(Trying to) Learn Japanese with Mutazione

Last week I mentioned that I had switched Mutazione from its default English language setting to Japanese to help with my attempts to learn the language. Something else to read and engage with. I’ll talk about how I’m going about it, what I’ve learned along the way and what I need to do to keep it going.

This gif is going to get a lot of use.

This endeavour started off with a restart. Always good. Like a fool I started without a notepad (or any means) of taking notes. It did not take long for me to realise how utterly silly this was. I had an understanding of the first conversation in the game – not complete but it all made sense to me. Then the second conversation happened, and the error of my ways dawned on me. Restart the game, get a pen and paper and go from there. That was the first step. 

Looks like this need a bit of water. (I think).

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, making this play through stick. It’s not too difficult to get a little discouraged something is not understood. That feeling can stack, then frustration beds in and then the urge to give up arises. I’ve felt that before. Hell, it almost happened. After the restart, I played the game the night after and then did not play again for 1 or 2 weeks afterwards. I had to say to myself “You (me) has to stick with this. Regardless of mood, you have to keep at this.” I had to make it a routine, so I started playing it as much as I could. I’ve been playing it most days, and or about an hour day – going up to an hour and half on occasion. After an hour I start to zone out. But, I have an hour down now as the minimum – so I can build on that.

Strange, it’s half buried. (I think).

The consistency is getting there and taking notes is there. Why Mutazione? Why not a game that is written in Japanese first? With Mutazione I am playing a game that was written in English first and then translated to Japanese. Many Japanese games on the PSN store in Britain (of the narrative type) do not have Japanese text backs with them. The voice acting is there but the text is not. So, I’ll play games that have Japanese text – Japanese or not. Mutazione has full Japanese text and is one of my favourite games already – so I’m down to run through it once again. 

I need to get back to writing. (I think).

It’s going pretty well. But there are some things that are of concern. Like I wrote last week, I am pleasantly surprised at how much I am understanding, or at least have a grasp of. I am the sort of person that assumes I’m going to be bad at something, and the sort of person that assumes that on sight, if within two seconds of seconds of seeing Japanese and not understanding all of it that I have failed, so there was potential for this to turn in a catastrophe. But as is often the case anxiety is as anxiety does. It has not been that bad. Any new words are written down – screenshots are taken for things that in the moment I’m struggling to put together – and I’m having fun when something does come together.

They have to pay full attention to their work. (I think).

The big area of concern is that I will be the first to admit my understanding of Japanese is not fully comprehensive. This play through is me on my own in a room trying to figure things out. So, while I am confident on getting somethings right I am sure some nuances and finer points are going by the wayside. I don’t have the means to stream, and screen shotting the entire game is, well, I can’t do that. So, there is there is always some concern that there is some stuff I’m just not getting. And I don’t know how to go about rectifying that. I know I can ask for help but I can’t ask people to translate an entire game for me – that’s unfair – people have stuff to do. Also, Mutazione is a game with branching dialogue – I can’t see all the dialogue. That’s a little frustrating. Not the games’ fault – that’s just a result of this particular play through.

I’ll get back to you about this one.

To end of a positive note though – this whole thing is going way better than expected. I’m having more fun that I expected. It is going to take a while to get through the whole game – but the more I do it the better I should get. Just got to keep at it. Got to keep going. The only way is through.

Returning to Ashina, and Mutazione switched to Japanese Language Settings

Elden Ring has lain dormant for a week now. It’s been pretty nice. I’ve been playing some new games and I’ve been returning to some old favourites. This week’s post is concerned with the return to old favourites. One game returns more or less as I left it, and another returns in a different manner, retooled as an attempt at education and fun.

Every once in a while I catch myself wondering why isn’t Elden Ring my favourite game of all time? I dig the environments; I dig the lore (even if I’m not watching too many lore videos right now) and I dig the combat. I dig the boss fights (well, most of them – twin Gargoyles and Godskin Duo aside). It’s all good. Then I visit Ashina, fight Isshin the Sword Saint on boss rush mode and go “oh, that’s why Elden Ring isn’t my favourite game of all time”. There is more to combat than Sekiro – far more – as an example Senpou Temple is still my favourite place in video games, despite all the brilliance of the Land’s Between.

I love him.

But that combat though. It’s so good. It’s been four years since this game came out (damn) and no other games combat has come near it for me. Sometimes I think it does but then I go back to Sekiro and all it takes is one clash of blades and I’m home. There is an intimacy and flow to Sekiro that is hard to replicate. That being said I still dig Elden Ring’s combat a whole lot – the game gave me Giant Hunt. That alone is worth a lot. I’m not a big fan of people praising something else only by shitting on something else. I’d like that to go away sometime soon.

It’s nice doing a medley of 3 or so boss fights on any given night. I get to keep up my Sekiro skills and getting reminded that Isshin is the best boss fight. That’s nice.

Mutazione is now a Japanese game. Well, not really but I am playing the game in Japanese. This point will be returned to in more detail later. I would like to dedicate a whole post to it in the future, as there a few things I want to talk about in more detail.

