The relationship between anime/manga and JRPGs goes back to the beginning of the genre, with Dragon Ball creator and artist Akira Toriyama acting as character designer on Dragon Quest. After that, most early JRPGs played on the tropes and storytelling beats of anime and manga. Seriously, go watch Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and tell me that practically every JRPG from the late 80s and early 90s doesn't heavily borrow from at least one of those movies.
Naturally, this makes RPGs the perfect fodder for anime adaptations. In fact, in the past couple of months we've had two movie adaptations of popular RPG franchises. So we decided to take a look at adaptations for some of our other favorite games. While not all of them maintain the appeal of their source material, there are some real gems here.
Oh, and we might be cheating a little with Advent Children, but really, it's the most anime thing on this list.
Intro by Zach Wilkerson
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is perhaps the most well-known attempt by Square Enix to branch off one of their famous properties into a multimedia franchise. Final Fantasy VII's beloved world and characters were rife for expansion, and while the Compilation was a bit of a mixed bag overall in terms of quality (looking at you, Dirge of Cerberus), a few installments have stood the test of time. One of these, in my humble opinion, is the 2005 CGI animated film, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
Now, make no mistake: Advent Children isn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. However, its glitzy CGI animation and frenetic action set pieces set a standard for the Final Fantasy series that the games have been trying to replicate ever since. Just look at the combat of games like Dissidia or Final Fantasy XIII, where characters perform dizzying, gravity-defying stunts with particle effects flying every which way, and the influence of Advent Children becomes impossible to deny. Moreover, while the story of Advent Children is pretty confusing even for diehard fans of the game, there is some excellent fanservice to be had. The final fight between Cloud and Sephiroth is action-packed and chaotic, set to a heavy metal remix of "One-Winged Angel" that has no business being as awesome as it is. Seeing party members like Cid, Barret, Yuffie, and Vincent rendered in (at the time) cutting-edge graphics as they come together to fight a massive boss monster is a fist-pumping and triumphant moment. (As is the ridiculous battle in the sky that takes place immediately after. You know the one.) Also, Vincent's quest for a new cell phone? Cait Sith having a Scottish accent for some reason? Literally everything involving Reno and Rude? That stuff is priceless.
Even putting aside Advent Children's value as gussied-up fanservice, however, I do actually find Cloud's arc in the film to be somewhat relatable. Many fans have complained about Cloud's devolution from an upbeat and confident hero into a moody downer, but as someone who struggles with depression, I found that watching Cloud push his loved ones away out of a deep-seated fear that they would be better off without him struck a chord in me. This is especially true in the 2009 director's cut, Advent Children Complete, which adds a couple more scenes surrounding Cloud and his surrogate family, as well as his struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy in the wake of Final Fantasy VII's climax. I'm not saying this characterization is particularly deep or meaningful, but it is something to consider, and in my opinion, it stands alongside Zack's storyline in Crisis Core as one of the more thoughtful additions to the Final Fantasy VII mythos. With the Final Fantasy VII Remake finally on the way, I can only hope that Square Enix remembers to focus on the quieter moments along with the bombast and glamour, and that they treat the game's characters and their struggles with nuance and respect.
Released in North America in a 2002 DVD collection titled Ys: Legacy, the Ys anime is actually comprised of two different series. The first is a seven-episode long show aptly titled Ys that covers Ys I's plot. The second is a four-episode adaptation of the series' second game entitled Ys II: Castle in the Heavens.
Given that these anime adaptations came out between 1989 and 1993, they're considerably dated by today's standards. However, there's still a lot to appreciate in how the screenwriters elaborated and expanded upon the plots of the first two Ys games to better fit an anime format, as well as the way the animators tried to mimic the games' visuals for the shows' action sequences, particularly in the first anime. The music, composed by Falcom's very own Sound Team JDK and performed by the JDK Band, also stands out quite nicely.
I've only ever had the pleasure of watching the Ys anime with their English dubs, which provide a surprising amount of unintentional entertainment too. Names of characters constantly change since the voice actors apparently weren't sure how to pronounce "Adol," Dark Fact often becomes Dark Factor, and Lilia for some reason becomes Lylian. Also, the number of times "evil" is used both by the villains themselves and otherwise is hilarious out of context, especially in the first anime.
While I think that Ys II: Castle in the Heavens is arguably the stronger of the two adaptations because the pace and flow don't drag on and the animation budget seems higher overall, both series are enjoyable as far as old-school fantasy anime go. If you can get past their datedness, that is! To be honest, it was the Ys anime that convinced me to give Falcom's venerable action RPG series a shot!
While Namco had been adapting their Tales titles for the small screen for several years by the time October 2008 rolled around, it's fortunate they decided to take the most story-driven title and give it a full 26-episode anime season so that we may properly hear about the Tales of the Abyss.
