Cheat your way to better Japanese with walkthrough video game guides

by Daniel Morales

Contributing Writer

I woke up on the first day of my New Year’s holiday last December feeling a little restless, so I clicked a few buttons online and 24 hours later a new Nintendo Switch showed up at my door. As I loaded it up for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the operating system could be set to Japanese. I’d be able to study some language while I was exploring the kingdom of Hyrule during one of Chicago’s coldest winters in a while.

After the ストレス発散 (sutoresu hassan, stress relief) of the retail therapy wore off, I was left alone in my apartment with the realization that I’m awful at video games.

So I cheated … in Japanese.

With a full-time job, several fulfilling hobbies as well as friends and love interests (honest), I can’t justify spending hours upon hours figuring out every secret of a game, especially a game as expansive as “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” the title I picked up.

But I didn’t feel too bad about using 攻略サイト (kōryakusaito, literally “strategy websites”) to unlock a particularly challenging puzzle or the path to a 宝箱 (takarabako, treasure chest) I could see but couldn’t access: I was studying while I was cheating because the websites are all in Japanese.

There is no catch-all word for “cheating” in Japanese. 騙す (damasu, to trick or fool) is used when you pull a fast one on someone, and is often encountered in the passive form 騙される (damasareru, to be tricked or fooled). いかさまする (ikasama suru, to swindle) is useful for situations like poker and card games, and カンニング (kanningu, from “cunning”) is invoked when a student cheats on a test.

The transliteration チート (chiito, cheat) gets used to describe what we think of in English as cheats on games, but these also include バグ (bagu, bugs) and other glitches that can be taken advantage of.

Kōryaku are an excellent reminder to be careful when you translate back into English. While it may be tempting to render them as “strategy websites,” looking at what they actually are online makes it clear the best translation is “walkthrough.” “Strategy guide” would feel appropriate for a published book version.

Yahoo Chiebukuro gives us an excellent insight into how kōryaku are viewed by the populace in Japan with this post: ゲームの攻略本や攻略サイトに頼るのはずるいですか? 最低ですか? (Gēmu no kōryakuhon ya kōryakusaito ni tayoru no wa zurui desu ka? Saitei desu ka?, Is relying on strategy guides and walkthroughs cheating? [Does it make me] the worst?).

While ずるい (zurui, dishonest, sneaky, crafty or cunning) is an adjective in Japanese, it most naturally captures the sense of “cheating” on games by using information provided by an outside source.

The only responder to the question gives a pretty straightforward answer: 首っ引きで頼りっぱなしだといい顔をされない (Kubippiki de tayorippanashi dato ii kao o sarenai, “Constantly relying on them is frowned upon”). The use of 首っ引き (kubippiki, constantly referring to, literally, “neck-pulling”) suggests the player is constantly turning their head away from the game to find the answers.

I haven’t quaffed too deeply from the knowledge of these websites, but I have definitely taken sips.

At one point, I was getting thumped by a particular tricky 敵 (teki, enemy), so I checked the site to see what the deal was. I was relieved to find this suggestion: かなり強敵なので戦うことはおすすめできない (Kanari kyōteki na-no de tatakau koto wa o-susume dekinai, “He is a very formidable enemy, so I can’t recommend fighting him”).

This is a very simple sentence structure that’s great for intermediate students. Learning I could avoid this enemy also saved me a lot of time and effort that would have wasted my character’s resources.

I was also able to gain more general advice, such as whether or not I should exchange 鉱石 (kōseki, crystals) for ルピー (rupii, rupees) or keep them for something else later in the game.

One guide suggested not acting too rashly with this lovely incomplete sentence: 必要になってくるので計画的に (Hitsuyō ni natte-kuru no de keikakuteki ni, “[Crystals] will later be essential so [use them] wisely”). But I gathered from another guide that I’d probably be able to replace most of the gems: 基本は換金アイテムとして考えて良いとは思います (Kihon wa kankinaitemu toshite kangaete yoi to wa omoimasu, “I think basically, [crystals] can be considered items to exchange for money”).

Many of these games have similar goals scattered all across different levels and worlds, so keep an eye out for 一覧 (ichiran, lists) that will likely provide a complete rundown of all those goals (dungeons, coins, etc.) and help you track down any that you’re missing. You’ll also find lists of 武器 (buki, weapons) and other items.

方法 (hōhō, method or “how to X”) is another frequently encountered word. You’ll see 入手方法 (nyūshu hōhō, how to acquire [something]), which will show you how to get certain goodies within the game. You’ll also come across ボス攻略方法 (bosu kōryaku hōhō, how to defeat bosses) and 操作方法 (sōsa hōhō, user guides).

If you’re just getting started and need some tips for newbies, keep an eye out for any section labeled 初心者 (shoshinsha, beginner). But if you’re an expert already, you might want to search for タイムアタック (taimuatakku, race against the clock, literally “time attack”), many examples of which you’ll find on YouTube. Also known as TA, taimuatakku involves advanced players competing to see how quickly they can finish levels, courses or entire games and then uploading video of their feats.

In the end, the goal of these games is to enjoy yourself. Maybe it says too much about me that I was getting stressed out about how to most wisely spend my gems in a fictional video-game setting, but knowing this small detail helped me relax and enjoy the ride.

What’s more, the odds you’ll stumble upon ネタバレ (netabare, spoilers) while perusing kōryaku is likely smaller in a nonnative language. If you want surprises and discoveries along your journey, scan for just the information you need and ignore the rest.