I’ve tried playing games in Japanese before with varying degrees of success (read: very little success). Even with Mutazione, I’m still in the first chapter but I am making an effort to stick with it. It’s all I can do – keep at it until it becomes routine. It is dawning on me how big of an effort this is going to be though. But I’ve got to keep at it. The more I do it the better I will get at it – well, I should get better at it.

What is helping is that Mutazione is a narrative game first. In action-based games I get frustrated when I can’t understand stuff and end up just skipping to the game play. Here, that’s not an option. And there is a lot of text. More than I remembered. I’m not going to encounter all of the text – the conversations have dialogue options, so there are branching paths. I shouldn’t dwell to much on this – I should push ahead before the enormity of the whole thing can crush me.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I can read though. I mean, I’m not understanding everything but a lot more is getting through than I was expecting. And I am making notes and taking screen shots of things that I don’t understand.

There will be a lot of messing up.

There is going to be a fair few screen shots by the time this is done. It’s fine though. It’s all in the name of progress. And I get to learn more new words – I can dig that.

Learning Japanese with Mutazione, and trying to translate a letter

I’m sticking with learning Japanese. It’s going…well it’s going. It gives me reasons for doing things, something to strive for. That’s a good thing for someone who honestly wonders why I am here and wonders what the point of…that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about me learning Japanese.

There are multiple ways of learning a language, and multiple sources for said learning. One of these sources is video games. Video games have language settings that can be changed. Sometimes one of the languages included is Japanese. Surprisingly, the two visual novels I have tried don’t have this. One being Tokyo Dark Remembrance and the other being 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim – which, let’s be honest is a visual novel. Neither of the option for Japanese text. Some games that do have the option for Japanese text are narrative games (for lack of a better them) – Mutazione and Kentucky Route Zero. Previously I tried this with Touhou Azure Reflections but keeping up with a foreign language while trying to navigate bullet patterns can be a bit tricky.

I like you Hong Mei-Ling but please stop shooting me when I am trying to learn.

These games are pretty good for the purpose of learning – their gameplay mostly consists of walking around and talking to folk so there are not mechanically heavy, which makes it easier to focus on the text. Much easier even. Also, these games focus on narrative and characters which means there is plenty of text to work with. All good so far. The slight problem is that these are games that I have already played and games like this don’t lend themselves to replays – even in a different language. This is not a fault of the game by the by – some games are meant to replayed, some are one and done – all depends on context.

What helps in the case of Mutazione is that it got some lovely DLC in the form of letters from its wonderful inhabitants addressed to the main character, Kai. Lots and lots of text that can be switched to another language. 8 letters in total, between 3 and 4 pages for the majority of the letters. That’s a lot of Japanese language to work with.

Let’s have a crack at the first one. Actually, before we get started a few things to get out of the way. Mistakes will be made. I’m not the best at this, and this combined with my constant self-doubt (what a combination) will result in errors – I’m not making any claims to being an expert. I’ll write everything out in Romanji – so if you can’t read kana you can read along. Lastly, I’m not going into too much detail about how things work – I’m just going for a translation. Partly because this post could become big on me fast and secondly my understanding might be wrong too. As an aside, I am terrible with grammar. I honestly think I might hate the concept of grammar. I don’t really get it in English – I’ve just had it drilled into me that it works, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t know why it works; I just know that it works. So, when I have to learn grammar, it is not a smooth process. Right, now let’s get to it. Now that I think about it, this is an anxiety inducing nightmare. Why did I do this? What am I doing? I could just write about Monster Hunter World again. Actually, I’m going to wing this. I don’t know how this is going to turn out. I have possibly made a huge mistake. Off we go.

The first letter is from Kai to the denizens of Mutazione. She was meant to visit them, but circumstances mean that she has to postpone her visit. This is her letter explaining everything.

1st page of the letter.

1st Line. Shinai naru minasan.  Shinai (親愛) means deep affection and combined with naru (なる) it becomes the equivalent of starting a letter with Dear in English. And Mina (みなさん) is everyone with the politeness marker of san. So, so far we have greeting for everyone in Mutazione. So far so good (I think.)

2nd Line. Hontou ni gomennasai. Kotoshi no natsu, minna ni kai ni ikuryokou wo enkishinakuchanaranaino!

Gomennasai(ごめんなさい) means sorry – I suspect that is one of those words, like ganbaru which has worked its way into other languages as is – with hontou ni(本当に) meaning really, honestly. Kai is really sorry. Why is that? Kotoshi (今年) is this year, no is a particle that can link nouns and natsu (夏) is summer – summer this year or this summer should work here. Ni (に) is another particle – another aside, particles are things that link or lead to other things. They are weird from the point of view they really don’t have direct translations in English – you only get a sense of them from seeing them in action. On their own they don’t mean a lot. Ni implies a few things – movement or progression are some of its functions. Kai (会) would be a meeting, or meeting up with people, with ryokou(旅行) being a trip. Kai was going on a trip to meet everyone from Mutazione. Wo (を)(pronounced o because why not) is another particle, which links verbs to things – things with a direct line between them. As an example, ラーメンを食べる ― ramen wo taberu – I eat ramen – me eating the ramen is a direct action. Listen, if you want to bail now, go right ahead. I’m bad at explaining things and this post is getting big on me. It’s going to be a long one. So, what is the reason why Kai is sorry. The verb at the end of the sentence – that’s where verbs live in the Japanese language – is enki(延期) – well, a noun that has become a verb (adding suru to certain nouns makes them verbs) – enki means postpone. And it is an unintended postponement.