And I'm happy to say this pairing worked out well for the animated series! Originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, Tales of the Abyss featured a long and layered story that sometimes clashed with uneventful cutscene direction — most of which consisted of lengthy dialogue exchanges and exposition to explain its (truly) fascinating world and complicated cast. The anime, however, presents the character drama and unique world in a way that PS2 hardware couldn't reasonably capture.
Despite that, I'm still not sure how valuable the anime will be to those who haven't played the game; while the anime beautifully visualizes events, some elements may still feel...off, largely because Tales of the Abyss just has that big a story to tell. Certain events have their emotional weight cut short in order to keep things moving; other elements are poorly explained, hand-waved, happen out of the blue, or are simply elaborated better in the game. But Tales of the Abyss has a flare for drama and some fantastic storytelling that lends itself better to an animated series. (And while I can't speak for everyone, I don't think most of us were compelled to play Abyss strictly for its gameplay anyways.)
While the Tales of the Abyss anime saw an overseas release, it's subtitles-only and therefore features none of the talented English VA many of us have come to love (an admittedly small complaint considering the similarly strong Japanese cast). I also admire that Namco kept Bump of Chicken's original (and very popular) PS2 opening theme song "Karma" to kick off each episode of the anime as it did each session of the game. And no one should pass up the show's energetic new ending theme
I honestly think many JRPG fans can appreciate Tales of the Abyss for its deep characters and plot (like abyssal deep!). The anime runs at a nice, quick pace and allows players (or perhaps even series fans who missed/skipped this title) to plunge into the world of Eldrant and experience the story in a way they couldn't with the game.
The Xenosaga franchise was a huge undertaking by Monolith Soft in the company's early days. Originally planned as six main games, the series also spawned a manga, a prequel mobile game, an audio drama, and more. It shouldn't come as a surprise that an anime was produced. Covering the events of the first game, Xenosaga: The Animation released in 2005 to mixed results.
Set 4,000 years in the future, humanity has escaped from Earth and now lives in constant fear of an alien race known as the Gnosis. To battle this menace, Shion Uzuki of Vector Industries develops a combat android called KOS-MOS. For the most part, the anime follows the same plot as the original game, cutting some content here and there while expanding some details. Giving character and backstory to Kirschwasser, a character who received little screen time in the game, is a great choice. However, reducing a 50-hour RPG to 12 episodes leaves a lot to be desired. In some spots, the short length helps quicken the pace of story beats that dragged in the original game, but these moments are few and far between.
The anime also features new character designs. Though they are based on Kunihiko Tanaka's original designs for the game, the anime feels squashed and ugly in comparison. The animation itself can be quite good (in the first and final episodes especially), but there are times when it is laughably bad.
Though the anime isn't a complete waste of time, I highly recommend playing Xenosaga instead. Furthermore, since Xenosaga: The Animation only covers the first of three games, you're already doing yourself a disservice when it comes to the overall story.
Despite being introduced to the Neptunia series when the first game came out back in 2011, I didn't start playing the games until the anime was announced. After I blitzed through the original Neptunia trilogy back in early 2013, I was ready for the anime.
The anime's plot is a mix of mk2 and Victory's stories, as well as some original elements. Neptunia's story has never been the best, and the anime only makes it worse by having the mk2 portion of the story go darker, which adds unnecessary melodrama. The anime also uses some of the more questionable fanservice scenes from mk2 and Victory, which are a bit uncomfortable to watch. One scene in particular was edited out of mk2 for being too lewd with underage girls (it was added into the remake Re;Birth2), but the anime dedicates a good few minutes to it. Fortunately, the anime also shows the good character development the CPU Candidates get in mk2, as well as Neptune's growth in Victory.
The animation itself is decent, but it can be hard to look at the characters sometimes. It occasionally feels like they're reflecting the sun off their skin, which is distracting, and the art is also not as good as the games. That's to be expected of an anime adaptation, but a lot of my personal enjoyment of the Neptunia series comes from looking at the great art that Tsunako draws for the games.
I feel this adaptation could have been more lighthearted to better suit Neptunia's general tone, but it isn't the absolute worst video game anime I've seen.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The Animation is an 81-minute feature created in 2011 for a Falcom anniversary project. The title itself is a bit of a misnomer, as after about a one-minute recap of the first game's ending, the anime throws viewers directly into the middle of Second Chapter (or to those not in the know, the second Trails in the Sky game).
The animated adaptation is definitely not something recommended for newcomers to Trails in the Sky as it doesn't explain much of anything about the games' lore or the characters themselves. Instead, it banks on the audience's prior knowledge of the games to help fill in the blanks.
Speaking of which, most of Second Chapter's story is condensed and altered to fit the anime's relatively short length. The anime also doesn't run the full course of the game's plot, so it has a non-conclusive ending since most of the story is left unresolved. However, it at least wisely picks a good moment for Joshua and Estelle to finish on, which is fitting since they're the main focus of the animation's story.
