I have a DS, and I have a few games for it, some that I'll be returning messing around with soon. These games have proven to be QUITE helpful for Japanese. I also began learning Chinese and Korean on the side when I have a little extra time, and I've found the DS to also be useful. I have to say, that the DS is probably the most useful little tool possible for learning Japanese. While the Ipod has a couple useful flash card tools, and the internet has a wealth of information, I have yet to find a better combination of everything than the programs for the DS.
So I figured I would post a handful of game/program recommendations for learning Japanese on the Nintendo DS that I have found significantly useful. I also hope that others will add to this list so that I might myself benefit further from this little wonder.
The format I am going to use is a four point rating system to keep it simple.
Concept: The main idea and type of game. A shooter? A dictionary? Adventure game? Kanji practice? Maybe a short summary of the story concept. Just the core of the game concept here.
Personal Fun Rating: Simple personal rating out of a score of 10 about the quality of the game/program.
Usefulness:How is this game/program useful for learning Japanese? What makes it lend itself to learning Japanese? A good dictionary? Useful vocab? Furigana tools? Maybe built in speech?
Japanese Language Level: Generally what level of Japanese is this product useful for? Is it helpful for beginners? Only for advanced language users? Maybe useful for all?
Without further ado here is my first set.
Title: Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten (Not to be confised with Kanji Rakubiki Jiten which does not have the kanji writing option!!
Concept: A Japanese to English/English to Japanese dictionary program. Can write kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romaji.
Personal Fun Rating: 6/10 It's a dictionary, not much fun of course, but mandatory never-the-less
Usefulness: Absolutely MANDATORY for anyone learning Japanese. Not only is it one of the best write-in Japanese dictionaries I have found, even in comparison to $300-$400 electronic dictionaries, but it quite cheap. Writing in the kanji is reliable as well. The only weakness is it's lack of Japanese pronunciations and a weak Jump feature for works in Japanese. Great for the price.
Japanese Language Level: All levels, from beginner to advanced. Once you reach advanced you may of course need a more robust dictionary however.
Title: Nazotte Oboeru Otona no Kanji Renshuu
Concept: One of the better kanji practice games. You are taught 5 kanji at a time, then quizzed on writing them and their reading. Fairly simple and clear cut. A few mini-games for more advanced kanji games. These seems to be a new version out as well but I'm not sure the difference.
Personal Fun Rating: 7/10 It isn't all that boring at all for kanji study! The writing of the kanji and the readings, along with sense of progress can be quite addicting sometimes.
Usefulness: This is a VERY useful program for learning readings and writing of kanji... with one downside. There is no dictionary to explain what these words all mean. So you are going to have to look up or know the words you are writing if you hope to know what they mean. Same goes with the core kanji meaning.
Japanese Language Level: All levels, from beginner to advanced. You can start from the first kanji for Ichi, to much later on. This is a very flexible program.
Title: Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Concept: Classic Zelda on the DS. A wonderful adventure game, but even better for Japanese language study! One of the first games I've seen to actually have a feature where if you tap on the kanji text, it will pop up furigana!
Personal Fun Rating: 8/10 It's Zelda, and it's damn fun. The game itself is very well put together and using the stylus for movement and action is done to near perfection. Can be a tad... easy of a game however.
Usefulness: GREAT for language study due to the furigana pop-up feature. This makes looking up any new words quite easy. A mix of different speech styles also gives an interesting exercises in decoding different patterns of speech.
Japanese Language Level: Intermediate to semi-advanced. You need to have some knowledge under your belt to start this one, and it may be TOO simple for truly advanced Japanese language students.
Title: 200 Mannin no KanKen: Tokoton Kanji Nou
Concept: Another good kanji memorization game, but with numerous modes and a higher level of kanji to learn than the previously posted above game. Instead of one sentence you go into further paragraphs where you can fill out the correct kanji or the reading.
Personal Fun Rating: 6/10 Somehow the interface is a bit more dull and has a slightly overwhelming cluttered feel to it. Still this is a kanji game so you can't expect massive excitement here.
Usefulness: Quite useful, since reading is put inside. However, since things can be timed, this makes it very difficult to look up new words on the fly. However, for pure kanji knowledge this is hard to beat.
Japanese Language Level: While you can start at a lower level, the fact that timers are put in and that you are going to a higher level eventually with full sentences means that you are going to be looking at a game that is from low intermediate to advanced, rather than beginner.
Title:My Japanese Coach
Concept: An English based program meant to teach basic Japanese through simple concepts and lessons with writing practice and mini-games
Personal Fun Rating: 6/10 Fun... to an extent, but the mini-games could have been a LOT more enjoyable and better done than they are. Still it is what it is. The inability to start at a higher level is one very negative feature...
