Language Learning RPG

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jeffers
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Language Learning RPG

Postby jeffers » Wed Mar 20, 2024 10:31 am

Years ago (around 2002-4) I thought of the idea of a language immersion RPG, and I made dozens of pages of ideas for the mechanics in my notebook, but never did anything else with the idea. Some basic ideas that I can remember:
  • I pictured it looking something like the original Legend of Zelda, or the old Ultima games from the 80s
  • All instructions in TL (clickable for translation)
  • Point at any object to see and hear the name of it in your TL
  • Combat would involve matching vocabulary items
  • Puzzles to unlock things would involve larger tests, e.g sorting lists of words, moving words to create a sentence, etc.
  • Character levelling up would be a combination of character exp and words learnt
  • When the character is ready to level up there would be a quiz of some sort
  • New areas unlock as you level up

These are the ideas that I can remember.


I never did anything with my own ideas, but I have recently come across two RPG language learning games.

Terra Alia is quite a professional looking RPG which puts you in a school for magic. It is even available on the Switch. There is vocabulary to be learnt by pointing your wand and things, and spell casting is in your TL. The interesting mechanic (which I never thought of) is that you review flashcards to restore your mana to cast spells. I read a review of it from a gaming blog who rates it as a pretty fun RPG. I would suggest that from a language learning perspective it's going to be pretty weak, but might be a fun use of time for a brand new beginner.
Review: https://www.gamerheadspodcast.com/post/terra-alia-review-an-intriguing-rpg-language-learning-experience
Terra Alia can be played in English, Spanish (Spain, I think), Italian, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Newcomer looks like it is more of a solo project by someone. The graphics are based on the original Legend of Zelda. The game is "Early Access" and described as being a "playable Alpha". You can also buy "Intermediate Immersion" DLC. The main description says you learn "over 100 vocabulary items" and "32 fundamental phrases", so from a language perspective this is going to be extremely basic.
Steam link: https://store.steampowered.com/app/2063790/Newcomer__A_Language_Learning_RPG/
Languages available: English, French, Italian, Spanish (Latin American).


Has anyone tried these? Has anyone found other actual games designed for language learning? (I don't mean a game that has dialogue in other languages).
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby emk » Wed Mar 20, 2024 11:03 am

Neat idea!

Terra Alia looks cute. The Steam reviews are mixed. Lots of people liked it. For those that didn't, most of the complaints are that it works poorly for Japanese/Chinese, and a few are about bugged quests. But other than that, people seem pretty happy. Maybe I'll try it for Spanish.

For intermediate learners who just want to do a bunch of listening, I reviewed Horizon Zero Dawn in my log. It has a number of advantages: good voice acting (at least in French), a well-written story with a couple TV seasons worth of content, and a screen where you can get both replayable recordings and accurate transcripts for all the major lore dumps. Plus you get to fight robotic dinosaurs (there is a good reason for this!). It's on sale for US$13 on Steam right now. Consider minimizing spoilers; half the fun is figuring out what's going on.

In general, playing games in a foreign language is a time-honored way to improve language skills. Maybe not efficiently, but if you were going to play a few games anyway, why not?
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battlegirl
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby battlegirl » Wed Mar 20, 2024 1:18 pm

A few years ago Cambridge ventured into gamifying English learning through a collaboration with Minecraft. I haven't used it and I'm not sure if it's still going on, but here is the link to their intro page:

https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/learni ... n-english/

I also vaguely remember games for the Switch related to language learning, but a quick search hasn't come up with any specific titles. It did, however, bring up this list from a language learning website:

https://www.fluentu.com/blog/language-l ... deo-games/
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby garyb » Wed Mar 20, 2024 2:02 pm

I very recently played through a Japanese-learning RPG, Hiragana: Forbidden Speech, and I'm happy to share some thoughts!

It's for beginners and tries to teach both Hiragana (the first script that you typically learn in Japanese) and vocabulary and grammar. It focuses on language that is typical in anime and manga including stuff that might not necessarily be taught early in textbooks like informal forms, "action" words, and mild insults.

