Life’s never been better for western fans of Japanese culture. Over the last two months I’ve seen three anime films in theatres, services like Crunchyroll give us shows the minute they air in Japan (and sometimes we get them before), and we’re certainly not left wanting for bitchin’-awesome special editions. Even so, there’s a lot we miss, and with games especially we have to endure some interminable waits. A lot of us have thought about learning the language so we can just import, but that’s a massive commitment requiring years of study, and it’s hard to even know where to start.
That’s where Koe (声) (that’s Japanese for “voice”) comes in. Developed by Jitesh Rawal, a student programmer at the University of Derby in the UK, the game aims to teach you Japanese as you play. Don’t worry about this being some stuffy edutainment game; Rawal’s primary goal is to create an engaging, immersive JRPG with a proper story and unique combat system. Even if you just want to play a JRPG for fun, Koe will have you covered. All of your items and attacks are Japanese words that you’ll learn through “communicative language techniques,” which is a fancy British University way of saying they get inside your headmeats all subliminal-like.
The game starts off in a Japanese airport, but quickly leads you into a bizarre fantasy world full of dragons and purple octopuses. Koe‘s world is thoroughly steeped in Japanese culture, allowing you to learn the language in proper context. The game’s combat system is intriguing, asking you to combine phonetic characters (Hiragana and Katakana) into full words (Kanji) in order to perform attacks. For instance, spelling out “Katana” summons a sword to slice up your enemies. You can even pull off special attacks by stringing together sentences. On its own, I like the idea of typing out names, Scribblenauts-style, to summon attacks, but as a teaching aid it’s positively brilliant.
Koe is on Kickstarter right now, and already it’s doing quite well. When it meets its £35,000 funding goal, the game will get an art overhaul from Dan Tsukasa (Sir, You are Being Hunted), a proper original soundtrack, and voice acting from native Japanese speakers (to help with pronunciation). The funding will also cover software licenses, translation into to other languages (currently Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian and French are on the slate,) and a PS Vita version. As of this time, no stretch goals have been announced, but you can be certain that every penny and pound will go toward making the game better.