Usefulness: A very good tool for beginners, and a great supplement as well. It is important to note though, that this is absolutely not enough to learn beginning Japanese as the grammar lessons and practice are not detailed enough by any means. As supplementary program to a beginning Japanese class this is a powerhouse though!
Japanese Language Level: Beginning and Advanced Beginner. This is mostly basic stuff here. However, that is what it is meant to be.
Title: Nazotte Oboeru Otona no Kanji Renshuu Kanzenban
Concept: An improved version of the immensely useful Nazotte Oboeru series. You are taught 5 kanji at a time, then quizzed on writing them and their reading. Fairly simple and clear cut.
Personal Fun Rating: 7/10 Still about the same as the other game. It is fun for a kanji game.
Usefulness: The first of the series was WONDERFUL for learning kanji with the only downside being that there was no translation of the meaning of the words. If you have another dictionary handy, or only need to practice the kanji this is a godsend.
Japanese Language Level: Beginning to advanced. One of the best kanji learning tools I have found yet. The new version has a few new tools that make it even better for on-the-side practice and the new look up feature is wonderful.
Title: Kageyama Method Tadashii Kanji Kakitori Kun -Kondo Wa Kanken Taisaku Dayo-
Concept: An upgraded and much more expanded version of the previous and somewhat outdated Kageyama Method Tadashii game. While the previous version seems to have only gone to 6th year student kanji, this version goes to high school and beyond with added features.
Personal Fun Rating: 7/10 It's a kanji game, but it is very well presented, the music and sounds are cute and fitting and even the little "lemming-like" teacher fits.
Usefulness: For those focused on stroke order and becoming more advanced with kanji usage and reading, this game has some serious strong points. While lacking some better practice modes, the fact that each kanji has the MEANING and usage of words by example with compounds makes this game stand out above others.
Japanese Language Level: Beginning to Advanced. While beginners will be quite limited to what they can learn, it will help with stroke order and getting them on the right food. It is intermediate to advanced users that will benefit the most from this program due to definitions and examples being included. The only contender for Otono no Kanji Renshuu's Crown yet, but arguably its queen at the very least.
Title: Kanji no Waritori-
Concept: The "Mario Teaches Typing" of Kanji games with brass knuckles and a spiked dil... yeah it's no simple task here. A cowboy themed kanji game with a simple story like where you defeat ninja "things" by quick kanji draw answers.
Personal Fun Rating: 8/10 Honestly great presentation and music, as well as interesting style for a kanji game. It is one of the more enjoyable games based around kanji that I have found.
Usefulness: This is more of a "do you know it?" test and reinforcement tool for advanced users than it is for practice and learning. It isn't teaching as much as it is pushing you to what your limit might be.
Japanese Language Level: Semi-advanced to advanced. This game will abuse you and leave you crying on the ground on even the "simple/easy" mode that is offered starts with chuugakkou kanji and advanced starts with koukou level kanji. Normal mode would even make some of the weaker at heart quit Japanese entirely. It isn't for anyone below advanced-intermediate... Fun, but not to be taken lightly. Finish the first phase only to be presented with a quick choice of "this or that" where the wrong choice gets you instantly killed by being run over with a truck... yeah, it doesn't joke around.
Title: Chrono Trigger DS
Concept: One of the most classic RPGs of all time for the Super Famicom. You take the roll of Chrono and friends and travel through various points in time. Contains a wonderful style of presentation, music, characters, and a memorable story.
Personal Fun Rating: 10/10 It doesn't get any better than this folks. Get an hour or two into this game, and you will cherish your dictionary for simply allowing you to play more of this game.
Usefulness: I'm putting this game here for one reason. It is arguably on of the best RPG games of the 90s, maybe ever made for any console. The Japanese version has the added bonus that it will CHANGE languages between English and Japanese depending on the setting of your DS. If you are at an intermediate/high level of Japanese, this is a must try if you are looking for a truly rewarding game to test your years of Japanese practice on. You'll be looking up any word just so you don't miss a second of this game. Furthermore, if you have already played the game, knowing the plot may help you get a jump start on following the dialog.
Japanese Language Level: Advanced Intermediate to Advanced. It is possible to deal with this game at an intermediate level, but you are going to be struggling with looking up words a bit too frequently to be productive. With the mix of speaking patterns and perfectly balanced amount of text with game play, even struggling through is rewarded.
Whew, ok feel free to post your own reviews and recommendations!