I didn't start it as an absolute beginner: I was a couple of months into my studies and I already had a decent grip on Hiragana and a base in vocabulary and grammar. I think that was a good thing: I didn't feel that the game was great at teaching the script or the very basics of the language itself, and lots of other resources do that better, but its real value was in practising reading the script, filling in gaps in my knowledge, and indeed teaching me to understand various words that are common in colloquial speech but most other resources don't teach early. I did read some positive reviews from real beginners, though.

Things I liked:

  • The battle system is based on testing knowledge of words: a mix of English to Japanese, Japanese to English, and Latin-script form of Hiragana letters. It also has a "forgive" function in case of typos. It works well.
  • New letters and words are introduced gradually as you level up from battles.
  • It seems to have an SRS where words come up in battle more or less frequently depending on whether you get them right or wrong.
  • Voice acting for many dialogue lines, although not all.
  • The written dialogue text starts off all in English, but then once you've encountered all the words in a sentence it shows that sentence in Japanese, with an option to show the phonetic transcription and then the translation. That's quite clever because it adapts to your learning rather than being pre-set.
  • An option to change the random encounter rate, so you can control your learning speed.
  • Some genuinely very good usage and grammar explanations, and frequent quizzes to test them.
  • The storyline is passable, and there's some great humour.
  • Every so often you encounter a gateway to a cave that has crystals that you can interact with to see longer explanations of some usage, and more appear as the game progresses. This is a nice way to build knowledge and revise.

And some cons:

  • The gameplay is very linear, aside from the odd puzzle to find a hidden item, and repetitive. It's clearly designed more as a language aid than as a groundbreaking game, which is reasonable.
  • The battle system means that there's too much focus (IMO) on translating individual words rather than recognising and using them in context, even though the dialogue does show the words used in context.
  • It teaches some words that aren't very useful to beginners, like animal names, and I was unsure whether it just taught these because the animals were in the story or it had shoehorned animals into the story because it wanted to teach the names... I did question why it taught "rooster" so early on, but that turned out to be foreshadowing quite an entertaining story section!
  • I felt that (like many other resources) it tries to cater to absolute beginners as well as slightly more advanced learners, resulting in something that's not ideal for either. As one example (although quite specific to Japanese) I wish it had shown words written in their "normal" script, as you'd encounter them in the wild, as well as Hiragana: that would've helped me to remember them better since the ideograms can often be a memory aid and it's how I see them written elsewhere.

Overall I had expected it to be much more gimmicky and I was pleasantly surprised by how well-made it was and how much thought had gone into teaching the language, although it had its flaws. But I just feel that the format would be more appropriate at a high-beginner/low-intermediate level, the point where the learner doesn't need to be taught the basics but could benefit from filling in gaps (like the slangy anime/manga language that this game includes) and being able to easily look up unknown word.

My German is at around an A2 level and I tried playing Final Fantasy 7 in it, but the amount of unknown vocabulary was just a bit too much to play it enjoyably; this is the sort of level where I feel a game like what Jeffers described could really shine.

I'll need to take a look at the other games mentioned! But at a glance both Terra Alia and Newcomer look too beginner-y for me, unfortunately; Terra Alia could be good at my Japanese level but if the reviewers say it's not great for Japanese..
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby księżycowy » Wed Mar 20, 2024 4:05 pm

Me and dEhiN where just discussing his idea for something like this he had a while ago as well. He cited this Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jo ... ward=false
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby dEhiN » Wed Mar 20, 2024 8:38 pm

And here I was thinking I was the only one with this idea!

But seriously, I've debated about getting into game dev just to bring this idea to fruition. I don't think I'm going to try WonderLang even though it looks very interesting from a conceptual POV. Since Steam is currently having a sale, I'm going to try Terra Alia.

