by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Learning a new language
Learning a language, especially when you’re older, is a difficult proposition, more so when the language has character sets that do not resemble your native language. When learning Japanese as an English speaker, you not only have to learn the translations, but decipher what each of the characters sounds like. For those unfamiliar with Japanese, the characters primarily correspond to two letters, each with a consonant and a vowel - an example being KA, made up of the consonant K and the vowel A.
Kana Quest is a tile matching game that has players moving around Hiragana (or Katakana) tiles so that adjacent tiles are linked by either their consonant or vowel sounds. KA and NA will match together using the vowel sound, whilst KA and KU match with their consonant. Tiles are moved around a board until all the character tiles match, similar to a game of dominoes. It is a relatively simple process, made more difficult by the fact that, like me, you will have little knowledge of the Japanese characters – at least to begin with.
Kana Quest does have lots of repetition, but this is to create a familiarity of the characters. Each of the letters will be repeatedly exposed to you as you progress through the levels. The first levels start off relatively simple, with sets for the K series and N series of Japanese characters being introduced. These tiles then need to be moved and linked together with their sounds. By double-clicking a tile, the sound of the character is represented both visually and aurally. Early on, as you’re learning the characters, you’ll be clicking everything in sight, but as you progress through the levels, it will only be the newly added characters that you’ll be clicking on.
Each stage adds a new character set, so the learning curve isn’t overly daunting. You can always continue to click on the tile if you’re unsure, but as players progress gradually, they’ll become more familiar with the letters. As well as adding new character sets, each area adds new puzzle mechanics into the mix. There are Mystery Kana which requires you to work out what they are based on those characters it matches: Stone Kana that cannot move, but require other tiles to move to them to make the match, One Way Kana that can only move in one direction, Ice Kana that slide until they hit an obstacle and even Slime Kana that can change the vowel sounds of the character. Each are added gradually along with new character sets and add a fresh feel to the game. This variation helps to keep gamers interested and helps with the learning aspect of the game.
Each level rewards players for matching the characters in a certain number of moves. Simply completing the matches gives gamers a bronze medal. But completing the level in the optimal number of moves rewards players with a gold medal. Early on, the gold medal is somewhat easy to collect, but as the levels become harder and new mechanics are added, it can be tough to achieve. This puzzle element often allows for multiple ways to solve a puzzle, but only one way to gain the gold medal.
Visually, Kana Quest has an old-school pixelated style. The backgrounds feature various Japanese themed locations and designs. The game board continues the theme with some cute anime-style facial features on some of the tiles. The background music has a Japanese flair too, although some of the tunes feel like they’ve been borrowed from a 1990’s adventure game. But they do help to convey the retro feel of the visuals. The tiles each have clearly spoken, fully voiced pronunciation of the characters as well, and like the tiles, have a cute anime charm.
A more rewarding puzzle matching game
I can match colours on games such as Candy Crush with the best of them, but I’m not learning anything in doing so, and as such it could be considered a waste of time. Not so with Kana Quest, as there is that wonderful educational aspect to the puzzle game. In effect, Kana Quest is a puzzle game that educates as you play. But more importantly, it does it in a way that is fun to learn. My daughter had to learn Japanese in high school, and I’m certain that learning the characters (in both Hiragana and Katakana) would have been more enjoyable if she’d had Kana Quest as a teaching guide. With the wonderfully retro visual and music style, it allows for learning at your own speed, and although I still need to double click some of the letters on the higher levels, I’ve got a decent grasp on what sounds each character makes now. I could probably read some Japanese quite well, although understanding what it says is another issue entirely. Learning a language can be tough, but Kana Quest takes away some of the monotony of learning the Japanese characters and has made it a wonderfully enjoyable educational experience.
I had a couple of minor issues with the early review code. But the team at Not Dead Design were super-quick to respond and solve my issues. It’s great to see that the developers are supporting their game and listening to the feedback of the players.
Makes learning Japanese characters more enjoyable, steady learning curve
Can be somewhat repetitive, but this is by design.