The art style of anime excellently goes hand-in-hand with video games (for reasons that can be its own article). For example, in the old days of the Famicom, or the original Nintendo Entertainment System, by having anime character designs as a foundation, it was easy to transition them to a sprite model due to the technological limitations.
In contrast to the box art designs of the old Atari games, in which it gave customers a very wrong impression of the games in terms of graphics, anime designs give consumers a more accurate representation of the game they may want to buy (such as the Japanese covers to Dragon Quest and Rockman). Then during the early days of 3D with the PlayStation, Saturn and Nintendo 64 where it was very spiky and rectangular with the rendering, the anime designs of some games were also a natural foundation for these types of graphics as well. So what games give us an anime experience with art and gameplay? Well, that’s what today’s list is for.
10. Resident Evil 4 (BioHazard 4)
- Platform: Gamecube, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom Studio 4
- Release Date: Jan 11, 2005 (US), Jan 27, 2005 (JP)
Kicking off at number 10 is Resident Evil 4, whose original artists used anime styles as their foundation for its character designs. With its numerous installments for the last twenty years, if fans and critics can agree, the fourth is probably the best that would pave way for what it has evolved to this day. In fact, the journey to making this game could be its own article (in fact, the development of this game helped pave way for Capcom’s other hit 2000s franchise, Devil May Cry) but after being development since 1999, we finally got it in 2000.
While games prior to 4 didn’t have a targeting system, this game would introduce this concept by allowing players to aim for specific body parts with laser sighting. Shots to the feet would make enemies trip. Shots to the arms would make their weapons drop. And obviously as the zombie genre as a whole promotes, shoot to the head for an instant kill. As opposed to using fixed camera angles depending on the character’s position, its presentation would be the first in the series to use the third person, which makes it easy to defend yourself from the apocalypse. The game gives players effective use of the environment for proper escape and strategy and gives a new life to the Resident Evil franchise.
9. Attack on Titan
- Platform: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo
- Developer: Omega Force
- Release Date: Feb 18, 2016 (Japan), Aug 20, 2016 (NA)
Attack on Titan for our present day consoles is a good representation of the original source material but takes some liberties that go past what you may have seen in the anime and/or manga. The environment is taken straight from the series and its rooftops appropriately allow the players to use their selected character’s (10 members of the survey corps are available to use) Three-Dimensional Maneuvering gear in a manner that represents the speed and coordination necessary to take down the titans. If you come into this game with familiarity with the series, then you know how to take town down a titan. Plus, the game allows Eren to fight the enemy in titan mode.
Seiyuus from the original anime series reprise their roles in this series to give fans a sense of familiarity. The cel-shaded graphics are an accurate representation of the art and the abilities of the characters you select perfectly reflect those of the manga and anime. If you choose to play as Levi or Mikasa, you can kick some titan ass. If you prefer brain over brawn, the tactical abilities of Armin might be for you.
8. Dead or Alive 5
- Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo
- Developer: Team Ninja and AM2
- Release Date: Sept 25, 2012 (NA), Sept 27, 2012 (Japan)
In the distinguished list of 3D fighting games, if any game has to stand out it would have to be Dead or Alive 5. Yes, we can talk about the obvious with the bouncing breasts, customizable swimsuits, and its recent controversial spin-offs that didn’t get a US release due to the backlash of gamergate, but Honey is about substance over style. For starters, the game is pretty easy to get into. If you don’t know anything about fighting games then winging it at times is no problem and any combination can virtually work for instant gratification. But if you want to put the time and effort, the game has a very deep fighting engine with devastating counters and grapples.
Dead or Alive expresses its own creativity by being one of the original game to have multi-layered stages. In the fifth game, it introduces a new Quick Time Event feature that allows players to avoid being blown into another layer of the stage for more dramatic purposes. The explosiveness of Dead or Alive 5 presents players an excellent balance of the intensity of Kung Fu cinema with the exaggerations of anime. Many of the base characters such as Kasumi, Hayate, and Ayane are anime in design.
In going back to the first game for the Saturn and PlayStation, as stated in the intro, the graphics in those days were rather sharp and the anime designs find a way to get around this particular outdated imperfection. Rendering has immensely improved the past twenty years but the fact that Team Ninja keeps the base designs with its anime influence stays in tune with its roots and demonstrates that the style of anime also has a place in computer graphics.
