With the release of KanaBattle 2 I thought it would be interesting to do a post on the current state of the art of this genre. While it seems to be a unique genre (learning Japanese characters with an RPG) it is surprising to see that there are quite a few titles already out there. From a quick glance at the forums there also seems to be new designers and developers eager to join in with their talents and ideas. From vintage retro games to Linux/PC/Mac and Web games to full-blown iOS and Android games let’s take a quick look inside this microgenre.
In the beginning there were huge mainframes and these ran text-based dungeon crawlers. The oldest Japanese RPG I could track down was Koei’s Dragon and Princess (ドラゴン＆プリンセス). According to that site it was 1983 although Wikipedia has 1982. From these early days in the 70s and 80s the RPG has evolved to its present day form. It can definitely be useful to learn Japanese through complete immersion in the language (such as playing a full-fledged Japanese RPG). However it appears that many have independently arrived at the idea of learning the Japanese characters themselves (Katakana, Hiragana, Kanji) through a role-playing game. I do not have chronological order for these so they do not appear in any particular order. If anyone has additional information and history it would be great to incorporate it all together.
Here is a list I found by scouring through Google.
Tower of Kana – This seems to have disappeared from the web, although Android Arts is still around. If it’s the one I remember correctly it had a pretty well-thought-out design and great artwork.
Slime Forest Adventure (aka LRNJ) has a free version for Linux/Windows/Mac with option to upgrade to full version.
JRPG – free Python-based game for Linux/Windows/Mac.
Kana Attack (web game) – find the romaji match to destroy the monster.
Ninja Words Adventure – iOS RPG for learning Kanji. There are both paid and lite versions.
KanaBattle 2 – My entry into this genre. Use a variety of Katakana, Hiragana, and Romaji to defeat sinister emoji. Visit the Castle to upgrade your attack and defense. Collect gold and health to stay alive. Also features a time trial arcade mode. Available for iPhone/iPod Touch.
All in all I am excited to be a part of this genre and I think there are some good ideas out there that we could all build upon to eventually bring this style of educational gaming (in particular educational role-playing games) to a wider audience. I think technology has advanced to the point were we can evolve past the flashcard as we create more immersive video gaming experiences that educate as well as captivate.
If anyone has any corrections or additions I welcome all comments. I would like to incorporate as much feedback as possible so that people working in this genre have ideas of what has worked and what future directions we envision moving forward.