So, in effect we have I’m really sorry everyone! I have to postpone this summer’s trip to meet with everyone. At least I think that is what we have.

3rd Line. Hisashiburi ni aeru no wo totemo tanoshimitetandakedo, tottemo ku-runa shokubutsu chousa no inta-n no pojishon ni sasowaretano. (Tada suushuukan sanpuru ya mono hakobudakedakedo.)

Another aside, but after spending a whole lotta time with kana, romanji looks awful. I mean, its awful to begin with but good god its an ugly rendition of a language. Anyway, back to what I was doing.

Hisashiburi(久しぶり) is used when something is done that has not been done for a while – i.e. It was the first time I played that game in a good while would feature hisashiburi. Ni is back again, as is meeting but this time as a verb along with a new word, a verb tanoshimu(楽しむ) (here in te form – a verb form) meaning excitement and can be used in regard to looking forward to things. So, Kai was looking forward to meeting everyone. At the end of the verb tanoshimite there is a particle dakedo(だけど) which can work in a few ways – here it looks like it’s working like but would in English. I was looking forward to our first meeting in a while but… luckily after this there is a bunch of nouns – nouns are easy to work with. Tottemo – an adverb(とっても) means very or much, and ku-ru (used as an adjective here) (クール)simply means cool – so very cool. Shokubutsu (植物) means plants, vegetation and chousa(調査) is an investigation, an inquiry and inta-n is an internship and pojishon is position. No(の) is the particle linking these nouns. Sasou (誘う) (here in passive form) is the verb meaning to ask, to inquire. Kai has been asked (offered) an intern position on an investigation on plants. In brackets tada (ただ) means just, suushuukan (数週間) is a few weeks (suu when a prefix works as a few, and shuukan is a week), sanpuru (サンプル) means sample and mono (もの) means things, ya is a particle which lists nouns in a non-exclusive format (collecting samples and things, amongst other stuff). Hakobu (運ぶ) is the verb for carrying, so Kai will just be carrying/helping with samples and stuff for a few weeks.

So, at the end of all that it should read I was looking forward to our first meeting in a while, but I have been offered a really cool internship position on a plant (I guess it’s a plant finding) investigation. It’s just for a few weeks helping with samples and stuff.

4th Line. Sore wa 「shinpontekina jizokukanousei」wo te-ma ni shitamono node – hontou ni kyoumibukai monona node, zettai ni nogashitakunaino.

The big words in the brackets are shinpontekina (こんぽんてき) (here working as an adjective) meaning fundamental, basic and jizokukanousei (持続可能性) meaning sustainability – basic sustainability I guess. Te-ma(テーマ) is theme and I’ll admit it, shitamono(したもの) is confusing me. I know it’s a combination of the past tense of suru (the verb to do) and mono for thing, and suru is working as a noun modifier – so maybe done thing? The rest I have a grasp on. Hontou ni is back with kyoumibukai(興味深い) being a combination of kyoumi (興味) meaning interest, and bukai, normally pronounced fukai (深い) but here bukai (I presume because here is it back of a combination) meaning deep, so a deep interest. Mono follows, with node meaning since or because. Zettaini (絶対に) means definitely, with nogasu (逃す)(in this sentence in a negative verb form – I think) meaning to miss out on (a chance for example.)

Which should give us something to the effect The investigations theme is basic sustainability and since I have a massive interest in that, I absolutely cannot let this opportunity go.

2nd page of the letter.

1st Line. Tsugi ni modotta toki ni sugu hanashi ni oitsukeruyouni, suushuukan no ma ni henji wo choudaine. Narubekuhayaku ai ni iku kara.

This could get messy. Tsugini(次に) should mean next, modotta is the past tense of modoru (戻る) – to return and toki (時) means when in this context. Sugu(すぐ) means immediately, hanashi (話) in this context should be talking or exchanging stories with the oitsukeru (追いつける) that follows meaning to catch up with, so here it should be in the context of catching up with someone after some time away. Suushuukan as established before is a few weeks. I think ma in this context means for a duration of time, but I’m probably wrong. Henji (返事)means reply and choudai (ちょうだい) means a few things, but I am guessing it means receive here, as in receiving replies to a letter. It is also used to make requests, so Kai could be requesting that her friends from Mutazione send her letters. Narubekuhayaku(なるべく早く) is an expression meaning as soon as possible, ai again is meeting and iku is the verb for going ie 旅行に行く – ryokou ni iku is going on a trip.

So, after all of that Over these few weeks please reply to me. When I next return I want to catch up quickly with y’all (Not sure y’all is a technically correct term.) As soon as possible because I’m going to a meeting.

Maybe it’s that. Probably not.

2nd Line. Minna ni ai wo komete.

Minna is everyone. Ai is lover. Komote is the te form of komeru – one of its meanings is to put in.

