November 28, 2023

Video game adaptations are something we always want to see yet often fail to hit the mark. That’s because the interactive medium of games is not that simple to translate into more passive mediums, since part of the reason we love games so much is for the experiences they give us.

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That said, if there’s a way to translate these stories, it has to be through anime. The tales already told in that medium are filled with color, spectacle, and plots that not only make you think, but also take risks. And if you’re going to translate the complicated themes we see in video games, you’ll have to take risks.

9 Devil May Cry: The Animated Series (2007)

Devil May Cry Anime Cover

With a protagonist like Dante, the Devil May Cry games should have no problem being adapted into any medium, as long as there’s action and our main man is hunting some demons. The problem, however, is that the plot of the earlier games is rather simple, since you’re just supposed to feel cool while playing as Dante.

Fortunately, this Animated Series went for its own original tale, while still keeping all the important points from the games. You’ll see plenty of Dante, Trish, and Lady in action set pieces, but you’ll also see them in the quiet moments and get to know them as people. What’s more, Devil May Cry 5 made the anime canon, making it a must-watch.

8 Pokemon (1997 – 2023)

Brock and Misty smile and pose next to Ash in the Pokemon anime.

A lot of people think that the games were made after the show, but the opposite is true; the Red and Blue editions of the original Pokemon games were launched in 1996. Yet the confusion makes sense, since the impact of the show can’t be understated, and it was already a hit back then, considering that in 1999 they released Pokemon Yellow, a retelling of the original games but with plot points taken from the anime.

Nowadays, the franchise continues as strong as ever, with all kinds of merchandise and new creatures to collect every few years. The relationship between the anime and the games is still a close one, since it captures perfectly the wish to befriend these magical creatures, and the need to get them all.

7 Danganronpa 3: The End Of Hope’s Peak High School (2016)

A bunch of characters in school uniforms on a white shattered background.

All the Danganronpa games have intricate, interesting plots that everyone should experience. The battle of hope and despair is engaging in every installment, and solving the murder cases is great fun too. The first game can even be enjoyed in its entirety as an anime, called Danganronpa: The Animation, released in 2013.

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While that adaptation was great, what’s unique about the series is how the later installment treated the anime show as a companion piece to the story. You see, to fully understand the game’s sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, you’d also need to watch the anime series for Danganronpa 3. They work really well together and makes us wish more games implemented companion pieces like that.

6 Dragon Age: Absolution (2022)

A character with blood on their face and a sword between their eyes.

Adapting any RPG into animation is always a monumental task, yet one that makes sense; you have these massive worlds begging to have stories told on them. The problem with the world of Dragon Age is one that already affects the game’s themselves: the protagonist is player-made. And with stories happening within a few years, it’s quite hard to ignore the consequences of the player’s actions.

In Absolution, the story works because it uses the same tools that the games do: Referencing the past player characters by their title, and only mentioning the major plot events. That way, the series can be canon with any kind of story you might’ve played in the games. What’s more, the story even works without knowledge of the franchise, with all important concepts being explained very well.

5 School Days (2007)

Two schoolgirls on a sunset background.

School Days is certainly not a visual novel for beginners, since it can deal with some dark themes if not played properly. The game was made popular by how gruesome the bad endings were, which are the most common endings to get since these are not easy games. When considering an adaptation of the story, the cast is a simple affair: A school romance with one male lead and two female leads.

How the anime decided to adapt things beyond that is what makes it interesting, since Makoto, the male lead, isn’t the most sympathetic of protagonists. This makes School Days an adaptation of the game if one would play said game poorly, treating the characters in a less-than-stellar way. To say that the ending was controversial is putting it mildly.

4 Nier: Automata Ver1.1a (2023)

2B looking at you with a forest background.

If you’ve followed in any way the works of Yoko Taro, you’d know that his creative style is unique, to put it mildly. The now widely successful Nier franchise is based on the most secret ending of the original Drakengard, and that ending dealt with giant space babies (seriously, look it up). It’s that peculiarity that makes us come back to his work time and time again, even when we don’t fully understand it.

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Any adaptation without him would have a hard time working, and clearly the creators of the Nier anime know this since they have Yoko Taro as a co-writer. That’s why the anime can work so well, since it clearly lacks the main setpieces we know and love from the game, it still maintains the spirit of the story. We can only hope a Drakengard adaptation comes next.

3 Higurashi When They Cry (2006)

Promotional image of the cast of Higurashi: When They Cry

The story of Higurashi is a bloody affair no matter the medium. Without spoiling much, the idea is that a string of murders occurs in a small village, ending in a massacre that wipes out its population. As you go through each playthrough, certain characters and moments seem to remember what you’ve chosen before, basically making each attempt canon. The intricacies of the plot and the gruesomeness of its imagery were what made Higurashi an instant classic when it was released.

The anime captures all this to perfection, making great use of the narrative device that is time travel. Since all playthroughs are canon in the game, the anime shows different timelines with various violent ends. This not only makes it a faithful adaptation of Higurashi, but of Visual Novels as a whole, since it represents the many times you have to try the story until you succeed.

2 Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022)

The two main protagonists of Edgerunners in a greenish city background.

With its less-than-stellar release, Cyberpunk 2077 needed all the help it could get to rise from the ashes. Patches eventually came to fix many of the issues plaguing the game, but the damage was done, and the brand left a sour taste in anyone discussing it. When an anime based on the IP world was announced, it looked promising but people were still not buying into it — that was until the show was released.

Many consider that Edgerunners single-handedly saved Cyberpunk from being a forgotten series. While there are more factors that served the redemption of the game, the popularity of the anime certainly helped things. It showed the world, its violence and neon awe in all its glory, with people liking it so much that many of its aspects have made it to the actual game it was based on.

1 Castlevania (2017 – 2023)

A close-shot of Richter's profile.

The tale of the Belmont clan against the forces of darkness is certainly a classic in the eyes of gamers, but it’s one of action before story. The Castlevania games gave birth to a whole new genre alongside the Metroid saga, forming the Metroidvanias: games where combat and exploration are the core, gaining abilities to better traverse the levels. Story was never at the forefront.

This is why the achievement of the anime is notable, since it didn’t have much to work with. The challenge here was telling an original, compelling story, while still representing the original titles. The saga of Trevor Belmont does all that and more, having characters that are a joy to get to know, and constant references to the games via items, locations, and monsters. Not to mention that the action is beautifully animated, especially once we get to Dracula’s castle.

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