Unplugging the Controller

The many trials of trying to make an anime adaptation of a video game

I’m slowly sneaking in more and more video game related content onto Metanorn, moving up from just game reviews to making it a major topic for an editorial. Combining anime and games into one topic is pretty easy thanks to the plethora of anime adaptations of video games; Persona 4 being the most recent example. These adaptations tend to…er…vary in quality. They’re usually better than Hollywood’s attempts to turn video games into live action feature length films, but there’s often a lot of key points that are still ignored in the transition form game to anime. Making an anime out of a video game – an entirely different media with a completely different level of interaction – is a grand feat.

The glaring difference between anime and video games is that anime is more of a passive thing that you simply watch and enjoy. You have no control over how an anime unfolds, aside from pausing and fast forwarding. In video games, you are granted agency over the main character. The player feels more involved with the whole experience and becomes emotionally attached with what is going on due to this added dimension of interactivity. Boss battles in video games are stressful and frustrating, completing a quest provides a real sense of reward, and emotional attachment to other characters becomes a natural event. Everything is that much more gratifying because all of these wonderful or terrifying things are actually happening to someone you more strongly identify as YOU as opposed to some other character that you have no power over. Anime can still achieve these emotions, but it requires more effort to get same instant involvement considering that an entire dimension is lost in the process.

Anime’s loss of interaction creates a huge hurdle. In games like Dragon Age and Persona, the main character is a blank slate for you to write on.  The anime version will only get to pick one possible personality and set of choices, and that’s going to feel off to people who formed a different connection with the main character. It’s like an adaptation of a manga changing the personality of one of the characters – well of course fans are going to take a while to get used to it (or even straight out reject it). If you played Infamous as a Cole who shocks everything in sight with lightning bolts and he anime version features a super nice Cole, then you’re not going to associate as strongly with this new character. He’s not YOUR Cole, he’s someone ELSE’S Cole. Over a course of the game, a player tends to bond with their character and see them in their own, unique light. Anime takes that subjectivity away, and that can be a heavy blow if the main character isn’t given a complex and interesting character to make up for this.

Lastly, there are some things a game can do or get away with that an anime can’t. For one, the story can be garbage or simply NOT BE THERE. Does anyone even know what Katamari Damacy is about? I sure as hell don’t, but it’s fun as hell to play. The gameplay element often makes up for the lack of story. With the option to skip cutscenes, a lot of gamers don’t even pay attention to what’s happening to the protagonist except if they’re winning or losing. Anime doesn’t have that to fall back on. It’s good because it means less crappy storylines, and it’s the reason why I almost always prefer an anime plot to a half-baked “fetch these 7 magic gems to save the world” sort of affair that plagues most video games. Just…don’t screw up with the story.

Gameplay is really hard to translate into an anime as well, because so much could possibly happen between the cutscenes and when the player is let loose to wreck havoc. How long will they spend grinding? How many bad guys will they kill along the way? When will they start doing side quests? Will they just ignore side quests? How well or poorly will they do in boss battles? Whoever is doing an anime adaptation is going to have to make allll of this up, especially action scenes. This creates room to be awesome or the potential to RUIN EVERYTHING.

Adaptations Done Right

Professor Layton is my first example. Are you surprised? It’s a game where you solve puzzles, such as finding out the age of siblings, sliding blocks around, or figuring out which way a gear turns. These very dry puzzles are accompanied by a charming plot that almost always ends in oversized robots. There are some Professor Layton movies that throw out the boring puzzles (fun to play, boring to watch someone else solve them) and fully embrace the overarching mysteries that Layton has to solve. The only puzzles in the movies are ones of innovation – building contraptions or finding a way to escape. By cutting out gameplay elements that would poorly translate to an anime and focusing on the cinematic portions, Professor Layton pulls off a successful adaptation. If you haven’t seen the movies already, I highly recommend them. They’re sweet, engaging, and have surprisingly good action sequences. Layton is a BOSS.

Some games are really suited for an anime, so adapting them is pretty simple. Sengoku Basara is one of these. I’ve played Sengoku Basara 3 extensively, and it’s an insanely-paced game where you buttonmash through throngs of enemies with your overpowered character. It’s all about flashy moves, hot-bloodedness, and a ridiculous story. The anime embraces all of that, paying a lot of attention on choreographing some freaking badass fights that carry on the over-the-top spirit found in the games. It’s an action-based game, and the anime didn’t try to dress it up as some sort of deep, dramatic storyline.

