Learning and memorizing Japanese kana can be a grueling process. What’s more: when you’ve finished mastering hiragana, you then have to learn katakana. Thanks for having two alphabets, Japan. If dry memorization isn’t your game — talk about foreshadowing — I’ve found some games that may help make this process a little more amusing.
Each of these three titles caters to a different style of gaming: there’s an old school RPG, a Japanese choose-your-own-adventure and a simple quiz style. Have a go at all three and see which one works best for you.
1. Japanese Dungeon
Fans of old-school Nintendo dungeon role play games, rejoice. Developer Jong Jin Kim has given us Lancelot, a knight who has heard many good things about Japan and would like to visit. Like most of us, he needs to first save up money to make this happen. Kim’s mission for us is to help Lancelot defeat orcs and collect coins — all while we learn Japanese.
Lancelot begins slaying orcs in the Level 1 Dungeon, where we are introduced to five hiragana to memorize at a time. Once confident, the battle engages and each correct romanized reply to the hiragana shown is a hit to the Orc captain.
As you progress, you can level up and be more likely to throw critical hits. After each level, you have the option to watch a quick ad for gold, and whereas I’m normally against this, I found I didn’t mind because I really wanted to level up my character and see what his crits would be.
To enter the next dungeon, you need a certain number of rubies and daily quests definitely help speed this along. The quests make you practice more via leveling up, performing a certain amount of critical hits and even just completing your daily quests. If you’d like to practice infinitely, then luckily an Infinite Dungeon exists.
You can also unlock characters that have their own unique stats — and yes, this means that you can play as Merlin. It’s a fun mobile game dedicated to improving your basic Japanese skills — or even as a refresher. Kim has another dungeon crawler app that is for JLPT study, but it’s in Korean. Maybe if we’re lucky, he’ll come out with an English version.
2. Kawaii Nihongo
Welcome to the town of Maruimachi, the setting for Learn Japanese with Kawaii 日本語 (Nihongo, or Japanese) and a place where you will be guided by either a cute, geeky student named Yuji or an adorable and mysterious kitsune (fox) named Riko. I decided to start with Yuji and he quickly took me to the local school and registered me for classes.
If you’re new to studying hiragana and katakana there are basic levels you can start with in Learn Japanese with Kawaii 日本語. The cards are impressively thorough, each with a mnemonics image, hiragana, katakana, a vocabulary word in kana and romaji and the translation. If new, the card is shown two different ways as you study and based on your performance while playing it will appear at certain times later for review. You can respond via multiple choice, writing, listening and speaking and drawing.
As you progress, you earn MardukCoins that enable you to buy expansion sets for your cards as well as grammar extensions. In this regard, Kawaii 日本語 is heavily driven towards ad watching and it would honestly be easier to buy the app outright over the many tiny in-app purchases. The only reason I am patient with this is because of their ingenuity with the arcade feature.
All the games in the arcade let you mix and match testing preferences. In Nihongo Dash, you have to tap the correct kana that coincides with the word above it. In Picture Games, you select the image that corresponds with the correct kana, and so on. They even have a basic memory game if that’s more your speed. I see room for improvement, but if you learn best by following a storyline, this could certainly work for you.
3. Infinite Japanese
This game is fantastic for beginners wanting to learn basic Japanese vocabulary. A simple interface and beautiful design put you at ease and if you don’t know hiragana or katakana yet this is not a problem. You can decide in the settings whether you’d like the vocabulary as romaji or kana, as well as your difficulty level.
Gameplay is intuitive and fun. In Infinite Japanese, your job is to stop meteors from crashing into the earth by selecting the correct answer to a question. Questions cycle between images, words, and audio. As you collect stars you work your way closer to unlocking new categories. I had so much fun reviewing Japanese with this app, that I’m looking forward to trying their Chinese version.
There are a plethora of mobile games out there, geared towards learning Japanese. Yet only a handful of them seem to be novel and truly fun. These apps are the ones that take away the monotony of memorization, a thing that can defeat even the most studious of learners.
Have you worked your way through learning all the kana? How did you go about it and what advice do you have for those just starting out? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!