Gaming Top 5: Most unusually timed anime game releases

We pick the top 5 anime-based games that were released with little to no context outside of Japan

Usually when games are based on an entertainment property, they tend to be released in the same time window as the property is brought to market, or when it experiences a significant surge in popularity. However, in some cases, certain video games have been brought to market without the public having any prior knowledge of the property it is based on, and this has been found true with games based on anime and manga. Read on for our top five choices of anime-based games that received an unusually timed release outside of Japan.

No. 5: Gundam Battle Assault (Sony PlayStation)

The property: Mobile Suit Gundam is a space opera that has quickly grown to a household name in Japan ever since it started life as a short-lived anime series in the late 70's. The franchise encompasses numerous series and movies, with many set in alternate universes that provided a different twist on the battle of good versus evil in outer space with giant robots called Gundams.

The game: Hoping to capitalise on the popularity that the Gundam Wing series enjoyed on American television screens via the Cartoon Network at the turn of the century, Bandai released Gundam Battle Assault for the Sony PlayStation just at the end of the console's lifecycle in 2000. The game was a 2D one-on-one fighting game that allowed gamers to step into the shoes of a Gundam pilot and fight with other opponents spread over a variety of environments. The game was notable for its use of large 2D sprites for the character models, as the PlayStation's low amount of RAM made 2D-based games tricky on the console.

The problem: Gundam Battle Assault was based on Gundam: The Battle Master 2, which had been released in Japan in 1998. While Bandai used an image of the Wing Gundam for the front cover of the U.S. release, the game had very little to do with the Gundam Wing anime and instead featured robots from a broad selection of Gundam universes. Most of the robots were from anime series such as Gundam Z and Gundam ZZ, which had not received an English release at the time, leaving a lot of gamers wondering what exactly the Zeta Gundam and Qubeley are. Gundam: The Battle Master 2 originally didn't have any robots from the Gundam Wing anime in the game, so Bandai added the Wing Gundam to appease fans of the anime for the game's U.S. release.

Did you know? Gundam Wing was the second alternate universe in the Gundam franchise, following Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and only enjoyed moderate success in Japan during its original run in 1995 before experiencing a massive resurgence of popularity in North America five years later during its broadcast on the Cartoon Network.

No. 4: Ghost in the Shell (Sony PlayStation)

The property: While Ghost in the Shell started life as a manga by Masamune Shirow, most fans in the West are familiar with the property through the 1995 anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii. The Ghost in the Shell film is often viewed as a landmark anime that helped to usher in the popularity of the medium through its bleak depiction of a dystopian future society and a story that questioned what it means to be human.

The game: Published by THQ for the PlayStation in 1997, the game puts the player in the role of a driver of a Fuchikoma tank, a versatile vehicle that can travel swiftly along the ground as well as cling to walls and ceilings. The player had to dispose of a variety of enemies in several environments with the help of the tank's onboard weaponry, which consisted of rockets and machine guns.

The problem: The game was not based on the anime, but on the lesser known manga. While the English edition of the manga was released around the same time as the anime in 1995, the release was low key and has since then been overshadowed by the overwhelming popularity and recognition of the anime adaptation. There are significant differences between the manga and anime, the most obvious being that the Fuchikoma tank was not even mentioned in the film but is heavily used in the manga. You also don't get to play as the film's protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi, but instead as a nameless male rookie member.

Did you know? While many assume that the Ghost in the Shell film is set in a dystopian future of Japan, the producers have stated that the movie is set in Hong Kong. However, the original manga is set in Japan.

No. 3: Magic Knight Rayearth (Sega Saturn)

The property: Magic Knight Rayearth started out as a serialised manga by the Clamp production team in 1993 and received its own anime adaption in the following year. Aimed at a young female audience, it tells the story of three girls on a field trip who are brought together to fight an evil force in a parallel universe. The story starts out as a typical "magical girl" story before the story expands in scope to incorporate elements from the giant robot genre.

The game: Based on the first anime series, the game is a top-down action-based RPG. The player switches between the three protagonists to make use of each character's unique attacks, which have their own strengths and weaknesses. The game was skewed towards a younger, more casual audience, so questing and levelling up was simplified and kept to a minimum.

The problem: When the game finally received a Western release, many gamers were unaware of the game's anime origins. The game was originally released in Japan in 1995, but the English translation would gestate for the next three years until it would finally be released in North America in 1998. In addition to having the dubious honour of being the last game for the Saturn console, the Magic Knight Rayearth anime was generally overlooked by the public when it was released outside of Japan.

Did you know? The first series of the Magic Knight Rayearth anime remained faithful to the original manga, but the second series of the anime went into a different direction and incorporated new plot devices and characters not found in the original work.

No. 2: Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage (Sega Dreamcast)

The property: Berserk is a fantasy adventure manga set in a medieval Europe-inspired world and explores the theme of whether humanity is good or evil, as well as the best and worst of aspects of human nature.

The game: Eidos published a hack and slash action video game based on the property, titled Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, for the Dreamcast in 2000. The story focuses on the title character, Guts, and acts as a side story from the main story of the manga. The game was innovative in that it introduced quick time events (QTE) to its gameplay years before it was popularised by other games.

The problem: Dark Horse Comics acquired the license to the Berserk manga and released the first English volume of it in 2003, a full three years after the game came out. As such, very few gamers were aware of the manga when the game was released in North America and PAL regions. When the manga began its English release in 2003, the game was out of print and the Dreamcast was no longer supported by Sega.

Did you know? Guts, the protagonist of the Berserk manga, has a prosthetic left forearm that not only has a magnetic grip and can be fitted with a small repeating crossbow, but also conceals a cannon.

No. 1: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (Arcade)

The property: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is one of the longest running manga series in Japan and focuses around a group of fighters from the Joestar family fighting against Dio, the nemesis of the Joestar family. Characters have a "Stand" supernatural power that takes form of their alter ego and is used in combat for increased power and agility. The series is split into different parts that each focus on different descendants of the Joestars.

The game: Capcom released a 2D fighting game based on the property in 1998. The game ran on the same hardware as Street Fighter III, so the game featured fluid animation and large sprites for the large cast of characters. The initial North American release of the game was renamed Jojo's Venture for simplicity, though the revised version of the game in 1999 carried the original title from the manga. There was a Sony PlayStation and Sega Dreamcast port the same year that retained the title from the manga.

The problem: The reason Capcom renamed the game to Jojo's Venture for its initial North American release was to simplify a slightly odd title. Despite Capcom reinstating the original title a year later, the Western public would not be exposed to the manga until Viz Media began publishing it from 2005, over six years since the game's original release. While other anime games might have a story to let users know the background of the characters, a 2D fighting game like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure lacked one and players have very little context behind the characters without being familiar with the original entertainment property it was based on.

Did you know? While there has been two anime features and a feature film made on the property, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is the longest running manga that has not been turned into an anime series.

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Patrick Budmar

Patrick Budmar

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