Adaptations Done…Not so Right

Devil May Cry. What a nightmare. It followed an episodic “mission of the week” vibe for most of the show in order to send Dante on mundane tasks that were accomplished with one strike from his sword. The problem is that Dante is such an easy character to screw up. He’s an overpowered demon with a near endless amount of weapons and abilities, and he’s prone to spouting cheesey lines that further emphasize how incredibly powerful and suave he is. This means he is almost immune to character development, since he’s already perfect. He does this in the game cutscenes, so losing his cool would be out of character. It’s the actual gameplay where he (i.e. YOU) have to grit your teeth and struggle though tense battles, but they can’t put that in the anime or they’ll ruin his badass reputation. That’s where the balance lies. Of course, if they want to keep him super strong and constantly smirking, they could always go the self-aware “we know he’s not as cool as he thinks he is, which makes him cooler” route like in Devil May Cry 4 and have him recite a monologue about thrusting and penetrating things. Instead, you get Dante eating sundaes with a loli.

Persona 4 I still going, so I can’t cast any final judgements just yet. For now, I do have one complaint that emphasizes what I mean about trying to take a character that’s tabula rasa and trying to make an anime starring them. Yu is blank slate for the player to write on in the game, and this void is filled when the player steps into that role. That doesn’t happen in anime. We cannot control this character, so we watch him and expect him to be his own person. He’s restrained to only in-game responses which are one liners that are few and far between. He doesn’t even change expressions. Luckily, there are some promising signs of that “Self-aware” attitude where they poke fun at their own character. Yu is so emotionless that it’s a running joke for the series, and this could be a very reasonable way to tackle the problem of main characters like him. I would have preferred an actual personality, but it’s not a bad solution by a long shot.

A New Challenger Approaches!

Even if you don’t play games, I’m sure some of you have tried to watch a game adaptation at least once, so I’ll be curious to hear what you think. What are your thoughts on anime that are based off of games? Good experiences or bad experiences? Are there any games that you would love to see an anime adaptation of? Personally, I’d kill for an Odin Sphere or Blazblue anime. As always, the comment section is yours~

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A neuroscience graduate, black belt, and all-around nerd. You'll either find me in my lab or curled up in my rilakkuma kigurumi watching anime.
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40 Responses to “Unplugging the Controller”

  1. Tofu says:

    I’m not knowledgeable enough to really dig in depth about this certain topic on anime to game or vice versa adaptions considering the only one I am aware of is Persona 4 in my case.

    It’s true everyone has a different taste so you can already assume different people will fancy different characters and choose to max out specific S.Links before anyone elses (like me and Yukiko ^^). Yet you would have to spend heaps of time to max out an S. Link so I doubt the anime will touch on this part of the game since it’s a side track towards the main story.

    Yu’s character is quite unemotional I’d have to agree but personally it doesn’t bother me that much considering the guys behind the anime adaption are already aware of this matter ^^

    Besides Pokemon and a few others, I tend to think most movies or shows adapted to a game wouldn’t be that great. Take for example the Harry Potter games… am I off topic? XD *ahem*

    I must admit, the episode where Yu and the others fought against Yukiko’s shadow and how they got owned so badly…. that happened to me as well ^^;

    • Overcooled says:

      Yeah, I maxed out Yosuke as soon as possible even though you pretty much naturally become closer in the story LOL. I maxed Yukiko too because my MC was a pimp in my playthrough. I can see how she suits you Tofu teehee. I got owned by Kanji a lot more than Yukiko…I found him obscenely hard.

      lol it’s not off topic, it’s just the reverse! Anime to games instead of games to anime! I think movies adapted to games are almost always GARBAGE so I ignore them. More than often they’re cheap cash-ins to trick people into spending more money =.= As for anime turned into games…I actually don’t think I’ve played a lot of those! Odd.

      • Tofu says:

        oh yeah I still haven’t got an S.Link with Kanji yet D: I’ve been trying to go to him at times but there’s no exclamation mark OTL In other words I still haven’t unlocked his S. Link and I want to max it because he’s part of my “dream” team ;D

        Dream team consists of:
        Yukiko <3
        and that shooter guy (forgot his name)

        • Overcooled says:

          You have to wait for an event where a student says she is being bullied by someone. I forget when this happens, so just talk to everyone..always. That’s what I did XD My main team was the same except I swapped out Naoto (the shooter guy) for Yosuke.

