- The Names Behind The Game
- The Series
- Let’s Play!
- A Brief Introduction To Kana
- Dragon Quest’s Gojūon (五十音)
- Entering My Name
- Please Enter Your (First) Name Breakdown
Dragon Quest, otherwise known as Dragon Warrior in North America in earlier incarnations, is a popular Japanese RPG series. In fact, in Japan, as I understand it, Dragon Quest is more popular and overshadows Final Fantasy as the premier RPG series.
For those in Japan, if this is true, this is in contrast to the United States (or North America), where Final Fantasy overshadows Dragon Quest by far. Final Fantasy here in the states has a long history of selling consoles; at least that was the case for me when Final Fantasy VII came out for the Playstation. But that’s another story for another series.
The Names Behind The Game
Dragon Quest was spearheaded by Yuji Horii (堀井 雄二) and was inspired by his own game Portopia Serial Murder Case, as well as that of Wizardy and Ultima. Mr. Horii graduated from Waseda University and has worked as a writer for various media in his native Japan. He was a fan of the RPG games of the time, including those written, but found that what we would come to later call “casual” gamers found those types of games difficult.
Thus began his work developing what he considered a more simple or intuitive control interface that easily mapped to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Mr. Horii is quite influential; in fact, his second game, Portopia, inspired Hideo Kojima (小島 秀夫) of Metal Gear fame.
Mr. Horii currently heads a production company with an exclusive contract with Square Enix known as Armor Project.
The first game in the series came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System (otherwise known as the Family Computer or Famicom in Japan) in 1986 and got a North America port in 1989. It was a stellar success in Japan but was received a little less favorably in the western markets. However, it’s still regarded as the great-grandfather of the console RPG genre.
This series, and this game, in particular, is somewhat special to me as it’s one of the first games I ever played on the NES. My older brother actually beat the game (defeating the Dragonlord) on his own (with maybe a few hints from Nintendo Power). The television at that time was in our living room, and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be playing a video game while others watched and did other things. My older brother could get quite persistent on figuring out his games. I remember he actually beat Castlevania II: Belmont’s Quest, a game known for its difficulty, on his own. Everyone celebrated when he finally defeated the Dragonlord.
So with that, let’s dive into Dragon Quest for the Famicom/NES!
The first screen of Japanese we encounter is, of course, when we enter the Hero’s name. This is a nice screen as it lays out all of the kana （かな、仮名） (仮 – false, 名 – name) written in the font used in the game. I decided to start with this game not only out of historical interest but also because Dragon Quest, being a low-resolution NES （Famicom, ファミコン） game, uses all kana in its text.
A Brief Introduction To Kana
A budding student of Japanese would do best to learn the sets of kana in the Japanese language first. The kana, as used here, refers to two syllabaries: hiragana （ひらがな、平仮名） (平 – flat) and katakana （かたかな、片仮名） (片 – fragmentary), though these are not the only possible syllabaries.
What Are Hiragana (平仮名) And Katakana (片仮名)
A syllabary is a set of symbols (syllabograms) that correspond to different spoken syllables. Both the hiragana and the katakana represent the same sounds but use different symbols. From a beginner’s perspective, the two syllabaries can be simply explained: katakana (片仮名) is used for foreign words or emphasis, while hiragana (平仮名) is used for most other purposes. I have written more about the kana in Everything About Kana.
Gojūon Order （五十音順）
Each syllabary can be ordered in a traditional system called gojūon （ごじゅうおん、五十音） which translates literally to “fifty sounds,” with gojū being fifty (五 – go 5, 十 – jū 10), and on (音) being sound. This orders each syllabary by the syllabogram’s component phonemes. You might imagine it as the Japanese equivalent of alphabetical order.
The table of syllabograms can be written vertically, as is done on this first screen (thought split in half). You might also see it written horizontally. In gojūon (五十音), the vowel order is A (IPA: a), I (IPA: i), U (IPA: ɯ), E (IPA: e), O (IPA: o), and the consonant order is K, S, T, N, H, M, Y, R, W.
