As unlikely as it is that Netflix intended to crack the “video game adaptation code,” its recent smash-hits like Powerhouse Animation Studios’ Castlevania and Fortiche’s Arcane proved that animation is the key format. Accident or not, the streaming giant has taken notice since animated adaptations for the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, Far Cry, Splinter Cell, and more are on the way at various studios.
Movies could also work for plenty of gaming IPs, but a serialized format would arguably give the most breathing room for a story to be done justice. What other franchises could be on the horizon remains to be seen, and whether others like HBO and Amazon will take the hint, but there’s still a wealth of beloved games that would translate well into animation on the small screen.
Supergiant Games’ Hades took the gaming scene by storm in 2020. The indie roguelike-action game elevated the subgenre by blending the pulse-pounding and cathartic dungeon crawling that it’s known for with a compelling, emotional story. Hades made the quieter moments at Zagreus’ father’s House of Hades just as rewarding as its moment-to-moment action by having a diverse, irresistible, and lovable cast of characters with meaningful intrapersonal dynamics.
Big props go to the art direction and impressive acting, which go hand-in-hand with the fantastic storytelling and character writing for why Hades is aching for an animated TV show adaptation. Even the launch trailer for the game essentially served as a proof of concept for how this would work.
While the aforementioned Hades is arguably the most seamless pick for an animated TV series, Elden Ring is both a strong contender and the most topical. Given a recent press release from publisher Bandai Namco, though, an Elden Ring animated series might even be inevitable. FromSoftware’s latest sprawling dark-fantasy epic has made an unforgettable landmark in the gaming industry in a similar way that Super Mario 64, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild did for their respective genres/subgenres.
The likes of The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and The Witcher have comfortably made fantasy mainstream again, and the rich, dense lore and worldbuilding of the Lands Between would give a potential creative team a sandbox of stories to play with and put to screen. And with George R. R. Martin’s ties to the game’s production, perhaps there’s a smooth pipeline straight to HBO Max.
An all-time classic JRPG from the days of 16-bit gaming, Square Enix’s Chrono Trigger has a perfect template for a serialized animated TV series. More specifically, given the game’s style, it would make an excellent anime series.
It doesn’t seem like Chrono Trigger is getting a remaster, remake, or (another) sequel any time soon, and in the hands of the right writing team and animation studio, this fantastical journey would make for a great excuse to relive this story in a new way. Toei Animation would be a prime candidate to animate it, as the studio is the go-to producer for Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball IP, whose art is the foundation for Chrono Trigger.
Being one of the icons of the video game medium and one of Nintendo’s biggest cash cows, it’s surprising that The Legend of Zelda hasn’t seen a high-profile animated adaptation yet. With fantasy being more in-demand than ever and Zelda‘s inherent J. R. R. Tolkien/LOTR-like atmosphere, the timing seems as right as it’s ever been for the property to mesh with the world of TV.
The options on hand for a story are also plentiful, as most of the mainline games could translate into a series. Breath of the Wild seems like the easiest pick due to its beautiful visuals, setting, and scope. And while it’d be a big “if,” an original story could be another option given the universe’s already complex timelines.
Metal Gear Solid
Sony has long since confirmed to be working on a live-action Metal Gear Solid movie starring Oscar Isaac, but as tantalizing as that sounds on paper, an animated TV series is debatably the ideal format. Converting the Isaac-led movie into a live-action HBO series, like The Last of Us is getting, would’ve also been an excellent option given the network’s stellar creative track record.
However, an animation akin to what Powerhouse did with Castlevania could be thrilling in its own right and give an excuse to bring back fan-favorite Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter. Metal Gear Solid has been acclaimed for its mind-bending psychological elements, spy-thriller story, and compelling if occasionally convoluted political commentary. It’s for these reasons that long-form TV would give an adaptation the careful treatment it deserves.
Similar to other JRPG giants like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Persona, and more, Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem franchise is largely defined by anthology-style entries where each serves as a new entry point. Naturally, like with Chrono Trigger, a Fire Emblem story would make an excellent long-running anime series. Each game is its own expansive, high-fantasy setting and story with political intrigue on top of the “sword and sorcery.”
The most recent Three Houses on the Nintendo Switch has been perhaps the series’ biggest highlight, offering several character-driven story routes depending on the player’s decision. With the wealth of games and stories at hand, Fire Emblem could easily be another rich sandbox so long as the keys to the kingdom are given to the right creative team.
Similar to Metal Gear Solid‘s case, Mass Effect is also poised to get an adaptation through Amazon, per Deadline. It’s set to be a TV series as well, and rumors have been swirling around Henry Cavill’s involvement. However, the specifics of the show are unclear, including whether it’ll be live-action or animated. The original Mass Effect trilogy is a beloved set of RPGs, lauded for its massive sci-fi world, player freedom and customization, and compelling cast of supporting characters.
A lot would be riding on an adaptation of any kind, but animation would allow for more creativity in depicting this world and its characters. It’d be admittedly difficult regardless when considering the character roster, and whether it should be a retelling of the trilogy or take place elsewhere within the Mass Effect universe with an original cast and story.
Metroid is another beloved Nintendo IP that’s deservedly enjoyed a resurgence in the modern gaming era. Mercury Steam’s Metroid Dread on the Switch assured this, which will hopefully create even more of an uproar for when the long-awaited Prime 4 launches.
The space bounty hunter Samus Aran would make a compelling hero in an animated Alien-inspired TV series, playing on elements of both sci-fi and horror — though understandably on the lighter side for the latter. The right adaptation would make for an excitedly eerie, foreboding, and atmospheric story punctuated by stylish action sequences. On top of the main storyline, anthology-style episodes could also be a good narrative structure.
While a FromSoftware fantasy epic has already been touched on, Bloodborne is unique enough to take up another spot. Bloodborne is certainly dark fantasy as well, but it takes a gothic, Victorian-era spin on the genre along with splashes of Lovecraftian/eldritch horror.
It would be another great fit for HBO Max should the streamer lean into adult animation, and Bloodborne is dripping with a gruesome atmosphere that an animation studio could animate in a haunting fashion. Castlevania could once again be a blueprint for this setting-wise, with the challenge mainly lying in crafting a story around the blank-slate protagonist and doing justice to the grotesque creature designs and cathartic, bloody action.
Game director Yoko Taro’s NieR series started as a middling niche collection of games on the PS2 — counting Drakengard — and PS3 before exploding with the critically-acclaimed NieR:Automata. More recently, the PS3 game received a remaster in the form of NieR Replicant, giving the game a modern facelift and a second lease on life.
An anime adaptation of these games would be one of the most emotionally resonating and heart-breaking series to date, as Taro is known to hold little back in his profound storytelling style. Both of these NieR games take place in sci-fi dystopian worlds while exploring philosophical themes through their characters.
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