Slay the slimes and save the princess and... yeah, learn Japanese too.
Slime Forest Adventure is the best half finished prototype edutainment game I've ever played. Well, it's the only half finished prototype edutainment game I've ever played, but that doesn't take anything away from it.
From what I understand, this game is the first offering by the independent software producer, Project LRNJ. It features heavily in the old school console RPG style game play, much in the vein of Dragon Warrior and its NES sequels. Although it's still in production, the game includes a basic town, a castle, a kidnapped princess, two playable caves, lots of light hearted humor and parody, as well as hordes of goofy little slimes trying to steal your gold. It could easily pass for a late 80's NES RPG, except for one big exception: The battle system revolves around teaching the written oh-so-complex-for-native-English-speakers Japanese language.
While Slime Forest Adventure is cute and fun and entirely playable in its current state, its creator at Project LRNJ considers it just a mere prototype. Eventually, the goal for Slime Forest Adventure is Super Nintendo graphics, music, a coherent plot and better ways of covering all those crazy Kanji and their combinations.
Here's how it works. You are Jenk, an unsuccessful potato farmer, who goes out into the world to kill some slimes with his gardening tools to make a living. When you enter a battle, several slimes appear, each with a Japanese "letter" or "word" over their head.
For those who aren't familiar with written Japanese, here's a painfully inadequate and short explanation. The rough Japanese equivalents to the alphabet are called kana, which includes both katakana and hiragana. However, many Japanese words are written in Kanji, which are complex Chinese ideograms that were adapted into Japan (and also Korea) centuries ago. There are only about 80 kana characters, yet more than 2000 Kanji characters, and you have to know thousands of Kanji combination for full Japanese literacy. (Just remember that kana are like letters and Kanji are like words... but for a more accurate, less superficial overview, see the respective nodes under kana and Kanji.)
To kill the slimes, you type in what sound the kana represents (for example sa, or mu) or what English word(s) the Kanji represents, then press space bar. If you're correct, the slime dies.
If you don't know the answer or guess incorrectly, the game generously tells you what the kana sounds like or the Kanji means. Unfortunately, it also makes the slime you attacked much stronger. Thus, it's a self correcting system for the player: get the right answer to kill the slime or miss to have the answer revealed while making it harder to kill the slime. Throughout the battle, all these cute little slimes jump up and gradually eat away your hit points if you aren't hasty.
Does it really teach Japanese well?
I'm sure it varies from person to person, but in my case, yes and no. Starting with virtually zero Japanese literacy I've learned the all the characters in the kana syllibaries and nearly 500 Kanji playing 30 minutes every day for about a month. Learning the kana was like using flashcards, only faster. On the other hand, there have been some drawbacks to learning the Kanji.
The biggest problem is that the Kanji are learned in a linguistic void. I have absolutely no idea for all the myriads of associated sounds for the each Kanji. Another problem is that the game doesn't teach how to read combined Kanjis. For example, while the game teaches you how to recognize both the "sun" (日) Kanji and the "roots" (本) Kanji, it doesn't teach you that by putting together "sun" and "roots" like such (日本), you get "Japan" which is obviously something very different than "sun roots." Yet another flaw is that many Kanji have multiple meanings. "Sun" (日) also means "day" and can even indicate "Sunday" (日曜日) when combined with the "day of the week" Kanji and another "Sun" Kanji. Yeah. Confusing.
Basically, I look at Slime Forest Adventure as an introduction to written Japanese. An incredible amount of Japanese can be learned from it in a relatively short time if a concern effort is put to it. However, while the game does teach recognition about 1000 important Kanji, the drawbacks I mentioned above keep it from teaching barely enough to get no more than a fuzzy, vague idea of a what's happening in a Japanese newspaper... or the Japanese Chrono Trigger ROM.
I want to play it!
For more information and a free download of the game, check out Project LRNJ's website: