Despite often being seen as niche, anime shows offer dynamic characters, sweeping stories, and in many cases are just plain fun. So it only makes sense that some of the biggest franchises have their own video games as an extra way for fans to immerse themselves even further into their favorite worlds. 2017 is in an awkward place for anime game releases. It's sandwiched between a number of quality titles from 2016 and even more highly anticipated games coming in 2018. But that doesn't mean there's nothing on offer here from some of anime's best-known franchises.
We've put together a list of the 6 best anime franchise games from this year to help you find your way through this year's titles. Whether you're a fan of Naruto's fast-paced ninja combat or you're looking for a deeper experience from something like the .hack// franchise, there's something here for you, and we've even got some remakes and a mobile title for your consideration.
Header image via MyAnimeList
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Legacy is exactly what it sounds like -- a compilation of the four Ninja Storm games all together on one disc. The games are set in the world of Naruto Shippuden and feature all of your favorite characters from over the course of the series. There are adventure elements, including a vibrant world to explore and NPCs to become acquainted with. The real enjoyment comes from the fighting, though. Each game by itself is worthwhile, but playing them in sequence helps the unique traits of each stand out in relief.
Progressing through in sequence charts the fighting system's changes from fairly simple (not exactly button mashing, but not much different) to one that requires you to carefully utilize your ninja abilities and genuinely be aware of what you are doing. It ends up being all about space, utilizing movement and knowing your opponent's patterns to end up victorious, while properly employing the vast array of ninja abilities at your disposal. It's all a nice balance for what could otherwise just be fan service and a collection of elaborate, pleasant-to-look-at, but ultimately empty, set piece attacks.
Gundam Versus is another fighting game -- but it's a fighting game where you control massive robots with spectacular abilities, which naturally earns it a recommendation. Unlike Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, Gundam Versus doesn't try to provide a narrative to help engage the player. Like most games intended primarily for multiplayer, the single-player mode is a bit lacking, and battles are not quite as dynamic as they could be. But that's where multiplayer comes in. As you'd expect from the name, the game's strength shines through in its frantic and tense multiplayer battles.
You're put in charge of a gigantic robot -- that still manages to move smoothly and turn on a dime -- as you go up against your opponents, utilizing a variety of abilities pulled straight from a sci-fi fantasy. The real enjoyment, however, comes from the natural grace with which the Gundam themselves move, odd as that may seem given their appearance. Expertly guiding your robo-suit in battle and around maps becomes a sort of art, providing a sense of satisfaction when pulled off appropriately and making it oh-so-easy to go in for just one more match.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 isn't new to everyone (though it was just released on the Switch not too long ago), opening it to an even wider audience. DBX2 isn't just a fighting game, even though you'll spend a lot of time doing that. It includes an interesting story with plenty of side quests and character management to keep you coming back for more, so it's as much an RPG-lite game as it is a fighting game. Fans will especially appreciate the inclusion of favorite characters, but it does a good job of remaining accessible to newcomers too, owing to the story itself.
Your goal, as Goku, is to travel back through Dragon Ball's history to preserve the stasis of history against a mysterious threat bent on warping it. The combat is smooth, for the most part, and manages to provide a fair challenge even with the inclusion of some world-shattering special attacks. Plus, the Switch version includes motion controls and plenty of multiplayer support. It's a perfect balance between engaging gameplay and fan service, providing just enough story to serve as an excuse for journeying back through the series' major events without making it all seem ridiculous.
The Sword Art Online series is an interesting one -- a show about people taking part in a virtual game ... which means you're playing a game about people playing a game that isn't real. Anyway, the concept is a lot less complicated than it sounds and has produced some memorable characters and locations for several years now. The latest game, Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, is rather different from its predecessors in a few ways. It takes place after the main story arc from the anime -- and previous games -- and places you in a much more relaxed setting. The result is one that suits fans of the series perfectly, allowing you to spend time getting to know your characters in greater depth and enjoy the game world without the pressure of an overly intrusive storyline.
Along with side missions such as running your own store, you'll explore the world in MMORPG fashion, with three party members at a time, gigantic monsters at every turn, and some surprisingly deep -- and, at times, slightly obtuse -- character management that puts you in control of shaping your characters' stats and even personality traits, all of which aid you in battle.
Yu-Gi-Oh is one of the longest-running popular anime franchises, with new games -- and card sets -- released on a regular basis, and Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links is the latest of Konami's offerings. With all of the history and commercial success, you'd think a mobile Yu-Gi-Oh game could be just a cheap way to cash in on the series -- but you'd be wrong. Rather than bombarding you with complicated mechanics and more summons than anyone could know what to do with, Duel Links takes a more simplistic approach, teaching you the basics and pitting you against opponents that help you get used to the way the game works.
But that doesn't mean it lacks challenge for series veterans. The game gives you a limited number of cards to work with at first, so you must make the best out of what you've been given. Of course, you can pay to unlock cards. But it's possible to play the entire game -- and be successful at it -- without spending any real money at all since the game gives you everything you need over a reasonable length of time. The challenge and joy of winning with the hand you've been dealt makes this a gem worth trying for both series fans and newcomers alike.
Like the Naruto legacy compilation, .hack//GU Last Recode puts together the second set of three volumes of the .hack// series from way back in the PlayStation 2 days. Unlike Naruto, this game offers an extra fourth volume to complement the original three. .hack// takes the meta concepts of Sword Art Online and runs as far as possible with them. You play as Haseo, one among many players of the in-game MMO, "The World," alternating between that and the "real world." When one of Haseo's friends ends up in a real-world coma as a result of in-game circumstances, he sets out on a journey to help her recover.
In the process, he transforms a fair bit as well and is one of the more dynamic RPG characters, not to mention anime characters. Not many changes have been made overall to the original battle system, and while fights are not quite as involved as in Naruto, you'll still be pulling off special attacks and working with your party to overcome some challenging opponents. The fourth volume, Redemption, is not a full game -- running at around five hours -- but it's a nice way to round off an immensely satisfying journey.
There might be a wealth of new anime franchise games on the horizon, but 2017 still has a lot to offer. Whether you're looking for collections of your old favorites or want to dive into something brand new, there's something from some of your favorite franchises just waiting to be your next game.
Let us know in the comments if you're planning on picking any of these up!