite; excludes DSi, DSiLL and 3DS) *
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Portable
  • PlayStation Vita**

But occasionally game publishers will not put any region locks on their software, even in situations when there are usually are locks, or vice versa. In this case, PlayAsia is an indispensable resource. It has compatibility lists and breaks down exactly which games will work with which systems, and where buyers might run into trouble.

If you’re already in Japan, you’re all set. Find a chain or mom-and-pop used game shop and start buying up things that look fun. Plenty of rare classics in the West are dirt cheap here: Earthbound can cost you hundreds of dollars, but the Japanese original Mother 2 can be found for just 1000 yen. If you’re not in Japan, buying over the internet will be the easiest way to get your hands on games. PlayAsia is a good place to start checking prices and compatibility and buy Japanese consoles, but Amazon and eBay are also good places to find hardware and software.

PC Games

Computers have a large advantage over dedicated game systems because with access to the internet, you have thousands of Flash games, free indie games and MMO games for a fraction of the cost of physical media games, as well as the communities that surround those games. There’s every kind of game imaginable for free or cheap, easy screenshot capturing, and your internet dictionary and Anki deck are just a few keystrokes away.

On the other hand, game systems have consistency: pop in a game and it will work. PC games can be thwarted by the language settings of your computer or other installed files, blocked by firewalls, not run without proper drivers, and can sometimes expose your computer to unwanted plugins and viruses. Most will run just fine, but if you’re not so great at troubleshooting and don’t have a Japanese PC, you need to be prepared to run into a few problems, all on a case-by-case basis.

In the end, it depends what type of game you’re looking for. If you want rich online experiences, social games or quick diversions, and lots of free, quirky independent games, PCs are the way to go. If you want highly-polished games from some of Japan’s most famous developers, game systems are a better choice. (There’s no reason why you can’t use both, of course!)

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones have many of the advantages of PCs due to their wide variety of functions and abundance of free or cheap games, with the added bonus of being able to fit in your pocket. The market for mobile games and apps is in a state of incredible growth right now, and companies like GREE are constantly churning out new, high-quality offerings.

The largest problem with mobile phones is their region-based services. iPhones are available worldwide, but can only access the App Store of the region of the iTunes account linked to them. It requires some effort, but it’s possible to create a Japanese iTunes account from outside of Japan if you provide a Japanese address and credit card number.*** Most of you probably don’t have this, but Adshap recently informed me that the better option is to purchase a Japanese iTunes giftcard online, allowing you to buy apps (as well as music and movies) off of the Japanese Region iTunes. Other than that though, you have a slim chance of accessing the Japanese mobile game market without a Japanese phone. Of course, if you’re already based in Japan and already have or are willing to buy a phone and contract, then you’re golden.

Once You’re All Ready…

Experiment! Play! Learn! There is a game out there that you like, and it’s up to you to find it. Try a genre you’ve never tried before. Pick something because the box looks wacky, or because it’s only 180 yen, or because you saw a kid playing it on the train. Or you can take some of my upcoming recommendations in “The Gaming Chronicles.” Share your own recommendations in the comments, or tell us about your latest acquisition. Game on!

* The DSi line is Nintendo’s first region-locked portable system. It can play normal DS games without region problems, but games intended for the DSi, or “DSi-enchanced” versions will run up against the region lock. Make sure to research a title for the DSi before buying if you’re not sure whether it’s locked or not.
** PlayStation Vita games are region-free, but the system has very strict anti-piracy measures in place that limit the hardware to one PlayStation Network account, which in turn is limited to only one region. You can create a Japanese PSN account and assign your PSVita to it from anywhere in the world, but then won’t be able to access your local PSN store until you jump through some hoops and unlink your Vita from that account and link it back to a different one.
*** This could change at any time, due to a change in Apple’s policy or terms of service.
Written by: Akebi

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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.


Game Equipment used for Playing Japanese Video Games — 13 Comments

  1. I’ve recently been playing through 幻想水滸伝1&2 on PSP. Well.. playing through one anyway; I’ll wait until I can import my data from the first game before I start two. I mean, I’ve already played through the English versions, but it’s been so long and I’m certainly enjoying playing through it again.
    I’m also playing a little ディスガイア インフィニット (also on PSP). One thing I love about the Disgaea series is that they use voice actors on every line. This game almost plays like a visual novel with audio — if you want to go back to an earlier point in the game and repeat it, you can do it quite easily. Plus, the series is just entertaining.