7. Super Mario 64
- Platform: Nintendo 64, DS
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo EAD
- Release Date: Jun 23, 1996 (Japan), Sept 29, 1996 (NA)
Just like its predecessors, no Nintendo console could be without its mascot, Mario. A little before Shenmue and Grand Theft Auto 3, Super Mario 64 was the first to experiment with an open world but the world could conditionally be further explored with how many stars you collect, and it was structured by stages that were wide enough for open exploration through the paintings within the castle.
Though what is presented in this game is only standard today, this was revolutionary and groundbreaking during its initial release. The game brings a new sense of freedom that still resonates to this day. On the title screen, you can play with Mario’s face. If you lose his hat, he loses a significant portion of his jumping ability. Even though this game brought fans to a whole new world, the game still lacked the ability to play with Yoshi (who has a cameo if you collect all 120 stars) and Luigi is largely absent. Though a sequel was in development, it was never meant to be. Other than that, familiar challenges from the first game with goombas, Koopa, and Bowser himself come back in this game only to give us more trouble than ever
6. Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Super Street Fighter II X Grand Master Challenge)
- Platform: Arcade, 3DO, Dreamcast, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Sega Saturn
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Date: Feb 23, 1994 (worldwide)
Street Fighter as a whole defines the entire legacy of the fighting game genre. Yes, there were other fighting games before it but Street Fighter revolutionized it. If the franchise has a whole is going to have a pinnacle, it would be Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It gives players the options to play as all pre-existing Street Fighter II characters from the original eight, the four bosses, the new four in the first edition to Super Street Fighter II, and this edition would introduce one of the game’s most fearsome Shotokan characters, Akuma (or Gouki), who is famous for his air Hadouken and his instant killing Shun Goku Satsu super combo. Speaking of super combos, this was the game that would introduce the concept to Street Fighter, which remains a staple of the series to this very day.
Its character designs are a representation of the rougher styles of the late-80s/early-90s anime and the art books show a reflection of the use of colors as a possible influence from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. In fact, some characters do take influence from Fist of the North Star such as Vega, Zangief, and Bison. In the HD re-release, the rendering allows the game to show more of its anime influence. And as you all know, the game would later serve as the inspiration for the anime movie and in turn, the anime movie would pave way for the Street Fighter Alpha series.
5. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
- Platform: PlayStation 2, 3DS
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Square Enix, Level 5
- Release Date: Nov 27, 2004 (Japan), November 15, 2005 (NA)
Dragon Quest was made in response to the PC RPGs of the time such as Wizardry and Ultima. In addition to the designs supplied by Dragon Ball creator Toriyama-sensei, all games will always have other staples such as slimes, skeletons, dragons, and it’s appropriately majestic soundtrack. With its eighth installment for the PS2, the franchise maintains many of its core elements but is freshened up with significant technological advances.
For starters, the characters were always presented in super deformed even with the PS1 release of VII. With VIII, characters are rendered up to proper scale giving players a true representation of Toriyama-sensei’s original designs for the first time. Beyond the Dragon Ball games from PS2 and up, his art style is pleasing to the eye when cel-shaded. The land, dungeons, and towns had a personality and were accessible to explore in depth.
The combat is still in first person view but whenever a character would do an attack, the camera would show the player how that character would execute a certain technique. Unfortunately, the franchise’s class system is not present in this game but other features such as a Dragon Ball inspired psyche up system that was only for martial artists in other installments is now given to all characters.
- Platform: PlayStation
- Publisher: Square
- Developer: Square, Development Division 3
- Release Date: Feb 11, 1998 (Japan), Oct 20 1998 (NA)
Thanks to the success of Final Fantasy VII paving way for the mainstreaming of Japanese RPGs, gamers got another taste of anime through Xenogears, considered as one of the best games of all time. It was originally proposed as plots for both Final Fantasy VII and a Chrono Trigger sequel, they were rejected for being too dark. What makes Xenogears stand out is that it tackles a lot of realistic conflicts whether they are internal, external, and spiritual.
The game itself is a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, kung fu, and religion. In fact, its religious undertones were considered very risky for the time to the point that Square came close to not releasing it in North America. In addition, its thematic and scientific themes were difficult for translators to the point that the initial translators for this game actually quit! The game allows players to play as both as the characters and their titled mechs known as gears. The unique thing about the mechs is that they have fuel points so you have to be careful.
Last, this series makes very excellent use of cut scenes done in an anime format. Though Lunar may have been the first to achieve this, Xenogears brought it to a wider audience. It's cut scenes help bring context to the story and give more life to the characters with some (then standard) voice acting and music. Despite its success, it never directly got any continuation. Though Xenosaga is considered a connection to the series in spirit, it doesn’t really live up to its legacy.
3. Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time
- Platform: Nintendo 64, GameCube, DS
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo EAD
- Release Date: Nov 21, 1998 (Japan), Nov 23, 1998 (NA)
In third is what some people would argue to be one of the best Zelda games of all time, Ocarina of Time. In fact, Ocarina of Time happens to be the very first game to ever earn the distinction of earning a perfect 40 in Famitsu magazine. Along with FF7, Tobal No. 1 and Chrono Trigger, Ocarina of Time also brought audiences a feel of anime with its character designs shortly before its boom through Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z. The game also brings a sense of anime’s drama and comedy.
Like Mario 64, Ocarina of Time allows players to explore the familiar but with a fresh view. In this journey in time through the Master Sword, Link will encounter many people that will benefit him in his journeys. Both child and 17-year-old Link have their advantages and disadvantages that can be fully utilized in certain situations. 10-year-old Link may have limited mobility but can get into small places. With the older Link, he can be controlled with eye-catching agility to dodge the enemy with precise timing and counterattack. The targeting system makes for intense and yet strategic combat. Its soundtrack being a great mix of orchestra, simple percussions and or acoustics that perfectly balances the fun, romance, and dangers that awaits Link.
2. Final Fantasy VII
- Platform: PS1
- Publisher: Square, Sony Computer Entertainment, Eidos Interactive
- Developer: Square
- Release Date: Jan 31, 1997 (Japan), Sept 7, 1997 (NA)
At a very close second, we have Final Fantasy VII. What makes this installment of Final Fantasy special is that it was the title that finally brought Final Fantasy to the mainstream. Though the first, fourth, and sixth games (in addition to some of the Game Boy releases and Mystic Quest) were released in America to critical acclaim, they were only cult hits. Thanks to its emphatic uses FMV scenes in its commercials, it captivated audiences into buying this game.
Nomura Tetsuya’s art style takes the standard anime approach, which easily fits into the game’s cinematic scenes, battle, and exploration. Cloud’s design is very reflective of generic anime styles with his spiky hair, which is a trait that is common throughout anime. Tifa, Yuffie, and Aeris/Aerith all represent your cute anime girls with their big eyes and wide smiles.
The design being the seventh, it was very fresh to all players with its use of full motion videos with not only the dramatic scenes but with its creative summons and limit break techniques during the battles. The game gave players a unique cast of characters we all come to be fond of. It was a story of protecting the environment, corporate corruption and ultimately, love. With the series slated for a PS4 remake, the game will not only be just a port but also will have a combat system and engine more reflective of present day Final Fantasy titles that will attract new and old fans alike.
1. Chrono Trigger
- Platform: Super Nintendo, PlayStation, DS
- Publisher: Square
- Developer: Square
- Release Date: Mar 11, 1995 (Japan), Aug 22, 1995 (NA)
At number one is probably the best game of all time, Chrono Trigger. A few years before Dragon Ball Z would storm America’s airwaves, Toriyama Akira was storming our SNES consoles with Chrono Trigger, where he served as the character designer. Crono, the main character, obviously resembles Goku with his spiky hair and it is easy to associate some characters with from both Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump. Toriyama-sensei’s sharp faces and perpendicular eyes resonate with the intensity of this game. While most RPGs tend to be fantasy, Chrono Trigger beautifully mixes in a lot of Sci-Fi that perfectly balances the genres.
What also helped make this game a hit to this day is that the player can explore numerous endings. In the PlayStation and DS re-releases, some of these endings happen to be animated (and the intro in those versions are animated, too). Chrono Trigger in its time was anime before America as a whole recognized it through Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. Another distinguishing quality of this series that was rare for RPGs upon its release were its double and even triple teams that would cause maximum damage.
Each character has their stake with the end of the world and they all have their own rewards waiting for them. As the player journeys through time, they come to learn to love these characters, learn from their mistakes, and that each and every one of us can make a big difference when we come together and put aside our differences which is why this is our number one game.
With the progression of technology to the point we can have virtual reality in our homes, we can only hope for the best. Many games do a great job of capturing the spirit of anime so making this list was undeniably a very challenging and demanding task. So we would like to make some honorable mentions to Sakura Taisen, Mega Man X4, Lunar, Dragon Ball Z Legends, and Guilty Gear.
Whether it would be old school sprite technology, cel-shading, and 3D or CGI, the artistic merits of anime is a great foundation that can easily be adapted to any of those graphical forms for a quality experience. We know you readers have your own idea of a top 10. So if you got your own list in your head, feel free to leave it in the comments.