Friday 12 February 2016

What I Learned: Finishing A Native Japanese RPG For The First Time

If you've been following the blog for over a year, you'll know I made 'Play a native Japanese RPG from start to finish' one of my New Years Resolutions for 2015. I didn't completely finish any during 2015 despite trying to play a few, such as Ciel no Surge and Omega Quintet. However, as of February 5th 2016, I finished the Japanese edition of Final Fantasy X!

I've played Final Fantasy X in English a bazillion times, so my experience is probably quite different to playing a completely new story in another language. It was still challenging but it was also an interesting and enjoyable experience, thanks to the interesting differences between the import and localised versions. Because I initially found it challenging coming from it with a "I must learn all words and sentences for my Japanese" perspective, my strategy for enjoying and completing this kind of game changed a lot along the way. I hope this can help anyone trying to do the same thing!

Playing a game in a foreign language is only as difficult as you make it!

While difficult gameplay crosses language borders, a language barrier is only a barrier if you let it be. Before I decided to play Final Fantasy X in Japanese, I had tried to play a few games in Japanese, including Ciel no Surge, Persona 4 Dancing All Night and Omega Quintet. I'm a story fiend, so I tended to make them all more difficult for myself because I wanted to understand everything. Dictionaries were used, notes were made and I was overwhelmed at the extra work I had to do while trying to have fun. Learning to play a new game's mechanics is enough for me, especially long games, which is typically what JRPGs are.

I played Final Fantasy X using what I already knew about the game and Japanese, and after awhile it became easier to match regularly seen and used buttons and words to the visuals and dialogue. It took a lot of trial and error at first, but I forced myself to only pull my dictionary out when I was curious about something rather than when I needed it. Eventually you learn 'these symbols will take me to the sphere grid' and 'this part of the menu is usually casts fire'. This made my experience much more about playing and exploring the game than studying or having a foreign language in front of me.

You might learn some really random words anyway, whether you intend to or not.

Repetition is a funny thing and a great tool for learning. After playing Final Fantasy X, I now know that random words like 'shoukan' means summon and 'wairo' means bribe. They're probably words I won't use a lot in daily conversation with Japanese people, but I know them because I've seen and heard them so often. I found it really fun remembering really random Japanese words like this and attack names. It's not only useful for getting through the game, it's kind of fun if you have an interest in languages or playing similar games.

(Side note: and after looking up the kanji/reading for the word summon, I've noticed it in other JRPG trailers which is kind of cool. Thanks FFX!)

If you've played the localised version of the Japanese game you're playing, expect some interesting voices.

I was highly entertained by hearing the voices and mannerisms of some of my favourite characters' Japanese voice counterparts. A big difference I noticed was the high voices of female characters like Rikku and the baritone voices of characters like Auron and Seymour. The English version of the game does it's best to echo this (and voice actors like Tara Strong for Rikku definitely do a great job of it), but hearing what these were based was an experience nonetheless. For Rikku, I felt like I really understood her young age a bit more (she's 15 in Final Fantasy X) and for Wakka, it was almost beautiful not to hear him say 'ya' about everything. It made me appreciate English localisers for the care they usually put into localising things accurately and also gave me a new appreciation for the talented voice actors on the Japanese version too. I definitely still like the voice actors in the English version, but I did find some characters, like Wakka and Seymour, that I preferred as the Japanese voice actors.

You may notice some dialogue differences from the localised version (depending on the game).

I've played Final Fantasy X on PS2 more times than I can count, so my memory of the game's dialogue was my little secret weapon for if I had a point of total confusion. Because of my memory of the English dialogue, it was extremely interesting to see small little dialogue choices in the Japanese version. I don't want to spoil anything, but a certain key dialogue change in a certain goodbye scene (If spoilers aren't an issue, you can read about on the Final Fantasy wikia) was quite surprising to me until I read into it and other little changes like that in scenes made me stop and think for a second about why they chose to change it for the English edition. I can imagine most of it's just nuance and culture differences, but it makes me interested in the little changes that have been made to some of my other favourite series, such as Persona or Danganronpa, that I may not have ever known about otherwise.

It also really made me realise why localisations exist.

Localisations make these Japanese games much easier for us to understand and consume. Although it's definitely possible to play through a Japanese game and still have a relaxing, fun time, it's also much easier and faster to absorb the dialogue and story in your native language and requires less brain work and trial and error. I really enjoyed trying a native Japanese JRPG, but I also realise why there's no harm in waiting for a localisation and for the English voice acting. Reading subs or trying to understand a language you don't know as well your native language does require more patience, so I have a deeper respect for the people who make playing Japanese RPGs much easier for those who don't speak Japanese.


In the end, my experience playing a game in a foreign language was defined by the way I approached it. I didn't understand everything, but I understood enough from context and the Japanese I already knew. If you're studying Japanese, it's a great way to reinforce words and a fun way to learn some weird JRPG specific words. If you're just playing for fun, if you can get past the foreign language, it provides some new entertainment from the wonderful Japanese voice actors, story changes and the universally fun gameplay (if you're playing a good game of course). If you're up for a challenge or you're a patient person, I recommend giving it a try if you're interested!

Whether you're looking for a localised or import game, you can find both at


Have you tried playing an imported game? Do you prefer playing native or localised JRPGs?
Leave a comment below or send me a tweet at @JRPGJungle and let's talk!

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