My Japanese Coach

If you're a fan of Japanese RPGs like this reviewer is, chances are that you might want to play many of those particular games that don't have and probably never will see English versions. The major roadblock to playing Japanese RPGs in their native language, of course, is the language itself, which is nothing short of difficult to learn. This reviewer tried Rosetta Stone Japanese and attempted to play an import game, but could only understand part of it, and felt that that particular piece of software didn't do a good job preparing him for tasks such as playing Japanese games. I eventually found out about My Japanese Coach for the Nintendo DS, developed by Ubisoft Entertainment, and, given my love of the Nintendo DS and many of its games, decided to give it a shot, and though it does have its flaws, it's still a lot better than Rosetta Stone.

When starting a new game, My Japanese Coach gives you a placement test that determines how many lessons you should skip, and if you miss two words in a row or the timer reaches zero, the test ends. The first hundred lessons take players across various landmarks, sites, and cities in Japan while teaching the basics of grammar along with the two main syllabaries of the language, Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji, the Chinese characters used in Japanese, come into play as well, and are perhaps the biggest roadblock in learning the language, though fortunately the game teaches you about two thousand of these characters, in addition to over ten thousand vocabulary words.

There are some drawbacks with how My Japanese Coach teaches you the language, such as the fact that the game teaches all new vocabulary words strictly in Hiragana rather than simplifying them with Kanji, which would have been a better help in granting literacy in the language on par with that of native speakers. Fortunately, the game does have a dictionary listing all the vocabulary words in Kanji, although getting their requires navigating a few screens (with some loading times as well, inexcusable for a cartridge game), and oddly, if you want to practice writing a vocabulary word, there's an always-grayed-out option for "Kanji." This lends the impression that the game was incomplete before its release, a paradox considering the hundred-plus hours it takes to finish all 1145 lessons.

Advancing through lessons requires the learner to play a variety of minigames and earn mastery points, with three difficulty levels and more points earned the higher the difficulty is; accessing some of these games, however, first requires the player to advance a ways through the game. The first mini-game is Multiple Choice, where an English word appears on the top screen and the player must choose the Japanese translation on the bottom screen, a process repeating ten times. Then there's Hit-a-Word, a Whack-the-Mole-esque game where the player taps gophers with the stylus that sport the correct Japanese translation of an English word that, again, appears on the upper screen.

Third is word search, where ten English words appear on the upper screen and the player must find their Japanese translations among the letters on the bottom screen. Then there's Flash Cards, where the player hears a word in Japanese and must select the correct English translation from four choices on the bottom screen within a certain amount of time that varies with the difficulty. Next is Memory, where the player must match English words with their Japanese equivalents and vice versa. Bridge Builder shows the player a Japanese sentence on the upper screen, with the learner needing to rearrange blocks with Japanese words on the lower screen in the correct order to advance.

Spelltastic has the player listen to a word in Japanese and spell it with Romaji. Fill-in-the-Blank presents the player with a Japanese sentence missing a word (in Romaji), with the learner needing to type the missing word. Write Cards tests the player's ability to write Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji characters. Fading Characters is similar, although this game first shows players the correct stroke order of characters before disappearing and asking learners to write it. Scrolls presents characters with a sentence written in Japanese (in Hiragana), with the player needing to write the highlighted word one character at a time on the bottom screen. Finally, there's Yomi, where the top screen presents players first with a sequence of one or more Hiragana and then the corresponding Kanji, which they must write on the lower screen.

After the player has finished a minigame, My Japanese Coach presents the learner with a results screen indicating how many mastery points they've learned for each of the ten words in the lesson, with fifteen points needed per word to "master" it. While the variety of games is nice, odds are that players might want to stick to the ones that actually give translations of the words to or from Japanese, since games such as Write Cards don't actually remind player of said translation. Another peculiarity is that the game, in addition to the list of words in each lesson, features a phrasebook with a variety of Japanese sentences relating to different categories, although these don't figure in to any lessons.

All in all, My Japanese Coach definitely has many things going against it such as the fact that it doesn't teach Kanji compounds at all outside the in-game dictionary, but it still has plenty going for it such as the variety of minigames and the easy pace of learning the language ten new words at a time. Even after its over-hundred-hour playtime, however, some players such as this reviewer might not exactly find themselves fluent in the language, although it's definitely a solid introduction to Japanese, and is a better learning tool than say, Rosetta Stone, given its use of actual translations instead of just integrating players into the language without teaching grammar.

The Good:
+Teaches Hiragana and Katakana well.
+Plenty of enjoyable minigames with adjustable difficulty.
+Better than Rosetta Stone.

The Bad:
-Doesn't teach Kanji compounds.
-Not all minigames emphasize translations.
-Some components seem incomplete.

The Bottom Line:
It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than Rosetta Stone, and a decent teaching tool.


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