April 1, 2012 | Joshua Biron
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that the sum total of my boarding adventures is entirely digital. That being said, I am confident in my grasp of the laws of physics. This has fortunately provided me with an understanding of the most basic necessity for a successful ride to the bottom of any hill: momentum. If I keep stopping, the trip will take forever. If I run into a patch of deep snow, that too will slow me down. If I sneak in too many 720° quadruple backflip nosegrabs, I’m heading for a faceplant. Hit a tree? Fuggedaboutit.
What I’m looking for is the hard-packed snow and a little fresh powder. I want to ride the rails, hit the jumps, and show off a reasonable amount of style. Anything that keeps me carving up the slopes and having as much fun as possible is perfect. In this way, snowboarding and learning a language have much in common. As long as I’m shredding down the mountain, I know I’m on the right path. If, on the other hand, I’m plowing through the deep snow and acquainting myself with every tree on the hill, it probably means I need to find a better way down.
SSX, as much as I love it for being a return to form for a series that has languished since its last relevant entry almost nine years ago, is unfortunately deep snow for a beginning language learner. This is not because there is too much Japanese, but because there is not enough. Remember, momentum itself is the goal. Everything else flows from that.
What I’m looking for, as someone who is still in the early stages, is something with as much Japanese in it as possible. I need to be surrounded by it, swamped in it, and bombarded with it, like a boarder caught in a blizzard. Every moment I spend with English is time away from my target language, so when I boot up SSX and there’s only English-language music, I just bailed on a jump. When the English-speaking announcer has been retained from the North American release, I just took a low-hanging branch to the face. The only things in Japanese in the game are the menus and tutorials, and with everything else in the game being in English, this ends up making the Japanese feel like an obstacle to my enjoyment of the game. More advanced learners will probably get something of value from the menus, but I suspect the tedium will kill them first.
In games entirely in Japanese, the struggle with the language is paradoxically easier to accept, and can even wind up feeling relatively painless. If the target language is only present in the most boring parts of a game, then you’re subtly telling your brain that English is fun, while Japanese is boring. Generally, this is a bad way to go. If you’re not having fun with the language, you should probably find a different game.
Of course, when it comes to language acquisition, something is always better than nothing, as fun will always better than painful. Is SSX a great game for helping you passively absorb Japanese? Probably not. There are certainly much better options out there, games that allow the player to have fun even when comprehension is at a minimum. However, playing SSX with its limited amount of Japanese is still better than playing it (or any other game) solely in English.
Just be prepared to get off your board and wade through the deep powder occasionally.
SSX is the 2012 sequel to the original PlayStation 2 title of the same name. It is available on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.