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Remember what Honey’s Anime said about anime being very diverse that it covers everything from action, comedy, drama, pornography and in every form of media? If you’re a gamer, you know there are a lot of games with anime art style and the reason for that is, well, gaming has deep roots within Japanese culture. And we should be thankful as well because without Japan saving America’s video crash in 1983, the gaming industry wouldn’t have grown so large that it’s earning more revenue than Hollywood!
Now then, we covered some topics relating to video games and this article is no different. This time we’ll be focusing on MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) with an anime flavor. Since MMOs are a niche in Japan (we’ll get to that later), we’ll also include MMOs that have anime aesthetics. And yes, you’ll see some Korean games on this list. And to make things interesting, we’ll focus on MMOs that are still active with many people still playing. So rev up your computers, consoles, and have a VPN ready because we’re going to list the Top 10 MMO Anime Games… that you can play right now!
10. Blade & Soul
- System/Platform: PC, IOS, Android
- Publisher: NCSOFT
- Developer: NCSOFT
- Release Date: January 19, 2016 (NA), May 20, 2014 (JPN)
A lot of MMOs these days tend to focus their fantasy setting more on medieval, sci-fi, steampunk or a combination, and Blade and Soul breaks the norm by focusing on Eastern Mythology. Visually it’s a bit similar to TERA but it has enough unique features, aside from the Eastern mythology fantasy setting, to stand out.
One of its unique features is the very detailed, beautiful with often exaggerated body proportions, female character models. The female classes, the female NPCs are so beautiful that sometimes it’s hard to take your eyes off them. Of course, you can create such beautiful girls through a robust character creator engine. You can create a 12-foot goddess with all the perfect body figure or go silly by creating a loli girl with huge eyes. Basically, if you’re playing Blade and Soul and picked a male avatar, you’re doing it wrong. Or just watch the anime adaptation.
9. Ragnarok Online
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Gravity Co., Ltd., E-Frontier
- Developer: Gravity Co., Ltd.
- Release Date: August 31, 2002 (NA), February 27, 2009 (JPN)
Ah, sweet, sweet childhood. Ragnarok Online was a huge hit back when it came out and it got a lot of people playing MMOs for the first time. There were other MMOs like Tantra, but Ragnarok won the heart of the crowd thanks to its colorful and cutesy art style rendered in 2D… and… Ragnarok had low system requirements compared to other games, so it was easy to install and play. The game is still active today thanks to the Renewal Update.
Ragnarok, in some respect, is a fanservice to old school RPGs with its 2D sprites reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, Dragon Quest, Hoshigami and Xenogears. When you play the game, it feels as if you’re playing traditional JRPG but on a massive scale with tons of players and graphical fidelity the Playstation and Playstation 2 couldn’t match. If you want to experience an MMO with attractive and well-animated anime-inspired 2D sprites then Ragnarok is a beautiful thing to play… and you must get used to the outdated game mechanics that lets forces you to grind like crazy.
8. Monster Hunter Online
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Tencent
- Release Date: August 18, 2013 (AS)
Not to be confused with Monster Hunter Frontier Online, this MMO is not developed by Capcom and it’s currently exclusive to China. Thankfully you can play this game because it’s not region-locked, provide you know how to speak Chinese. Despite not having Capcom involved in the development, MHO is still a Monster Hunter game where you gather materials, slay lesser monsters, set up traps, and hunt the gigantic monsters roaming the land. And don’t compare Monster Hunter Online to other MMOs because hunting monsters need preparation, caution and you must be well-equipped.
The art style is similar to past MH games, but this is the first game that uses CryEngine 3 and it made the monsters and characters very impressive to look at compared to the low-resolution models you see on the 3DS.
7. Aura Kingdom
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Aeria Games
- Developer: X-Legend
- Release Date: July 4, 2014 (NA)
Don’t let the cutesy super kawaii desu~! art style fool you because the story of Aura Kingdom is actually very dark and complex. But yeah, Aura Kingdom has a cutesy anime art style similar that of JRPGs back in the PS2 era that makes the game pleasing to the eyes and a bit nostalgic.
The combat and the general difficulty isn’t that steep and if you ignore the mature story, Aura Kingdom is an MMO for newcomers to the online gaming scene. The familiar anime art style draws you into the world and if you play long enough, your character can level up to be a gun-toting girl in a maid uniform or a goth loli wielding a giant scythe. Oh and panty shots.