Diacritic Marks （濁点、半濁点）
In this system of writing, you use two diacritic marks to indicate a voiced or aspirated consonant sound. These are the dakuten （だくてん、濁点）(濁 – voiced, 点 – point), also known colloquially as tenten （点々） (dots), and handakuten （はんだくてん、半濁点）(半 – half), also known colloquially as maru,（まる、丸）(丸 – circle).
A dakuten (濁点) is written as two dots in the upper right corner, hence the name, and turns a K sound, for instance, into a G sound (S into Z, T into D, and H into B). A handakuten (半濁点) is written as a small circle, hence the name, in the upper right corner of a syllabogram and is used to turn an H sound into an aspirated P sound. More information on diacritics can be found in Everything About Kana.
Dragon Quest’s Gojūon (五十音)
Dragon Quest’s first screen displays a table of hiragana (平仮名) symbols in all their pixelicious glory in (almost) gojūon (五十音) order (split in half). The last row would normally hold WO (を) in the O (お) column, but in this table, it is in the U (う) column, while the additional N (ん) kana is in the O (お) column:
I have reproduced this table below (without splitting it in half), along with the English transliteration of the mora-components on the sides below:
You’ll notice that there are four sounds that aren’t quite consistent with the table. These are shi (し) [pronounced like sheep], chi (ち) [pronounced like cheese], fu (ふ), and tsu (つ). Shi and chi are straightforward enough, but fu and tsu are interesting. You might believe fu is pronounced like fool, and you’d be partly correct, but it differs slightly. The fu sound is more H-like in pronunciation than a clear F, somewhat like the word who. Tsu is pronounced much like it sounds, with a T followed immediately by an S, but as one syllable.
You’ll also notice that there are six symbols not represented in the chart above. These are the small versions of tsu (っ), ya (ゃ), yu (ゅ), yo (ょ), the dakuten (濁点) (dots), and the handakuten (半濁点) (circle). The small versions of tsu (っ), ya (ゃ), yu (ゅ), and yo (ょ) require a little explanation.
The Sokuon （側音）
To pronounce a geminate consonant, you link the consonant of the following sound to the vowel of the previous one, pause for a beat, and then pronounce the following sound. For example, to pronounce きって（切って）(stamp), we take the vowel before the sokuon (i) and attach the consonant (t): kit. Then we pause for an equal amount of time as it takes to pronounce kit, and finally, we pronounce the following syllable te. You could picture it like the following, where the dash represents the pause: kit-te.
The Yōon （拗音）
The small ya (ゃ), yu (ゅ), and yo (ょ) are used in the yōon （ようおん、拗音）(拗 – distorted, 音 – sound) which add the Y (IPA: j) sound before the vowel in a syllable. These are only attached to kana ending in an I sound (き, し, ち, に, ひ, み, り), and turn the I into a Y with the corresponding vowel such as kya (きゃ), or nyu (にゅ).
Two exceptions exist for the shi and chi syllabograms. These sounds adopt the final vowel sound but omit the Y (IPA: j) sound. So instead of shya, it becomes (しゃ) sha, and instead of, for example, chyu it becomes (ちゅ) chu.
Entering My Name
You can see me enter a Japanese-zation of my name (made up by me), Asher, into the name selector below. Normally I would enter this in as katakana (片仮名), and I might make use of a small E sound there to write アシェル (Asher), but here I only have hiragana (平仮名). So, instead, I write an A sound, and a Sha sound あしゃ to form Asha. Close enough.
On the first screen, where the player enters their name, we encounter some of our first vocab. There are three vocab: the top title, the cancel (return) selection, and the submission (end) selection.
