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I’ve always maintained that, while the method may work for a very lucky few, drilling lists of words and kanji characters is like trying to commit blocks of random numbers to memory – that is to say painfully hard work, time-consuming, and not in the least bit natural or fun. Rather, a better way to approach language learning is to encounter words in context so as to easier form cognitive connections and assimilate them into that which we already know.

So when I stumbled upon Koe, an upcoming role-playing game designed to help people learn Japanese as they play, I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of excitement.

Student and indie game designer Jitesh Rawal presented a rough model of his game, Koe, to potential backers on crowdfunding website Kickstarter back in February. Named after the Japanese word for voice (声), Koe is a JRPG in the same vein as classics such as Final Fantasy and Pokémon and was pencilled in to appear on Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and even this writer’s favourite portable platform ever, PlayStation Vita. But it needed money.

Asking for the princely, but not unreasonable sum of £35,000 (US$58,000) in order to hire character and environment artists (the current images show placeholder visuals only), pay for software licences and development tools, a sound composer and the like, Jitesh explained his vision for the game:

“I’ve been studying [Japanese] for a few years now and the biggest hurdle for me was when I was starting out. I didn’t know where to begin, or what to use because there are so many tools and reference materials out there, and I had no idea which one would be the most approachable. Koe is everything I wanted help with starting out in the form of my favorite gaming genre and brings together not only the technology, but also the culture behind the Japanese language.”

Koe features all of the elements that you might expect from a typical JRPG, such as turn-based battles, experience points, in-game shops and bosses. As they explore, battle and level up, however, players collect items in the form of Japanese words. The game then requires players to become familiar with their newly acquired lingo as they use it in battle. It’s an altogether more organic method of learning that, rather than requiring the learner to repeatedly tell themselves “Japanese word X means Y in English”, they are simply exposed to the new language until they can confidently add it to their lexicon and recognise it with ease.

Jitesh tells us that, while this is very much a video game and not just a flash card application or cheat sheet, language learners will eventually build up a full “move-set”, meaning that their Japanese vocabulary will grow as they play. Reach for those word cards during enough battles and, before they know it, they’ve committed the words to memory without even trying.

▼ Complete your phonetic charts to unlock whole words


▼Then move on to whole words, giving yourself moves to attack withkoe2

Jitesh describes Koe as the resource he wished he’d had when he first started learning Japanese, and he’s clearly not alone: With just 60 hours to go until the Kickstarter campaign comes to a close, Koe has grabbed the attention – and cash – of an incredible 3,496 backers and has received almost double the funding he originally required to get the project off the ground.

Of course, this being a Kickstarter campaign, there are additional perks for backers besides seeing the game come to life. Here’s just a sample of the rewards on offer (note that amounts are shown in British pounds, not dollars):

Pledge £10 or more

A special Kickstarter exclusive digital copy of Koe for Windows/Mac/Linux when it is completed. Not only will you receive the full game, this version will have extra words, moves, and locations that will only ever be available to kickstarter backers as a thank you for believing in this project. You will also receive a steam key if Koe is released on steam. + Previous reward.

Pledge £25 or more

4 Kickstarter exclusive copies of the game, great for throwing a Japanese-learning party! + All previous rewards (4 copies total)

Pledge £75 or more

A boxed, physical copy of Koe for Windows/Mac OSX and Linux and a Koe graphic postcard, written in both English and Japanese, shipped to anywhere in the world. + All previous rewards.

Pledge £150 or more

Your name, written in Japanese, will appear somewhere in the story/lore of Koe. Your name will also appear on an in-game plaque. + All previous rewards

Pledge £250 or more

Your name, written in Japanese (Katakana) will become the name of an interactive NPC. You will be able to find yourself within Koe! +All previous rewards.

Pledge £500 or more

Help design an item, enemy or boss in Koe. This will be based on a word that you can pick that translates well in to Japanese (must be safe for work) and will appear in the final game, you will also appear in the credits under “creator” for the item, enemy or boss you design. + All previous non-limited rewards.

There’s still time to get on board and become a backer, but even if you’d rather wait for the finished product, if you’re a beginner Japanese language learner this is definitely one to watch, so head over to Jitesh’s Kickstarter page now to learn more.

We’ll leave you with a short video introduction to the game. Keep in mind that the finished game will look a lot different now that Jitesh can afford to take on some character and environment artists.

Source: Kickstarter via Jin