This would appear to be something along lines of With lots of Love.

3rd Line. Kai.

And that’s Kai’s name.

Boom. Done. I’m going for a lie down. This was way more stressful than I anticipated. For completions sake, here is the letter again and my attempted translation before – all in one piece.

Dear everybody,

I’m really sorry everyone! I have to postpone this summer’s trip to meet with everyone.

I was looking forward to our first meeting in a while, but I have been offered a really cool internship position on a plant finding investigation. It’s just for a few weeks helping with samples and stuff.

The investigations’ theme is basic sustainability and since I have a massive interest in that, I absolutely cannot let this opportunity go.

Over these next few weeks please reply to me. When I next return I want to catch up quickly with y’all. As soon as possible because I’m going to a meeting.

With lots of Love,


Notes and Asides:

Why did I do this? I guess a few reasons. I thought it would be fun – if fun means stressful then yes, it was fun. I did not think it would reach in excess of two thousand words. I changed course halfway through – I started explaining things (badly) when I said I would not. And there is plenty I did not explain. I think I preserved because this is a good way to fight my anxiety about all of this. I don’t tell a lot of people I’m learning Japanese. I mean, I have posted about on the blog before, but I don’t get many visitors, so it mostly goes unnoticed. But I don’t talk about learning Japanese a lot, so I don’t talk with many people about learning it. I mostly learn by myself. So, I figured I might as well face up to some nervousness and just put this out here – mistakes and all. All the mistakes.

Ashina’s Great Serpent and some possible real life parallels

The Great Serpent of Ashina. A God of the land, it dwells in Ashina’s deep valleys. A colossal beast, it is quite possibly the largest living thing in Sekiro – the only being of comparable size is the Divine Dragon. It is quite possible the snake is bigger. Despite writing a lot about Sekiro on this blog I have never written about the Great Serpent in any great capacity. Well, let’s go some way towards rectifying that. The initial thrust of this post was an attempt to figure out if the serpent was modelled on any particular snake. This led to a few interesting furrows.

Video by Zullie the Witch – He’s a biggun

Turns out, I am not the best person to figure out what type of a snake the Great Serpent is. I am not an expert in snake identification. I mean, I can tell the difference between an anaconda and a black mamba, a black mamba and boomslang and a boomslang and a cotton mouth but finding a specific type? Not a skill I possess. So, with that in mind I headed off to the vast reserves of Sekiro artwork on Pivix and set about finding pictures of the Great Serpent in the hope I could find the Japanese name for the snake and work back from there. This proved to be successful. Turns out it would have been far quicker and easy just to go the Sekiro artbook I own, but I got to look at some cool art and that’s neat.

The Great Serpent in Japanese is ぬしの白蛇(はくじゃ・しろへび ― hakuja・shirohebi)which looks like white snake. There is the character for white, and the character for snake. The ぬし(nushi) translates as master and can double up as guardian spirit. In addition, a ぬしis a creature that is one of long life, great power and has control over an area.  The の (no) links the two nouns. The Great Serpent is both a white snake and a long-lived guardian of Ashina – everything checks out so far. But, in an attempt to get a more exact picture I ran 白蛇 through a Japanese dictionary. This revealed that 白蛇 is in fact the name of a snake that inhabits Japan. Specifically, an Albino Rat Snake, a variant of the Japanese Rat Snake. The albino variant is located in a place named Iwakuni. In Iwakuni, the albino snakes are revered as messengers of deities and the snakes themselves are considered guardians of mountains and rivers.  Not too far from our colossal serpent in Ashina.

From Japanese Wikipedia – The Albino Japanese Rat Snake

Turns out, in Japan snakes in general, not just the Albino Rat Snakes are revered as either messengers of deities or deities themselves. Or were revered. As cultures evolve things tend to shift, and in modern day Japan snakes do not have the same universal reverence they had at one point. But there was a time when snakes were held in the highest regard. There are some areas where the reverence holds though. Snakes were regarded as guardians, protectors and killing snakes was though to bring with it great consequences (divine punishment and the like) and as such was avoided. There are even mentions of Giant Snakes that protected places. Mt. Akagunayama is referenced as one of those places. It appears the Great Serpent of Ashina has its origins in these beliefs.

From 白蛇神社

With this newfound knowledge I took to Japanese Wikipedia, hoping that something else of interest would pop up. I got something. In Sekiro, there is a shrine near the back of Ashina Castle that in the English translation of the game is called the Great Serpent Shrine. In the Japanese artbook it is 白蛇の社(はくじゃ・はくじゃのじゃ)essentially Shrine of the White Snake, Shrine Dedicated to the White Snake – that sort of thing. The God of the land has a shrine in its honour – that checks out. The Japanese Wikipedia article for the Albino White snake has two links to two real life shrines that feature the characters 白蛇. One is a dead link, 白蛇神社(しろへびじんじゃ ― shirohebijinja). There is also an active link 蛇窪神社(へびくぼじんじゃ ― hebikubojinja). I ran the dead link through google and it turns out that in Iwakuni, there is a shrine that is dedicated to the Albino Rat Snake. It is a real place, with imagery of albino rat snakes and actual albino rat snakes on the temple grounds. Well, there are pictures of the snakes at the shrine, so they were at the temple at some point. Perhaps they are still there. The live link is a shrine in Tokyo, again with Albino snake imagery. There are a few shrines around Japan dedicated to snakes, owing to their divine status. A neat parallel between the game and real life.