6. TERA (TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea)
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Bluehole, Inc., E-Frontier
- Developer: En Masse Entertainment
- Release Date: May 1, 2012 (NA), July 29, 2011 (JPN)
What sets TERA apart from other MMOs is an active combat system the requires players to properly aim, dodge and counter at the right moment. This may be a bummer to some because MMOs are time wasters that you simply just sit back, and watch your character auto attacks monsters and watch damage numbers popping out. But if you want intense combat and go God Eater mode, then oh boy, TERA won’t disappoint.
For the visual side of things, TERA is a prime example of showing the idea that having less armor on your body doesn’t necessarily mean that armor has low defense and stats. One of the main draw (apart from the combat system) that sets TERA apart from other MMOs is the over-sexualized armor designs that make your female characters look like they’re straight out of a hentai show set in a medieval fantasy world.
Actually, the high-level armor sets make everyone look like they’re ready for a cosplay party rather than risking their lives fighting the monster horde. Of course, there are exceptions, but really, if you’re looking for an MMO with that is not ashamed of sexualizing everyone, then TERA is your next stop.
Oh, and there’s a loli class/race in TERA. Just, well, letting you know.
5. Dungeon Fighter Online (Arad Senki)
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Nexon America Inc.
- Developer: Neople
- Release Date: September 22, 2009 (NA), November 2006 (JPN)
What if you mix the classic beat em up games, add in RPG elements and an online component? The result is the popular Action MMORPG Dungeon Fighter Online. Yeah, MMOs aren’t exactly exclusive to games where you explore large worlds and kills monsters for loot, and Dungeon Fighter Online is one of the prime examples of taking a classic fighting genre and put in an online functionality.
The art style is unique that inspired the beat em ups of the good old arcade days (FYI, arcades are thriving in Japan) with sprite-based characters in side-scrolling areas. You can play the game solo, but like any online game, you can invite people to join you and clear out dungeons. Though players don’t exactly enter your world and mess up your gaming session, you do inTERAct with them in the hub world and if you’re sociable, invite them for a dungeon run or two. It’s gritty but the sessions are usually short so it’s a nice game to play if you don’t want to commit to longer hours like most MMOs.
4. Tree of Savior
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: IMC Games Co., Ltd, NEXON Japan
- Developer: IMC Games Co., Ltd
- Release Date: March 18, 2016 (NA/JPN)
Fans of the Ragnarok series disliked Ragnarok Online 2 because of many reasons like RO2 isn’t fun to play. Fans wanted the anime-style top down perspective grinder game that they loved in RO and after years of waiting, its spiritual successor is here called Tree of Savior. Tree of Savior is a top down anime-style MMO grinder retaining that distinct 2D sprite in a 3D environment gameplay. The art style is definitely beautiful to look at with that watercolor look and the NPCs are very attractive and likes to show off their lovely cleavage for some reason.
Tree of Savior, despite not developed by a Japanese dev, is currently the most top rated MMO in Japan and, but be warned that while it’s popular and attractive to Japan because of its anime art style, the English version of the game is riddled with bugs and is getting little to no support from the devs. Regardless, if you do manage to get the game running and don’t mind any bugs, Tree of Savior is a good game that is a grind fest like the venerable Ragnarok Online.
3. Phantasy Star Online 2
- System/Platform: PC, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega
- Release Date: July 4, 2012 (JPN), TBA (NA)
PSO2 is an MMO, but it takes a different direction by ditching the idea of exploring a vast world and focuses on randomly generated dungeon crawling with active real-time combat like TERA. And what makes PSO2 a tad unique is it’s a sci-fi MMO with a strong emphasis on mecha themes and mecha girls, and robots give you a turn on, there’s a robot class you can choose. This MMO is made for mecha fans and anyone who likes anime and mecha girls with those robotic wings on their backs.
Transforming 2D art style to 3D is always awkward because the face geometry of anime isn’t designed for 3D viewing. That is the same case in PSO2 and quite honestly, it’s not really that bad. In fact, the style makes the game more unique, colorful and close to actual anime art as opposed to the realistic art style that usually ends up turning the game into a more serious and less colorful affair. And another thing that makes PSO2 so fun in both gameplay and social is the robust messaging system where you can customize messages with funny gestures. The only sucky part of this game is it’s not available in the West, despite the fact it has an unofficial English patch.