          • Tofu says:

            what can Naoto do? because right now I’ve got Chie in and I will swap them two out but if he doesn’t have any good abilities then there’s no point like Teddy who basically used ice attacks as well and was weaker than my Chie (Yosuke is like lvl 25 and everyone else besides Teddy are over 50) 😛

            I got the S.Link for Kanji but there was no bulling incident ^^ I confronted him for being in a gang and that’s how I got it ;D now to max his out!!

            • Overcooled says:

              Naoto has those instant kill skills like Hama. Good for dungeons but bad for bosses since they don’t work. :/ Not that those are his only skills though.

              Oh, okay, maybe I just forgot what it was I had to confront him for <_< Gah. Anyways, have fun maxing him out! He's actually really sweet, it's adorable.

  2. BlackBriar says:

    Ahh, the video game side of Metanorn. It’s true fact that some anime-to-video game adaptions work better than others. I’ve played a bit of Infamous over at a friend’s house and it was a blast but I’d be skeptical if they made an animated adaption of it (Devil May Cry version didn’t do the game any justice).

    But there are also exceptions to that nightmare. Take DBZ and Naruto for example. Great animes and great video game versions. Not to mention Naruto has another Ultimate Ninja Storm game on the way. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations coming out in Spring.

    But when it comes to adventure games, there are some that are extremely stressful especially with the boss battles. Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy boss battles are a sharp thorn in my side. Especially with Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XII. Don’t ever underestimate the One Winged Angel, Sephiroth. If you hear his theme music, it’s time to head for the hills or it’s a quick and humiliating beating.

    And if certain games are going to turned into movies, some should be CGI based like what Square Enix did with Final Fantasy when they did Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. I hope they do that for Assassin’s Creed. Oh and I nearly forgot. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is coming out on November 15th. Yes!!!

    • Overcooled says:

      The only thing about DBZ and Naruto is that they were an anime (well, manga) before they were a video game. That makes things a little different, although it’s an interesting transition as well. Deciding what type of game suits the anime is a very, very important decision.

      Video games are just more potent (at least for me) in evoking emotions. I get so into it! I know what you mean about those Kingdom Hearts bosses…especially encountering Sephiroth as a bonus boss. I think I just gave up on that one after a while <_< Haha, forgot about CGI. No one does it quite like Squarenix can~

      • BlackBriar says:

        Not all games can become animes. There’s MegaMan Battle Network for GBA that was and is still an addictive game series (I have all 6 installments and the best ones are MegaMan Battle Network 6: Cybeast Falzar and Cybeast Gregar). There was a anime made that was completely worthy of the franchise that became MegaMan NT Warrior and MegaMan NT Warrior Axess. The best part of the show is the Darkchip arc where MegaMan could use the Double Soul power. There were even able to bring the viruses and cyber bad guys to the real world by using demensional area generators.

        Any game with a good story and impressive graphic design can be addictive and make you extremely emotional. Like the frustration and desperation of being beaten by a monster or boss that is way stronger than your player and the joy and hysteria you get when you’ve finally beaten them after so many tries. As if you’re ready to jump up and down because you feel like you’ve achieved something big in the world.

  3. Joojoobees says:

    I agree with your underlying analysis (I don’t have a lot of experience playing these games, so I can’t comment on your examples). Another point is that characterization is often different in games versus fiction or anime.

    I really enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles (the game) which has a strong storytelling component, so it isn’t surprising that there was a lot there to adapt to an anime, but one of the things I enjoyed about the game didn’t quite make the leap. In the game you manipulate whole teams of characters, and get an immersive experience with each of them. They have characterization both in abilities and in standard comments they make (e.g. “Let the hunt begin.” “I guess I could TRY trying.”). In the anime only characters that play a role in the main storyline are fleshed out. Characters that have no role in the story, but that I grew quite attached to through gameplay are completely absent.

    • Overcooled says:

      Man, I really need to play that game. It sounds awesome. That’s another thing about games – you get attached to the characters you use in battle and those characters don’t always get the same sort of attention in anime. It makes everything feel just a little bit off. With time restraints, the anime adaptation probably couldn’t emulate the same immersive feeling :/

      • Joojoobees says:

        I quite recommend it, as it has a nice combination of immersive tactical play and turn-based strategic play. I really liked the first VC on the PS3, but now they switched platforms to the PSP, so I haven’t played either of the sequels.