Now we have talked about divine nature, let’s talk about the sin of taking life. Specifically, the killing of the Giant Serpent. It is in Sekiro’s hands whether or not the serpent dies. If Sekiro does decide to do the deed, he does it by plummeting from a great hight, plunging the Kusabimaru into the serpents’ skull, dragging the blade through bone and skin until the great beast passes from this world to the next.

Video by Game Hunter – Blood. Blood everywhere.

This method of killing a giant snake is not unique to Sekiro. In Japanese art, there are a few representations of a giant snake meeting its maker via a sword being plunged into its skull. Two such pictures, both by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi both show a warrior killing a snake in this manner. The first picture sees a fellow named Chusenko Teitokuson doing the deed, and the second one, titled Wada Heita Tanenaga Killing a Giant Snake present a similar scene.

It is not always a sword. In another picture by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (either he really liked warriors, or he really disliked snakes) the slightly wordy title Ogata Shuma Hiroyuki (Jiraiya) with a Heavy Gun Overcoming a Huge Snake Which Tried to Eat His Friends, the Magic Toads gets the point across. Seeing the parallels between the game and Japanese artwork is pretty cool.

This is one of those posts I love researching and writing. I get to return once again to a game I love, dive into a topic that interests me and have a lot of fun with the subsequent write up.

Notes and Asides:

I got the urge to write this post, but I did not have a lot to go on. After looking around for information and doing some research I came across an academic paper on Snakes and Japanese Beliefs. It can be downloaded and read here. Written by Kiyoshi Sasaki, Yoshinori Sasaki and Stanley F Fox it is essentially the foundation of this post. It also helped me to learn a lot of new things – namely, just how revered snakes were in Japanese religion. And there is a bunch of stuff there that could easily turn into another post. A massive thank to those three persons for writing a wonderful paper.

I did not provide this above because I did not want to bog down the post too much, and I have touched on some of it in previous posts but here are a few more examples of the Great Serpents divinity and reverence. Sacrifices are offered up to it. The organs of the snake are enshrined in temples. The snake is combined with Buddhist imagery throughout Ashina’s temples. Two specialist warriors, the Snake Eyes protect both paths to the Great Serpent. It occurs to me all of this is actually pretty cool. It is not often a God is alive as it is revered.

From the Fandom Wiki – The head of the Great Serpent

Oh, and I realised I never did give a concrete answer to what type of snake the Great Serpent is. I still could not with any confidence. The head looks wider than a rat snakes head. I have heard that it looks a like a pit viper before, but I have nothing more than that. In Japan, there are a few species of snake that are pit vipers, the foremost being the Mamushi, a venomous species that requires medical attention if bit. Maybe the Great Serpent is based on the Mamushi. Maybe its not. There is a chance From Software just made a standard looking snake. That could have happened. Would make for a less interesting answer, but it is a possibility. Hopefully a herpetologist stops by here with some time and a kind heart to answer such questions.

Head of a Mamushi

Keeping Touhou Azure Reflections in Japanese, and loving the characters of Touhou

Continuing Adventures in Japanese in Gensokyo: Touhou Azure Reflections remains in Japanese. Some words and sentences I understand (well, have something of a grasp on), others I do not. That’s all good. Understanding means progress, and things I do not understand are more chances to learn something new. What is also good is that thanks to switching the game to Japanese I am replaying all the campaigns again, and not just re-running boss fights. Not that re-running the boss fights was not fun – the boss fights are a blast – but having a new sense of purpose is pretty neat.

I mentioned before that while embarking on this language learning adventure I put the difficulty down from Lunatic to Normal – because trying to learn a second language while also dodging dense bullet patterns is tricky. What I did not realize is just how much spending time in Lunatic mode would affect my ability in Normal mode. Normal mode is quite nice now. Serene even. So much so that I managed to run the campaign through with Reimu Hakurei without being shot down and capturing all the spell cards. And I got the 19th best score (worldwide) on normal (at the time of the score being recorded.) At one point I could not finish the game on normal. Progress is nice.

Not dying all the time does help with this venture. Also, it is super nice to able to play a game while not worrying about fucking up. The difficulty is scaled down, the language learning is the drive now. And with that I no longer have to try hard, I don’t have to push through any frustration (Lunatic Mode Remilia 2nd spell card is still a sore spot) and I can just have fun with the game. I dig that. I do still enjoy a challenge, but I have done my time on Lunatic, so now it is time to slum it in normal mode.

All of that, and I get to learn Japanese at the same time. I dig that too.

Lots of fun characters in Gensokyo: Beyond the learning Japanese angle, there is good chance I would be replaying Azure Reflections – the game play is that fun. Another factor is the cast of characters in Touhou. Azure Reflections is not the best Danmaku game I have played – that is going to be Ikaruga for a good long while – but Azure Reflections is great, and it is my favourite Danmaku game. The characters play a big part in that.

