Video games have proven to be a difficult medium to adapt into films. With most falling flat for a variety of reasons, the only medium that seems to be able to handle the content most effectively is anime. Anime adaptations of video games haven’t been all that common until more recently, with shows like Tales of Zestiria the X, Persona 4 The Animation, Steins;Gate, and Ace Attorney being well received.
But because it’s a fairly new thing, the ways that anime adaptations of video games are approached can be pretty different. When adapting manga, the general consensus of “it should follow the manga’s story” is pretty common and often leads to a better show, but with video games, that consensus doesn’t exist yet. So should anime adaptations of video games be loyal to a fault, or make creative changes that enhance the story?
I’ve already discussed Persona 4 The Animation in the past and I haven’t played the game at all, so that won’t be a fair comparison. The Steins;Gate anime is an arguably better way to experience the story (the game was unbearably slow I’m sorry), so I’m going to focus on Tales of Zestiria the X and Ace Attorney for this comparison. I’ve played the first several hours of Tales of Zestiria but have yet to complete it, so comparing it to the anime is going to be a little difficult. However, even in the first few episodes, Tales of Zestiria the X makes some really interesting, creative changes to the story that enhances it overall.
The most significant change is the start of the anime. Tales of Zestiria the X begins with Alisha’s story and her travels, unlike the game, which starts with Sorey and Mikleo exploring the ruins around their home. This is huge for Alisha’s character because she doesn’t get this level of development in the game early on. It allows the audience to understand her struggles and relate with her character more. It isn’t until after she’s an established character that Sorey and Mikleo are introduced, and because of this that her influence on the story becomes more important and relevant.
The anime also takes the time to flesh out the story and characters in different ways from the game and make it feel like an organic show. For instance, in the video game, the group travels to a dungeon to receive a weapon for Mikleo. Not only does the anime exclude this trip for the group, the anime uses it as a smart way to develop Mikleo’s character. In the anime, Mikleo travels to this place alone as his way of resolving to help Sorey in whatever way possible. Mikleo’s character arc is arguably more effectively done in the anime than in the video game and serves as a great example of creative changes the anime can make to add to the story and characters.
It’s for these reasons that Tales of Zestiria the X has been so enjoyable to watch. It’s fun to see where the anime and video game cross paths, but also where they diverge and handle content in different yet good ways. It has a perfect balance of staying loyal to the subject matter but also adding or changing certain moments to make them more engaging or powerful with the audience.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s the Ace Attorney anime. You guys probably know by now that I love the game series to death based on the past articles I’ve written, and the fact that we even have an anime of this series is so awesome. It’s awesome to be able to see some of the best moments from the games in animation, but with that said, Ace Attorney is loyal to a fault, almost too much so. And I hate to say that because the games are great, and the transition they’ve made to animation is pretty good so far.
However, there aren’t many moments that are different from the games, besides including adorable moments between Phoenix and Maya which I love, or having characters appear in cameos before becoming more significant later on. But because there isn’t any additional content, the pacing of the show is really fast. It leaves very little surprises for the viewer if they’ve played the games, and for those who haven’t, it may feel rushed and simplistic on the surface. I don’t know if the anime should have changed the content per se, but adding some additional scenes to develop the characters and story would greatly enhance it. As enjoyable as the Ace Attorney anime is, I find myself wanting more from it.
Perhaps the best thing about anime adaptations of video games is that at this point, they’re still relatively new. There really is no right answer to how an adaptation can be approached, but it’s worth exploring all of the options. Creative changes, while successful in Tales of Zestiria the X, may not be executed well and other shows and butcher the content. However, being too loyal to a game’s story can also lead to the story not having any surprises or excitement like Ace Attorney. I found myself enjoying moments that weren’t necessarily in the games but added a lot to the characters and story as well. At the same time, there’s something to be said about seeing a favorite moment in a video game being animated and seeing how it plays out. It really depends on its execution and what it adds to the show.
My own preferences aside, I hope this trend of video games being adapted into anime continues. Video games have incredible stories to tell, and anime is the perfect medium to tell them in. Can you imagine getting a good anime adaptation of Zelda? Or Chrono Trigger, animated in the same style as its PlayStation cutscenes? Or Golden Sun, and then halfway through we switch to the other group’s story? Better yet, an anime adaptation of Kingdom Hearts could help the plot make more sense to the people who haven’t been able to play the spin-offs. All of these would be amazing, and my hope is that anime adaptations of video games grow in popularity so that we can potentially get shows like these someday.