Import Gaming

June 30, 2009

It’s the last day in June and we went out to the nearby Daiei depaato to have some dinner and price random appliances and household goods. There’s a pretty great video game place there called Link or Links or something, which typically has a lot of used games in really good condition. After nearly losing my mind in Akibahara due to the congestion, noise, and typically obnoxious store displays, I really never had an enjoyable chance to do any game shopping. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been really reminded of how much of a bigger market Japan is for games. One of the great things about games, like comics, is that they’re a great way to study Japanese without the sterile feeling flashcards or drill books can leave you with. I’ve come up with some points about using games as a study tool and some points about import gaming in general. Read on…

One of the excellent thing about comics, many of them contain furigana to include younger readers. This is also great news for folks still learning kanji, like myself. However, furigana is also something of an enabler, in that it’s difficult to jump into literature, often without furigana unless you’re getting into kids’ books or young adult fiction, like the infamous “light novels.” My end goal is to be able to read books in Japanese, and then of course to translate them.

So, where do you go after comics for more intense kanji pratice, without the drugery? I’d recommend cutting your teeth on games. In addition to being forced to read furigana-less kanji, typically games use the same keywords over and over, which helps aid in memorization. Of course, to a certain extent these words aren’t terribly useful (I don’t think “summoning ritual” and “magical power” is going to help you navigate the Tokyo Metro any better, for example). However, it’s important to memorize every individual kanji, and having a fun context to do so it in is priceless. Also, some basic phrasing carries over to PC usage, like “save” “cancel” “cursor” “erase” etc., and that is valuable.

So, if you’re keen to try import games I’m also happy to say it’s never been a better time. Why so? Region-free is the order of the day. Back in 1994, when I first became keen to try Japanese games, nearly every console system was encoded either for PAL or NSTC, so you had to either have a Japanese system, or pay someone to “mod” your box. Modding was often expensive and could damage the system.

Now, many companies dispensed with region-encoding. Here’s the line-up:

  • Nintendo DS — FREE
  • Wii — Region Encoded
  • Xbox 360 — FREE
  • Sony PSP — FREE
  • PS3 — FREE

So, all this sounds great, minus the Wii. It was originally announced that it would be region-free, but Nintendo changed theirs minds at the last minute. The Wii can be modded or used with a boot disk, but since the thing is the cheapest of the three consoles, I would image just buying a Japanese model would be easier.

So, console companies check, but some game publishers have encoding placed on their disks. I haven’t come across this issue myself, but in general it might be a good idea to check online before buying a $60 or more game that may be blocked by the publisher’s choice.

Nuts and bolts aside, what are other positives to playing games in Japanese? If you’re like me and often annoyed with overly flowery translations or Sunday-morning-cartoon dub jobs, be aware that sometimes the game just… isn’t better in Japanese. I’ve blindly purchased enough import games to have learned the hard way that the Japanese dub can often be awful, especially from titles of smaller companies. A Square game might well be worth your money, as they have the power to recruit top talent, but smaller publishers often have cheesy B-grade anime voicing. Ouch. At least it counts as “listening comprehensive” in the study department.

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