The characters in Touhou go a long way. Many of the Danmaku games I have played do not really have characters. Jamestown+ is the game that got me into Danmku, and I cherish it. It has a story mode which is pretty neat – could not name any characters to save me. Raiden X has an extensive story mode with multiple endings – again, could not relay those character names to you. And I have similar tales regarding other Danmaku games. With other Danmaku games I would be hard pressed to name characters and bosses. Shikhondo, Ikaruga – no hope of recalling names.

Again, don’t quote me but I think Marisa is commenting on Flandre finally waking up, or wanting to wake up.

Azure Reflections* though – I could give you everyone’s name in Azure Reflections. The game has extensive dialogue between the protagonists and antagonists and while we are not talking high literature, the story is fun. And all the voice actors are into it, and I love it when that is the case. Plus, all the dialogue and voice acting means lots of Japanese to get through.

As proof, there is me, skyraft18 as the 19th best score on normal mode. Neat (as of the time this screenshot was taken).

Those characters are a good reason to keep coming back. Touhou characters have distinct personalities and back stories and relationships with the protagonists. I dig bosses having those. It adds something extra to a boss fight. Seeing those relationships and rivalries play out in combat is pretty cool. In addition, Touhou characters are simply likeable, fun characters – characters I still like even after they disrupted many of my attempted runs. Touhou characters are some of the few ones to make me laugh in a videogame. And you accompany that with good artwork and memorable designs – yeah, Touhou characters are a good reason to keep coming back.

*Player characters are Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame and Cirno (Completing the game with Reimu unlocks Marisa and completing the game with Marisa unlocks Cirno). NPC’s are (in order) Cirno when playing as Remi or Marisa and Hong Mei Ling when playing as Cirno. After that it is Sanae Kochiya, Patchouli Knowledge, Nitori Kawashiro, Sakuya Izayoi, Satori Komeiji and Remilia Scarlet. And for the bonus stage its Flandre Scarlet.

If you play as either Reimu or Marisa after completing the game with Cirno, you can alternate between Cirno and Hong Mei Ling as the first boss. There will be new dialogue if Hong Mei Ling is selected as the first boss. Aces.

Lara Croft and her Django Shotgun and switching Touhou Azure Reflections entirely to Japanese for language learning

Lara’s Magical Django Shotgun: I am not going to pretend the shotguns in Rise of the Tomb Raider are the best in video games. This is a world where the shotguns of Doom exist. And the auto shotguns of Wolfenstein. But shotguns in Rise of the Tomb Raider are a lot of fun to use. My favourite is the tactical shotgun – a good all-rounder that reminds me a little of a SPAS – 12.

But Lara’s shotguns have a special quality that other shotguns do not have. At least the ones I have used. Like most video game shotguns, they can pick someone off their feet and launch them seventeen feet backwards. In addition to that though, the shotguns in Rise of the Tomb Raider can recreate the magical shot from Django Unchained when what remains of Calvin Candie’s retinue says goodbye to Miss Laura.

Here we see Miss Laura goes bye bye:

And here we see Mr Mercenary goes bye bye:

And here is another Mercenary going bye bye:

One more Mercenary going bye bye:

And two Mercenaries going bye bye, in different directions (a good sample size is important):

They all get shot in the side and fly straight backwards. I am not an expert in firearms – not even close. But surely if one gets shot in the side one gets pushed in that direction right?  They do not fly off in an almost opposite direction, right?

I love it. It is silly, it is goofy and it is a blast. The shotgun is a fun weapon to use in Rise. Beyond the ability to disregard physics, they have that solid punch that a video game shotgun needs, both from the feeling of firing them and the moment the shell makes contact with a warm body. The bow will always be my favourite weapon in Rise but storming a group of entrenched enemies with no regard for one’s health and sending them flying with the shotgun makes it a close second.

Oh, and the shotgun finisher. That helps make the shotgun awesome. Lara jams the barrel under a dudes jaw and lets it rip. It is brutal. And yet, if this were a more violent game then the aftermath would be significantly messier. Pretty sure most of the head would no longer be there. Still, what is there gets the point across.

Touhou Azure Reflections, completely in Japanese: I may have wrapped up all the achievements in Azure Reflections, but I would still like to keep playing it. I still enjoy playing it, the boss fights are a lot of fun to rerun and the characters in Touhou have a lot more to them than any other characters in Danmaku games so I am more than willing to hang around in Gensokyo.

Another reason to have an extended stay in Gensokyo is that Azure Reflections lets me play the game in Japanese. The entire game can be switched to Japanese. All of it – the menus, the subtitles – all that good stuff. And as someone who is learning Japanese, it is a fun new way to learn a language.

Now, I have tried this before and it did not turn out well. I bought some Japanese Vita games and I made very little to no real progress. However, that was with games I had no prior knowledge of, so I was going in very blind. In contrast I am rather familiar with Azure Reflections (getting a Platinum will do that) and it is fun reverse engineering sentences, and learning some new vocabulary along the way. There are a few sentences I clearly understand, and that’s neat. I can navigate the menus based on words alone. The character biographies are more difficult though – but that’s fine. I can work through all of that.

