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Is there a Place for Anime-Style Graphics in Online Gaming?

One Piece on Facebook

You could approach a video gaming hobby with an exclusive interest in playing games about goats or bread and end each day satisfied. Gaming provides one of the most fertile avenues for creatives to flex their fingers and pencils, a trait that has seen publishers explore Pythonesque realms of absurdity, with titles about bureaucracy (Papers, Please), attaining nuclear fusion with furniture and cows (Katamari Damacy), and hacking patients to bits (Surgeon Simulator); it’s every bedroom developer’s dream come true.

Shin Megami Tensei

One of the most criminally overlooked aspects of that boom in creativity is the range of different art styles on offer. The hand-painted aesthetic of Broken Age is quite different from the gloomy, monochromatic schemes that set the mood in Limbo and This War of Mine; Monument Valley presents a world of soft gradients to the player while the pixel-perfect sprites in Rayman Origins are a great example of how 2D is perhaps the perfect medium for displaying game art. Then, of course, there’s the anime style of graphics.

Games based on anime or with anime-inspired graphics aren’t hard to find, although many Japanese titles, like 2015’s Steins;Gate 0, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, and Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth still never get a worldwide release. Of the titles that actually made it across the sea to the West though, Valkyria Chronicles and the Shin Megami Tensei franchise are perhaps the most visible, although Astro Boy: Omega Factor, Bleach: Dark Souls, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex were popular when they were released. Titles based on Dragon Ball Z, Naruto Shippuden, and Attack on Titan have also made it to the West recently.

Attack on Titan on Facebook.

Anime designs are largely missing from the world of online gaming though; not so much the realm of MMORPGs, where Phantasy Star Online 2, One Piece Online 2, and the 40m strong Ragnarok Online fly the flag for anime, but from online casinos and iGaming brands. The genre’s absence is a bit of an oddity, given that there are obvious parallels between skill-based games like blackjack and poker and vintage card games such as Yu-Gi-Oh! However, the one place anime themes would be at home is on slot machines.

Koi Princess

For example, there are several slots that borrow from Asian culture (both Chinese and Japanese) in the 32Red slots catalogue, including Lucky Koi, Giant Panda, Golden Dragon, and Emperor of the Sea so there’s certainly a precedent for creating games with unique imagery. Just to hammer that point home, 32Red also has slots based on Jack & Jill and basketball. True anime games are few and far between though; there are plenty of Facebook-based casino apps with a Japanese aesthetic out there but none offer cash-based play.

Geisha Story, a five-reel slot playable on the Winner website, is one of the few casino games to adhere closely to anime design, along with the very popular Koi Princess. The latter features a character dressed in red who cheers the player on as they spin the reels. Oddly enough, the game, which is one of the 200 slots on Pocket Vegas, doesn’t feature all that many fish, favoring decals of ancient dragons and frog creatures over koi.

Source: One Punch Man on Facebook.

An opportunity exists for studios like Madhouse Inc. (Death Note, One Punch Man) and A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, Fairy Tail) to benefit from the casino industry in much the same way as Marvel and DC have; chiefly, by licensing imagery to slot machine developers. Given that casinos are trying to engage the millennial generation, anime's appearance on gaming websites is perhaps long past due. There's not yet much interest in slot machines in Asia though (pachinko is the most popular gambling game in Japan), a situation that's likely to keep anime off the slots for some time.

Ultimately, anime’s story in the casino industry is one of untapped potential rather than runaway success. As mentioned though, millennials could be key to helping anime find a larger gaming audience; with a shift away from traditional table games occurring in casinos at present, it's entirely possible that youngster-friendly card games, inclusive of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, could find a home in gaming halls up and down the country in the next few years.

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