It’s all too easy to be dismissive. Mention that a TV show is based on a card game, and the mere notion invites eye rolls. “Oh, it only exists to advertise product.” What a tawdry, mercenary cash-in.
Well, that attitude is entirely unfair. Even if an anime began for promotional purposes, the quality of its story ultimately comes down to what makes or breaks any other series: execution. And actually, there are plenty of shows based on games the play better than anime sprung from “purer” origins. Here are three. They’re derived from old school button mashers and massive online multiplayers alike, and they’re all of higher quality than they probably even needed to be.
BLADE & SOUL
It’s a classic set-up. A lone assassin journeys through war-trodden territories to avenge a master tragically murdered by outlaws. One welcome twist here, though–this cast is almost entirely female.
Set in the world of a Korean MMORPG with the same title, Blade & Soul once again shows how many universal themes and archetypes unite Westerns and samurai fiction (even samurai fiction involving spunky girls with bat ears). Quite often, our heroine Alka harkens back to Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name.” Tacit and morally ambiguous, her quest for vengeance is often interrupted by her needing to intervene in the thorny affairs of bystanders she’d rather ignore.
Flashbacks underscore this epic mission with deeper pathos. Alka’s master wished–more than anything–that she’d renounce the ways of the sword that he trained her in. Now, she means to honor him by acting against his wishes; threatening to become just like the villainess who murdered him. Blade & Soul boasts plenty of impressive swordplay, but also possesses tragic depths which make it more than just an open-and-shut revenge yarn.
RAGE OF BAHAMUT: GENESIS
An epic prologue sets the stage: the monstrous overlord Bahamut has been imprisoned, much like Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Now, thousands of years later, a petty feud between a disgraced knight and a shifty con man threatens to unleash him on the world again. How? Well, by sheer dumb luck, really. One of the con man’s scams attracts a naive, otherworldly girl who might be the key to Bahamut’s return–and not in figurative terms, either. (Watch the show to see how… literal her role gets).
This is based on the Rage of Bahamut card battle game, and it winds up demonstrating how, why, where, and when such tie-ins work. And also when they don’t. The viewer can truly feel two opposing forces tug on Genesis from episode to episode. When it’s weakest, the crew seems like they’re fulfilling contractual obligations to cram in every single creature from the game’s pantheon. When it’s strongest, they seem hellbent on crafting the best story possible within the gaps of those obligations.
It’s not a perfect show, but the chemistry between the three leads is compelling enough to sing about. You aren’t just watching still drawings with flapping mouths. You’re seeing actual acting here. And despite all odds, the trio’s story ties off in a finale that’s actually quite heartbreaking.
The company behind Street Fighter and Darkstalkers re-imagines the feudal Sengoku era as it only ever could. Legendary hero, Nobunaga Oda, has been cast as an arch villain whose campaign for national unification must actually be stopped by two rival warlords. If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese history, the absurdity of that premise might not register much, but it’s comparable to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, perhaps. Or maybe an Assassin’s Creed game where Redcoats and Minutemen team up to vanquish the dread lord, George Washington.
To its credit, Capcom absolutely owns how over-the-top the plot following that set-up must be. The game company’s signature sense of color and energy fuels every frame, and the two brash leads have enough hot blood to incinerate even the stoutest heart. There’s an almost giddy abandon in how many exclamation points these warriors use in every conversation.
If you’re intrigued about the source material, look up the Sengoku Basara games. They’re “crowd fighters” in the style of Dynasty Warriors, wherein powerful swordsmen engage an impossible number of enemies at once. Fair warning, though: the battle stats tend to matter more than the actual battles.
Here comes a new challenger? If any other video game-based anime deserve acclaim, please name some names below.
Featured Image Credit: FUNimation