    • The 幻想水滸伝 series is a lot of fun, especially those first two, so I’ve been eyeing up that PSP collection. Have you found any noticeable lag or hellish load times? A lot of early PSP ports suffered from things like that, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

      I’d forgotten about ディスガイア インフィニット. I played the TGS demo a few years back and enjoyed it (Disgaea + time travel!) before I had to run off and get in a huge line for something. But then I got busy playing…the other Disgaea games. The ones that usually take about 60 hours minimum. You know how that goes.

      • Oh wow.. sorry, didn’t even notice your reply here until now somehow.
        I have the game saved on my memory stick, so I can’t attest to how it runs on a UMD, but there isn’t any noticeable lag and I hadn’t even thought about the load times until reading your response, so I guess they’re not bad. ^^ I definitely agree that the first two are especially good, which is why I was pretty stoked to find them both, and in the same game no less.
        As for the Disgaea series, yeah… even playing through them a second or third time, I still tend to be a perfectionist. =p

        Sorry again for the delayed response…

  2. What level is generally recommended to start a game without too many Zelda like puzzles or RPG dialogue, but with enough Japanese to force the gamer to get engaged

    • Much like with everything else, it depends on what type of game you’re playing, but I’d say it’s less dependent on your level and more dependent on how many kanji you know. Someone as low as Level 5 can get something out of a game, even if it’s just bits and pieces, but I’d recommend at least Level 10 so things go a bit more smoothly.

      Stay away from quiz games, dating sims and first person adventure games until you’ve at least got all the kanji down because those don’t have much gameplay to keep you moving outside of the text, and require a pretty high comprehension level to make progress. I mean, I guess you can have a go at it, but it’d be pretty easy to burn out and get discouraged if you’re not ready for that much of that type of reading.

      Most RPGs aren’t actually that bad for learning Japanese, even though they tend to have more text than, say, action games. I’d put them in one of the easiest types of games to start with, actually, because of the large amount of optional text: you expose yourself to lots of text so you get an overall Japanese experience, but only a fraction of that text is actually important, so you’ve got plenty of room for skipping things you don’t understand, and the gameplay tends to be simple to understand.

      The problem with less text intensive games is that sometimes they can wrap around into an opposite problem: not enough Japanese. Glancing at my shelf, Donkey Kong Country comes to mind. Purchased in Japan, sure, but aside from the stage names, what Japanese is actually in it? Don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re exposing yourself to Japanese with a game that doesn’t actually challenge your Japanese! Better to grab a hard game and ignore large chunks of it than play a game that doesn’t do anything for you.

  3. What about games that lack Kanji like games on the NES or original gameboy? Are these recommended or should you stay away from them?

    • Some people might disagree, but I think that unless you have a legitimate interest in those games outside of just “I want to play a Japanese game [to learn Japanese],” avoid them. I’ve been playing Final Fantasy IIUS (IV) since I could hold a controller, but I grabbed it for Super Famicom and my longstanding love of the game is the only thing holding my attention on the textboxes. Pure kana is too slow, too meaning-light for me now that I’ve got the kanji down, and unless I already know the words involved, I don’t get much out of it. It’s the same reason why I can’t stand most Japanese picture books anymore. A lot of people assume that a complete lack of kanji makes things easier. It doesn’t.

      If you’re interested in a particular game for some other reason, go for it! Got a thing for retro games? That’s fabulous. Play and enjoy them while bolstering your Japanese!

  4. I always hate being late on these articles because I’m not sure if my comments will be read >< but I have things to add!

    Firstly, on the note of the Vita, you don't have to worry about having a Japanese account to play Japanese games — if you buy the cartridges. It's a bit of a mixed bag though, because while the digital downloads may be cheaper, putting yen on your Japanese account isn't quite so easy as "plug in credit card". You have to get a PSN card from somewhere — here I do NOT recommend play-asia. They are incredibly overpriced. About the least price-gougey site I've found is japan-codes, but even then, the prices are a little… ehhh. Your best bet is really to have a friend in Japan who is willing to get the cards for you with little to no charge.

    With that said, if you're not in that situation, you might as well buy the actual cartridges. There, your best bet is actually to preorder from AmiAmi. They very often slash the prices of preorders from 10-20%, and sometimes get exclusive preorder swag. In fact, for most games, I would check AmiAmi first. I managed to get things like Uncharted 3, Ryu ga Gotoku 3 and Kenzan, Ken to Mahou to Gakuen Mono 3, Atelier Totori, and others while not exceeding 3000 yen per title (I can't remember the exact costs but they were pretty cheap.) Now if I can just get my hands on Tales of Vesperia and Graces f…

