My Japanese CoachI'm going to start off this review with a very blunt comment: My Japanese Coach is not a fun game. There was never a time when I legitimately enjoyed playing the game, and there was never really a time when I felt like I was playing a game. Because really, My Japanese Coach isn't a "game" but more of a learning tool. And as a learning tool, My Japanese Coach succeeds in almost every aspect.
When you first start up the game, it encourages you to wear headphones to maximize learning. It may seem a bit unnecessary, but it was definitely helpful to me, if only to help focus more on the game itself. Make sure you are totally focused on the game while you are playing, too, because you will be struggling to memorize words and phrases if you are distracted.
The presentation of this game is a bit lackluster in my eyes. The graphics aren't very exciting, especially those in the mini games. The background music is pretty painful, although you don't hear it too often. The redeeming feature of this is the inclusion of near full voiceover, so each word appearing on the screen will be spoken by a native Japanese speaker.
The game is set up similarly to Rosetta Stone, albeit on a much smaller scale. There are three main sections of the learning process: the first two lay the groundwork, while the third is basically building your vocabulary. Each of these sections is broken down into much smaller sections, called lessons in the game. Each lesson has an overriding theme, such has Colors or Greetings.
At the start of the game you take an aptitude test of sorts, which judges your current understanding of the language. If you already know a lot of basic Japanese words, you can skip over the beginning lessons. If you don't, that's o too, because they will simply start you at the very beginning (which is where I started).
A problem I had with the lesson breakdown is that the order is seemingly random. One minute I was learning how to write the first few letters of Hiragana (the basic Japanese written language) but then the next lesson I was learning numbers 16-100. I wouldn't even get my next Hiragana lesson until three or four lessons down the road. It was frustrating to have to learn something as complex as Hiragana in chunks, because it was harder to retain it all.
Besides simply pronouncing the words and expecting you to remember them, the game also includes a surprisingly roust Playback system. You can record yourself saying a certain word, and play it back to see how well you said it. You can also overlay it with the native speaker's pronunciation to see if you matched it well enough. It was very nice to have this feature included, if not just for the sheer hilarity of hearing yourself mispronounce words.
The game also features a writing mechanic, obviously done via the touch screen. Japanese characters are outlined on the touch screen and you can draw over them will your stylus. You can then take away the character and try to draw it without any aid. Once again, you can overlay the character with what you drew, to see how close you were. The writing recognition is a bit shoddy at times, but overall it's very helpful tool.
As you progress through the various lessons within the game, you are expected to "Master" the new words learned in each lesson. How do you do this? Repetitive mini games, of course! There are a total of 12 mini games in the game, ranging from a Whack-A-Mole variation to a Memory game type thing. These 12 mini games span over more than 50 lessons. To call it repetitive is a bit of an understatement.
On top of that, mastering words requires playing the same 2 games offered in the lesson over and over again. Even if you feel that you know how to count to ten, the game insists that you master the words in game. It's tedious and repetitive. Eventually I even began to dread the mini games as I played through the lessons, not because they were necessarily unfun but more because I didn't want to have to play them thirty times before moving on to the next lesson.
However, I think Ubisoft knew what they were doing when the made this a necessary step in the game, because seeing the same words within the games over and over again helped me better remember their definitions. As tedious as they are, the games are definitely helpful in the learning process. I just wish there was more variation within the lessons, or at least less tedium within the rote repetition.
This aside, I must say I am very impressed with this game. I actually feel like I am learning Japanese, and not just memorizing Japanese words. The game is very engaging in that respect; it always explains how the lesson pertains to Japanese culture and language. It isn't entirely immersing, but at least it isn't simple memorizing words and characters.
My Japanese Coach succeeds in being a tool to help you learn Japanese. It can be tedious at times, and it may not be a "fun" game, but at the end of the day you are learning Japanese on your Nintendo DS. The robust Audio interface and helpful writing recognition enhance the lessons and help you better understand Japanese. But the lackluster mini games and tedious repetition stop this game from being the total package.