A Japanese learner’s guide to GungHo’s PSN import releases

Any language learner knows that there’s nothing more fun and rewarding than doing something you enjoy in the language you’re studying, and Japanese is no different. Sites like The JRPG Club prove that many a video game fan dreams of Japanese language proficiency, and with the land of the rising sun being home to countless gaming gems, it’s no wonder Japanese learners continue to put their language skills to the test to play through their favorite titles in their original language. 

nihongo A Japanese learners guide to GungHos PSN import releases

Japanese import games aren’t always easily or cheaply acquired, however. Until very recently, the only way to get that random release you’d been coveting was either by traveling to Japan in person or ordering it online at an exorbitant price. Luckily, publishers like GungHo Online Entertainment America have branched into the realm of Japanese imports, enabling quick and easy access to obscure Japanese games for language learners and fans alike. To date, they’ve released three batches of six PSone Classics on the PlayStation Network since December 2012. Unfortunately, aside from very brief descriptions of each game, the titles have no English explanations whatsoever, making it difficult to determine the level of Japanese proficiency required.

That’s where this guide comes in. GungHo has clearly taken varying Japanese language abilities into consideration in selecting their PSone Classic import titles, and in order to do each game in their second batch of releases justice, I’ve provided a summary of each and rated them on a scale of “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “advanced” in terms of Japanese language skill level recommended. Those with no Japanese knowledge can also use this guide to see which titles will be best for them. So, what are you waiting for? 日本語の勉強頑張ってください!

trump A Japanese learners guide to GungHos PSN import releases

Trump Shiyouyo! Fukkoku-ban

Japanese Proficiency: Beginner

The most straightforward of the GungHo import releases, Trump Shiyouyo! Fukkoku-ban is a collection of card games that can be played with zero knowledge of Japanese. The games available include: Shichi-narabe, Daifugou, Page One, Dobon, Seven Bridge, Speed, Baba-nuki, Poker, Blackjack, and Shinkei-suijyaku. While many of the games should be familiar to most westerners, a quick Google search is all that’s needed to get the basic rules of the Japanese games. For those interested in exercising their Japanese, this entry-level title will have you navigating menus and tweaking options like a pro in no time.

Mahjong Uranai Fortuna ~Tsuki no Megami Tachi~

Japanese Proficiency: Beginner

Who doesn’t like a good game of Mahjong? Mahjong Uranai Fortuna ~Tsuki no Megami Tachi~ shakes up the traditional Mahjong formula by adding six cute girls and fortune-telling to the mix. If you’re looking for a quirky import game that doesn’t necessarily require an understanding of Japanese to play and have a penchant for Mahjong, this game might be right up your alley. Those with advanced beginner-to-intermediate knowledge of Japanese, however, will have fun listening to the commentary of their opponents and translating their fortune read at the end of the match. The fortunes themselves are nothing revolutionary (though the inclusion of unlockable images is a nice bonus), however, so those who have no interest in Mahjong should give this one a pass.

sentigraff 610x450 A Japanese learners guide to GungHos PSN import releases

Sentimental Graffiti

Japanese Proficiency: Intermediate

Sentimental Graffiti is one of the more famous games GungHo has brought over. As a dating sim originally released for the Sega Saturn in 1998, the game spawned numerous spin-offs, including an anime and radio drama, and is generally considered to be one of the founding games of the genre along with Tokimeki Memorial. Since the protagonist changed schools frequently throughout middle school, when he receives a message from someone from his past saying “I want to see you,” he embarks on a journey across Japan to find out who sent him the letter. Over the course of the game, players can choose from 12 different girls from the protagonist’s past to interact and eventually form relationships with, all on a tight deadline.

Since Sentimental Graffiti takes place in a real-world setting, none of the terminology is particularly difficult, and all of the female characters are voiced, as well. Dating sims are a great place for intermediate Japanese learners to hone their skills, as the mix of colloquial phrases and everyday scenarios makes for a great way to build on an already-existing knowledge of rudimentary Japanese. For those that need an extra hand, a helpful English guide to the game’s various events and the requirements that need to be met in order to trigger them can be found here.

rungrung A Japanese learners guide to GungHos PSN import releases

Oz no Mahoutsukai ~Another World~ RungRung

Japanese Proficiency: Intermediate

Oz no Mahoutsukai -Another World- RungRung may be based on The Wizard of Oz, but it’s not quite the same tale you and I grew up with. This re-imagining takes the form of a quirky action-adventure title that sees Dorothy and her companion Toto finding and combining a variety of magical items to find their way home to Kansas. While Oz no Mahoutsukai features the most dynamic gameplay of the titles mentioned so far, it’s a good pick for intermediate Japanese learners as it doesn’t use many complicated kanji. It isn’t, however, a game that can easily be blundered through without a good understanding of what’s going on in the dialogue, as it’s often not clear what to do next from gameplay alone. As such, I’d only recommend this game to players who are dedicated to reading (and listening – some of the dialogue is voiced as well) carefully rather than skimming through quickly to get the gist of things, as it’s easy to miss instructions and get stuck with no idea how to proceed, particularly early on in the game. Those who stick with it, however, will find a fun, satisfying game that you don’t need to be fluent at Japanese to complete.

favdear A Japanese learners guide to GungHos PSN import releases

Favorite Dear ~Enkan no Monogatari~

Japanese Proficiency: Advanced

While Favorite Dear ~Enkan no Monogatari~ features some similar simulation elements to Sentimental Graffiti, it ramps up the difficulty a notch by throwing a fantasy world and RPG systems into the mix, making it the perfect next step for those who feel they’ve outgrown the dating sim genre. Favorite Dear has players take on the role of a guardian angel who is tasked with raising a hero who can save the world from destruction in a mere 10 years, and it is up to you to manage your resources and seek out potential courageous candidates with the help of your fairy aids. Once you’ve found your hero, it’s off to battle! 

There are many different systems at work in Favorite Dear, making it a difficult game to get an understanding of, but once you fall into a routine, it becomes fairly straightforward. For this reason, it’s a great pick for intermediate Japanese learners looking for a challenge that isn’t quite as daunting as a full-fledged RPG with an in-depth storyline.

FQIV A Japanese learners guide to GungHos PSN import releases

First Queen IV

Japanese Proficiency: Advanced

The First Queen real-time strategy RPG series has never made it outside of Japan despite the fact that it features character designs of acclaimed Final Fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano. The games feature a number of unique characteristics such as the fusion of traditional RPG-gameplay such as town exploration, talking with NPCs, and leveling up, with solider recruitment and strategic warfare. The games also feature a unique system where many characters battle it out on the screen in real-time, with the player controlling one character and the rest controlled by AI. First Queen IV, however, departs from many of the RPG staples of the previous installments to instead focus more on the strategic movement of troops and acquisition of new bases.

It’s hard to recommend First Queen IV to all but the most dedicated players and advanced Japanese learners,. Not only is it the oldest title out of this batch of imports (it originally appeared on the PC-98), but it features the most complex systems, as well. Luckily, the actual real-time gameplay is fairly straightforward, but getting there is slow-going without a good command of Japanese. It’s not a very approachable game, but die-hard obscure JRPG enthusiasts may want to use First Queen IV as motivation to push their Japanese skills further.

About Anne Lee

Anne will tell you whether or not you’re missing out when it comes to those pesky Japan-only releases. When she isn’t researching gender and sexuality in Japanese popular culture, she’s playing the quirkiest games she can get her hands on. Region locking is the bane of her existence.

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