The top title is broken down in the following:
Translated, this reads, “Please enter your (first) name”
A Brief Foray Into Japanese Sentence Structure
One of the most disconcerting aspects of Japanese for the beginning speaker (particularly when coming from a language like English) is that Japanese has a wildly different sentence structure. In English, the order of a sentence or clause is usually subject-verb-object. In Japanese, on the other hand, the order of a sentence or clause is often subject-object-verb.
As a general rule, in Japanese, the verb always comes last. Everything that comes before the verb sets up the context of the sentence including the subject and the object. How does one tell the subject from the object? The answer to that is Grammar Particles.
Grammar particles are small snippets of sound, such as de (で) and ni (に), that indicate the relationship of what precedes it with the rest of the sentence. To indicate the subject, you use wa (in this context indicated as ha, は), and to indicate the object of a verb, you use wo / o (を). There are several various grammar particles that indicate a multitude of contexts, and they are covered in Japanese Sentence Structure.
Please Enter Your (First) Name Breakdown
With that in mind, let’s break down our first sentence.
We begin with the word namae （なまえ、名前）which means (first) name. It is made up of two kanji, so it could be considered a jukugo （じゅくご、熟語）, meaning compound word. The first kanji is 名 and here means “name.” The second kanji is 前 and here means “front” or “before.”
In Japan, names are often listed backward as opposed to English-speaking countries, with the family name or last name listed first. Acquaintances are often referred to by last or family name, while people you are closer with are referred to by their given or first name. Namae (名前) refers to the first or given name.
After namae, we encounter wo / o (を), which is a grammar particle that tells us that the preceding (名前) is going to be the object of the following verb.
The following verb is ireru （いれる、入れる）(入 – insert) which, in this context, means “to insert” or “to put in.” So, together with 名前 and を, we have literally, < name object put in >, or in other words, “put in name.”
The last part is the kudasai （ください、下さい）(下 – give) which simply means “please (do for me).” It is usually written in kana alone, but I include its kanji (with okurigana) form here. Here you might object that this, instead of the verb, is the last part of the sentence. However, you’ll notice that the verb 入れる has changed its form to the -te (て) form. This is so that the verb can be combined with 下さい, and in this sense combines with 下さい and is modified to mean “put in (for me please).”
Return And End
There are two other vocab in this screen: return （もどり、戻り） (戻 – return), and end （おわり、終わり） (終 – end). 戻り is a noun form of 戻る which is the verb “to go back,” and 終わり is a noun form of 終わる which is the verb “to end.”
And there you have it, Dragon Quest’s opening screen and name selection. Here is a list of kanji featured in this post (in the order they are mentioned):
- 仮 – false
- 名 – name
- 平 – flat
- 片 – fragmentary
- 五 – five (5)
- 十 – ten (10)
- 音 – sound
- 濁 – voiced
- 点 – point
- 半 – half
- 丸 – circle
- 促 – press
- 切 – cut
- 拗 – distorted
- 前 – before, front
- 入 – insert
- 下 – give (down)
- 戻 – return
- 終 – end
And here is a list of vocab featured in this post (in the order they are mentioned):
- 仮名 – （かな） kana
- ファミコン– Famicom
- 片仮名 – （かたかな） katakana
- 平仮名 – （ひらがな） hiragana
- 五十音 – （ごじゅうおん） gojūon (Fifty Sounds)
- 濁点 – （だくてん） dakuten (diacritic)
- 半濁点 – （はんだくてん） handakuten (diacritic)
- 促音 – （そくおん） sokuon (small tsu)
- 拗音 – （ようおん） yōon (modified Y sounds)
- 名前 – （なまえ） namae (given name)
- 入れる – （いれる） ireru (to put in, to insert)
- 下さい – （ください） kudasai (normally written ください) (please do for me)
- 戻る – （もどる） modoru (to return, to go back)
- 戻り – （もどり） modori (noun form of modoru)
- 終わる – （おわる） owaru (to end, to finish)
- 終わり – （おわり） owari (noun form of owaru, the end)