PAX Aus 2017: Kana Quest teaches you Japanese through puzzle

Feature article

The relationship between education and video games has an interesting history. I remember quite fondly playing games like Carmen Sandiego as a kid in primary school, enjoying the ability to use a point and click adventure to learn more about the world. Puzzle games have long been linked to improving the abilities of the human mind, whether it be memory, basic math and more. Kana Quest stood out at PAX Rising for attempting to be educational in how to read the complicated-looking Japanese language and make it simple. In my short time with the game, I can say it succeeds in this venture.

I’ve been to Japan, and while I managed to learn some quick phrases to get by and communicate on a very basic level, reading the numerous street signs, menus, descriptions in shops, public transport directions… it is a little overwhelming, even when there is the English alternative right next to it. Developer Theodor Kipen is fully aware of this, and has created a game that is designed to teach you what those tricky symbols actually mean through a simple puzzle mechanic.

As a former student of the Japanese language, Theo hated doing flash cards and pop quizzes, so wanted to find a way to make this learning process more engaging and entertaining – for people of all ages.

“…the perfect game to play when you have a spare moment on public transport…”

Matching Kana (Japanese letters) sounds such as “Ka”, “Ko” and “Mo” by linking them up based on their phonetic similarities, you have to move the symbols around a domino like board in order to complete each level. While you can flip a tile at any time to see the English translation, the idea is that you’ll become familiar enough with the meanings and eventually not require to flip them at all, therefore teaching you as you play.

With its easy-to-learn premise and levels not often taking longer than a minute or two to figure out before they get more complex, Kana Quest looks to be the perfect game to play when you have a spare moment on public transport; a brief distraction that also will help you to keep your skills up with the language.

The game is punctuated by a simplistic pixel art style that shows different regions of Japan as you progress, looking very pretty while not taking the focus away from the task at hand. It’s set to feature over 300 unique levels and 20 worlds when it launches.

It certainly seems like one of the best ways to reach people in an educational game is to make the gameplay itself fun first, seamlessly tying in the “learning” components.

Kana Quest seems to do just that and is due for release early 2018 for iOS, Android and PC.