Since I am now using the game (in part) as a language learning tool, I have put the difficulty down from Lunatic to Normal. Firstly, I have done my time on lunatic mode. Secondly, trying to grasp a second language while also dodging the densest bullet patterns is something I am fine with not doing.  

As for my Japanese studies, they are going okay. I mean, I am still awful at the speaking part, but my writing is getting a little better, my reading has gotten better and I can pass a JLPT N5 test and I think I have a chance of passing N4 (need to take some mock tests.) And now Azure Reflections is helping with that.

And that’s nice.

I could do this with more games. I know of a few games that let me switch the language entirely to Japanese. Mutazione is one, and that is a text heavy game so that will give plenty of chances to learn new words and grammar patterns. Kentucky Route Zero can also be switched to Japanese. And I could revisit those games on the Vita now I know some more Japanese.

There is a whole new world opening up here. Awesome.

Attempts at transcribing conversations in Sekiro (In Japanese!)

The last two games I played ended up burning out. Well, one of those games has turned it around but regardless I have no desire, as of now to dive into some negativity. So, rather than shitting on bunch of stuff (2020 is doing a bang-up job on that front already) I figured I would talk about something positive.

I am still learning Japanese. Not going to lie to you, it is a stop and start process. I am both not the best student and am prone to questioning myself and my abilities. But, whereas I would normally have given up on the whole endeavour I am sticking with it. And there are days where I really, really do not want to do anything to do with learning Japanese, but I push myself to do at least something. That is progress. That is good. Anyhow, why am I wittering on like this? What I have been doing lately is transcribing (well, attempting to) conversations from Sekiro in Japanese. It is good for listening practice (I get to learn lots of words and get to learn how to pronounce them) and I get to experience more Sekiro (which, I know there are lots of games I could/should be playing but they are not Sekiro. And that is on them. That is not my fault).

I thought I would have fun doing this. And I have had fun doing this. I did not appreciate how hard it would be. That was compounded by the first conversation I attempted to transcribe being the first meeting between Sekiro and the Tengu of Ashina. It is, roughly, a three-minute conversation. The main reason (okay, only) I picked it was because I love the Tengu of Ashina. I figured how long is three minutes? Not that long. How many words can there be in three minutes? Turns out a lot. A whole lot. And suddenly three minutes became a long time. I was utterly unprepared for just how much I would be rewinding five second segments in a futile attempt to unscramble the audio. Again, again and again the same five second clip would play. But slowly, but surely I would figure out a word here, a particle there and eventually, I would have a full sentence of Japanese characters. And then there is two sentences, three sentences and hey, that sections almost done. There is some stuff I still cannot get a grasp on though. And I am still working on the Tengu conversation.

So, upon realising my ability did not match my ambition I scaled back and set to work on two smaller bits of dialogue. The first is a short, one sided exchange with the Halls of Illusion Monk and the second is the conversation with Kotaro once has he has been spirited away to the Hall of Illusion. Both dialogues are far shorter than the conversation with the Tengu, and the words are easier to make out. Still, it was not the easiest thing to do, but I made much more progress with these dialogues. So much more progress that I managed to finish them. Mistakes have been made though. I know that some lines are wrong and for that I apologise. The lines which I am sure mistakes have been made will be bolded. Also, these are transcriptions, not translations. One other thing – these are only in kanji. I have not got around to doing hiragana or romanji versions. Honestly, cannot say if I will get around to those. I would rather forge ahead with transcriptions involving kanji if I truly honest with y’all. I am just excited with the progress I have made, and I wanted to show off some of the things I have managed to achieve.

Halls of Illusion Monk:




Three lines long, and the monk does pretty much all the talking. I am particularly fond of this dialogue because it is one of the first ones I could understand with needing subtitles. Sure, my grasp of the grammar is extremely loose but from hearing the words, I know the gist of what is being said.

That is a lovely feeling.

Kotaro in the Halls of Illusions:





















Much longer here (about a minute and a half) but still, I can get the general gist from the words alone. Again, it is a lovely feeling hearing another language and going “hey, I get that!”. This took a lot more effort and relistening than the monk exchange, in large part to the duration and word count. And it is satisfying to make a good effort of the transcription. I am looking forward to doing the whole thing perfectly.  Also, Kotaro is the loveliest and sweetest person in Sekiro. Treat him well. Always treat him well.

There will be more of these. I have videos of extra dialogues I want to work on. I cannot say when they will be finished. The whole thing is going to be a long process. And as I learn and study more maybe I will do some translations (attempted translations at least).But, at this time, I will be focusing on the transcriptions and I am looking forward to posting more of them in the future. Well then, back to the Tengu conversation.

I guess to finish this post up, if on the off chance that someone, anyone from From Software catches a glimpse of this blog post – thank you. It has been a whole year and change since Sekiro came out. In that time, Sekiro dragged me back to learning Japanese again. Which, when I do pull (I was going to write if, but l will try being confident for once) it off, there will be a world of opportunity far beyond what I currently have. In addition, Sekir rekindled my love of writing poetry (I have started submitting poetry for publication – never thought I would try that again), stimulated an interest in Busshi and resumed my interest in origami (fallen behind on that front though – must fold something this weekend). And I am pretty damn sure that in my darker moments Sekiro has played a part in helping me to the next day, kicking and screaming in some cases (that first attempt at Sword Saint – fun memories).