  4. Mitsuki says:

    I have watched only Devil May Cry and Disgaea out of the game/anime adaptions.
    DMC was… amusing, but not really interesting in my opninion.
    Disgaea anime proves that it is possible to ruin even the simplest plotline. The last half was a bit better, but as a fan of this game it was pretty much a catastrophe. I still cannot comprehend, why they had to pull this shit when the game was pretty much straight line story? WHYYYYYYYYYY?! And animation quality sucks, and Jennifer was ruined too QOQ’

    • Overcooled says:

      I tried watching half of an episode of the Disgaea adaptation and gave up. The story for the game is incredibly simple, but I hear the anime made up an original storyline? Weird, since Disgaea is NOT known for having a really involving story <_< The selling point should be the humour or playing up the turn-based fights as action-packed sequences. Ah well, at least there's the game for consolation...I'll be sure not to watch it in full now XD

  5. amado says:

    its usually only good if its to be anime-to-video games.

    the only ones I remember that were good are pokemon and some VN animes(on the top of my head is yosuga no sora).

    • Overcooled says:

      I haven’t played many games based off of anime, as far as I know, so I can’t really cast any judgements there. I kind of ignored VNs in my editorial since I’ve never played any, but there are a LOT of adaptations out there.

  6. Toori-chan says:

    I don’t really watch much game adapts, but DMC… in my opinion, I’ll say it really sucked and character designs were awful for me. Others like Valkyria Chronicles was really good and the currently airing Persona 4 was good so far.

    I would really wish to see Blazblue as an anime since the plot line was interesting. I hope for a Assasin’s Creed series to be made after the release of Revelations.

    • Overcooled says:

      Yeah, DMC was quite awful. Everyone keeps mentioning Valkyria Chronicles…DAMMIT, I really need to play this *puts on download list*

      I am terrible at Blazblue, so I’d love an anime where I can sit back and just watch the story instead of struggling to defeat things to unlock it. Not a big fan of the ‘ol Asscreed though.

  7. Bob from Accounting says:

    The World Ends With You, The World Ends With, The World… *continues on for roughly the rest of time*

    Yes, I would really quite like to see a The World Ends With You anime.

  8. anaaga says:

    But there’s no Date Masamune’s picture here. This is blasphemy

    Anyhow, I don’t really play games (more like I don’t), but the it’s true that there’s no variety when it comes to game-adapted anime. How they can only use one ending for the anime. What makes me angry the most is when there are so many happy endings, and the anime has to pick the bad ending. Or the true ending (which isn’t really happy). Then I’ll become depressed and I have to google for the happy ending to make me feel better.

    • Overcooled says:

      Haha, he’s not in the western alliance army so he doesn’t get to wear a sexy SNSD outfit. Sorry to disappoint, but I love me some Mitsunari~

      No one wants a nice boat ending to their anime…That’s another advantages games have (Yeah, I’m biased. I like games more). Multiple endings!

  9. Namika says:

    I’m not that big on games, but what you said about Dante is true. The anime adaptation was really poor, not something I would expect.
    Great idea for the editorial. You seem to know a lot about games ^^” *blushes*
    Love your avatar, btw. That’s Soul, tight??

    • Overcooled says:

      W-why are you the one blushing? I should be the one blushing here…N-not that I am or anything!! But seriously, thanks for the compliment. All I know about gaming is just from my sheer love for it, stalking game sites, and playing them nonstop when my midterms are over =w=

      Yep, I switched to a murderous Soul from Soul Eater for Halloween. Now it’s back to Kururu until I feel like changing it. :3

  10. Foshizzel says:

    Best game to anime so far probably that series of Halo shorts! Those were awesome! But agreed freaking Devil may cry! Such a damn horrible game to anime…fails so much T___T I would love to see like a MGS anime..Sadly they would screw that up…

    Excellent post btw!

    • Overcooled says:

      Huh, never seen those! I might have to check that out. I would so watch a MGS anime, even though i’ve never played the games XD

      Thanks, Fosh! :3

  11. Samantha Zan says:

    Well I do love video games, but I can’t really see MOST of them into animes. I don’t really think the Devil May Cry anime was that bad….DON’T KILL ME I DIDN’T PLAY THE GAME XD. But either than that one, I haven’t really seen that many video games turned anime. There’s that Final Fantasy OVA, that was okayish, I just felt really wierd watching it, since I’m so used to seeing Cloud and Zack in CGI form xD.

