I grew up in the golden age of gaming, filled with fond memories of spending hours in front of the divine gift from the heavens, the NES and SNES. Magazine reviews and recommendations from friends helped guide you on your path towards expensive purchases ($99 in Australia!). With the ability only to get a few games a year, you ended up with greatness or garbage, depending often on luck or reliance of possibly accurate information.
Fast forward to today and me sitting in front of a boring textbook. In a dark corner of my closet lies an aged dusty old NES begging for the light of day. The games I used to play were from Japan (it took me many years to really grasp that). So how ridiculously fun would it be to go back to the old blissful game days and experience them like their creators intended.
Out came eBay, and my wallet, and my adventure into the luring appeal of nostalgia began.
Why would you want to use classic video games to learn Japanese?
Games these days have all these fancy storylines and lifelike graphics. They don’t even require blowing in the cartridges. But retro games are fun, simple, and pull upon memories of our childhood that put a perpetual happy grin on our face. You can learn simple words that you might not see anywhere else. C’mon how many of you know the word for lantern (カンテラ)? The original cartridges are surprisingly cheap, and there are games for every Japanese level.
Convinced? Yes. Yes of course. Now off to the markets!
How to acquire the games
One word: eBay. You have a direct link to Japan and if you’re starting out you can usually find bundles of the console with games. Look at this sweet price compared with its western counterpart.
If you are allergic to eBay, try http://akiba-games.com/, which specializes only in Japanese consoles and games. They have a nice selection.
Getting started based on your level
You don’t want a game to go over your head, so here is a short list of SNES games based on your Japanese level.
Have fun, with minimal Japanese.
More Japanese, but nothing overwhelming.
Text heavy and a need for good reading skills.
Rescued through walkthroughs
If you get stuck, you can always jump on www.gamefaqs.com to jog your memory. If you want to do the same in Japanese, there are plenty of dedicated sites as Japanese walkthroughs are still thriving on the Internet. For example, I use http://zelda.riroa.com/ for The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past.
Want even further Japanese guidance, and a friendly voice to boot? There is no shortage of ‘let’s play’ videos on YouTube, known as 実況プレイ. It’s like you are playing with your best buddy back in grade school. My favorite is Hikakin Games. He’s the same guy that did the hilarious Let’s Play for Shobon No Action.
Reaching the pinnacle of retro gaming
The Legend Of Zelda, A Link to the Past or ゼレだの伝説神々のトライフォース is an absolute must play. I would recommend to anyone that hasn’t played it to grab a copy of it (I got mine for around $15 delivered to Australia) and give it a go, especially if your reading ability is somewhat decent. It’s fun to play in Japanese because it’s action orientated and the Japanese isn’t the focus. This was the first game I went back and finished in Japanese. Playing it again brought a whole new world to me, right from the title screen (why wasn’t the game translated properly as “Triforce of the Gods”?)
Comparing the English and Japanese versions leave you in wonder of what caused the divide. The Japanese text is generally more serious, and the English text playful.
Here are 2 of my favorite examples:
SNES translation: The wizard, Agahnim, has done something to the other missing girls. Now only I remain…
Real Translation: My name is Zelda. Six people have been offered up to sacrifice. I am the last one remaining.
SNES translation: What’re you doing up this late, kid? You can stay up when you’re grown up! Now go home!
Real Translation: Children should not wander around aimlessly at night! So, become an adult first.
Haven’t enticed you enough? How about this video?
Become a child again
I know you have amazing memories of playing video games as a kid. No thinking is required for this. Now go save some 16 bit princesses.
What are some retro games you’ve used successfully to learn Japanese with? What Japanese games do you hope you’ll be able to play one day?
Been casually studying Japanese for about 2.5 years. Big fan of retro games, anime and manga.