While you get things like the Trails series' obligatory hot springs scene in the animation, other story beats and characters are completely overlooked, which is especially disappointing if you're a fan of party members like Kevin or Zin.
Still, the anime is an enjoyable watch if you happen to go into it knowing its limitations, and fans of the series might like seeing parts of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC adapted to a different medium.
Trying to adapt a 100-hour RPG into a 26-episode anime is a difficult task. So difficult, in fact, they didn't even finish Persona 5's story in those 26 episodes. The TV anime ends on the perceived "bad ending," so those who only watch the anime will likely be confused or angry at the way the story ends. The anime continued with two OVAs in December 2018 and March 2019, but I say the damage was already done.
Even before the anime aired, fans were already disappointed that Production I.G, the studio that did the cutscenes in the game, were not going to be doing the anime. Instead, it was given to CloverWorks, a studio that had just recently split from their parent company, A-1 Pictures. The animation and art are a downgrade from what Production I.G did for the game, but of course, there is a lot more for CloverWorks to animate here.
The adaptation itself tries its best given the time constraints, but because Persona 5's story is already long even without diving into any confidants or other side content, there are lots of cuts to anything that isn't essential to the story. As such, a lot of Persona 5's heart is cut out, since a big portion of what makes the game so endearing is the Social Links. Persona 5's story is still good on its own, but the charm just isn't there in the anime.
CloverWorks really tried their best with what they were given, but the simple fact of the matter is a Persona 5 adaptation would need to be long, at least double the length of a traditional 2-cour anime. That would cost a ton of money though and, for a new studio, just isn't feasible. If a Persona 5 Royal anime comes out, I would hope it's at least around 50 episodes to do the games justice. (not proofed)
CloverWorks really tried their best with what they were given, but the simple fact of the matter is a Persona 5 adaptation would need to be long, at least double the length of a traditional 2-hour anime. That would cost a ton of money though and, for a new studio, just isn't feasible. If a Persona 5 Royal anime comes out, I would hope it's at least around 50 episodes to do the games justice.
Tales of Zestiria the X, pronounced Tales of Zestiria the Cross, is the anime adaptation of the Tales of Zestiria game. Ufotable produced two seasons between 2016 and 2017. The anime, like the game it is based on, follows the story of Sorey, a young human raised by people known as the Seraphim, a group of beings normally invisible to the human eye. Sorey eventually becomes the Shepherd, a human able to commune with the Seraphim as they try to keep nature balanced by purifying a corrupting force known as Malevolence, which has given rise to countless monsters. Sorey goes on a journey with a group of Seraphim and two human Squires to figure out a way to stop the Malevolence from growing over the land.
There is an interesting mix of Arthurian lore in this fantasy tale, and along with the likable cast of characters, that kept my attention as I watched the anime. Sorey and his friends are a colorful bunch, and I enjoyed the way relationships developed between them throughout the story. Ufotable's animation, though often relying heavily on CG for monsters and effects, is utterly gorgeous and breathtaking to behold in motion. The music is also quite beautiful, and I immensely enjoyed the English dub for its emotional voice acting.
The biggest issue Tales of Zestiria the X has is its pacing. At times, episodes go at a very slow, gradual speed, only for things to hit a breakneck rush the very next episode. The story focus also goes every which way imaginable, with the second season in particular becoming the "Rose and Alisha Show" as main character Sorey becomes something along the lines of a backup dancer within his own story. Both Rose and Alisha are likable enough, and I understand that the focus on Alisha was no doubt in part due to the backlash the game received for its treatment of her character, but it just felt odd to see so much of the plot center around Sorey's two Squires at the expense of the Shepherd himself. Considering that I think Sorey, Mikleo, and the other Seraphim are rather interesting characters, it's a shame that the focus couldn't have been more balanced between the cast.
The prequel game Tales of Berseria and its main character Velvet also feature in this anime adaptation, though the episodes that focus on them are oddly placed in the middle of the first season and therefore take the audience out of the main storyline. They aren't bad episodes, but they do little to really flesh out the Tales of Zestiria plotline beyond some minor allusions later on, and they are so short that fans hoping for a proper Tales of Berseria anime adaptation will be left sorely disappointed. This is also the point in the overall anime where the pacing issues start to become noticeable, and the series sadly never gets back on track afterwards.
Which isn't to say that the anime is entirely bad. All things considered, I rather enjoyed watching it, and I give it credit for trying to stitch so many disparaging plot threads into a cohesive tale, even if the execution isn't always the best. The anime also deserves kudos for giving Tales of Zestiria a proper conclusion, something the game struggled to do. Oddly enough, I would say Tales of Zestiria's lore is best served by playing the game, reading the manga adaptation, and also watching Tales of Zestiria the X. The three pieces end up combining into a surprisingly satisfactory whole.