Someone mentioned about the tried and tested method of playing a game in another language. For me though, it's not the same. The idea in my head came out of the fact that current language apps "gamify" language learning, but they aren't games. I wanted to create an actual game where the story mechanics were about learning a language.

księżycowy shared with me some educational games with this approach but for math. Based on the description for WonderLang and Terra Alia, it seems they've taken the same sort of approach as the math games: in order to progress, every interaction such as a battle, a quest, etc., requires learning something about your TL or recalling/solving a language challenge.
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby Severine » Thu Mar 21, 2024 1:44 am

Adding mention of InFluent, since it hasn't been mentioned on this thread. It's a game specifically designed to help with language learning, and is available on Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/274980/Influent/

I haven't played it myself, but it looks to be mostly focused on vocabulary exploration via a gamified 3D world.

Personally, I've had good luck with AAA titles that offer good translations into foreign languages. If you play a variety of different games, it exposes you to a wide array of different writing styles and vocabulary clusters. Only a viable option for more common languages, unfortunately.
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jeffers
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby jeffers » Thu Mar 21, 2024 12:09 pm

Thinking about these games for language learning, I reckon that the best ones would be the ones that focus on a single language. All the games that offer multiple languages will probably have the classic cut and paste problems such as in older programs such as Rosetta Stone (e.g. why do I need to learn "kangaroo" in Hindi 1?) My own game idea was for learning Hindi, and I envisaged all aspects of the game centring around this: the monsters, the weapons and spells would all be from Indian mythology. The problem developers face is that a game designed for a single language will not sell as much, so it appears they mostly make the choice to sacrifice depth for a broader market. Hiragana: Forbidden Speech, is the only exception, and from the description it seems like the best language learning game to have been mentioned so far. Although I think the idea has a lot of potential, but due to the economics involved, a professional language learning game focusing on teaching a single language well is going to be extremely rare.

On the other hand, story-based games with extensive dialogues in both text and audio are a good resource, and certainly make a useful supplement to other study. Unfortunately, the languages available for these games is limited to the big ones (economics again!) I'm still looking for a game I want to play which has Hindi support.
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby garyb » Thu Mar 21, 2024 2:24 pm

On the Japanese side, I've also heard of Slime Forest Adventure, which is older than Hiragana: Forbidden Speech and claims to teach much more vocabulary. I've not tried it yet so I can't comment, and I'm not sure if I will just because it sounds like it would cover similar ground to the various other resources I'm already using, but some people have said good things. Maybe if I'm at a loose end sometime or want a change, I will.
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Re: Language Learning RPG

Postby rowanexer » Tue Apr 02, 2024 1:23 pm

I've tried a couple of language learning games but I haven't found them very useful. The ones I tried were:

Slime Forest - 2D exploring with old turn-based RPG battles. It started with hiragana and annoyingly it insisted on teaching you obsolete characters like ゐ and ゑ
Knuckle's Adventures in Chinaland - basically Pokemon but people insist on testing your kanji knowledge (yes it's a game for learning Japanese, not Chinese)
LingoLegend - Teaches vocabulary. Turn-based RPG battles as missions with conversations for story in between (not in the target language as far as I remember).

The issues I found was it's not really possible to make something as effective as flashcards/exercises, AND as fun as a normal video game. Progress in the games was really slow, and I could have learned faster by just doing some SRS flashcards or using a course. On top of that, it's just not as fun as playing a real videogame. So I felt like I was spending ages playing a game I didn't care about, very slowly learning vocabulary through boring battles.

Granted, the games I've tried were flashcard based. They just taught characters or vocabulary out of context. It's not the most immersive or interactive way of learning. But for those specific games I felt like my time would have been better served just doing flashcards.

However, I do use videogames for practising my languages. They're really fun if you enjoy videogames anyway.

I think that normal videogames could be modded or configured to be helpful for language learning. One way would be to instantly switch between translations. I believe Disco Elysium has this option. Another would be dictionary look-ups. This could really make playing videogames in your target language a lot easier, especially at lower levels.
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