The thing about a lot of anime franchises, particularly shonen ones, is that they lend themselves well to video game adaptations. When a guy in a suit wants to milk more money from a show about spiky-haired people shooting lasers from their swords while kicking each other into mountains, the first thing he thinks of is video games (or poetry, if it’s the guy that will be fired within minutes of stating his bright idea.) So most anime franchises do get their own videogame adaptations.
And since the rest of the world has already become a lucrative market for these things, the anime games eventually find their way to our consoles and handhelds, with a language we can understand slapped on top. Unfortunately, there are things that fall through the cracks – games that didn’t get any localization for some reason even though they have an audience overseas. Here are 5 of the best ones that come to mind:
Bleach: Heat the Soul Series (Playstation Portable)
Tite Kubo’s groundbreaking yarn about dudes who reap souls using swords that can transform into even more powerful weapons is already on its last legs, mainly because the author himself has publicly admitted that the current arc is the last and he’s in the process of wrapping up. But it cannot be denied that the franchise is still extremely popular even outside of Japan, except by people who have just left their cave after waking up from a hundred years of sleep.
Bleach’s popularity is the reason why it’s such a shame that none of the Heat the Soul series – which are 3D weapon-based fighting games that use cel-shading in order to achieve anime-like visuals – ever made it outside of Japan. The first 4 installments were understandable, as they were still rough around the edges, but once the 5th installment rolls around with its vastly improved content (including the ability to go bankai in-game), every non-Japanese Bleach fan’s PSP was aching for a copy of the game.
Thankfully, the PSP is not region-locked and the game itself – being a fighting game – doesn’t rely too much on the text to provide an enjoyable experience, so the Heat the Soul series were eventually imported (or even pirated) outside of Japan. Some of the game’s aspects were inaccessible to non-Japanese speakers, though, such as the soul codes, as nobody has bothered to translate their names yet, which means using the right one for your needs is currently a matter of trial and error.
Kenyu Densetsu Yaiba (Super Famicom)
Kenyu Densetsu Yaiba is an action RPG based on the same titled manga/anime franchise, which focuses on a young swordsman who’s inherited the sword of the thundergod, a colleague who was possessed by the sword of the devil wind, and all the friends and monsters that were caught between their inherited feud. The series is action packed and full of twisty-turns, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The Super Famicom game is basically Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Yaiba themes. And like Legend of Zelda, it’s fun and addictive as you explore various locations, fight various enemies (including unique bosses that require a specific strategy to beat), and upgrade your abilities and weapons (the sword of the thundergod has a slot that can be fitted with different orbs with varying abilities. E.g. the water orb shoots water while the gold orb turns Yaiba into a giant, etc.)
The game has a couple of improvements over LTTP, though – 2P co-op play, where the 2nd player can use a generic swordsman created specifically for the game, and the ability to switch characters and use Yaiba’s allies, who have different attacks and serve their specific purposes depending on playstyle.
Sadly, even though the game is an ARPG, it is text-heavy and story-driven. Playing it without understanding what the heck is going on leaves out a substantial amount of the charm, and there are even places where you might get stuck without knowing where to go or what to do next. The only way you can play it right now if you can’t read Japanese is to keep a translation FAQ handy.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (Playstation 2)
There’s no sense explaining Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure considering its popularity and the size of the franchise. The franchise is also very popular in the west even before the Internet made it easy to import stuff, owing to a number of games (mostly fighting games) that were localized. With its marketability already proven, it is a mystery why Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood didn’t get an English release.
As you can see from the video, it’s one of the best uses of cel-shading techniques in a videogame; perfectly capturing a look that straddles the line between the anime and the manga, and pushing the Playstation 2’s hardware enough to achieve visuals that look good even when compared to current generation games (barring some leeways, of course. You need to look past the aliasing.)
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood is a brawler, which should have made it playable even if you don’t understand a lick of Japanese. Unfortunately, it is dependent on exposition so you might find yourself having trouble advancing past the first two fights if you don’t know what’s going on and what the game expects from you: you might get surprised at times when the game doesn’t give you a game over screen after losing a match.
Rurouni Kenshin: Enjin Kyoto Rinne! (Playstation 2)
Based on Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga and anime franchise about a former assassin from the Bakumatsu era, who turns over a new leave and wanders Japan protecting the innocent using a reverse-edged sword. The franchise is notable for finding the perfect balance between drama and shonen action, while wrapping it up in an engaging story that is loosely based on historical events and people.
One look at the video above will show you just how kick ass Enjin Kyoto Rinne! Is. It’s a cel-shaded hack and slash action game that manages to capture the look and feel of the series. Unfortunately, all those kick-ass combat you can see in the video is only half of the game. Before you get to those parts, you have to run around places talking to NPCs and going through walls of dialogue. It’s the reason why it needed a localization. If you don’t understand the text, there are places in the game where you’ll be stuck – not knowing which place to go to and which answers to pick. It’s particularly frustrating and game-halting during the Saitou Hajime playthrough, which tasks you with solving a murder mystery.
Super Robot Wars Series (Various Platforms)
For the uninitiated, the Super Robot Wars franchise is a series of mecha-based strategy RPGs that take characters and mechas from popular anime and manga franchises, and frames them in a story that borrows heavily from events in their respective series’ stories. You name one popular mecha anime from the past 4 decades, and there’s probably a Super Robot Wars game that features one (or more) of its characters.
I picked this one for the top spot because sadly, it’s the one that never had a chance of being localized, simply because the licensing would have been a logistics nightmare. The franchises that were included in the game were most likely licensed to different companies in the U.S. and in other countries where an English version would have been released.
Thankfully, there are other options if you really want to experience the game. First is that the franchise has already seen an English release via the Super Robot Wars OG Saga, which solved the licensing problem by simply taking out all the licensed brands and replaced them with new stories and characters made specifically for the games (unfortunately, that meant it lost a large part of its appeal.)
The other option is a bit of a grey area – various fan translation groups have already fully translated several of the games, and the translation patches are available freely on the net. How to patch the games and how to play them on official consoles or emulators is beyond the scope of this blog post, though.
So that’s about it – five anime games that I feel should have been localized. If you have any corrections or want to add games that you think deserve a western release, feel free to talk about it on Toonbarn’s forums!