Learning a new language is a fantastic life experience. Learning a new language allows you to see the world in a new light, describe things from another perspective, and play more video games. I’ve been trying to teach myself Japanese for about two weeks and have actually enjoyed it more than I thought. I have been learning from multiple sources, including two textbooks, a cultural reference book, YouTube videos, and a video game learning tool Learn Japanese to Survive! Hiragana Battle. Why bother learning a new language? To play more video games of course.
My favorite video games have always come from Japan. I believe that Nintendo makes some of the best video games ever. Even though Mario is designed as an Italian plumber from Brooklyn, the Mario series exhibits some of the finest video game direction in recent memory. Capcom’s Resident Evil series takes place in a suburban American city, but was developed in Japan. From Software’s Dark Souls series redefines what video games challenge means. Square-Enix’s Bravely Default created one of the most exciting turn based role playing games in recent memory, and was released in Japan in October 11, 2012. The game did not come to the United States until February 7, 2014.
Bravely Default is one of a few games that did not release simultaneously world wide. Oddly enough, Resident Evil 7 actually released two days earlier in North American than Japan. I do not want to learn Japanese just to play Japanese developed games before their North American release (although that would be a nice perk), I want to learn Japanese so that I can understand some of my favorite in their original language. The Nintendo Treehouse, which is responsible for localizing Nintendo’s Japanese games for American audiences, does a fantastic job of crafting translations that still maintain the intention of the original work. These translations are works of art on their own, but I can’t help feeling like I am missing something. Something lost in translation.
I am still learning the 46 different Hiragana characters, which are equivalent to the 26 letters of the English alphabet. After I learn the Hiragana, I will start learning the approximately 3,000 Kanji characters. All the while I will be working on my pronunciation and basic phrases. My girlfriend might start to get annoyed when I repeat the vowel sounds “ah, ee, oo, eh, oh” over and over again. My family might start to get confused when I text them こんばんわ in order to start a conversation.
The more I learn about the Japanese culture, the more I respect the traditions of their unique culture. In my brief time studying the language, I have already come across numerous phrases and articles that have no direct translation in English. Certainly some of these phrases make their way into Japanese developed video games and must be localized into something that North American audiences can understand. The film Arrival, explores the idea of linguistic relativity, how language can affect world view and thought process. I am not there yet, but beginning to learn the language has exposed me to new ideas, phrases, and ways of expressing oneself.
This video from Kotaku writer Tim Rogers explores some of the inconsistencies that occurred when comparing the Japanese and English in Xenoblade Chronicles 2:
I could go on and on about some of my favorite games from the land of the rising sun (Nier: Automata, Yakuza, Shenmue, Chromehounds, The Legend of Zelda….). For now I am just beginning my journey with the language that may enhance the way I play video games. Fortunately while I am learning Japanese in order to play more video games, playing video games will also help me learn more Japanese.
Jake “prettyboyplaid” Fredericks