So yeah, when I do hit a level of Japanese and my life is better I can look back at it all and say, thanks From Software. Thanks for everything.

Getting Around in Gravity Rush 2, and learning new things in Sekiro

Getting About: Gravity Rush 2 is the best game I have played this year. Well, it is my favourite at least. I had a moment playing it last week, after finishing the story. I was messing around in the open world with all the movement abilities and I broke out in the biggest smile. It was just so much fun. That sheer, unabashed fun that is as hard to find as hens’ teeth. The sort of fun that is so pure and unattached, the doing of something for the only reason that it is fun. That right now is Gravity Rush 2 for me. And the main reason for this is the movement system that is unique to the Gravity Rush games. Let us talk about that.

Kat, the utterly adorable and wonderful protagonist of the Gravity Rush series cannot fly (technically). Kat is a gravity shifter. Basically, Kat creates and manipulates gravity that allows her to levitate and “fall” in the direction she needs to go. This means that while Kat is airborne she cannot change directions, like a bird can. She must return to a levitating state and reassign her direction. Essentially, Gravity Rush’s locomotion system is the most exciting version of falling with style. In is gloriously, joyously reckless, klutzy and when one gets the hang of it, fluid while still being clumsy. Pick a direction, get airborne and launch yourself in that direction. Stupidly fun. And the world of Gravity Rush 2 aids this. All the towns and places are floating towns, layered top to bottom. They all have enough things to see and do on the horizontal plane, and then you can launch Kat along the vertical plane to go up and down. And then you can fall from great heights. And you can walk up the sides of buildings. And you can gravity slide around. You can slide into vaulting into the air and then launching yourself across the map. God I love it.

One other thing I want to talk about regarding Gravity Rush 2 are the side quests. These play into Kat’s character. One of the reasons Kat is wonderful is because she strongly believes in helping people. And that does not just mean world altering events. Throughout my time with Gravity Rush 2 I have done such things as: Helping a dog to find its toy. Helping a father and son become closer. Stopped a child’s father from falling into alcoholism. Help a young couple explain their marriage to an overprotective dad. Helped someone move house. Delivered newspapers. Helped a researcher write about each town in Gravity Rush 2. Been a part time journalist. Raced a bird. Helped people find the perfect present. Reunited a mother and son. And many more. All these mission’s feature uses of Kat’s gravity skills and help people to be good to one another.

What a lovely game.

Learning something new: In an effort to maintain my study of the Japanese language, I have been watching Japanese videos pertaining to Sekiro. Truth be told, I have been faltering/free falling lately with the whole endeavour. I reached that point where you realise you know some stuff, and that just makes you realise how much you do not know. That combined with anxiety about returning to work has led to a bit/a lot of skid. I am not studying as much as I was. And things are slipping. But that is on me and I must push through this. Huh, that got more personal than I intended. Guess I needed somewhere to vent. Anyhow, Japanese Sekiro videos have helped me to find new things in Sekiro.

There is YouTube channel called Livedoor. It is a Japanese channel, and their videos feature an expert in a specialised subject who looks over video games and assesses them in comparison to the real-life things they are sometimes based on. There are a number of videos concerning the Buddhist artwork in Ashina, and a number of videos dedicated to the architecture of Ashina, with a special focus on the castle.

In addition to learning a few new Japanese words, I learned a bunch of stuff about Ashina. I have been into the Divine Childs room many, many, many times during my Ashina adventures. And never once did I notice the picture of Buddha on the wall behind her. Until I watched that video. And then it became as clear as day. Faded as it is, there is clearly an illustration of Buddha on that wall and there may even be two Bodhisattva’s beside him. A wonderful bit of detail, and it is a joy to still find new things in Sekiro. Another new thing pointed out to me was a detail regarding the Nio sculptures at the front of Senpou Temple. They both have snakes wrapped around them. Again, I never noticed it. And I wrote about those sculptures a while back. The snakes make sense too. Ashina has two giant snakes, and there is snake iconography throughout Senpou. Many, many thanks to that expert.

My favourite of the Ashina architecture videos is the one where the guide takes us around an actual Japanese Castle (Hikone Castle). She points out some similarities between Ashina Castle and the real-life castle. She also talks about the real-life castle in detail – some of it I understand, some of it I do not. Either way, she is such an enthusiastic speaker that I am listening regardless. She talks about the walls, the bridges, the main building. She goes over a map of all the layers of the castle. She takes us inside the main building and talks about how it would have been defended. And at the end (I think) she invites people to come to Japan and visit the castle. That is something I would love to do. Well, I cannot do that right now, so I am the next best thing. I am playing Sekiro for the 12th time, so that I can look at the architecture in the Ashina outskirts and the castle prior to it being on fire.

Now, all I need to do is get the studying back on track and I can then fully understand these videos. Because they are a great resource, and I do want to be able to understand them fully.