    And the last thing I want to talk about is the PC. I posted this on another article but I fear nobody saw it (which is what I'm afraid of with this comment) but gaming on the PC is RIDICULOUS for sentence mining. I mean, you couldn't possibly ask for an easier method! Let me tell you about a little program called AGTH. Anime Games Text Hooker. This little program grabs the dialogue on the screen and parses it through ATLAS, a seperate program made up of various translation databases. Of course, its primary goal was so that you could play Japanese games without a patched translation but, you can put this program to work for your sentences too. Remember what I said about grabbing the dialogue on the screen? It copies it to the clipboard in order to parse it to ATLAS. Know what that means? You're reading through Saya no Uta and you come across a sentence you like and want to put it in your deck. Instead of having to go to your dictionary and type all that in, it's as simple as tabbing out and pasting it right into your SRS. Bam. It really couldn't be easier. There is one catch though. Primarily, AGTH was designed for use with visual novels, so the APIs used for outputting text in VNs is where AGTH looks. If you're going to play other games on PC (like say, the Eiyuu Densetsu VI: Sora no Kiseki series which I highly recommend), you have add a parameter onto AGTH to tell it where in the memory to look for the text. There's a handy list of parameters already found out here:

    I hope this comment gets read and spread around, I think it's incredibly useful information.

    • Thanks for your comments!

      On the Vita thing, yeah, perhaps the article wasn’t clear enough. The cartridges and system are region-free and no one should run into any problems with region locking there (…yet). But the anti-piracy measures are wacky, and some software won’t even run until you connect to the PSN in some way. It doesn’t matter what region your account is connected to if the game just needs a connection to play, but if you want to use that same PSN account for digital downloads and so forth, making it a Japanese one at least lets you access more Japanese stuff. Should have made that clearer, I suppose. Either way, jumping through the one-Vita-one-user hoops is a nuisance.

      Nice finds on AmiAmi. Looks like they sell a ton of other stuff too. How did you enjoy Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan? I like your taste in games, my friend.

      AGTH sounds awesome as hell and I’ll definitely have to try it out. In the meantime, you seem to know an awful lot about it. Maybe you’d like to contact Adshap about writing a post all about it? I think a lot of people would appreciate that!

    • AGTH is actually somewhat outdated; the current text hooker of choice appears to be Interactive Text Hooker ( It’s still targeted for VNs (and supports the majority out-of-the-box), but it’s also supposed to be easier to use than AGTH. For instance, if you don’t know the particular hook you need and try to determine it by guessing, you need to restart AGTH each time you change those parameters, whereas you don’t need to do so with ITH.

      Possibly also of use may be Translation Aggregator. It’s generally used with AGTH/ITH to simultaneously run a bunch of translations from various sources as soon as Japanese text shows up on the clipboard. The useful part of it comes in from its integration with Mecab/JParser, which allows it to parse sentences and identify word boundaries (some errors may occur), after which point the Mecab or JParser panels can show furigana, and automatically performs EDICT lookups when you mouse over a term. However, given that at the point where this software may be useful, you probably ought to be using a J-J dictionary lookup instead…

      I guess there’s no J-J equivalent to JMDICT.

      Finally, sentence mining. You can pull scripts and voice files out of VNs with the right tools. If you have one of the VNs that are being/were translated on tlwiki, you can find the script nicely formatted with references to the voice files that they correspond to (and, obviously, a translation). Otherwise the script you pull out will be in a messy binary file that as of yet I haven’t tried to figure out how to properly decode (Are they in unicode? Shift-JIS? Who knows…). Crass appears to be a general purpose extraction tool that “Supports approx. 167 different VN engines” – I just know that it worked on Majikoi when I tried it. ¬.¬ Something like 20 hours of voice from just one route. Pity the main character is so rarely voiced in VNs…

  5. I’ll be getting my first tablet soon and was thinking about how many games are available for it in English – but there has to be a resource for games in Japanese.

    I’ll be using an Android OS. Is there any way that people know of to access Japanese games using the Android store? Or Google Play?

  6. I’d like to mention that you don’t necessarily NEED to import Japanese games if you already have a PS3. You simply need to turn on your system, go under Settings>>System Settings>>System Language, change it to 日本語, and you have a means of playing Japanese games, because some games change the language to match the system’s language settings. Capcom games appear to be a constant: by changing my American PS3’s settings to Japanese, I’m able to play the “American” versions of ドラゴンズドグマダークアリズン, アスラズラース, any and all iterations of ストリートファイター4, and so forth with Japanese voice acting, subtitles, menu text…everything! Other games, like ベヨネッタ (for example) change almost everything except the voices, so if you don’t mind playing with the sound off, you can do that too. Look through your games library and see what you can find!

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