    I don’t think anime adapations of video games are totally fails, I mean theres also the dating sim to anime type of show. Some are good, like CLANNAD, but then there’s just some that are just bad. But if we are talking about just hand in controller video game, then it just depends on the type of game being adapted. Like for just example, Persona, I have only seen some of the gameplay and some clips on Youtube, so I can’t really say if its a perfect fit for anime, but I think that type of style is okay to make it into anime form (And because its by ATLUS lol). But something like I don’t know, Heavy Rain, wouldn’t be as smooth.(Lol at Heavy Rain anime XD.)

    But my main thing is that it’s all about what kind of story it has for me. Cause that’s what makes a good anime flow. But in games it’s a whole different story, as it could have a really bad story, but with awesome gameplay to make up for it. Sadly you can’t do that with anime xD, so a good plot should be the main focus for any video-game anime adaptation in my opinion, as that’s what would draw people in to watch the show. Sure there’s the fans of the original source material, but if the story is just that good, studios should use that to create more fandom for whatever series that they’re trying to produce.

    Great Editorial by the way Overcooled 🙂

    • Overcooled says:

      It’s okay, people who played the games just tend to be pickier..Like how people who’ve read the manga compare every little thing (everyone is prone to this XD)

      I think it’s a lot easier to adapt a visual novel. A VN is basically a game that wants desperately to be an anime. I guess that could just be a genre thing, since certain genres are just more suited for anime. VNs have very rich storylines (…except the porn-y ones, I would assume) so they make excellent anime. I think if the plot for a game is interesting, you can almost be assured it’ll be a great anime. :3

      Aww, thank you, glad you enjoyed it! =D

  12. Renn says:

    Video game adaptations are tough in general. I can’t even think of many Hollywood adaptations that were memorable in a good way. I think the most creative game adaptation I’ve seen would be the Pokemon anime lol.

    Seconding that this was a great post! I haven’t played video games since I went to college, so thinking about them is a little nostalgic. xD

    • Overcooled says:

      I can’t name ANY decent Hollywood adaptation. They usually suck. Hardcore. :/ Anime is usually better though, which is a relief. Who DIDN’T love Pokemon growing up a kid?

      Yay, I’m glad you liked it and that it stirred up some good memories~

  13. Jesse says:

    I totally agree on the DMC anime. But when I first watched the trailer for it I thought “holy **** this is going to be awesome”! But then when I watched it, not so much. Dantes character itself didn’t annoy me as much as that loli-girl and that damn strawberry sundae thing they had going, where did that come from?
    The Persona Anime on the other hand still looks kinda awesome as the episodes keeps coming out, but I don’t know for how long it will keep my interest. Because it kinda feels like watching someone else play the game, which is a bit boring to me…

    • Overcooled says:

      I have no idea what the hell they were thinking with that little loli and obsession with sundaes. The whole anime was just sloppy and not nearly as good as it should have been for such an infamous game series.

      I like the Persona anime quite a bit, although it does make me feel like I should have a controller in my hands as I watch. I fidget a lot while watching it as a result. Haven’t reached the boredom state yet though, because they’re throwing some new material out there that wasn’t in the game~

  14. Dan-go says:

    Sometimes i feel that the quality of the adaptions drop simply because they are that, adaptions. Disparacies hurt the fans of the original. For books, games, anything the conversion process is slow and painful, how can it be done ‘right”? as stand alone titles sometimes i feel they would of done better.

    • Overcooled says:

      Definitely agree with you there, Dan-go. Harry potter fans rage over differences from the movies and the books, and this extends to pretty much anything that is an adaptation. The original is almost always considered superior, because it’s what we’re familiar with.

  15. Hime says:

    The Katamari Damacy music is so addictive *_*

    Somewhere between Tales of the Abyss, Fate/Stay Night, Angels Feather, Gakuen Heaven, Shining Tears X Wind, Shuffle, and Utawarerumono I lost all faith in anime adaptations of games. The majority are just downright awful. And not even because I’ve played the games, they just haven’t been translated into a watchable form. They are meant to be interactive, like you said, not just sat back and watched. It’s the same with live action movie adaptations. Most of them suck balls,too. Doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule though. I just haven’t found any yet…

    • Karakuri says:

      I blame Shuffle entirely on that one. It was the show that made me completely lose faith in harems.

    • Overcooled says:


      A lot of those are visual novels, right? I know VNs are adapted a lot more often than games, I wonder if that has something to do with the crappy quality of a lot of them… :/

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