Austin Kwok / Android Authority
Over the last decade, I’ve put a lot of time into mobile games. I’ve written guides and videos to help players get better at them, and I’ve even used mobile gaming as a central topic in a university paper. However, it might surprise you that very few games I play are in English — the only language I’m fluent in.
Japanese mobile games have dominated my storage space since 2015. To put that into context, some of the titles I’ve been playing have surpassed 2,000 days of consecutive daily logins.
My fascination with them stems from my anime fandom. I’ve been a huge anime fan since I discovered the genre in 2012.
In 2015, I learned of an upcoming mobile game called Fate/Grand Order. Until then, I had only played mobile games that were available for download from the Google Play Store in Canada. As a Fate fan, I wanted to give Fate/Grand Order a go. However, after talking with others on Reddit, Facebook, and Discord, I learned it would only be available from the Japanese Google Play Store. That is where my journey began.
Why not play translated mobile games?
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Many popular Japanese mobile games have received localized versions over the years. In other words, versions that have been translated into English and made available on Google Play. That said, I don’t play them — and for good reason.
For starters, the text and voice translations aren’t always great. But worse, there’s no guarantee that the global versions of these games will be supported long-term. Let’s take Crunchyroll as an example. Crunchyroll is one of the most renowned anime streaming services around the globe. They also have a Japanese mobile game publishing division known as Crunchyroll Games.
On the Crunchyroll Games website, you can scroll down the list to see some of the games they’ve localized. If those games can’t sustain a long-term player base, they will inevitably get shut down — or, in this case, “vaulted.” You see that titles like Naruto x Boruto Ninja Tribes, Mass for the Dead, Attack on Titan Tactics, Danmachi: Memoria Freese, and Grand Summoners are marked as vaulted. Most Japanese versions of the vaulted games are still alive and well. Thankfully, if the localization shuts down, that doesn’t impact the Japanese version.
This isn’t uncommon beyond just Crunchyroll, though. Another prominent precedent would be the localization of Magia Record. This was a game released to the Japanese mobile market in August 2017, and it became an instant hit with fans of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica franchise.
In June 2019, Magia Record received an English localized version produced by Aniplex of America. I downloaded it about a month after it came out and enjoyed it for what it was.
Localized versions have a history of shutting down while the originals live on.
One year later, in August 2020, it was announced that the game would cease all operations. Aniplex of America issued no prior warning that the game would shut down, and the news blindsided players. Many — including myself — spent money to acquire characters and in-game items. Because the game only lasted a year and the end of service was so abrupt, I felt I deserved my money back. However, Aniplex of America refused all refund requests.
Furthermore, the Japanese version of the game lived on because it wasn’t tied to Aniplex of America in any way. When I discovered this, I immediately regretted playing the English version and committed fully to Japanese-only.
How I play Japanese mobile games outside of Japan
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
Japanese mobile games often aren’t meant to be downloaded by people outside of Japan. Users typically have to create a Japanese Apple ID or a Japanese Google account to access them in North America.
With APKs, Android users can install Japanese mobile games without a Japanese Google account.
However, the quickest and easiest way to access a Japanese mobile game in North America is to download it as an APK. This is possible on Android but not in Apple’s ecosystem, and it doesn’t require you to have any Japanese credentials.
I’ve been using the APK method to play Japanese mobile games since 2015, and it’s the reason I choose Android today. Seeing how powerful Apple’s chips have become, I’ve definitely considered switching to Apple over the years. However, because most of the apps I use are Japanese mobile games, I’ve always found Android to be the most practical choice.
HOW TO INSTALL JAPANESE MOBILE GAMES ON ANDROID (APK)
- On your Android device, open a browser.
- Search for an apk store like APKPure (or QooApp).
- Download APKPure (or QooApp).
- In your phone’s settings, allow Chrome to Install unknown apps.
- In the Chrome Downloads section, tap the downloaded file to install APKPure (or QooApp).
- In your phone’s settings, allow APKPure (or QooApp) to Install unknown apps.
- Launch the app.
- Find the Japanese mobile game you’re looking for. (If the game’s name is in Japanese, look it up on Google. Copy it from there and paste it into the search bar.)
- Press the download button.
How I play Japanese mobile games when I don’t know Japanese
Now, I don’t know Japanese. For a long time, I relied on Reddit and wiki guides to learn how to play Japanese mobile games. These guides would translate the in-game menus and lines so English-speaking players could understand them.
However, in 2017, things changed with the introduction of Google Lens. If you’re an Android user, you can go into Google Photos and use Google Lens to translate anything from a screenshot. This includes Japanese text from within a screenshot of your game. It’s not ideal, but useful when you don’t have a guide to hand and need to look something up.
HOW TO USE GOOGLE LENS WITH JAPANESE GAMES
- Take a screenshot of the game if you don’t understand what it says.
- Open Google Photos and find your screenshot.
- Tap Lens.
- Highlight the text you want to translate.
- Tap Translate.
It’s a hassle, but it’s worth it
I’m not going to lie; life would be easier if these games were in English. It’d be nice to have everything set up so I could understand it without using a translation service.
However, that’s not how they were meant to be, and there’s something comforting in that. Japanese mobile games — or “mobages” — are so prominent in Japan that it’s become a part of their culture. People all over the country play mobile games, and ads for games like Fate/Grand Order, Uma Musume: Pretty Derby, and Monster Strike are everywhere.
As an avid player, I’ve learned to appreciate and respect the Japanese mobile gaming industry. I was willing to jump through any hoop to download that first Japanese mobile game, Fate/Grand Order, because I wanted to play the game the way it was meant to be played. If I had to go back, I’d do it all again.