“Naruto”, “Goldorak”, “Jujutsu Kaisen”… Why are so many video games based on anime?

Naruto X Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections on November 17 Grendizer: The Wolf Festival on November 14 Jujutsu Kaisen cursed clash 1uh February 2024… These three major video game releases adapt prestigious manga and anime licenses. They address different target groups and have been asking us questions about this recurring phenomenon for years: why has this marriage of convenience between video games and anime been transformed into an indestructible idyll?

To answer this we must go back to the origins of this meeting, which was initially quite complex to identify. The beginning of using well-known licenses from comics or Japanese animation is a bit vague for several reasons. The beginnings of mainstream video games span the long period of the 1980s, from the first family microcomputers to well-known consoles. The media was still in its infancy at the time and the rights holders of TV stars and bookstores, such as Toei, were not very demanding. Result: the first attempts are quite catastrophic.

Blurry and not crazy start

What was the first manga or anime to be pixelated? Faced with this question, video game historians seem to be drying up. Firstly, because certain examples have been limited to the archipelago, while the permits abroad are not yet known. We especially think about Macro (Robotech with us) who were necessarily entitled to it shoot them on antique and typical Japanese machines.

But that doesn’t matter, since the construction of these first steps remains the same (or almost): transforming an ordinary game, sometimes mediocre, by giving it the look of a well-known manga or anime. On the Nintendo NES, the first two notable examples are Dragon ball and the Knights of the zodiacwith unfortunately catastrophic consequences.

Dragon Balls

These two titles marked a complicated beginning, all the more visible from the French point of view because the success of these two licenses prompted the distributors to translate all these titles into French, a rarity in Europe. But the quality of the translation, especially of Dragon Ballwith a few nuggets like the “dragon balls” replacing the “crystal balls”Or “the hermit” by indicating Tortue Géniale, sets the tone of a Zelda-as more than mediocre.

© Bandai Namco

same for me Saint Seiya, which carries the stigma of the same treatment: a simple graphical overhaul of a generic game. This evidence is all the easier to verify because many of these games have been renamed and their characters replaced depending on the area.

In France, Ken THE Survivor experienced two anonymous games, Black Belt And Last Conflict on Sega consoles, without their Japanese license. A treat for today’s retro gaming enthusiasts, who can compare the versions with a laugh. But the young players, victims of these practices, laughed much less at the time.

© Bandai Namco

Interests (finally) come together

With the international explosion of shonen, the flagship licenses of the 1990s are becoming sought-after flagships. Dragon ball, Ranma and others are becoming essential games in the video game landscape. The capabilities of the then-generation consoles, including the Super Nintendo, demonstrate the obvious: video games and anime have everything to get along with each other. Above all, rights holders have understood that the press and critics will no longer tolerate the culpable mistakes of the past.

©Shōgakukan / Ocean

Almost immediate consequence: well-known licenses, Dragon ball leading the way in light of the phenomenon street fighter, gradually become references and no longer ersatz of the classics of the media. This rise in power is also prompted by the international explosion of manga. Now that they have become a culture unto themselves, they can no longer be satisfied with failed ports.

That’s good, players no longer want disastrous adjustments. The color palettes of the consoles of the era do justice to anime and the resources given to the studios allow them to achieve their goals. And that’s just the beginning.

The modern era that changes everything

Guaranteed success, supported by this more positive angle, manga, anime and video games are forever linked. Technical progress accompanies this relationship and grows at the same pace as the number of viewers of these media. After more colorful 2D, 3D is gradually making it possible to better transcribe popular shonens.

Especially with a graphic style that changes everything: the cell shade, a visual effect that gives simple polygons a pencil-like appearance. The revolution is underway, although we can regret one mistake, namely that fighting games are the genre par excellence. By Dragon Ball has NarutoThe examples are numerous and supported by strong figures.

The horn of plenty

Goku and his gang have long animated the debates, but the arrival of Naruto has changed the paradigm significantly. Despite a rather slow distribution rate for the numerous Japanese video game productions of the Konoha ninja, its commercial success quickly created a vocation. Quality desire, the choice of the best studios and the interest of leading publishers have made the transcription of manga and anime a strategic issue.

This craze is characterized by dizzying figures. In 2022, Bandai Namco announced that it had crossed the 12 million sales threshold Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. The fruit of a long investment that has been made Naruto not just a rival to traditional fighting games like Tekken, but above all the biggest success for such an adaptation with a total of more than 30 million copies sold. Nowadays it’s unthinkable to imagine a popular anime or manga without its video game counterpart. To the point, finally, of different genres.

Faithfulness and simplicity

Difficult to combine the fighting game, the driving force behind many years of animated licensing, with incompatible works. Regardless, many attempts attempt, with relative success, to adapt trends to video games. The Attack of the Titans, A Part and others are the best demonstration of this, between raw action play and role playing.

The future title is inspired by Spy x Family also demonstrates this concern for consistency with the original material, making little Anya the heroine of a game based on reflection. How far away is the time from placeholders.

At the same time, turning anime into video games has become disturbingly easy, largely thanks to the use of cell shade, but not alone. The simple and refined design of the characters allows them to be modeled without much effort and allows them to focus on gameplay, increasingly spectacular special effects or even open worlds in the case of an RPG.

A simplicity that, added to the excellent market performance of these titles, makes it a must for developers like Bandai Namco. This beautiful love story, despite its complicated beginning, will not end yet.

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