2. Dragon Quest X Mezameshi Itsutsu no Shuzoku Online
- System/Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Android, Wii, PC, iOS
- Publisher: Square Enix Holdings, Shanda
- Developer: Square Enix Holdings
- Release Date: August 2, 2012 (JPN)
The Dragon Quest series has been around for many decades now and it’s as old as Final Fantasy. Now on its 10th mainline iTERAtion, Dragon Quest is aiming for a more robust massive multiplayer online experience, a first for the series, and man, this game is indeed massive. And it should be considering its lineage and huge lore. The game started on the Wii and since then it has been ported to many platforms and is poised to be released on the PS4 and the Nintendo Switch this year… In Japan only. Currently, there is no real confirmation on the localization of the game for the West.
Like every game in the series, spin-off or not, the art style of Dragon Quest X retained its unique signature character designs by Dragon Ball creator Toriyama Akira. This distinct art style really sets Dragon Quest X apart from the rest of the list and it’s very unlikely to confuse this game with any other game (unless you immediately scream “Dragon Ball Xenoverse!”). The character models, the monsters, and the world are so masterfully modeled with attention to detail that, on PC, and potentially on the PS4, it feels like you’re in a world like you have never seen before. And add to the fact it’s Dragon Quest and it shares the art style of Dragon Ball, this MMO, is truly made in Japan.
1. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (Final Fantasy XIV Online: Shinsei Eorzea)
- System/Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, OS X
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Square Enix Business Division 5
- Release Date: August 27, 2013 (US/JPN)
If you didn’t look at the title of the game and look at its visuals, it’s easy to confuse the game as another South Korean MMO. But if you look at the game again and see the title “Final Fantasy”, the game suddenly became Japanese in a nanosecond! In all seriousness, the visuals may arguably be similar but it’s the soul of anime is still within Final Fantasy XIV.
At its core, the plot is very similar to any MMO: You're an average person who seeks to help out as an adventurer, when one day you have a dream about the crystal of the planet, Hydaelyn, calling to you as her chosen. Thinking nothing of it, you start your duties and quests until suddenly you're taken back into that dreamlike state and learn that you're what's called a Warrior of Light.
Several years ago, those Warriors of Light helped fight back against the evil Garlemald empire before the world was burned and reformed by the fury of the dragon Bahamut, the elder primal, who was released by the Garlemald empire in an attempt at destroying the land. You meet a band of heroes called the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, with whom you start to learn more about the crystal's power and what you can do to help bring back balance to the still shaken land. You seek to defeat Primals, false gods created by pure aether from devoted praying and take their power back to Hydaelyn. However, the XIVth Imperial Legion from Garlemald also seek to defeat the Primals, but with the method of assimilation. As such it becomes a race of who manages to defeat the Primals first, with the Warrior of Light going up against the Garlemald Empire alongside other chosen warriors (other players) to prevent them from putting the land at risk again.
All right, technically it’s a bit complex compared to other MMO plots...
But the thing is, anime isn’t all about the visuals. Anime is also about the Japanese culture and storytelling. When you do quests, visit certain locations, and talk to NPCs in ARR, you’ll notice that they all have an anime feeling to them like you’re watching an anime show.
To give you a few examples: A girl who has a secret about traveling through this giant castle to stop it from potentially destroying the world and the game throws a curveball and drops in a boss that’s essentially a parody of the sentai series involving 5 small robots combining to form one giant robot… complete with a catchy sentai-themed battle music. Or how about the annual event called the Little Ladies Festival that lets you vote for girls to become the top rated idols.
The reason why Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn is top of the list is because (aside from the boatloads of fanservice and references to other Final Fantasy games) it’s made for the Japanese audience. The trademark anime stereotypes, the corny dialogue, the, well, badly done Engrish J-rock songs make the game feel familiar and easy to get into. An anime fan will feel truly at home in A Realm Reborn.
MMOs that are made in Japan, especially the successful ones, are extremely rare and it’s not because South Korea makes better MMOs, it’s just the Japanese gaming industry gravitate toward console, handheld and mobile gaming due to how Japanese society works. People in Japan work long hours and to distract themselves from the tedium of everyday lives, they pick up their phone, or a 3DS to play a quick game while waiting for the train or bus to arrive at the bus stop. And when they do get home, they pick up their console and play a game for an hour before heading to bed. Grinding games like MMOs do not fit well with Japan and only a few people can afford to play for long hours.
South Korean MMOs may not be Japanese, but the art style is definitely anime and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Final Fantasy XIV may look like any Korean MMO, but if you play the game, you’ll feel right at home because the game is made in Japan complete with all of its Japanese quirkiness. In the immortal words of OTACON: “It’s like one of my Japanese animes!”
What do you think of our list? Do these games not made in Japan qualify as “anime”? And what anime-themed MMOs did we miss? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!