Comic books become TV shows that turn into movies that get spun off into games. Or the whole thing happens in reverse. Ideas from all these media feed off of each other — or they should. Source Material will take an occasional look at how elements from great comics, games, movies or TV shows show up in other forms of entertainment or, in some cases, how we want them to.
To read Lone Wolf & Cub is to love it. Honestly. I'm not surprised that the classic 1970 manga from Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima is getting the big-time Hollywood treatment. (Hopefully, it won't get whitewashed.) It's been turned into a film series before, and served as inspiration for the Road to Perdition comics that also got adapted into movies. What surprises me more is that no one's turned Lone Wolf & Cub into a video game.
How perfect for adaptation is it? Let's start with the main plot and feudal Japanese setting. The series focuses on the journeys of Itto Ogami and his young son Daigoro. The superbly skilled swordsman once held the exalted post of the Shogun's executioner until a political conspiracy by the evil Yagyu clan frames him for murder. With his family name disgraced, Ogami becomes a wandering assassin, pushing around Daigoro in a baby cart from town to town taking on murder-for-money jobs. As the pair struggle to get by in their deadly business — with Daigoro often being an unlikely assistant — Itto tries to uncover evidence of the Yagyu's corrupt scheming.
Seeing it yet? The framing narrative that sets up an epic tale and the smaller stories that could serve as missions? Well, that's only part of it. Lone Wolf & Cub also features a number of elements that could work in a game.
Ogami specialises in a particular fighting style and needs to figure out how to best opponents with differing techniques. Then you've got swords that break and need to be reforged, along with a baby carriage that gets modified to shoot spears and gunpowder projectiles. The swordfights themselves come across as things of sheer, terrifying beauty in print.
And throughout, the readers gets dialogue and themes that manage to be philosophical and poignant without feeling indulgent. The characters that Ogami encounters run the gamut from desperate hustlers to broken women and dissolute samurai and the humanity of their stories rivals beats out the NPC sagas from almost any super-sized RPG or action game. I'd love to see From Software, Platinum Studios or Square Enix Montreal get the chance to put their interpretation of a Lone Wolf & Cub game out into the world
It could work as either in open-world format — with each assassination serving as a side quest — or as a series of episodic seasons. The manga featured several climaxes where Itto Ogami dueled against either high-ranking Yagyu family members or other supernaturally talented warriors and it'd make sense to have these serve as boss battles.
In terms of subject matter, the biggest barrier I can see to making a LW&C game a reality is Daigoro's close proximity to extremely gory violence. That ain't getting past the ESRB. The obvious workaround is to distance the three-year-old from his father's bloody work. What would be tricky about such a move is pulling it off while still letting a would-be LW&C game feel like the original manga.
The entire Lone Wolf and Cub run encompasses 28 volumes, which have been published in English by Dark Horse Comics. Read them all and you'll see why Koike and Kojima's crowning achievement could inspire a game for the ages.