Tag Archives: Japanese 3DS

Learn Japanese Through Gameplay – Megami Meguri

Can you learn Japanese through playing games? Well, the right games can certainly help a great deal. And this week saw the launch of one of the best games for the purpose. And even better – it’s free!

The game is called めがみ めぐり Megami Meguri, which could perhaps be translated as Goddess Tour (though I don’t think any translation really captures the spirit of the title).

From the language-learning perspective, the most interesting things are that it is almost fully-voiced and it involves teaching human language (i.e. Japanese) from the ground up to a new-born Goddess who knows almost nothing.

The game uses artificial intelligence and the “Megami Speak Engine”, an artificial voice synthesis system developed by Capcom and Toshiba, using Toshiba’s voice synthesis engine, ToSpeak G3, as its base. The Megami Speak Engine is used in Megami Meguri by having the character make use of user-input words to converse in a near natural-sounding synthetic voice.

In fact, talking is a major part of the game. As the senior Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, advises at one point:

Hanashite, hanashite, hanashimakuru koto ja (=da)

The makuru auxiliary verb has been explained as “to do with reckless abandon”. The meaning here could be rendered as “talk, talk, talk ’till you drop”. Because by talking, learning new words and learning all about you, your heroine grows and develops.

This means that you are spending a lot of the game interacting in Japanese and developing the character of your fledgling goddess. Her appearance and voice are your constant companions. And fortunately, since her language-learning process is not really naturalistic (this is entertainment after all) you can’t actually teach her wrong Japanese. She will develop correctly in the language. And in fact, despite not knowing the names of many simple things, she is really quite competent in Japanese from the start.

The game has essentially two overall aims, both concerned with developing the heroine as a person (or rather goddess). One is to develop the relationship between yourself and your heroine through conversations with her, the information you give her and the things you tell her about yourself. The other, as expressed by Amaterasu, is

Ningen ni kansuru chishiki wa juuyou da
Human-related general knowledge/common sense is of great importance.

This is interesting for those who want to learn about Japanese culture as well as language. “Human-related knowledge” means in fact “Japan-related knowledge”, just as “human language” is Japanese.

You are in fact raising an intelligent and functional person who is nonetheless like a small child in relation to things Japanese – rather like you at the start of your Japanese self-immersion.

You will be traveling all over Japan. In fact, you can visit every one of the 9000+ railway stations in Japan!

Nearly everyone in Japan is a little bit of a 鉄 tetsu (railway enthusiast), and more than other countries, the railway system does still feel like the main arteries of the country. If you have spent time in Japan, just hearing the names of railway stations makes you feel natsukashii (nostalgic).

Traveling to different places you also learn about their special foods. Again, the Japanese are very interested in the 名物 meibutsu or special product of each area – usually food. You can barely mention Kobe to anyone without the subject of beef coming up, for example.

You will be learning about a lot of other things too. Things Japanese people mostly know already, but love to celebrate, presented in a way accessible to people who don’t know these things, because that is what the heroine of the game is.

And you will be learning about Japan, not only in Japanese but through Japanese eyes – learning the things that are salient to the Japanese soul, rather than the perspective of the foreign tourist (or even the foreign “otaku”).

I very much doubt if this game will ever come to the west. It is far too Japan-centric. And if it ever did, far more even than most things, it would be localized out of existence.

Pros and cons of Megami Meguri

I am not going to list pros and cons separately, as one person’s pro may be another person’s con and vice versa. But here are my thoughts.

The voice used by the heroine of Megami Meguri isn’t perfect. Actually it does sound pretty natural in intonation, and the limitations in sound production just make her seem a little nasal/muffly, which actually suits her naïve personality. Everything she says also appears as text onscreen, so understanding is not a problem. In fact she is quite understandable anyway.

There are no furigana in this game, so if you need them that could be a problem. Just about everything the heroine says is voiced, but the explanatory commentaries of Amaterasu are not. There is some good voice-acting for other characters, but not always, so if kanji are a sticking-point the game might not be ideal for you. On the other hand, there is a lot of voiced text.

3D seems to be unused. I don’t know if it will be employed for some effects, but so far I haven’t seen any. Some people don’t seem to like 3D and even turn it off, but I love it, so I found this a small disappointment.

