Some commenters on today’s Xenoblade letter-writing-campaign against Nintendo piece on Kotaku (wow, that’s a mouthful) suggest that the only way to be sure you’ll get to play the games you want is to import, and that people who are complaining should instead spend their time learning Japanese.
Other commenters point out that any Japanese you learn in a few months’ time isn’t going to let you fully understand the game, and so why bother? It’s better to lobby for the localization of the game, so that they don’t miss any of the plot!
I’m of two minds; on the one hand, I play games in Japanese all the time, and understand probably 80-90% of the text. On the other hand, I’ve spent a few years studying Japanese, including almost ten months in a homestay program in Japan. Not everyone has that kind of time to devote to learning a language just so that they can play video games that might or might not come out in English.
On the gripping hand, the argument that you have to be able to understand everything is flat out stupid; most of the actual important gameplay related instructions are going to be in normal Japanese, as are the various quests and such. If you can understand “Go to location X, kill monster Y, and bring me item Z,” then it doesn’t really matter what those MacGuffins are, just that you be able to recognize those names when they pop up again.
I first realized this several years back while playing through Xenosaga on the PS2 in Japanese; at first, I was struggling to pause and translate every bit of dialogue in the cutscenes. After a couple hours of this, though, it struck me: I was translating technobabble.
It wasn’t going to actually mean anything whether I glossed over it in Japanese or strung together a bunch of sciencey English words; it’s all made up as fancy window dressing. You run into the same effect in fantasy games; the magic sword of magic is just as magical if it’s powered by angels or faeries or song or whatever. The details are unimportant.
Aside from technobabble/magicbabble/mechababble, most of the dialogue in video games is going to be standard dialogue that you would go over in a language class; once you’ve learned the right verbs, following the plot becomes easy (unfortunately, my classes didn’t cover important vocab like fight, kill, attack, magic, and such; I had to pick it all up on my own).
While a basic understanding of the language is obviously necessary, you don’t have to be fluent to enjoy import gaming.
All you need is a console that can play import games (PS3, PSP, DS), and a willingness to take a bit longer on your playthrough than you might with a game in your native language.