Nintendo DS Kanji Bimoji Toreiningu | Kanji Calligraphy Training
Nintendo's Kanji Bimoji Toreiningu-- hereafter, Kanji Calligraphy Training-- is one of the newer kanji training games to hit Japan.
What makes this one different? Most importantly, it focuses on shodo-- calligraphy-- and so it tests you not on your ability to write the kanji from memory, but rather your ability to write the kanji well from a model.
To this end, it provides you detailed feedback on whether your strokes are the correct length, shape, etc.
The game is published directly by Nintendo, and I think it meets their usually high level of quality.
The game includes a "brush"-- really just a long stylus-- to do calligraphy with. The reason for this is that it's almost impossible to use the small-tipped normal DS stylus to play this game. It's decent quality, and sturdy. If you don't like it, you can use one of the fat pens that you can buy for the DS at most stores.
To do calligraphy, you turn the DS on its side, putting the touch screen on the right and the non-touch screen on the left.
Most game modes show a sample kanji on the left, and you write the kanji on the right. During renshuu (practice), the game shows a gray sample on the right screen, but during test mode there is only the model on the left:
After you finish writing all of the kanji/kana in the word/phrase, the rating system gives you a score, but far more importantly gives you detailed feedback on 5-10 of the most important points for that particular kanji, as seen below:
One of the best parts of this system is that because it's also drawn in red, even if you can't read all of the Japanese you will likely find it useful.
Ways to Train
Unlike other games, this one is designed so that you use it a little bit each day. In fact, the designer's thought this was so important there are some blocks to prevent you from doing more than a certain amount each day. I'm not sure whether I agree with this or not, but I've found that using it to write just nine or ten words a day doesn't take much time and picking up a few pointers a day has been a real help to me.
Every day the game will give you a "word of the day," which is usually an obscure seasonal word. Even if you can't read the kanji, it's a nice warm up to get started.
After the word of the day, you arrive at the main menu, from which you have several choices. First is kotsu training-- basic techniques. In this section, there are twenty lessons (you are limited to taking one per day, and you must take them in order). These lessons teach you the basic techniques for doing calligraphy. There are five or six screens of text and pictures when you start each lesson, and then you are given ten kanji on which to practice that technique. If you finish writing all ten, then the next day you will be able to continue to the next lesson. You can review previous lessons at any time.
This screenshot shows an explanation of one of the basic techniques.
Second are the "categories of the day." Each day the game chooses two categories and gives you three words or phrases from each. If you write all three words, the next time the catgory appears (usually a few weeks later), you will get the next three words (each category has a total of 30 words). The categories range from the mundane ("Home Memos") to the slighly more difficult ("Basho's haiku", "4 kanji mottos"). Thankfully, if you can't read the kanji you can click the "kotoba no imi" (meaning) button and the software will display the reading, and sometimes a definition. The frustrating thing about this mode is that you have to practice the kanji in the order and on the days it gives them to you.
Other modes include "self study," in which you enter the kanji/phrases that you want to practice and the game tests you on your ability to write them well. Also, there is a general writing practice, where you can train on apologies, stock letter greetings, people's names, and the like. Finally, there is a "learn all kana/kanji" mode, where you start with あ and work your through more than 3000 kana and kanji.
Because the model kanji is on the left screen and you write the kanji on the right screen, even beginners should be able to use this software-- it even includes hiragana and katakana training in the "all kanji" mode.
Unfortunately, true beginners will have a lot of trouble reading the feedback (and lessons) the program gives you, but the feedback (and lessons) are always accompanied by pictures with the important points in red ink, so if you really want to learn you shouldn't have too much trouble with it.
My Experience with the Software
I've been using the software for a month now, and I've been generally pleased with it. Not being able to control the categories is a little frustrating, but I love the detailed feedback about exactly what I'm doing wrong with the shaping of my kanji. I also appreciate the depth of the game's content-- there's a lot here, and it will probably be more than a year before I get through the bulk of it.
This game is only sold in Japan (with no plans for a worldwide release), so if you don't live in Japan, your best bet is to use Amazon Japan (see above link). Or, if you need help, I put together a guide to help you use Amazon Japan.
Questions/comments about this review? Post in the forums!