My recent forays into Japan-only anime tie-in games have been a little less than fruitful. Regardless of the quality of the source material, they have either been interesting in concept (but failed in the execution) or have just been mediocre at what they were trying to do.
But despite my recent frustration at finding good ones in recent releases, this generation has had more than a few great Japan-only anime tie-in games, spread across several genres.
(And before you ask why there's no Tales of Xillia or other similar game cited, that's because this list is only mentioning games that were anime first. It's for this reason also that there are no visual novels listed.)
Image: Yusuke Murata/Weekly Shonen Jump 40th Anniversary Poster
Jump Ultimate Stars
Jump Ultimate Stars is pretty infamous for its amazing cast of 305 characters from across 41 different manga. While only 56 of the characters are playable in battle (the others are support characters), all your favourites are there — including Goku, Kenshin, Ichigo, Yugi Moto, Luffy D. Monkey, and of course, Naruto.
The game itself plays most like Super Smash Bros., only with customisable teams and support character attacks. It does a great job at mixing a fun combat system with a giant fan service crossover. And as the DS is region-free, this is easily importable.
Gundam Extreme VS
I have previously called Gundam Extreme VS the best anime-based game ever made, and I stand by it. It's an amazing 3D fighter that is fast, complex, and downright fun. Its two versus two battles promote strong teamwork and its thriving internet fanbase insure you will always have someone to play with.
Add to that a robust single player mode and a few mobile suits from nearly every Gundam property in existence, and you have a game that not only Gundam and fighting game fans but also the average gamer will enjoy.
2Nd Super Robot Wars Z
Super Robot Wars is a series that revolves around crossing a massive group of unrelated robot and super robot anime into one strategy RPG. It's been around since the days of the Game Boy and NES. In gameplay, it's your typical — though very well done — turn-based strategy game. However, it takes fanservice to the nth degree by including attacks specific to every robot from their home series. The ultimate attacks for each robot are so over-the-top and spot-on for their respective series, they can take up to a minute to watch.
The 2nd Super Robot Wars Z duology of games sports characters and robots from 35 different series including Macross Frontier, Gundam 00, Big-O, and even the king of super robot anime, Gurren Lagann. What's amazing about 2nd Super Robot Wars Z — and all Super Robot Wars games really — is how it is able to link all the stories together and make all these drastically different anime exist in the same world.
Initial D Extreme Stage
Long before drifting entered the mainstream consciousness, there was Initial D. And as an anime about car racing, it is no surprise that its game would be a racer.
If you ever wanted to play a game based solely around drifting, then this is your series. And while you won't be able to try the arcade version anytime soon (unless you live in Asia), this PS3 title is easy enough to import and play.
(Granted this is not quite a Japan-only title as games in the series have come to the West in years past — and are still released in several countries throughout southeast Asia — but its current arcade and PS3 iterations have not come west.)