Influent + Japanese DLC

Break Up
Game: Influent (Japanese DLC)
Genre: Indie, Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Rob Howland
Publisher: Three Flip Studios
Release Date: Mar 20, 2014
Platform: PC / Played on Windows 7
Overall rating:  8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Controls: 7.5/10
Level/Puzzle Design:N/A
Sound: 7/10
Story: 3/10
Replay Value: 9/10
Community: N/A

Influent is sold as a “Language Learning Game” focusing on vocabulary and and pronunciation. I was the lucky winner of the Japanese pack and I’ve played around with it for quite a while, so let’s explore it a little, shall we?

I already had (a very low) background in learning Japanese when I got this game, so my experiences may vary from someone who has never touched the language before.

Believe it or not, Influent has a sort of ‘story’ behind it. It’s not overly… special, but a story is something you don’t necessarily expect in something like a Language Learning software – game or not.
In Influent you take the role of Andrew Cross. He’s spent three years developing a device that would allow people to interact with their surroundings by providing them the item’s names in different languages. However, this device is stolen and sold under the thieves’ branding, and so Andrew’s response to this was to improve on the device and launch a campaign, swearing to learn 300 words in a foreign language to prove how evil those thieves are.

Just how precisely that works, I have no idea. The story makes no sense, hence it gets a low rating, however, the fact that they even thought as far as to give it a bit of a backstory besides “randomly get words in another language” deserves cookie points in my book.

The graphics aren’t out of this world, but I think they’re sufficiently good in their cartoonish way, and fit the quirky story of the game. I actually really like the art and the style of it. It’s simple, it does the job, and, more importantly, it makes it more approachable as you don’t need a super computer to run it.

That said, I don’t feel this is neither a language learning software, nor all it could be. Don’t get me wrong, I do love this game, but it lacks something. Before I get into that, though, let’s get on with the more technical aspects:

You can play this in first or third person. All of the game (so far) happens inside Andrew’s apartment, so it’s a tad limited in that sense, however, there is good depth of detail on the words you can learn; for instance, you can point at the door to get that word in Japanese, but if you point at the door frame, you will actually get “door frame” and not just “door”. You can open things (drawers, closets and cabinets, fridge, etc) and look at the things inside.

Basically, you move around the house and press a button to have the name of the item you’re looking (pointing with the mouse) at appear in the target language. The user interface is already available in various languages, and there are several target language DLCs you can choose from, in my case, since it was Japanese, you got all the necessary information: romaji, kana and kanji (along with pronunciation). You can select which of all this to see, you can see alternate words for the item, you can choose to add it to lists, and as you progress through your lists achievements you will be able to unlock more things: you start with simple words for objects, then you move on to adjectives and the like.

You have various lists, all of 10 items, which you can then test yourself on. When you play this mini-game, you will be given or told a word, and you will have to find the item and press a button again to mark it. Depending on how fast you are, you might even earn stars. Complete enough lists or achieve a certain speed and you will start ticking off achievements in the game. It also has small goals with their corresponding achievements.

Now, here we reach part 1 of what bothers me: This isn’t really so much a Language Learning game as just a tool to aid in Language Learning. There is a difference, as with a language learning programs you can expect to get some basic structure so that you can start speaking with, at the very least, short, broken sentences; Influent, however, only gives you words. There are no connectors, no real actions (even in you have some verbs), and no further information on how to put a sentence together. That’s fine, but it’s what makes it only an aid tool. It’s basically just an interactive flashcard system and a great help to expand on your basic and not so basic everyday vocabulary, but it’s not the only tool you’ll need if you actually want to learn the language.
It can, however, also be used as a starting point to gain some vocabulary before you go into basic sentences.

The second thing that… not so much bothers me, but just disappoints me, is how limited it is. Since everything happens within his house, then that is all you get to learn about. I would really, truly adore to see the game be expanded on (as default, and not as DLCs!) by include the outside world. The idea of being able to take my character out into the world and see the items at a park, or buildings, or houses, enter a shop and see what they sell… it could be so muchmore, and it feels like the game doesn’t reach its full potential. I feel like they could even include very basic dialogue with NPCs (for instance, talking to a neighbor and saying “Nice weather” or entering a shop, picking an item, and being able to choose between “how much is this” and “I’ll take 5 of this”). So at the end of the day, it feels rather bland.

The game controls aren’t too difficult, but they aren’t overly comfortable either. The replayability is both high and non-existent depending on your level with the target language. it’s high while you’re learning and reinforcing the basics, but once you’re past the basic household items level, you really have nothing else to do with the game other than an occasional revision.

All in all, Influent is a very nice tool to help with your language learning, and I would highly recommend it as that, but I don’t think I would recommend it if you’ve never touched the language before OR are way past beginner level.