I’m doing a two-part post today about playing Japanese video games. The Japanese love their video games, and a lot of Japanese learners love them, too. Before I go into how to get them, I’d like to point out the pros and cons of playing them, so that you don’t hastily go out and get them only to regret it.
PROS: I highly recommend watching anime, reading manga, and playing video games as a way to get a feel for what real Japanese is like, even if you’re not into sentence mining. Anything you can do to bet away from the sanitized Japanese that your textbook has to offer is a plus. Modern games often have voice acting with captions, so it’s like watching J-Drama with captions.
CONS: The game screens can make reading Japanese a huge pain. This isn’t as much of a problem with some of the newer games as well as games that are all in hiragana, but sometimes reading kanji on a SNES/Sega Genesis/NES/N64/Atari/etc. screen can be a pain.
Also, if you’re a beginner, it’ll be hard to find games at your level. You can either play an overload of Pokemon, as well as some other games for little kids, or you can wait until you feel more comfortable with reading and understanding Japanese.
So, here’s part 1, which focuses on retro gaming! I love retro gaming, and there’s a ton of good games out there. Here’s a few ways to get them in Japanese.
1. Virtual console on the Wii. Even the English version of the Wii has a few Japanese games to download for its virtual console. Wii points cards are $20 each, which really isn’t too bad. This is affordable, and a great way to support Nintendo.
2. Buy a retro gaming system. Head to eBay or look for used game systems. Sometimes these systems can get expensive, but you’ll be able to play any Japanese game you want on your TV. This is my preferred way, since I like to feel like I’m living in my nostalgia, except in Japanese. Then again, I’m a bit of a collector, too.
3. Go download an emulator. This is the easiest way to get your hands on older Japanese video games. Go to a site, like Emulator Zone, and download an emulator for the console you want games for. To get games for your emulator, you need to look for ROMs to load, but there’s a ton of sites for these. I recommend ROM Hustler.
Basically, you get an emulator for the system you want your computer to emulate. Install it and configure it (configuration can be a pain sometimes), and go look for game ROMs that you want to play. It’s easy and cheap. Technically, you’re only supposed to download games you already own, but I tend to make exceptions for these older games because they’re next to impossible to find sometimes.
Now, this offers easily the fastest and cheapest way to get Japanese video games, and there’s a ton of them at your disposal. However, I’d like to make a few suggestions before downloading.
1. Go for older systems. I know there are emulators out there for everything, including the PlayStation on up, but from my experience ROMs for things like PlayStation, GameCube, etc. tend to be buggy and can crash a lot. I’ve had fair luck with N64 emulators, but beyond that you’re better off buying the system instead of trying to set up a working emulator. More on buying systems in part 2.
2. When starting out, try and find games you’re already familiar with instead of downloading a game you’ve never played before. I know, we all want to play those Fire Emblem games that haven’t yet made it to the US, but you should start with something you’re already used to playing. Eventually you can work up to playing games you’ve never heard of.
Well, that’s it for part 1. The next part is focused on modern games as opposed to retro gaming. I decided to do that part separate because consoles are region locked, for the most part, and emulators are buggy for newer systems. Stay tuned!