One Piece Odyssey released last week, sending the Straw Hats on a new JRPG adventure. We’ll have our review of that game proper soon, but the game is hardly the first attempt to adapt a popular anime into video games. In fact, the anime tie-in game is nearly as old as the medium, with even NES and SNES adaptations of 80’s classics being readily available for Japanese players. Most of the time, these games can be viewed as gun-for-hire work capitalizing on an iconic IP. With One Piece Odyssey‘s touting itself as a definitive One Piece experience, I got to talking with our Games editor Evan Griffin about the adaptations that weren’t just cash-grabs. There are good anime games out there, and we’ve laid out our favorite ones here as recommendations. Give one of these a try while waiting for our full review of One Piece Odyssey.
Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku 1 + 2
Developed in the US rather than Japan, The Legacy of Goku titles take the story of the anime and run it through an RPG engine. It actually works very well, especially with the various training and showdown pace of classic DBZ. The Legacy games also added side quests that allowed for a little bit of worldbuilding with the larger cast of the series. While the Game Boy Advance was never short on RPGs, the Legacy of Goku games absolutely stands with the best of that generation by using what made that era special to make well known material feel fresh. There is a special kind of fun being able to influence the abilities of the Z Fighters while taking their sprites all around the world just like you were playing Golden Sun or a classic Final Fantasy, especially when both games stick to killing characters as the original story did, sometimes taking all that hard work away from you. It adds a layer of importance to those losses, something the nature of the Dragon Balls kind of disrupts.
Listen, I won’t belabor the point. This game needs you. The player base has leveled out since its PC and console launch, and if you’re here, I don’t need to sell you on how it’s a clone of Overwatch; you’re here for the anime, damn it! Bandai Namco knew what they were doing when they decided to make this hero based team shooter, as half the company has been creating build kit models for Gundam throughout its nearly fifty year history. Whether you enjoy the stories of the One Year War, the grim wastelands of Iron Blooded Orphans or the hypergloss of Unicorn, there’s a Mobile Unit here, ready for you, and it’s super fun to play. PLUS, IT IS FREE! Go download it, right now. [Evan Griffin]
One Piece: World Seeker
World Seeker is easily one of the more ambitious attempts to put the Straw Hats in video games. Setting Monkey D. Luffy loose in an open world is definitely a recipe for adventure. Story-wise, while the set up feels a bit derivative of the source material, it does also have a firm understanding of the themes and politics of One Piece. The politics in particular are of interest in this game, as it centers the very people who would usually be in the background of a One Piece arc. The citizens of the area actually have a bit of real disdain towards the Straw Hats for getting involved in a situation that while subjugates them, also provides them some level of stability. It’s an interesting take that opens up some pretty curious personal challenges for Luffy’s philosophy. Not everything is perfect of course, how a stealth mechanic got added to a game where you play as Luffy is beyond comprehension, but instant access to Luffy’s vast array of Gum-Gum powers is a blast, particularly getting to Gum-Gum UFO all over the map.
Initial D Stage 8 Infinite
There’s nothing quite like a first encounter with the famous arcade racer based on Initial D. At first, you’re drawn in by SEGA’s slick signage, Japanese text, card readers for returning players, well kept upholstery on the seating, and the Eurobeat music lulls you closer until you push in quarters and take the iconic Toyota AE86 for a cruise downhill the iconic hill at Akina Lake. The anime and manga series that mythologically spawned a love of Japan’s subcultures in music, racing, cars and nightlife would have a few season’s worth localized outside Japan during its 1998 to 2014 run, to accompany its final season with Initial D Stage 8 Infinity. While not the final arcade release, it’s the most packed with sixteen tracks to race on, nearly fifty cars to unlock and customize and a massive soundtrack. If you live near any of the Round 1 franchise arcades, you can still find these racer cabinets here in the United States, and even without the iconic drivers licenses with save file data of years past, it’s a mesmerizing time to revisit a game franchise that became a subculture of its own. [Evan Griffin]
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven
Many anime games are fighting games because so many are shonen titles. Often, What makes one stand out is what else it can offer. Eyes of Heaven offers JoJo’s fans something that they’d never get otherwise: a generational and multiversal crossover. Most of the fun of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven is seeing all current JoJos and friends interact with each other both in the main story and in multiplayer modes. Having so much extra dialogue between characters that would otherwise never meet (and in some cases, the same character at different ages) is one of the most fun parts of a legacy crossover. Eyes of Heaven also adds new layers to the original timeline’s DIO’s master plans, to give fans one more crack at his face. Other faces are abound to get cracked as well, allowing fans to settle all kinds of otherwise impossible “what-if” showdowns, and not leaving anyone out just because they hadn’t been animated yet.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
FighterZ is a perfect blend of the action of Dragon Ball Z and Arc System Works’ thrilling cell-shading game design. Thanks to the design wizardry at play, each match feels like a brawl right out of the anime. While the roster definitely can be described as “Oops, all Gokus,” thanks to years of support and updates the roster is actually quite robust. seeing that roster rendered better than they ever looked in the series pulling off their best attacks doesn’t get old. True to Arc System’s desire to make fighting games more accessible than ever, FighterZ is simultaneously easy to pick up and play but incredibly rewarding to master. Many a tournament for this game has been capped off by compelling back and forth between professional players that genuinely feels just as worthy as any tournament Dragon Ball itself has ever held.
Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2
I’m a millennial who dropped off of Naruto after he and Sasuke had their definitive childhood battle at the waterfall and then Jiraiya took the team to the Land of Rice Paddies. I’m sure a whole generation knows how insane Naruto Shippuden gets and that the Ultimate Ninja Storm series is pretty definitive. If you told me that, I would believe you, but that’s not the Naruto game I fell in love with. No, I shonen-jumped into Naruto games with the localization of the Nintendo Gamecube exclusive Clash of Ninja series, namely Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2. The introductory tournament arc that introduces the majority of the series’ key characters with some of the most iconic battles of shonen anime in the early 2000s was recreated here nearly one to one, which means there was a lot of game to play. That’s ultimately a good thing because the core fighting mechanics of this game were rock solid thanks to being designed by Earth Defense Force’s D3 Publisher: they know how to keep game design simple and really fun. Not only is this Tekken style 3d arena fighter brisk and easy to pick up, it handles up to four players in team ups and free for alls for wild ninja clashes. The game focuses on keeping each character distinct and accurate in their designs and move sets so that each character feels distinct to play, and visually unique to keep things straight on what could have been a chaotic screen. [Evan Griffin]
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
“The Yakuza/Like A Dragon studio made a Fist of the North Star game” should honestly be all one needs to write on this. Lost Paradise isn’t just anime re-skin of a Yakuza game, but rather a proper built -from-the-ground-up take on FOTNS‘s bleak apocalypse. In spite of that bleakness is the general goodness of Kenshiro, and that makes Ryu Ga Gotoku the perfect match. The story is faithful but leaves plenty of room for the studio’s creative side quests. Most notable of these is, of course, a bartending mini-game that blesses us with the magnificent and puntastic cocktail “You are already drunk.” Generally anime games are limited by the scope of the material they are adapting, but Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise may be the gold standard for all other adaptations for being a perfect match for the developers making it and fully understanding everything that made the original material special.