i’ve been playing my japanese coach for DS for a while now. i had played my french coach at the beginning of last year, and despite its limitations i had enjoyed it enough that i was quite looking forward to my japanese coach as japanese is a language that i’d been interested in learning at least the basics of for quite some time.
there was a lot i appreciated and enjoyed with my japanese coach. first off, i was looking forward to learning the three writing systems (hiragana and katakana, the two syllabic scripts, and kanji, which is based on chinese characters), and in general the game accomplishes the task decently well. the handwriting recognition works well and the characters are taught sequentially and in manageable groups. people have commented that the stroke orders aren’t completely accurate, but outside of that fact on the whole this isn’t a bad way to learn the characters. (in case anyone’s interested, i ended up looking through some other books to reinforce the writing i was learning in the game, and for katakana i came across a really great book called easy katakana that instead of teaching the characters in order teaches them out of order so that you can write a whole slew of actual words right off the bat. i highly recommend that book, although i didn’t find its companion book, easy hiragana, to be as useful.)
the biggest complaint i had about my french coach was its emphasis on vocabulary over pretty much anything else within its 40ish lessons. my japanese coach is a definite improvement and includes 100 lessons and explicitly goes through many grammatical concepts, including verb forms, adjectives, and honorifics, although the game is still far from a perfect teaching tool. for one thing, some of the games are carried over wholesale from the previous games and don’t really apply to japanese as much (e.g. the spelling game and the seek-and-find game), particularly when they use romaji (the english romanization of japanese characters) instead of the actual japanese characters. the game also doesn’t move much beyond flash cards, and exercises that require more usage and comprehension of the language and actual construction of sentences would have been great. even simple fill-in-the-blank exercises would have been helpful. also, as with my french coach there are some noticeable bugs (although nothing major that i encountered), and after the lessons are all completed the rest of the game consists of random vocabulary which is fairly useless. but in this game 100 lessons will keep you busy for quite some time.
all in all i’m definitely happy i picked up my japanese coach, although as with my french coach i’m disappointed at the missed opportunity. MJC is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully the series will continue to improve. i’m not counting on ubisoft to ramp up the quality much, but maybe i’ll be pleasantly surprised, as i was with MJC. regardless, you can bet that i’ll be picking up my german coach and my korean coach when/if they come out.
coach’s japanese links:
– most of the reviews don’t get that far into the game (e.g. don’t even mention the kanji lessons, which start around lesson 50). a typical example is this one from joystiq. but here’s a nice review of the whole game. also, here’s a glowing review from diehardgamefan.com.
– apparently one of the developers of the game has a blog. he even includes a cheat to unlock all the lessons (or however many you want).