Dragon Ball, Kimetsu no Yaiba or One Piece, are video games based on anime worse than ever? We analyze it:

Why is there so little variety among anime-based games these days? Why does it always seem to throw itself out of the fight by system and not bet on other genres completely forgotten by the main leaders of the sector? We analyze the reasons that have changed the paradigm of manga video games.

We live a magical moment in Japanese anime. To the usual references, who are in better shape than ever, we must add some recent successes such as Tokyo Revengers, Jujutsu Kaisen or Kimetsu no Yaiba. As has happened with cinema or video games, on-demand content prevails, and it has never been so easy in terms of accessibility and legality to access anime on platforms such as CrunchyRoll or other better-known companies that are also encouraged to serve their own productions produced in collaboration with the best studios in Japan. Living such an optimal moment and of such quality, what’s going on with anime games now?

As contradictory as it may seem, the actuality of the anime video game, in terms of variety and quantity, is bordering on levels never seen before, with a genre that predominates over the rest in an absurd way: the fight and the versus as an answer to everything. To sample, a button: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Chronicles of Hinokami. It is urgent for CyberConnect 2 and its creators to make a playable product with the current series to the point where there is not even a sufficiently representative roster of fighters to make the game (so much so that they even have to pull the student versions or characters that barely one or two chapters appear as Yahaba, Sabito, Susamaru, Makomo or Murata). There were no other options? It has always been like this? Absolutely.

We will try to review and analyze what has happened in all this time with anime video games and what has changed so much as to give a turnaround like the one that the different representatives of the genre have given. For it, Let’s take a look at the past and present to understand what has happened and where are the main reasons for the change.

When Dragon Ball RPGs Were Normal

Dragon Ball: Daihikyo. Image: DBZGames.org

Did you know that the first Dragon Ball title was one of ships?Kakarot and Dragon Ball Heroes have been an oasis in the desert, but Dragon Ball’s relationship with fighting over the last twenty years has been stronger than that of Piccolo and Son Gohan. Did you know that the first Dragon Ball title, Super Cassette Vision’s Dragon Ball: Daihikyo, was one of ships? And that the next bet on adventures called Dragon Ball: Shenlong no Nazo for NES? The third, also from the NES, was about cards. Do you know how many premieres it took to have a Dragon Ball fighting game? Ten video games until, in 1993, seven years after the first of the saga was released, the legendary Super Butoden debuts on the Super Nintendo. It is paradoxical seeing the evolution of the current saga, with its Budokais, Budokais Tenkaichis, Xenoverse and FighterZ, in which it seems that Son Goku and Vegeta are fighting-centric.

In the past, it was common for different animes to have video games of many different genres. The case of Naruto is also evident, being the first great manga phenomenon of the 21st century, Masashi Kishimoto’s Ninja Adventures had the inevitable fighting exercises (memorable exercises like those seen on PS2 and, especially, on GameCube) but also in the territory of portables they dared with adventure and role-playing games. There was even a strange case in which a European developer like Ubisoft commissioned a Naruto work from their studio in Montreal to make two video games that reviewed the character’s first adventures! Why has everything changed so much?

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure All Star BattleJoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle

Surely, one of the most notable absences in the playable anime organization chart and the lack of variety in current times has to do with two elements: the demise of handheld consoles as we have known them since the GameBoy explosion in the late 1980s and the cost of current developments on home consoles. There, the development studios dared to launch smaller titles that explored fields other than fighting, creating conversational experiences of all kinds (there are the countless releases of Evangelion, for example) or the appearance of games far from the sphere of the shonen.

The costs of creating an anime video game today also shackles publishers and developers who dare to do as the different companies from the past of Dragon Ball. There is no room for improvisation and everything leads to the simplicity of facing the characters in simple fighting games and reuse the work done to take them to new experiences of cousins-sisters of the fight (as was the case with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Eyes of Heaven). There are exceptions such as One Piece titles, but they are not usually accompanied by the quality expected from Eiichiro Oda, at a peak of popularity higher than ever after almost 25 years of uninterrupted publication.

The inevitable anime – gacha relationship

Captain Tsubasa: Dream TeamCaptain Tsubasa: Dream Team

There was a time when the greats of American cinema gave up on video games. It was inevitable that every blockbuster would be accompanied by its respective film on the shelves of the usual stores in the sector, but everything changed in the past decade. The decline of movie games mutated into mobile microprojects that were forgotten a few weeks after the release of the aforementioned tapes. Neither the impact of cheap launches was profitable anymore, nor was the promotion worth it on big consoles. Something similar happened with anime, but in Japan they found an ally that had been giving big surprises to brand owners for many years: the virtual Gashapon.

There isn’t a major anime franchise that doesn’t have its own gashapon game.Gashapon is a ball machine in which a random toy is accessed for a sum of money. They are usually collectible and it is inevitable to fall into the dreaded repetition if your intention is to complete collections. It is a well-known business in Spanish bars and restaurants, but in Japan it is a fever that has been triumphing for several decades and in which the anime industry has found a place to launch countless collections based on its characters. Video games adapted this mechanics on mobile phones and baptized it as Gacha for the obvious: Unlock items of different rarities with real money or in-game money.

dragon ball z kakarotdragon ball z kakarot

There isn’t a major anime franchise that doesn’t have its best or worst quality gacha game. Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball or Kimetsu no Yaiba itself, all are in the league of unlockables and rarities. There are studies that talk about how addictive the sensation of unlocking new elements is for audiences, something that the brands themselves take advantage of to continue launching new, increasingly attractive unlockable elements (in fact, the adventures of Óliver and Benji in the Champions League were is developing canon in his mobile game, Captain Tsubasa: Dream Team). Is the effort of the titles of yesteryear put into the territory of mobile and gacha?

There are exceptions, because the case of Dragon Ball Z Kakarot was notable and a real sales and critical success, but it does not mean that everything seems to be done with the same pattern in the last 10 years and many of us miss that companies do not dare to go beyond the fight, the gacha and the Musou to present the stories of our favorite heroes and villains. Is there hope or has the model changed forever? It’s very likely that the best days of anime video games are over, and it’s a shame, because it has never been easier to access Japanese games on our systems than it is now.