Building a relationship with a virtual character is really the central point of this game. To me this is very important. I actually downloaded a demo of Konami’s LovePlus some time ago. I really liked the idea, though as a doll I wasn’t too interested in playing a boy or having a “waifu“.

This game seems to be doing what LovePlus does, only for a broader audience and with the huge enhancement of having your virtual partner actually talk to you.

The game is free-to-play. The business model relies on in-game purchases, but I don’t think you are ever forced to make any in order to continue. Of course, as you get more involved you may end up tempted into doing so!

It is easy to download if you have a Japanese 3DS. If you haven’t, I can only say that getting one is one of the best immersion investments you can make. People complain that 3DS is region-locked, and while I understand the complaint, from a self-immersion point of view, being locked into Japan is no bad thing, and fortunately it doesn’t lock you by the region you are in but by the region your 3DS comes from.

Obviously Megami Meguri isn’t a game for the absolute beginner, but as a supplementary immersion strategy it has some really important advantages.

Japanese Miiverse/NNID outside Japan

japanese NNID outside Japan
You SHALL go to the ball… I mean you CAN access Miiverse on a Japanese 3DS outside Japan

Can you sign up for a Japanese NNID outside Japan? Can you be a part of Japanese Miiverse in America or Europe?

That question troubled me for quite a while. My 3DS was purchased in Japan and would only connect to the Japanese eShop. I heard rumors that if one signed up one would not be able to log in because one’s IP was in the wrong region.

That would have been disastrous for me since I am in a place where getting imports is very difficult and my 3DSLL will not play non-Japanese games, physical or digital. So If I lost eShop access I would be up the proverbial gum-tree without a paddle.

It was particularly annoying as, with the introduction of NNIDs to 3DS, Nintendo cut off access to free e-Shop items (such as demos and apps like the children’s ebook reader Honto) for recalcitrant customers who did not register NNIDs.

I did a lot of asking around (there is very little on the subject on the internet). In the end I felt as sure as I was going to get that it was safe and took the plunge.

And I can assure you all that it is safe. I now have a Japan-based NNID. Officially I am in Japan.

(Please note: I cannot confirm that this will work with WiiU).

You actually can choose other countries in the region, I think, so if you wanted to be Korean you could (possibly useful for excusing one’s poor Japanese without making people think one speaks English. However since you want to be working in Japanese I would reccomend sticking to Japan). You can also choose your prefecture. I chose Aichi, which is where I was when I first got the 3DS, and therefore the one the machine was already set to.

Beware though – your initial choices will be locked forever. Not your privacy settings and so forth, but things like your country can never be changed. And your user name can never be changed, so choose it carefully! If you delete your account you will lose all your digital games, so you are really locked into your initial choice.

Fortunately your display name is the name of your Mii and you can still change that at will. But when people view your profile, your user name will always be there.

You also get the choice of setting Miiverse to show worldwide posts or posts for your language only. I set mine to Japanese only. Partly because when I am fooling with Miiverse I also want to be learning. Partly because I really don’t need a lot of clutter from languages I don’t know or am not trying to improve. Partly because there is far too much English-language trivia around anyway. I really don’t need more (and I probably see less than most people!) You can change this setting after sign-up, by the way.

More importantly, in relation to the Japanese-learning methods advocated by this site, it is important to set up as many Japanese-only environments for yourself as possible and Miiverse gives a golden opportunity for a new one.

kawaii pictures Japanese Miiverse
Follow the right folks for kawaii pictures on Japanese Miiverse!

Another important setting that I don’t see a chance to change later is whether you want to connect to Miiverse via PC etc. You do. You definitely do. There is absolutely nothing to lose here as you don’t need to use it if you don’t want to. But you will want to.

If you choose “yes”, you can access the whole of Miiverse via your PC and other web-enabled devices. This means that you can use Rikaichan while browsing posts and writing replies, which is invaluable. Not while making original posts though as this can only be done from your 3DS while playing the game – which restricts original posts on a game to people who own and play it.

You can also access your screenshots posted via your 3DS on the Web version of Miiverse. This finally solves the age-old problem of getting decent screen-shots from a DS as you can then copy and use these (you actually can’t download them in the regular manner but there are obvious ways around that).

So – good luck with Miiverse. See you there!

(I am kinokononingyou by the way!)